J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings is a work that seeks to speak to the gamut of humanity. The theme of the trilogy is the perennial battle between good and evil, and the evolution of the forces of good to eventually become unified – in the realization that the only way evil can be defeated is when all the forces of good are working toward the same end – the destruction of evil. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings in the dozen years from just prior to World War II to the rebuilding years after the war. It is a prophetic tale using allegory and religious symbolism to cut to the quick as to the root cause of evil: pride, greed, wrath and envy. The War of the Rings commences as a consequence of divisiveness between essentially good nations; the subsequent building of the walls of mistrust between ‘good peoples’, allows evil to spawn – while the attention of the good is looking elsewhere. The novel is a warning for eternal vigilance, for introspection as well as extrospection. Evil will breed from the smallest seed being allowed to grow in an un-tended field. Edmund Burke’s words redound – evil’s victory is reliant on the inactivity of the forces of goodness. However much we seek to appease there always comes a point where good must fight to uproot evil. As Solomon instructs us: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8, RSV). ATK
Archaeologists will tell you that the passing centuries with their shifting sands hide not only in time the footprints of previous generations, but also erase the very foundation stones of what were once mighty civilizations. It is difficult to judiciously analyse history, when so much of history is written by conquerors – and balanced historical memory relies on the limited ability of the conquered to promulgate their side of the story against all the odds. Perhaps this is why the ancient Cossack tradition of the bandura player singing the dumka (epic and heroic ballads), became such a critical part of the national character of the Ukrainian people – the story of the Cossacks, reminding the listener – “never forget the story of Ukraine.” It is as if in the dumka, one is left with the songs of those defeated but unbowed. We recall the use of song and poetry in Holy Writ, when God’s chosen people were in exile, how they were only too aware that the memory of the past had to be recollected constantly in order for their national mission and identity to be preserved: “By the waters[a] of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows[b] there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Psalm 137, 1 – 6, RSV)
It has been said many times since the commencement of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine that the Ukrainian people are not only fighting for their national survival – but for the democratic freedoms and self-determination of all the peoples of democratic Europe. If this be the case, then it is not the first time that Ukraine has done so. In 1683 at the Battle of Vienna, King John Sobieski of Poland led into victorious battle against the Ottoman Army, a force of Zaporozhian Cossacks. The presence at this Battle of the Zaporozhians is now marked across Vienna with statues in parks commemorating the Cossack participation in what was very much a life and death struggle for European civilization. However it is only in recent decades that the memory of the Zaporozhian Cossacks at this Battle has been restored – as historians uncover what hereto had been forgotten for want of a voice loud enough to remind the world that there once was a people and a military Host, skilled, large and brave enough to play a part in the sculpting of European events. The statues in Vienna show the Zaporozhian Cossacks, with their sabres, and pipes, with their Oseledets, black-jack and chub. They show the Cossacks in positions of reflective repose after the battle, or as a trio of Cossack warriors, with vigour and pride; bowing to no man.
As you keep reading this piece – perhaps take another sip of coffee; but as you do, reflect on this, that although much of the world may have forgotten the presence of the Zaporozhians at Vienna, every day since the Battle, the western world shares in a number of the on-going legacies of the Cossacks; the first, western Christian civilization; the second, the cup of coffee. For as has been mentioned, the Battle of Vienna witnessed the last time the Ottoman Turk threatened Western Europe – and because of the Zaporozhians, it also marked the introduction into Westerm Europe of coffee-culture, after one of the Cossacks, Yurii-Frants Kulchytskyi (1640 – February 19, 1694), and his fellow Cossacks, confiscated the heavily coffee laden caravan of Turkish wagons heading back to Constantinople. Kulchytskyi remained in Vienna with his booty, and with great foresight, opened up a coffee house – and from there, the cafe became an integral part of European tradition. So reader, each time you take a coffee, tap your cup with that of a friend – and remember the Zaporozhians. Until recently, it was a tradition in Vienna, that the cafe owners of the city would celebrate an annual great feast to the memory of Kulchytskyi. His statue stands proudly in one of the major cafe thoroughfares of the city.
The Ukrainian Cossacks, although this time the Free Cossacks, and not the Zaporozhian Host were also in battle in 1920 at the Battle of Warsaw, when Marshal Pilsudski of Poland and the Ukrainian, General Symon Petliura led an alliance of Poles and Ukrainians against the Communist forces of Russia; saving Europe for a number of decades from atheism and Marxism, and delivering Russia one of the greatest military defeats in the process.
As at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, as at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, so also in 2022 it is once more a Polish-Ukrainian alliance that is acting as the last buffer against a large force, threatening to raze Europe; for although the Ukrainians are doing the fighting and dying, the war would have been over in a week, had the Polish border not been so very open between these two nations. Imagine the present situation in Ukraine without Poland. Europe is fortunate indeed that there exists in her geographic if not political family of nations, countries like Ukraine and Poland who are nations who have fought, and do fight. Pray not only for Ukraine – but for all the nations in this world that uphold democracy – and are willing to fight, and assist in the preservation of Ukraine, if not for Ukraine’s sake – for freedom’s sake.
By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania