Carpatho-Rusyns live in the very heart of Europe, along the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Their homeland, known as Carpathian Rus', is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet. Aside from those countries, there are smaller numbers of Carpatho-Rusyns in Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Czech Republic. In no country do Carpatho-Rusyns have an administratively distinct territory.
Geography and Economy
Three-quarters of the Carpatho-Rusyns in Europe are found within the borders of Ukraine, specifically in the Transcarpathian region (historic Subcarpathian Rus'). In Slovakia, Carpatho-Rusyns live in the northeastern part of the country which is popularly known as the Presov Region. On the northern slopes of the Carpathians, they had traditionally lived in southeastern Poland, in an area know as the Lemko Region (now know as the Beskid Niski). After World War II, the Lemko Rusyns were deported from their Carpathian homeland. Among those who remained in Poland, a few thousand have managed to return to the Carpathians, although most reside in scattered settlements in the western (Silesia) and northern regions of Poland. Finally, there are several Carpatho-Rusyn villages just south of the Tisza River in the Maramures region of north central Romania, and a few scattered settlements in northeastern Hungary.
Beyond the Carpathian homeland, Rusyns live as immigrants in the neighboring countries. The oldest immigrant community, dating back to the mid eighteenth century, is the Vojvodina (historic Backa) and Srem regions of former Yugoslavia, that is, present day northern Serbia and far eastern Croatia. In the Czech Republic, Carpatho-Rusyns reside primarily in northern Moravia and the capital of Prague, where most immigrated just after World War II. The largest community outside the homeland is in the United States, where between the 1880's and 1914 about 225,000 Carpatho-Rusyns immigrated. They settled primarily in the industrial regions of the northeastern and northeastern states where most of their descendants still live to this day. Smaller numbers of Carpatho-Rusyns immigrated to Canada and Argentina in the 1920's and to Australia in the 1970's and 1980's.
Carpatho-Rusyns do not have their own state. At best the function as a legally recognized national minority in some - but not all - of the European countries where they live. As has historically been the case with stateless minority groups, Carpatho-Rusyns have been reluctant to identify themselves as such or have simply not been recorded by the governments in the countries where they have lived. Therefore it is impossible to know precisely the number of Carpatho-Rusyns in any country. A reasonable estimate would place their number at 1.5 million persons worldwide.
Until 1945, the vast majority of Rusyns in the Carpathian homeland inhabited about 1,000 small villages that averaged in size between 600 and 800 residents. Aside from Carpatho-Rusyns, each village also had a small percentage (usually 5% to 15%) of people belonging to other national groups. These generally included a few Jewish families (small shop and tavern keepers, as well as farmers), Romany/Gypsies who often lived on the outskirts of the village, and a Magyar, Polish, Slovak or Czech official (gendarme, notary, schoolteacher).
The Carpatho-Rusyns were mostly employed as farmers, livestock herders (especially sheep), and in forest related occupations. The mountainous landscape that characterized Carpathian Rus' never allowed for extensive agricultural production. As a result, Carpatho-Rusyns were usually poor and were often forced to survive by working in neighboring countries or by emigrating permanently abroad, most especially to the United States.
After World War II, industrial enterprises were established in or near the Carpathian homeland, and many Rusyn villagers moved to the nearby cities. Those cities (Uzhorod, Mukacevo, Presov, Hummenne, Kosice, Michalovce, Sanok, Nowy Sacz, Gorlice, Novi Sad) were most often located outside Carpatho-Rusyn ethno-linguistic territory. As a result, many Rusyns who migrated to cities, intermarried, attended schools using the state language, and eventually gave up their identity as Carpatho-Rusyns.
Language, Identity and Culture
Carpatho-Rusyns belong to the Slavic branch of Indo-European peoples. Their dialects are classified as East Slavic and are closely related to Ukrainian. Because they live in a borderland region, Carpatho-Rusyn dialects are heavily influenced by Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian vocabulary. These influences from both the east and west, together with numerous terms from the Church Slavonic liturgical language and dialectal words unique to Carpatho-Rusyns, are what distinguish their spoken language from other East Slavic languages like Ukrainian.
In contrast to their West Slavic (Polish and Slovak), Magyar, and Romanian neighbors, Carpatho-Rusyns use the Cyrillic alphabet. Their national name, Rusyn (also spelled Rusin), connects them to the east, since Rus' was the name of the inhabitants and territory of a large medieval state centered in Kiev. The many names by which Carpatho-Rusyns have called themselves or were called by others - Carpatho-Russian, Carpatho-Ukrainian, Rusnak, Ruthene, Ruthenian, Uhro-Rusyn - all relate to their traditional association with the East Slavic world of the Rus'.
