What connects Swedish warrior king Charles XII and French philosopher Voltaire?
Both great Europeans recognized Ukraine’s desire to be an independent state and free from Moscow’s rule.
Let’s start with Charles XII. He was an ardent enemy of Muscovite imperialism and fought against Tsar Peter I. In 1709, he formed an alliance with Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa but, unfortunately for Sweden and Ukraine, their forces were defeated by the Muscovites at the Battle of Poltava that same year.
However, Charles XII continued to support the Ukrainian cause and backed Mazepa’s successor, Pylyp Orlyk. We were just reminded of how strong that support was.
During her recent visit to Kyiv, on July 4 Swedish Prime Minister Eva Magdalena Andersson gave Volodymyr Zelensky a copy of King Charles XII’s letter from the Swedish archive. The content of the document confirms the recognition of the Zaporizhian Sich as a state, as well as the fact that Charles XII personally monitored the consideration of Ukraine’s interests during negotiations with the Ottoman Empire.
The document emphasizes that the ambassador should do everything in his power to include in the consideration “the Article” that guarantees “freedom to Ukraine and all Zaporozhians” in such a way that it immediately enters into force (Section 5 in the letter).
Excerpts from the letter of Charles XII to Swedish Ambassador in Constantinople Thomas Funck dated September 14, 1711:
“His Royal Majesty now intends to send his Trustee, Colonel and Representative Extraordinary, Noble and Wealthy Thomas Funck to the Grand Vizier to conclude a treaty with him…
2: It has been obvious for a long time that such difficulties would have been created, and it has long been demonstrated to the Grand Vizier. But he has never wanted to think about it and only trusted the empty words and instructions of the Muscovites, whose fraud is now becoming more and more evident, considering how they, contrary to the treaty signed, refuse to return home to their country and only spread in Poland, and plan to remain there during the winter…
5: At the same time, he must insist that this Article, which affirms the freedom of Ukraine and all Zaporozhians, immediately and completely becomes effective, so that all Ukraine and the Zaporozhian Army could fully receive their long-standing freedoms and liberties, as well as get ownership of the land in its ancient borders under the leadership of incumbent Hetman Pylyp Orlyk; so that this nation could immediately obtain the status of an independent state, and never again be under the obedience of the tsar or his protection…
Given in Bendery on September 14, 1711.
Regarding Voltaire – few people know that the first book he published in 1731 was not about philosophy or literature, but a historic work. It was in fact the biography of Charles XII.
The work described the life and achievements of the Swedish king and contains the following words that every Ukrainian should know and in turn remind modern Europeans of:
“Ukraine has always aspired to be free. But as it is surrounded by Muscovy, the states of the Grand Seigneur [Turkey], and Poland, it was compelled to seek a protector, and therefore a master, in one of these three nations. First of all, it moved under the protection of Poland, which treated it too much as a dependent; then it gave itself to the Muscovite, who tried to enslave it. First, Ukrainians enjoyed the privilege of electing a prince known as their hetman [but they were soon deprived of this right, and their hetmans were appointed by the Moscow court].”
So today, as Ukraine is once again fighting for the right to return to its European family, Charles XII and Voltaire serve as examples of great importance. Both recognized the existence of Ukraine as a European nation that aspired to independent statehood, when Muscovy-Russia, or rather the Russian Empire, was just emerging from Asia.
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