Copyright 1996 by Paul Robert Magocsi and Carpatho-Rusyn American, Vol. XIX, No. 2. Summer 1996 - all rights reserved
This is the fifth and final part of a general introductory article on all aspects of Carparto-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 appropriate to provide our readers with new and updated information. -Editor
During the interwar years, Carpatho-Rusyns in Czechoslovakia lived for the most part in the province of Subcarpathian Rus' (Podkarpats'ka Rus'). They had their own governor, elected representatives in both houses of the national parliament in Prague, Rusyn-language schools, and they were considered one of the three "state peoples" of Czechoslovakia. They did not, however, receive the political autonomy they were promised in 1918-1919. Moreover, about 100,000 Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region were administratively separated from Subcarpathian Rus' and given only the status of a national minority within Slovakia. Despite such political problems compounded by existing difficult economic conditions made worse during world economic crisis of the 1930s, the Carpatho-Rusyns did enjoy an extensive national revival and marked improvement in their educational and cultural status during Czechoslovak rule. In particular, they learned how to live in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.
One result of the newly-found freedom was an increase in religious and national tensions. Left basically to themselves within a democratic Czechoslovakia, the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches clashed with each other in competition for new adherents and for control of church property, while supporters of the Carpatho-Rusyn, Russian, and Ukrainian national orientations - each with its own organizations, schools, and publications - tried to convince the masses that they were either Rusyns, Russians, or Ukrainians.
In Poland, the Lemko Rusyns had no specific political status and no hopes for any kind of autonomy. Nevertheless, the Polish government did allow during the 1930s instruction in Lemko Rusyn in elementary schools and the establishment of civic and cultural organizations. Also, in 1934, the Greek Catholic church created a special administration for the Lemko Region that was no longer under the direct control of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic hierarchy.
On the eve of World War II, the status of Carpatho-Rusyns changed substantially. As a result of the Munich Pact of September 30, 1938, Czechoslovakia became a federal state. In early October, Subcarpathian Rus' finally received its own long-awaited autonomous government headed by Andrej Brodij (1895-1945). By November 1938, a second autonomous government headed by the local pro-Ukrainian leaders, Avhustyn Volosyn(1874-1945) and Julijan Revaj (1899-1978), changed the province's name to Carpatho-Ukraine. That same month, Hungary annexed the whole southern region of Carpatho-Ukraine including its main cities, Uzhorod and Mukacevo. Then, on March 15, 1939, when Hitler destroyed what remained of Czechoslovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence, but was immediately annexed by Hnngary. For the rest of the war, Subcarpathian Rus' (Carpatho-Ukraine) remained under Hungarian rule, while Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region remained in what became an independent Slovak state closely allied to Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, north of the mountains, the Lemko Rusyns found themselves under Nazi German rule after Poland was destroyed in September 1939 and the Lemko Region was annexed to Hitler's Third Reich. Finally, in the wake of the German-led invasion of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, the Vojvodina with its Carpatho-Rusyn inhabitants was annexed to Hungary. Thus, during World War II, Carpatho-Rusyn lands were ruled by either Nazi Germany or its allies. Hungary and Slovakia.
For most of the war years, the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland did not suffer any military damage and the economic situation was relatively good. This did not mean, however, that certain segments of the population were exempt from the suffering caused by the new political conditions. In 1939-1940, nearly 40,000 mostly young Carpatho-Rusyn males who were opposed to Hungary's annexation of Subcarpathian Rus' fled across the mountains into eastern Galicia, the former Polish region that after September 1939 was annexed to the Soviet Union. The young refugees, who expected to be welcomed tojoin in the fight against fascism, were instead arrested, accused of crossing into Soviet territory illegally, and sent to concentration camps. Three years later, those who survived were allowed to join the new Czechoslovak Army Corps set up to fight alongside the Soviet Army against Hitler.
Msgr. Avhustyn Volosyn, the leading Carpatho-Rusyn grammarian and pedagogue and later head of the Ukrainian orientation in interwar Subcarpathian Rus'.
At home in Subcarpathian Rus', which was renamed Carpathia (Karpatalja) by the Hungarians, Carpatho-Rusyns had a modicum of cultural freedom. The "Uhro-Rusyn" language was taught in schools, and Rusyn publications and cultural societies were permitted as long as they were pro-Hungarian. Expressions of pro-Ukrainian sentiment were forbidden, however. The war years were particularly harsh toward the over 100,000 Jews, who alone made up nearly one-quarter of the population in Subcarpathian Rus'. In the spring of 1944, the Hungarian authorities under pressure from Germany deported virtually all of Subcarpathia's Jewish inhabitants to the Nazi death camps where they perished. As a result, the Jewish presence, which for several centuries had been an integral part of the Carpatho-Rusyn environment, ceased to exist.
