World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture



Ethnography. The Eastern Carpathian mountain ranges and adjacent foothills where Rusyns live form a complex ethnographic setting. This territory, known in its totality as *Carpathian Rus’, has from earliest historic times been a contact zone between Europe’s eastern, central, and southeastern (Balkan) cultural spheres. Since about 500 CE, it has been inhabited by Slavs who, in terms of their linguistic affiliation, belong to the East Slavic world. The geographical configuration of Carpathian Rus’, with its high mountain crests, river valleys, and isolated mountain basins, has contributed to the formation and preservation of specific ethnographic characteristics among several peoples within this otherwise Rusyn-inhabited Slavic realm. Not only have the Carpatho-Rusyns contributed their own experiences to other peoples within this zone of contact, they have also acquired certain characteristics from their neighbors. The result has been the formation of a highly specific Carpatho-Rusyn cultural entity.

By the same token, the Rusyns living in the lowlands and Carpathian foothills have always interacted with neighboring peoples: the *Ukrainians in the east; the West Slavic *Poles and *Slovaks in the north and west; the Finno-Ugric *Magyars in the southwest; and the *Romanians in the southeast. With the exception of the Rusyn-Romanian cultural border, the boundary between Rusyns and other neighboring peoples has never been static. In their relations with Carpatho-Rusyns the Magyars, Poles, Ukrainians, and Slovaks have each functioned, and still function, as the numerically dominant and at times ruling people. Consequently, each of these peoples represents an assimilationist force that works to the disadvantage of Rusyns, whose ethnolinguistic territory continues to decrease in size. Somewhat beyond this general pattern, and therefore rather unique, is the experience of the few enclaves of Rusyns living in the *Vojvodina and Srem (present-day Yugoslavia and Croatia). These communities represent Rusyns who emigrated beginning in the eighteenth century from lands now within eastern Slovakia, northeastern Hungary, and the *Transcarpathian oblast of Ukraine.

The indigenous Slavic inhabitants in Carpathian Rus’ have traditionally designated themselves by several ethnonyms: Rusyns or Rusnaks throughout virtually the entire area and Subcarpathian Rusyns, *Lemkos, or Hutsuls in certain regions. The first ethnographic descriptions of the Rusyns in the Carpathians, or Carpatho-Rusyns, date from the first half of the nineteenth century. Toward the end of that century ethnographic scholarship came to be dominated by the view that the Carpatho-Rusyns are divided into three ethnographic sub-groupings—*Lemkos, *Boikos, and *Hutsuls. This tripartite schema arose among the Galician-Ukrainian (populist) intelligentsia before World War I and was subsequently adopted by Soviet Ukrainian scholars, in particular after 1945, when the entire East Slavic Carpathian region had become part of the Soviet Union. The schema was, in turn, adopted uncritically by ethnographers in neighboring countries.

The tripartite Lemko-Boiko-Hutsul schema does not, however, reflect actual ethnographic distinctions within Carpathian Rus’. First of all, the inhabitants throughout much of the region do not themselves recognize these distinctions. Traditionally, they have called themselves Rusyns, or Rusnaks; only in the far southeastern corner of Carpathian Rus’ (within present-day Ukraine and Romania) has another ethnonym been used. There the inhabitants call themselves Hutsuls. With regard to the rest of Carpathian Rus’ it would seem more apropriate to divide the Rusyn/Rusnak inhabitants into two ethnographic categories: (1) the Dolyniane, who inhabit the vast part of Subcarpathian Rus’; and (2) the Lemkos, or more precisely the Lemkos/Rusnaks who inhabit the Lemko Region and the Presov Region. The Dolyniane and Lemkos/Rusnaks account for the vast majority (81 percent) of the population and territory in Carpathian Rus’ (861 out of a total of 1062 villages). Aside from the 30 Hutsul villages in the far southeast, there are also 149 villages in the high mountain area of Subcarpathian Rus’ (*Verkhovyna) and southeastern Poland that are generally classified as Boiko (see the entry Boikos).