Despite the seeming confusion about names, the most appropriate designation is Carpatho-Rusyn, or simply Rusyn. This is the name the nineteenth-century national awakener Aleksander Duchnovyc used in poetic lines in what became the national credo - "I was, am and will remain a Rusyn" - and it is the theme he used in the first line of the national anthem - "Subcarpathian Rusyns, Arise from Your Deep Slumber." Carpatho-Rusyn and Rusyn are also the names used by most of the new cultural organizations and publications established in the European homeland since the Revolution of 1989. In Poland, Carpatho-Rusyns call themselves Lemkos. This is a new name. Before the twentieth century Lemkos, too called themselves Rusyns or Rusnaks. Aware of their origins, recent publications and organizations in Poland often use the term Lemko Rusyn to describe their people.
When, in the seventeenth century, Carpatho-Rusyns began to publish books, they were written either in the vernacular Rusyn speech or in Church Slavonic, a liturgical language (functionally similar to Latin) used by East Slavs and South Slavs who were of an Eastern Christian religious orientation. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Carpatho-Rusyn writers continued to use Rusyn vernacular and also began to use Russian and Ukrainian for their literary language. The so-called "language question" was always closely related to the problem of national identity.
Ever since the nineteenth century, Carpatho-Rusyn leaders have argued about their national identity. Some have felt that Rusyns are a branch of the Russians, others a branch or the Ukrainians, still others that they form a distinct central European Carpatho-Rusyn nationality. Each orientation has used language, whether Russian, Ukrainian, or Carpatho-Rusyn, as a means to identify themselves. Today there are only two national orientations - the Rusyn and Ukrainian. The Ukrainian orientation argues that Rusyns are a branch of the Ukrainians and that a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality cannot and should not exist.
Since the Revolution of 1989, there has been a Carpatho-Rusyn national revival in all countries where they live, and efforts have been undertaken, especially in Slovakia and Poland, to create a standard Carpatho-Rusyn literary language for use in schools and publications. Rusyns in Yugoslavia's Vojvodina have had a literary language that has been used uninterruptedly in publications and schools ever since the first decades of the twentieth century.
Carpatho-Rusyns have a distinct literary tradition that dates back to the seventeenth century. Regardless of what language writers may have used - Rusyn, Church Slavonic, Russian, Ukrainian - their literary works have embodied the essence of Rusyn life and the mentality of its people. Among the most dominant themes have been a love for what is considered the pristine beauty of the Carpathian Mountains and a characterization of Carpatho-Rusyns as a God-fearing and stoical people, seemingly destined to be controlled by natural forces and foreign governments over which the individual has little power or influence. Each Carpatho-Rusyn region has its own literary founding father: Aleksander Duchnovyc (1803-1865) for the Presov Region and Subcarpathian Rus'; Volodmyr Chyljak (1843-1893) for the Lemko Region; and Gabor Kostel'nik (1886-1948) for the Vojvodina.
Today there are Rusyn-language newspapers, journals and books in virtually every European country where Carpatho-Rusyns live. The works of playwrights are performed by the professional Aleksander Duchnovyc Theater in Presov, Slovakia; the semi-professional Djadja Theater in Ruski Kerestur and Novi Sad, Yugoslavia; and the amateur theater of the Lemko Association in Legnica, Poland. The best known current Rusyn-language writers are: in Ukraine - Volodymyr Fedynysynec', Dymytro Keselja, Ivan Petrovcij, and Vasyl, Petrovaj; in Slovakia - Anna Halgasova, Mykolaj Ksenjak, Maria Mal'covska, and Stefan Suchyj; in Poland - Olena duc'Fajfer, Volodymyr Graban, Stefanija Trochanovska and Petro Trochanovskij; in Yugoslavia - Natalija Dudas, Irina Hardi-Kovacevic and Djura Papharhaji; and in Hungary - Gabriel Hattinger-Klebasko.
