Olexandr Shulgin: A Chapter from Diplomatic History of Free Ukraine

Olexandr Shulgin, the first Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs

Article by Sergiy Grabovskyi. Translated by Dr. Olena Bordilovska.

Sergiy Grabovskyi

Back in 1930, Olexandr Shulgin, the first Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, predicted: “Ukraine, when becomes independent, must join the European Union because it will exist.” In fact, Ukraine, from the very beginning of her independent existence, applauded a lot of efforts to ensure the “return to Europe” process, as it was dramatically removed from the European space by Russia centuries ago.

Olexandr Shulgin, the first Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs

Restored more than a century ago as an independent country, Ukraine was a real “Terra Incognita” for Europe. It took a lot of persistent efforts of Ukrainian diplomats to declare and ensure Ukraine’s presence in European politics. So it is worth mentioning one of those diplomats – the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ukrainian People’s Republic Olexandr Shulgin (1889 – 1960), a descendant of famous political figures – Hetmans of Ukraine Apostol and Polubotok, a relative of glorious families of Skoropadsky and Samoilovich.

He inherited Ukrainian identity from his parents – historian Yakov Shulgin, who was sent to exile in Krasnoyarsk for 4 years for participating in the Ukrainian movement, and Lyubov Shulgina from the Ustimovich family. The mother was also the first teacher for her son, and this allowed him to enter the 3rd grade of the 1st Kyiv Gymnasium at once. There, for the first time, Oleksandr publicly showed his parents’ commitment to Ukrainian identity: the young Shulgin asked the principal to introduce the study of the Ukrainian language in the gymnasium – as he mentioned, “the language of the country in which we were born and live.” He later wrote: “I did not need the great effort that a person from a nationally indifferent environment had to make to reach Ukrainian consciousness. It was almost impossible not to imitate my father, also, it would be strange if my mother’s patriotism did not affect my life and work. ”

Interestingly, Olexandr Shulgin was a cousin of Vasily Shulgin, known for his chauvinistic speeches in the State Duma and Ukrainophobic and anti-Semitic articles and books. During the Ukrainian revolution, Vasily Shulgin became almost the main ideologue of the Russian “white movement” and a propagandist of the idea of ​​restoring the monarchy …

But let’s back to the beginning of the last century.

After graduating from high school with a silver medal, Shulgin entered St. Petersburg University – first – the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and two years later transferred to the Faculty of History and Philology. After graduation, he taught at the university, schools, and gymnasiums of Petrograd (former Saint-Petersburg). At the end of March 1917, 28-year-old Shulgin returned to Kyiv and was elected to the Central Rada – Ukrainian parliament.

In April, Shulgin became one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Democratic Radical Party, which in June was renamed to the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Federalists – at his suggestion. According to Shulgin, the party should be social, not revolutionary, and should not be based on the idea of ​​class struggle, which divides society, but on the moral principles and national idea on the basis of which society can be united. He later wrote:

“Hrushevskyi – leader of independent Ukraine (and he is not alone) realized that the national idea will win only if it is closely linked to the social ideals. To a certain extent, we, radical democrats, understood this. Only we were not able to go on empty (but also dangerous) slogans – we understood that we must not only use the social background of the revolution, but we must organize it. You can’t agree with everything the masses want, because it harms the state, the national idea. The Ukrainian socialist-revolutionaries, who openly and directly moved for the most far-reaching demagoguery, thought differently. ”

In July, the Central Rada appointed Shulgin as Secretary-General for the Protection of National Minorities in the General Secretariat (ie, the Ukrainian government). And in September, he headed the General Secretariat (Ministry) of Foreign Affairs. It was located on the second floor of the Tereshchenko mansion (now the Kyiv Art Gallery). Here is how Nadiya Surovtseva, his colleague and later historian, writer and long-time Gulag prisoner, mentioned Shulgin as a diplomat:

“Our highest authority was Olexandr Shulgin, a man of high culture and soul. He came from an old Ukrainian family, his father was a public figure, he had two more brothers, a student – Volodymyr and Mykola, the junior one.”

Olexandr Shulgin’s brother Volodymyr, mentioned by Nadezhda Surovtseva, was also a member of the Central Council. He died in January 1918 near Kruty in a battle against the army of the Russian Bolsheviks led by Muravyov. Instead, Vasily Shulgin’s son Vasily died in Kyiv in December in a street fight against the Directory’s insurgents, defending “Greater Russia” …

As head of the UPR’s foreign ministry, Shulgin sought recognition of Ukraine by Western European states, in particular –  France and Great Britain. So, in December, the first Western diplomats arrived in Kyiv – the representative of Great Britain and the Commissioner-General of France to the Government of Ukraine. But the orientation onto the Entente countries was then followed by a small group of Ukrainian politicians led by Simon Petliura. The reason for this was the Entente’s policy aimed at restoring a “united and indivisible Russia.”

During 1917, Shulgin himself remained a supporter of Ukraine’s autonomy as part of one federal Russia (same as Hrushevskyi). In June, he protested against granting the General Secretariat the status of a Ukrainian government. In September, Shulgin co-organized the Congress of the Peoples of Russia in Kyiv, which discussed ways to transform Russia into a democratic federation. In December, he opposed the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence, because, in his opinion, it would lead to German occupation (at that time the world war was still going on, and a truce on the Ukrainian front had not yet been concluded).