The most serious mistake committed by virtually all ethnographers, and for that matter most linguists, was to exclude from their research, the numerically largest of all Rusyn ethnographic groups, the *Dolyniane, that is, the Lowlanders living in both the foothills and lowland plain drained by the Tisza/Tysa River and its tributaries from the Laborec and Uzh Rivers in the west to the Shopurka River in the east. In the tripartite schema the Dolyniane were designated as Boikos and in general not given much attention. Their exclusion may be explained by the fact that ethnographers in the second half of the nineteenth and, even more so, in the first half of the twentieth century, were interested primarily in peoples characterized by a so-called *patriarchal culture or, at the very least, by the remnants of such a culture that could still be observed. Inspired by “populist” notions, these ethnographers believed that only patriarchal societies—or their remnants—preserved the elements of a “true national culture” (istynno narodnoi kul’tury). By the late nineteenth century, Dolyniane/Lowlander culture had lost completely whatever patriarchal characteristics it may once have had. Aside from language, the Rusyn Dolyniane did not culturally differ very much from their immediate neighbors, the Magyars, Slovaks, and Romanians.

In many ways, the Dolyniane epitomize Rusyn distinctiveness. It is in their territory that archeologists have uncovered the oldest Slavic settlements (see Slavs, Early settlement patterns) inhabited by people who inherited the agricultural culture established by the previous Celtic inhabitants. And it was this part of the Rusyn population (numerically the most substantive part of the entire group), which, as a result of geographic and political conditions, had by the ninth and tenth centuries distanced itself from the rest of the East Slavic world. In fact, the Rusyn Dolyniane became integrated into the nexus of social and cultural influences among the peoples of central Europe, in particular those living within the Danubian Basin.

With the fall of the tribal union associated with *White Croats in the seventh century CE, several new political centers arose: the Baltic-Dnieper axis of Novgorod and Kiev among the East Slavs; the Morava River basin and southern slopes of the Western Carpathian Mountains among the Slavs of Central Europe; and territory south of the Danube detached from the Byzantine Empire among the South Slavs. The invasion of the *Avars into central Europe and their plunderous raids hastened the formation of states among the South Slavs (seventh century). Some accepted within their midst another Turkic tribe, the Bulgars, to help organize a defense system against the Avars. In general, however, the Avar presence caused for nearly two centuries a delay in the development of state formations among the Slavs of the Danubian-Carpathian Basin. It was only after the fall of the Avar Kaganate, which took place in the early ninth century at the hands of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne (aided by Slavic auxiliary troops), that the Slavic state of *Greater Moravia came into being. As for the Slavs living in the Upper Tisza valley and Carpathian foothills, that is, the ancestors of the Rusyn Dolyniane, they found themselves within a contact zone where the cultural influences and political interests of two Slavic states interacted: the *Bulgarian Khanate and the Greater Moravian Empire. It is also possible that as part of this cultural and political nexus the Dolyniane Rusyns accepted Christianity via missionaries from Byzantium sometime in the ninth century.

After the fall of Greater Moravia at the hands of invading Magyar tribes (906), the Dolyniane Rusyns became the first among the Slavs living in the Carpathians to come under the political control of Hungary’s princes (and from the eleventh century its kings). Beginning in the late eleventh century, the territory inhabited by Rusyn Dolyniane became an integral part of the Hungarian Kingdom, which by that time had extended its borders to the crests of the Carpathian Mountains. As a result, the Rusyns living on the southern slopes of the Carpathians were politically and culturally separated from the rest of the East Slavic population, which was united under the rule of Kievan Rus’. Even religious ties between the Eastern Christian Rusyn Dolyniane and the Slavic Orthodox center of Kiev declined during the period of the medieval Hungarian state (tenth to mid-sixteenth centuries). As a result of these weak ties with the east, religious life among the Rusyns of Hungary was instead oriented southward toward the neighboring Balkan Orthodox peoples. Only among the far western Rusyns (the Rusnaks and Lemkos in present-day eastern Slovakia and southeastern Poland) did contacts continue with the eastern Rus’ church, specifically with the geographically closer Orthodox eparchy at Przemysl, north of the Carpathians.

The point is that by the early middle ages the Rusyn Dolyniane were culturally, politically, and economically distanced not only from the main East Slavic center of Kiev but even from their nearest eastern neighbor, the principality of Galicia-Volhynia. While it is true that there were sporadic political relations between Hungarian Rus’ and Galician Rus’, cultural ties between the two were virtually non-existent. Despite the fact that the inhabitants of both lands called themselves by the same name, Rusyn, each territory followed its own distinct spiritual, political, and economic life. In the absence of political institutions and of any impact of historical and cultural factors from Kievan Rus’, the Galician-Volhynian Principality and the Hungarian Kingdom became the dominant factors in the autonomous evolution of, respectively, the Galician Rusyns (later Ukrainians) and the Rusyn Dolyniane living south of the Carpathians.