Aside from various forms of folk culture, such as embroidery, painted Easter eggs, and folk music and dance performed by professional ensembles in Presov and Uzhorod and by numerous amateur ensembles elsewhere, Carpatho-Rusyns are most noted for an outstanding form of native architecture in the form of wooden churches . Perched on the top of hills, the majority of churches were built in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Carpatho-Rusyns also created a unique school of painters, the so called "Subcarpathian Barbizon," of whom the leading figures were Josyf Boksaj, Adel'bert Erdeli, Fedir Manajlo and Ernest Kondratovyc. About the same time, Rusyn life in the Lemko Region was captured on canvas by the world renowned native artist Nykyfor Drovnjak. In more recent times, painters like Anton Kassaj, Volodymyr Mykyta, Ivan Sutjev and the sculptor Mychajlo Belen' in Transcarpathia, as well as the painters Orest Dubaj, Stefan Hapak, Deziderij Millyj, and the political satirist Fedir Vico in Slovakia have produced a body of creative work that is dominated with themes depicting Carpatho-Rusyn life and its environment.
Several museums exist with permanent exhibits of Carpatho-Rusyn folk art, icons and painting. The most important and wide-ranging collections are in Svidnik and Uzhorod, with more specialized museums in Bardejov (icons), Medzilaborce (modern art), Nowy Sacz (icons), and Zyndranowa (on Lemkos). Open air ethnographic museums(skanzens) with traditional Carpatho-Rusyn domestic architecture are found in Svidnik and Uzhorod. Similar museums in Bardejov, Humenne and Sanok also include examples of Carpatho-Rusyn material culture.
Numerous scholars are engaged in studying the history, language, literature, ethnography, art and music of Carpatho-Rusyns. Many are connected with scholarly institutions, such as the Institute of Carpathian Studies at Uzhorod State University (Ukraine), the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture (Slovakia), the Department of Ukrainian and Rusyn Philology at the Bessenyei Pedagogical Institute (Hungary), the Department of Rusyn Language and Literature at the University of Novi Sad (Yugoslavia), the Society for Rusyn Language and Literature (Yugoslavia) and the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center (United States). There are as well several scholars abroad who specialize in Carpatho-Rusyn themes, including Aleksander Dulicenko (Estonia), Sven Gustavsson(Sweden), and Paul Robert Magocsi (Canada)
Like their language and culture, Carpatho-Rusyn churches share elements from both the eastern (Slavia Orthodoxa) and western (Slava Romana) Christian worlds. Religion has remained for Carpatho-Rusyns wherever they live the most important aspect of their lives. This is so much the case that in the popular mind Carpatho-Rusyn culture and identity have often been perceived as synonymous with one of the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn Eastern Christian churches.
The earliest ancestors of the Carpatho-Rusyns believed, like other Slavs, in several gods related to the forces of nature. The most powerful of these pagan gods was Perun, whose name is still preserved in the Carpatho-Rusyn language as a curse. Christianity first was brought to the Carpathians during the second half of the ninth century. Popular legends supported by scholarly writings suggest that Carpatho-Rusyns received Christianity in the early 860's from the "Apostles to the Slavs", Cyril and Methodius, two monks from the Byzantine Empire. As would be the case throughout the Slavic world, several pagan customs practiced by Rusyns were easily adapted to the Christian holy days. Thus, the mid-winter festival of koljada was merged with Christmas and Epiphany; the festival of spring with Easter; and the harvest and summer solstice festival of Kupalo with the feast of Saint John the Baptist.
Cyril and Methodius as well as their disciples were from the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, when the Christian church was divided after 1054, the Carpatho-Rusyns remained within the Eastern Orthodox sphere nominally under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Religious affiliation helped to distinguish Carpatho-Rusyns from their Slovak, Hungarian and Polish neighbors who were Roman Catholic or Protestant. As Eastern Christians, the Carpatho- Rusyns used Church Slavonic instead of Latin as the language in religious services; followed the liturgy of St. John Chrysotom; received both species (leavened bread and wine) at Communion; had married priests; and followed the old Julian calendar so that fixed feasts like Christmas eventually fell two weeks later than the western Gregorian calendar, on January 7. The Carpatho -Rusyns were distinguished as well from fellow Eastern Christians (Ukrainians, Belorusans, Russians) by certain practices and rituals borrowed from their Latin-rite neighbors, but in particular by their liturgical music. That music, still in use today, consists primarily of congregational and cantoral singing (no organ or other instrument is permitted). Based on local traditional East Slavonic chants and influenced by local folk melodies it is know as Carpathian plain chant (prostopinje).
