Pylyp Orylyk Commemoration Speech by Ambassador Dr. Ihor Ostash

Honourable Peter Kent,
Members of Parliament and Senators,
Leaders of the Ukrainian community
Шановні пані і панове!

It is a great honour for us to celebrate today in the Parliament of Canada the 300th anniversary of the first Ukrainian Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk that can be acknowledged as the first European constitution in a modern sense.

This monument of political, philosophical, and legal thought was approved on April 5, 1710, at a Cossack assembly near the small town of Bendery (now in Moldova). The full title is «Pacta et Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus Zaporoviensis» (Treaty on the Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporozhian Army). This document is known in the juridical community in the Old Ukrainian and Latin versions.

Being written by Pylyp Orlyk, one of the Ukrainian Hetmans, it contained the main principles to govern the establishment of the state. The importance of the Orlyk Constitution lies in the astonishing fact that it was the first in the world to establish a separation of government powers into our modern three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The Council was the legislative body. The Hetman was obliged to agree all important state matters with the Council in advance. The Court was also to function independently and the Hetman was specifically prohibited from personally making decisions. The General Court was required to base its decisions on the law.

Besides determining the territory of Ukraine the document determined the rights of all groups of Ukrainian population, independent position of Zaporizka Sich. The distinctive feature of the Orlyk Constitution were the points limiting the Hetman’s power in favour of the Council – a kind of Cozak Parliament which should consist of not only general foremen and colonels but the representatives of Zaporizhzhya and regiments – one honourable representative from each. Provision was also made for local self-government on the basis of international (Magdeburg) law. This feature makes the Constitution one of the most democratic among all other state decrees of those days.

Above all this document emphasises the principle of freeing Ukraine from “foreign domination” which in modern usage is the principle of independence or state sovereignty. It’s main idea – is complete independence of Ukraine. TheConstitution opened with this solemn declaration: “Ukraine in both sides of the Dnipro river must remain free from foreign domination for all time to come”.

It’s important peculiarity distinguishing Orlyk Constitution from ordinary Hetman articles and making it similar to the subsequent European constitutions is that it was signed not between Hetman and sovereign (protector of Ukrainian state) but between Hetman and Cossacks acting on behalf of Ukrainian people.

Aujourd’hui nous permettent d’affirmer que les idées énoncées dans la Constitutions de Pylyp Orlyk ont précédé les principes de la Révolution française de quatre-vingts ans. Ils correspondaient, et était parfois antérieurs, aux notions de «droit naturel» de la nation à une «existence indépendante, dans les conditions d’égalité» au sein des autres nations du monde et à la notion de droit des peuple à «modifier ou révoqué» leur gouvernement et à «reverser un gouvernement» qui imposait à la nation un «despotisme absolu», matérialisées dans la Déclaration Américaine.

On the other hand the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk of 1710 was written under the influence of the Western European idea of parliamentarianism, which established the beginning of republican and parliamentary forms of government in the state structures of Hetman Ukraine for in advance of the wave of bourgeois democratic revolutions in Europe.

Ukrainian Constitution was recognized by the governments of Sweden and Turkey immediately upon its adoption. Even today it amazes by its relevancy and the high legal level. Scientists and politicians now substantially consider that having entitled the ideas of its inspirer Ivan Mazepa Orlyk Constitution as the state legislation of republic direction 80 years passed ahead of the ХVІІІ century French revolution ideas. Thus the Ukrainian constitution of 1710 preceded those of the United States (1787), France (1791), and Poland (1791).

La Constitution de Pylyp Orlyk n’est jamais entrée en vigueur parce qu’elle se rédigeait à l’étranger et ses rédacteurs ne pouvaient pas revenir dans leur pays. Mais elle s’est conservée dans l’histoire comme un monument juridique original qui a fondé la possibilité d’existence de la république parlementaire démocratique pour la première fois en Europe.

Having benefited from the Pylyp Orlyk Constitution of 1710 Ukrainians were bound to be democratically minded. In 1996 Ukraine adopted a democratic Constitution of the independent Ukrainian state.

As Ukrainians throughout the world approach the twentieth anniversary of national independence in 2011, it is fitting that we pay homage to the great historical leaders who three hundred years ago had the vision and courage to fight for the right to live free. And the seeds of a democratic nation ruled by a Constitution, those seeds sown 300 years ago, are bearing fruit on Ukrainians fertile land.

It is interesting fact that part of his life hetman Pylyp Orlyk lived in France. His son Hryhorii Orlyk was a well-known Lieutenant General in French Army and a small town of Orly near Paris as well as the Aéroport de Paris – Orly was allegedly named after him.

Now I would like to invite Mr. William Young, Parliamentary Librarian. Today we would like to present to the Parliamentary Library a copy of the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk written in Latin and its translations in English, French and Ukrainian. The Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk is only being prepared for publishing this year on the occasion of its 300th anniversary. But we made an exclusive edition especially for this event.

We also like to present the “The Diariusz Podorozny” of Pylyp Orlyk” published in Harvard Press. The Diary encompasses the dramatic years 1727—1731 when the Ukrainian Hetman-in-exile tried to influence on his behalf the European powers whose representatives were gathered at the diplomatic Congress of Soissons.

May these books with the Peresopnytsia Gospel which already took pride of place at the parliamentary library, become a source of political and legal source to many representatives of the Canadian state.

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