In the fall of 1944, the German army, together with its Hungarian and Slovak allies, was driven from all parts of Carpathian Rus' by the Soviet Army. Among the victorious Soviet forces was the Czechoslovak Corps with its large contingent of Rusyn soldiers. During the course of the war, the Allied Powers (United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union) had agreed that Subcarpathian Rus' should again be part of a restored Czechoslovak state. In October 1944, however, the Soviet Generalissimo Stalin suddenly changed his mind. With the help of local Communists, the Soviets prepared the ground for the annexation of Subcarpathian Rus' to what was described as the "Soviet Ukrainian motherland." No general plebiscite was ever held, and in June 1945 a provisional Czechoslovak parliament (with no Carpatho-Rusyn representation) ceded Subcarpathian Rus' to the Soviet Union. As for other Carpatho-Rusyn territory, the Presov Region remained within Czechoslovakia; the Lemko Region became part of a restored Poland; and the Vojvodina became part of the Serbian Republic within a federated Yugoslavia.
Father Jevmenij Sabov, an important cultural activist of Russophile orientation in interwar Subcarpathian Rus'.
Within a few years after the end of World War II, all Carpatho-Rusyns found themselves under Communist rule, either in the Soviet Union or in countries under Soviet domination. The last of these countries to become Communist was Czechoslovakia. That took place in 1948, the same year Yugoslavia freed itself from the Soviet bloc, although it still remained Communist.
Communist rule had a particularly negative impact on traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life. During the first few years after World War II, the Greek Catholic church was outlawed; land was taken from the individual farmers who were obliged, often against their will, to work in collective or cooperative farms; and the Rusyn nationality was forbidden. Anyone who might claim his or her identity as Rusyn was against their will listed in official documents as a Ukrainian. The Rusyn language was banned in schools and all publications.
An even worse fate befell the nearly 180,000 Lemko Rusyns living in Poland. About two-thirds were encouraged to emigrate "voluntarily" to the Soviet Ukraine in 1945 and 1946. Then, in the spring of 1947, those Lemkos who had remained in the Carpathians were driven from their homes by Polish security troops. They were forced to live in the former German lands of western and northern postwar Poland (in particular Silesia). As for the Lemko Region itself, many age-old Rusyn villages were destroyed, while others were taken over by Polish settlers.
The only exception to the sad fate of Carpatho-Rusyns during the post-World War II Communist era was Yugoslavia. In the Vojvodina and neighboring Srem region, Rusyns were recognized as a distinct nationality with their own government-supported schools, publications, cultural organizations, radio, and television programs. The Greek Catholic church also was allowed to function in Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1974, when the Vojvodina became an autonomous province within the republic of Serbia, the Rusyns became one of the five official nationalities in the region.
Despite the harshness of Communist rule, the Carpatho-Rusyns did from time to time protest their fate. In Poland during the late 1950s, Lemkos began to return illegally to their native mountain villages, and by the 1980s about 10,000 did succeed in reestablishing new homesteads or in buying back their old houses. Some Lemkos also tried to set up their own cultural organizations and publications distinct from Ukrainians, but they were blocked in those efforts by the Polish government. In neighboring Slovakia, Carpatho-Rusyns protested their reclassification as Ukrainians by identifying themselves as Slovaks and sending their children to Slovak schools. The result was large-scale assimilation among Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region whose numbers declined by two-thirds after a policy of forced Ukrainianization was implemented in 1952. During the Prague Spring of 1968, when Czechoslovakia's leaders tried to "humanize" Communism. Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region demanded the return of their nationality as well as the re-establishment of Rusyn schools and publications. Those efforts were cut short, however, by the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union and its allies on August 21, 1968. Within a year of the invasion, the hard-line pro-Soviet Czechoslovak Communist authorities once again banned all activity that might in any way be connected with a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn identity. Only the Greek Catholic church, which was restored in Czechoslovakia in June 1968, was allowed to survive, although it rapidly dropped its former Carpatho-Rusyn orientation and became an instrument of Slovakization. Thus, the four decades of Communist rule following World War II brought to an end many aspects of traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life and led to the virtual disappearance of the group as a distinct nationality.
