Copyright 1996 by Paul Robert Magocsi and Carpatho-Rusyn American, Vol. XIX, No. 1. Spring 1996 - all rights reserved
This is the fourth part of a general introductory article on aull aspects of Carpatho-Rusyn life which we began in the Summer 1995 issue of the Carpatho-Rusyn American (Vol. XVIII, No. 2). Considering the enormous changes that have taken place in the European homeland during the past few years, we feel it appropriute to provide our readers with new and updated information. -Editor
The sixteenth century began a period of transformation in the socioeconomic and religious life of Carpatho-Rusyns. North of the mountains, Polish landlords expanded their estates into the Lemko Region where the local Rusyn peasant population became enserfed. This meant that landlords steadily acquired control over all aspects of a peasant's life, including the amount of work a peasant family had to perform on the landlord's estate, the amount of taxes a peasant household had to pay, even when and to whom peasants could marry. In order to ensure that these duties were fulfilled, Rusyn peasants were forbidden to leave their property, even temporarily, without the permission of the landlord. In effect, the serf became legally tied to the land.
South of the mountains the Hungarian government also passed laws (1514) that established serfdom in the countryside. Those laws were for some tirne not enforceable, however. This is because Hungary was invaded by the Ottoman Turks, who annihilated the Hungarian army in 1526, and who within a few decades came to control nearly three-quarters of the country. For nearly the next two centuries all that remained of Hungary was a small strip of territory under Habsburg Austria (primarily what is today Slovakia and part of Croatia) and the semi-independent principality of Transylvania (present-day central Romania) in the east. The Catholic Habsburgs spent as much time fighting their rivals for control of Hungary -the Protestant princes of Transylvania- as they did the Ottoman Turks.
Tucked in between Transylvania and Habsburg-controlled Hungary was Carpathian Rus', which for most of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was ravaged by the contlicts between the military forces of Catholic Austria and Protestant Transylvania. Villages were frequently destroyed by marauding troops and the size of the Rusyn population declined because of flight or death by disease brought in the wake of foreign soldiers. Frustrated with their fate, many Rusyns joined Hungary's independent Transylvanian princes in their struggle against the Habsburgs. For instance, during the last great anti-Habsburg rebellion, the armies of the Transylavanian Hungarian Prince Ferenc II Rakoczi (who was raised in the farnily castle of Mukacevo) was made up largely of Rusyn peasants. Even though Rakoczi was finally defeated in 1711, a Hungarian legend arose about Rusyns and how they proved to be a people most faithful (gens fidelissima) to "their" prince and country. Another result of the defeat of Rakoczi was the full implementation of Austrian Habsburg rule throughout all of Hungary.
Bishop Andrej Bacyns'kyj (1732-1809, consecrated 1773), the most important Carpatho-Rusyn religious and cultural leader at the turn of the nineteenth century.
For Carpathian Rus' this meant the influx of new Austro-Ger manic landlords, like the Schonborn family, which during the eighteenth century came to control large tracts of land and numerous Rusyn villages. The Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox church in Hungary was also caught up in the political rivalry between Catholic Austria and Protestant Transylvania. At the same time, Poland's Catholic rulers were becoming increasingly alarmed at the rapid spread of Protestantism within their realm. Faced with such political and religious rivalries, several Orthodox priests and a few bishops, first in Poland and then in Hungary, decided to join the Catholic church and to recognize the authority of the Pope. This was confirmed by agreements reached at the Union of Brest (1595) and the Union of Uzhorod (1646), after which the Uniate church came into being. In the course of the next century, the Orthodox church was banned and all Carpatho-Rusyns became officially Uniate or, as they came to be known after the 1770s, Greek Catholic.
Unlike the Orthodox, the Uniate/Greek Catholics were recognized as a Habsburg state church, and in 1771 received their own independent Greek Catholic eparchy (diocese) of Mukacevo. Financially supported by the Austrian Habsburg authorities, the Greek Catholic church by the late eighteenth century operated elementary schools and academies for seminarians in which the Rusyn and Church Slavonic languages were taught. From these institutions came Greek Catholic clerics (Ioanniky Bazylovyc, Mychal Luckaj), who during the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries wrote the first histories of the Carpatho-Rusyns.
