Cossacks and Enlightenment

Between Orientalization and Republican Reappropriation
Seminars and Colloquia

The talk dealt with the impact of Enlightenment ideas on rethinking the image of Cossacks in the Ukrainian peripheries of the Russian Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. The mechanisms through which eighteenth century West European Enlightenment political and historical thought provided intellectual resources for both orientalizing the Cossack political tradition and empowering it were examined. Orientalist discourse was introduced by Voltaire, used by Saint Petersburg enlightened absolutists to justify the elimination of Cossack autonomies, and accepted by a segment of the local elite. On the other hand, Enlightenment political thought, exemplified in particular by Rousseau and Montesquieu, was used to go beyond traditional estate and regional particularism, to rethink the Cossack political tradition in more universalist categories of republicanism and to set it against Catherine II’s supposed ‘despotism’.