In the wake of the Protestant Reformation (which affected neighboring Magyars and Slovaks) and the Catholic Counter Reformation, the governments and local aristocracy began in the late sixteenth century to try to bring the Orthodox Carpatho-Rusyns closer to the official Roman Catholic state religion of the two states in which they lived at the time - The Hungarian Kingdom and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The result was the creation between 1596 and 1646 of a Uniate Church, that is an Eastern Christian Church in union with Rome. The Uniates were allowed to retain their Eastern Rite and traditions, but they had to recognize the Pope in Rome, not the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as the ultimate head of their church. Hence from the seventeenth century, Carpatho-Rusyns were either Orthodox or Uniates. In 1772, the Uniates were renamed Greek Catholics. Eventually, in the United States they became known as Byzantine Catholics.
Although in practice there is not much difference between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic religious service (Divine Liturgy), there has nonetheless been constant friction between adherents of the two churches from the seventeenth century to the present in both the European homeland and the United States. The situation was made worse by the intervention of European secular authorities who at certain times persecuted and even banned entirely either the Orthodox or Greek Catholic Church.
Today, many Carpatho-Rusyn villages and cities have both a Greek Catholic and Orthodox church. Also, in each country where Rusyns live there is at least one Greek Catholic and one Orthodox bishop. In general, among Carpatho-Rusyns worldwide, there are today an equal number of Greek Catholic and Orthodox adherents. In Ukraine's Transcarpathia, the region with the largest number of Carpatho-Rusyns, the situation is more complex. Of the 1,210 parishes registered in 1993, 38% are Orthodox, 17% Greek Catholic. The rest are Roman Catholic (5%) and Reformed Calvinist (7.5%) - both primarily for Magyars, as well as a growing number of Jehovah's Witnesses (17%), evangelical sects (6.6%), and Baptists (4%), all of whom have become widespread among Carpatho-Rusyns, most especially during the last decade.
With regard to church jurisdiction, the Greek Catholic eparchies of Mukacevo(Ukraine), Presov (Slovakia) Hajdudorog (Hungary), and Krizevci (former Yugoslavia), as well as the Archdiocese/Metropolitan Province of Pittsburgh (United States) are each self-governing and under the direct authority of the Vatican. The Orthodox eparchy of Mukacevo-Uzhorod is part of the Ukrainian Orthodox (not Autocephalous) Church; the eparchy of Presov is within n the Czechoslovak Autocephalous Orthodox Church; and the eparchy of Sanok-Przemsyl is in the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In the United States, the Orthodox are either within the self-governing (autocephalous) Orthodox Church in America, or the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church under the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Carpatho-Rusyns have never had their own independents state, From the eleventh century until 1918, Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians - Subcarpathian Rus' and the Presov Region - were part of the kingdom of Hungary. The Lemko Region north of the Carpathians was until the mid-fourteenth century divided between the Rus' principality/kingdom of Galicia and the kingdom of Poland. From the 1340's to 1772, it was entirely within Poland, then from 1772 to 1918 within the Austrian half of what later came to be known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Following the end of World War I in late 1918, Carpatho-Rusyn territory was divided among several countries. The Presov region and Subcarpathian Rus' south of the mountains became part of Czechoslovakia, with the exception of about twenty villages south of the Tisza River incorporated into Romania. The Lemko Region was joined to Poland. The few Rusyn settlements in the Backa/Vojvodina region in the former far south of the Hungarian Kingdom became part of Yugoslavia.
Boundaries changed again during World War II, but after the conflict they were basically restored to what they had been before the War. One exception was Subcarpathian Rus', which in 1945 was annexed to the Soviet Union as the Transcarpathian region (oblast) of the Soviet Ukraine. For the next four decades, all Carpatho-Rusyns, regardless of where they lived in Europe were part of the Communist world, whether directly part of the Soviet Union or its neighboring satellite states. After the Revolution of 1989 and the fall of Communism, Carpatho-Rusyns became citizens of several new states; Subcarpathian Rus'/Transcarpathia is part of an independent Ukraine; the Presov Region is part of an independent Slovakia; the Lemko Region has remained within Poland; and the small community in former Yugoslavia has been separated between a reduced Yugoslavia (the Vojvodina in northern Serbia) and independent Croatia.
Despite being ruled by several different states throughout their history, Carpatho-Rusyns have struggled to achieve at least a modicum of self rule. Already during the revolution of 1848, leaders of Adolf Dobrianskyj pressed the Habsburg Empire to create an autonomous Rusyn province which would unite all Rusyns in Austria-Hungary, or at least those within the former Hungarian Kingdom. Whereas they were unsuccessful in these initial demands, ever since the end of World War I, the idea that Carpatho-Rusyns are deserving of some sort of political autonomy has been accepted by many political circles in east central Europe.