But in January 1918 Shulgin voted for the Fourth Universal, which proclaimed the independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. Probably, he, like many others, changed his point of view under the influence of political events, and not the last factor here was the aggression of Bolshevik Russia against Ukraine.

In April, four days before Pavel Skoropadsky came to power, Oleksandr Shulhyn published an article entitled “Fatum of History,” which became a kind of declaration of his pro-independence views: “We will never reject national feelings as something harmful.” It is life itself. Life is also not just a joy, not just a series of moral acts. And yet strong and healthy people are not afraid to live. And we must call on our people to feel and identify themselves, to become deeply national. We do not want to cut it off from other nations. But we understand that by becoming firmly on the national ground, every Ukrainian will thereby come on the creative ground, and only then will he or she enter the family of cultural peoples as an equal with equals. ”

In late January, Shulgin resigned, and in May he refused to take up the post of Foreign Minister in Skoropadsky’s government but agreed to be appointed Ukrainian ambassador to Bulgaria. Here is how Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky wrote about him in his memoirs:” Shulgin left for Bulgaria. He is a man I respect very much, he is highly decent, he served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Rada, but he does not belong to the people of that government in terms of education and spirit. ”

Later, Oleksandr Shulhyn, as a member of the Ukrainian delegation, took part in the Paris Peace Conference, headed the Ukrainian emergency diplomatic mission in Paris and the UPR delegation at the First Assembly of the League of Nations. He mentioned the attitude of Western European politicians to Ukraine at that time: “Ukraine was like a fortress, surrounded on all sides by the enemies, there was nothing real to achieve in Paris, where nothing was known about Ukraine (at least until 1920), and where we were attacked furiously both by Russians and the Poles. It was necessary to break through the wall of indifference, ignorance, enmity. ”

Shulgin was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the UPR government in exile three times and headed this government for two years. From the rostrum of the League of Nations, he spoke about communist terror, collectivization, and the Holodomor in Soviet Ukraine.

His daughter-in-law, Lydia Shulgina, a professor of Slavic studies at the University of Toronto, recalled him as follows:

“I met Olexandr Yakovlevich Shulgin at my wedding in Geneva, he had just arrived for our wedding ceremony. He was an extremely interesting person, and his first words were: “Do you speak Ukrainian?” In general, the Ukrainian language was very important to him. After that I had the opportunity to see him in Munich, he went to meet his sister, Nadiya Shulgin-Ishchuk, who lived in Germany at the time. The third was New York, in 1960, when he was 70, and he was given a big welcome feast there. After that, we were invited to Professor Miyakovsky, where Levko Chikalenko was, and others as well. We had a very nice time, and then he came to us – to Canada, Montreal. He saw his grandchildren for the first time – there were four of them – and was terribly pleased. And we did not live in the city itself, a small village, although now it is a big city. And then he looked and said: “Well, it’s something like Poltava (in Ukraine)!”. Because he is from Poltava, he began to remind his childhood. The children ran and played, they sang songs, I taught them, and the children all spoke Ukrainian. So, they sang Ukrainian songs, danced, and we had a lot of fun. “

In exile, Shulgin, in addition to diplomatic and political activities, was actively engaged in historical research. He taught Western European history and history of philosophy at the Ukrainian Free University and the Ukrainian Higher Pedagogical Institute in Prague. Students studied his “Essay on Modern History” and “Essays on the New History of Europe,” and his French-language works  “Ukraine and the Red Nightmare” and “Ukraine Against Moscow”, introduced the West to the history of the Ukrainian Revolution. In 1927, on behalf of the commission of inquiry at the trial of the murderer of Simon Petliura, Shulgin wrote and published a memorandum in French entitled “Ukraine in the Liberation Struggle.”

I will refer again to the memoirs of Professor Lydia Shulgina: “Olexandr Yakovlevich worked very hard, from morning till night. He had a beautiful room, there were many books, paintings by our Ukrainian artists, and so on, the atmosphere was very pleasant, but he still preferred to work from morning till night in a bistro called “Lux”. He says I can work and write well there. So he was an extraordinary person. What were the topics of the conversation? All of them were about Ukraine, this is what he was going through. He says: “Why is it that I can’t be in Ukraine? Maybe I would do something…” And then he noticed, “No, in such a system (Soviet) nothing can be done.” While in Paris, he had many acquaintances – those who had influence in their countries. But that was before the war, and, of course, these two states, Germany and the Soviet Union – all these people who held high positions, apparently, were afraid to even say the word “Ukraine” because it was dangerous. They talked, discussed some issues, but only if it was necessary to say something from the government, – well, naturally, war was almost there… He published the magazine “Prometheus” in French, where my husband helped him a lot. These were many interesting articles because they really wanted to show what a difficult moment they witnessed, but there was nothing they can change… And he always dreamed, he said: “I don’t know if I will really be in Ukraine, but I believe that Ukraine will be, it must be, it is strong, it is rich. And I think that the people who work so hard there would also like to have their own country, to live in an independent country. ”

After the Nazi occupation of France, Shulgin and his family remained in Paris. He did not hide his sympathy for the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, so the Nazis arrested him and his son Rostislav, and they spent six months in prison. After the war, Professor Shulgin became co-founder and vice president of the International Free Academy of Sciences in Paris and deputy chairman of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Europe.

Alexander Shulgin died in Paris on March 3, 1960. But back in 1930, he predicted that Ukraine would regain its independence and return to Europe: “Ukraine, when it becomes free, must join the European Union, because it will exist.”