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Block I Illinois Library Illinois Open Publishing Network


Vol. 10 (2022)

Cossacks, Empire, and the Enlightenment: From Orientalization to Republican Reappropriation



This article seeks to explore how Enlightenment narratives and categories framed the perception and image of the Zaporozhian Cossacks both in the imperial center and in the south-western periphery of the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth century. It demonstrates that Catherine II deployed the discourse of civilizational mission to justify the disbandment of the Zaporozhian Cossack Host and the liquidation of the Zaporozhian Sich. The historical works of Voltaire became an important source of inspiration for Catherine's orientalist image of the Ukrainian Cossacks, which gained wide currency in the Russian Empire and was accepted by some representatives of the Ukrainian Cossack elite. On the other hand, the Enlightenment allowed some Ukrainians to challenge imperial hegemony by going beyond traditional estate and regional particularism and by rethinking the Cossack tradition as a democratic republican one and setting it against the supposed despotism of Imperial Russia.