Adol'f Dobrjans'kyj, Carpatho-Rusyn political and cultural activist during the second half of the nineteenth century.
The rise of nationalism throughout Europe during the nineteenth century also reached the Carpatho-Rusyns. They became particularly active as a group following the revolution of 1848 and what turned out to be Hungary's failed war of independence against Habsburg Austria. The short revolutionary period of 1848-1849 did, however, produce three important results: the abolition of serfdom; the arrival on the throne of a new Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph (who was to rule until 1916); and the beginnings of a Rusyn national revival .
The Rusyn national revival was largely the work of two individuals. One was the Greek Catholic priest Aleksander Duchnovyc (l803-1865), who in the 1850s founded the first Rusyn cultural society (in Presov), published the first literary almanacs and elementary schoolbooks, and wrote the lines to what became the Rusyn national credo: Ja Rusyn byl, jesm i budu (I was, am, and will remain a Rusyn) and the Rusyn national anthem: Podkarparski rusyny, ostavte hlubokyj son (Subcarpathian Rusyns, Arise from Your Deep Slumber). The other, Adol'f Dobrjans' kyj (1817 - 1902), was a member of the Hungarian parliament and Austrian government official who between 1849 and 1865 attempted to create a distinct Rusyn territorial entity within the Habsburg Empire.
Following political changes in the Habsburg Empire during the 1860s, the last decades of the nineteenth century turned out to be a difficult time for Carpatho-Rusyns. The empire was transformed into the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, which in practice meant that the Hungarian authorities could rule their "half' of the state without any intervention by the imperial government in Vienna. By the 1870s, the Hungarian government set out on a course to enhance the status of the Magyars and their language and culture. As a result, the Carpatho-Rusyn national revival was stopped by the rise of Hungarian chauvinism. At the same time, widespread poverty caused in part by an increase in population and land shortages forced thousands of young men and entire families to emigrate. A few thousand Carpatho-Rusyns moved to the Backa region (Vojvodina) in the southern part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where the first Rusyn colonists had arrived as early as 1745. A much larger number, estimated between 175,000 and 200,000, left between the 1880s and 1914 for the industrial regions of the northeast United States.
The mid-nineteenth century cultural revival led by Duchnovyc and Dobrjans'kyj was able to preserve a sense of Carpatho-Rusyn national identity. It was not successful, however, in the effort to obtain autonomy or a political status specifically for Carpatho-Rusyns. All that was to change with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. For the next four years, thousands of Carpatho-Rusyns served loyally in the imperial Austro-Hungarian army where many died or were wounded on the eastern front against Russia or in the killing fields of northeastern Italy. The war years also brought another kind of tragedy, especially for Rusyns in the Lemko Region. In 1914-1915, when tsarist Russia occupied most of Galicia, Austrian officials suspected Lemko Rusyns of treason and deported nearly 6,000 to concentration camps, especially at Talerhof near the city of Graz in Austria.
When the war ended in late 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist. Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in the United States had already begun to meet in the summer of 1918, and under their leader Gregory Zatkovych: ( 1886- 1967) they eventually supported the idea of a fully autonomous "Rusyn state" within the new country of Czechoslovakia. The idea of Carpatho-Rusyn autonomy or statehood was also accepted in the European homeland. The postwar republic of Hungary responded by creating an autonomous Rusyn Land (Rus'ka Krajina) in December 1918, at the same time while Carpatho-Rusyn leaders were meeting between November 1918 and January 1919 in various national councils that called for union with either Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, or Czechoslovakia. Finally, in May 1919, Carpatho-Rusyns living south of the mountains met in Uzhorod, where they decided that their homeland, Carpathian Rus', should be united as a "third state"with the new republic of Czechoslovakia.
The Lemko Rusyns north of the mountains expected to be part of Carpathian Rus' as well, but were rejected by Czechoslovakia. Instead, they created an independent Lemko Rusyn Republic based in the town of Glorlice. The Lemko Republic lasted for nearly sixteen months until March 1920, when its government headed by Jaroslav Kacmarcyk (l885-194?) was arrested and its territory incorporated into Poland. Finally, the 10,000 or so Rusyns living in the Vojvodina (Backa) region of southern Hungary joined a Serbian-dominated national congress and voted in Novernber 1918 to be part of the new kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia).
Paul Robert Magocsi