The first Hungarian government formed after the fall of the Habsburg Empire created at the very end of 1918 Rus'ka Krajina, while at the same time the Lemko Rusyns north of the mountains created a self-governing republic that lasted for sixteen months until early 1920. These, however, were short lived experiments. More significant was the voluntary unification, proclaimed on May 8, 1919, of "Rusyns living south of the Carpathians" with the new state of Czechoslovakia. The Paris Peace Conference in it's Treaty of St. Germain (1919) recognized the union with Czechoslovakia on the understanding that Rusyns would be given autonomy. The Czechoslovak government did create a province called Subcarpathian Rus', which functioned from 1919 to 1938 with its own Rusyn governor and a limited degree of autonomy. Both the Rusyns living in the Presov Region, under a Slovak administration and the Lemko Rusyns in Poland wanted to be part of Subcarpathian Rus', but were blocked in their efforts by both the Czechoslovak and Polish governments.
When Czechoslovakia was betrayed by its allies at the Munich Pact and transformed into a federal state in October 1938, Subcarpathian Rus' received full self governing status. Its government was first headed by Andrej Brodij and then by Msgr. Avhustyn Volosyn. Under whom the province changed its name to Carpatho-Ukraine. Autonomy lasted nearly six months until March 15, 1939, when Hitler's Germany destroyed what remained of Czechoslovakia and Hungary began its occupation of Subcarpathian Rus'. That very same day, an independent Carpatho-Ukraine was proclaimed. But because of the Hungarian invasion it turned out to be little more than a symbolic "republic for a day".
Another period of self-rule began during the closing months of World War II, when Subcarpathian Rus', renamed this time Transcarpathia, was governed by its own national council from October 1944 to the end of 1945. Protected by the Soviet Army which had driven out the Hungarians, the Transcarpathian National Council called for unification with the Soviet Ukraine. After unification took place in June 1945, Transcarpathia lost its self-governing status and in early 1946. Became just another region (oblast) of the Soviet Ukraine. In the neighboring Presov Region, the Carpatho-Rusyns set up in 1945 a Ukrainian National Council which they had hoped would function as an autonomous governing body, but they were blocked in those efforts by the restored Czechoslovak government which in 1949 abolished the council altogether.
One immediate result of Soviet rule in Transcarpathia and its impact on neighboring Communist-dominated Poland and Czechoslovakia was the implementation of Ukrainization. This meant that the idea of a distinct Rusyn nationality was outlawed and only a Ukrainian identity was recognized. Such a situation was to last until the fall of Communism and Soviet rule in 1989-1991.
The idea of autonomy did not die, however. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and Ukraine became an independent country. Carpatho-Rusyns in Transcarpathia called for a return to their "historical status" as an autonomous land. In the referendum on Ukrainian independence carried out on December 1, 1991, over 78 percent or Transcarpathia's inhabitants voted fro "self governing status" within Ukraine. When the Ukrainian government failed to fulfill the obligations of the December 1991 referendum, Carpatho-Rusyn leaders formed a Provisional Government for the Republic of Subcarpathian Rus' in May 1993. Since the summer of 1994, the struggle for autonomy is taking place within the chambers of the 51 member Transcarpathian National Council (parliament). Among those members are the head of the Provisional Government, Ivan Turjanycja, as well as several supporters of autonomy.
Carpatho-Rusyns in neighboring countries have also been active, most especially since the Revolution of 1989 and the fall of Communism in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. The demands of Carpatho-Rusyns in those countries, however, are not political but rather cultural in nature. In 1990-1991, a new cultural organization was established in each of the countries where Rusyns live as a minority - The Rusyn Renaissance Society in Slovakia; The Lemko Association in Poland; the Organization of Rusyns in Hungary; the Rusyn Matka in Yugoslavia; and Friends of Subcarpathian Rus' in the Czech Republic.
The basic aim of these organizations is to have Rusyns recognized as a distinct nationality and to codify a Rusyn literary language for instruction in schools and use in the press, radio, theater, and other cultural events. Together with the Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Ukraine and the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center in the United States, these organizations form the World Congress of Rusyns, which since March 1991 has met periodically to formulate common goals for the preservation of Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct people. The result of these increased contacts has been the creation for the first time of joint programs and close cooperation in cultural, scholarly and economic endeavors among all Carpatho-Rusyns, regardless of the country in which they live.
Copyright Dr. Magocsi