Carpatho-Rusyns, like every other people in central and eastern Europe, were profoundly influenced by the reforms that began in the Soviet Union after the accession to power in 1985 of Mikhail Gorbachev as head of the Soviet Communist party. The first changes actually took place among the Lemko Rusyns in Poland, who as early as 1983 organized an annual folk and cultural festival (Vatra). The goal of the Vatra was to restore among Lemkos the idea that they belonged to a distinct nationality that was neither Ukrainian or Polish, but Carpatho-Rusyn.
A Carpatho-Rusyn national revival really got underway only after the fall of Communism in 1989. During the next two years, a new organization to promote the idea of a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality was established in each of the countries where Rusyns live: the Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Ukraine, the Rusyn Renaissance Society in Slovakia, and the Lemko Association in Poland. This same period saw as well the establishment of new organizations among Rusyns outside the Carpathian homeland, such as the Society of Friends of Subcarpathian Rus' in the Czech Republic, the Ruska Matka in Yugoslavia, and even the Organization of Rusyns in Hungary where it was thought Rusyns had long ago disappeared through assimilation already by the end of the nineteenth century. Also, for the first tirne since World War II, Rusyn-language newspapers and magazines began to appear, including Rusyn and Narodny novynky in Slovakia, Podkarpats'ka Rus' in Ukraine, and Besida in Poland.
The greater ease of travel following the fall of Communism allowed Carpatho-Rusyns new opportunities for cross-country cooperation. As a result, in March 1991, the first World Congress of Rusyns and, in November 1992, the first Congress of the Rusyn Language were held, both in Slovakia. The cultural and organizational activities that have taken place since the Revolution of 1989 have in varying countries been assisted by the governments of all the countries where Rusyns live, except Ukraine. In March 1991, Rusyns were even recognized and recorded as a distinct nationality in the census of the former Czech and Slovak Federated Republic.
In the wake of the Revolution of 1989, the vast majority of Carpatho-Rusyns in Europe found themselves living in new countries. In the surnmer of 1991, the Rusyns of Yugoslavia became divided by a new state boundary between a smaller Yugoslavia (that still included the Vojvodina) and a newly independent Croatia. Unfortunately, the Carpatho-Rusyns of Croatia (about 2,500 in the area near Vukovar) were in the war zone between Croatia and Serbia and suffered much material losses and forced deportation as part of Serbia's policy of ethnic cleansing. At the end of 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Carpatho-Rusyns in Transcarpathia voted overwhelmingly in favor of an independent Ukraine. Finally, in January 1993, the Czechoslovak state broke up, so that the Presov Region Rusyns now live in an independent Slovakia.
Today, the governments of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Yugoslavia recognize Carpatho-Rusyns as a national minority. Rusyn organizations in each country are concerned primarily with preserving the group's existence as a distinct nationality through cultural activity, such as publications and the work of scholarly institutions. schools, and theaters. In Ukraine's Transcarpathia, however, the emphasis has been on political activity, in particular efforts to obtain autonomy.
In December 1991, at the same time that the citizens of Ukraine voted in a referendum for their independence, 78 percent of the inhabitants of Transcarpathia voted in favor of autonomy (self-rule) for their province. To date, neither the Ukrainian government nor parliament has implemented the promised autonomy voted on by over three-fourths of the population in a legal vote. In an attempt to put pressure on Ukraine to fulfill the results of the December 1991 referendum, a "Provisional government of the Republic of Subcarpathian Rus"' was formed in Uzhorod in May 1993, headed by Professor Ivan Turjanycja. In June 1994, Turjanycja was also elected a deputy to the regional parliament (Narodna Rada), and it seems that the struggle to achieve autonomy for Subcarpathian Rus' (Transcarpathia) in Ukraine will henceforth be carried out within the framework of the regional parliament.
The Carpatho-Rusyn revival that began in the 1980s has not been greeted with universal favor. Those individuals in each country who accept a Ukrainian self-identity and who head pro-Ukrainian organizations reject all efforts by Carpatho-Rusyns to assert their national identity. Local Ukrainian leaders state categorically that "there cannot and should not" be a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality. This is because the pro-Ukrainians believe that all Rusyns are simply a regional variant or "branch" of the Ukrainian nationality. Such views are particularly widespread in Ukraine, the only country that refuses to recognize Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct people. Despite such denials as expressed by the Ukrainian government and by nationalistic elements within the Ukrainian population, the idea of a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality and culture continues to be greeted favorably, both in neighboring countries where the group lives as a minority (Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia) as well as by several non-governmental organizations based in other countries who are concerned with fate of minority cultures and languages in Europe.
Paul Robert Magocsi
Last modified on September 27 1997
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