A sense of political and cultural unity among the various peoples of the Carpathian-Danubian Basin was, until the early twentieth century, made possible by the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy. Within this sphere, whose existence lasted uninterrupted for nearly a thousand years, there developed among Magyars, Slovaks, Rusyns, Croats, Romanians, *Germans, *Jews, Slovenes, and Serbs (north of the Sava River) a common cultural framework or, better still, a political culture common to all inhabitants of the Carpathian-Danubian Basin. It is precisely this mentality—characterized by several factors such as historical tradition, norms of conduct in family and economic life, and the acceptance of various ethnic and confessional differences among the groups living in the region—that clearly differentiates the Rusyn Dolyniane from the Ukrainians of Galicia and even moreso from the inhabitants of eastern, Dnieper Ukraine.

Marxist and Ukrainian nationalist historians and ethnographers have written of a “national struggle” among the Rusyns of Hungary that began as early as the fourteenth century, and in so doing have deliberately ignored the evidently positive relations that Rusyn Dolyniane had had with the Hungarian Kingdom as a state. In fact, The Dolyniane Rusyns considered the Hungarian Kingdom their own homeland at least until the revolutionary era of 1848-1849. It is not surprising, therefore, that they joined in large numbers the anti-Habsburg wars of the *kurucz during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. For instance, it was during the last of these wars that the revolutionary leader, Prince Ferenc II *Rakoczy, dubbed Rusyns with the epithet gens fidelissima—the people most loyal [to Hungary]. Even the first Rusyn national awakener, Aleksander *Dukhnovych, admitted that during his youth in the 1830s and 1840s he had been a believer in the principle that “beyond Hungary there is no life” (extra Hungariam non est vitae). The eventual separation between Rusyn interests and the Hungarian state came only after the appearance of *nationalism during the second half of the nineteenth century. This was a time when the nationalist views of the Habsburg Monarchy’s dominant nationalities, the Magyars and Austro-Germans, clashed with the nationalist views of the stateless peoples, including the Rusyns. The appearance and growth of Rusyn nationalism, in particular among the Dolyniane, evolved as a reaction to the nationalism of the dominant peoples. Although slowly at first, nationalist feelings strengthened among Rusyns an awareness of their own historical traditions and the formation of a Carpatho-Rusyn identity distinct from the identity of Rusyns in eastern Galicia (many of whom were at the same time beginning to take on a Ukrainian national identity). Such differentiation had effectively existed by the middle of the nineteenth century, even though initially it was not understood by the leading Rusyn political activist of the day, Adol’f *Dobrians’kyi. Hence, he formulated a plan to unite politically the Rusyns of Galicia, Bukovina, and Hungary (Subcarpathian Rus’ and the Presov Region), not realizing that there was no real basis for unity among them. Whatever linguistic and religious affinities may have existed between the inhabitants of eastern Galicia and Rusyns of northern Hungary, they were insufficient to overcome the differences between these two societies, which had, in the course of several centuries, evolved into absolutely different cultural, political, and geopolitical spheres.

The appearance of the Ukrainian national movement in the second half of the nineteenth century and the subsequent development of a Ukrainian national identity among the East Slavs of Galicia and eastern Ukraine, combined with the rejection by Ukrainians of the idea of a common heritage among all the Rus’ peoples (Russians, Belarusans, and Ukrainians), only served to strengthen a sense of distinctiveness between the Rusyns of Carpathian Rus’ and their neighbors to the east. The specific political and historical conditions within which the Rusyns of Hungary and the Ukrainians of Galicia and eastern Dnieper Ukraine developed had an even greater impact on the distinctiveness of the groups than did the geographical barriers created by the crests of the Carpathian Mountains.

Ethnographic differences between Rusyns living south of the Carpathians (in particular the Dolyniane) and the Galician Ukrainians living to the north of the Carpathian crests were, in the course of the nineteenth century, transformed into national distinctions. Carpatho-Rusyn identity was expressed concretely in efforts to attain political *autonomy. In fact, this has been a constant theme in Rusyn political thought and political life during the last 150 years, and has been realized in the form of several autonomous entities—the *Rusyn District (1849-1850), *Rus’ka Kraina (1918-1919), *Subcarpathian Rus’ (1919-1938), *Carpatho-Ukraine (1938-1939), *Transcarpathian Ukraine (1944-1945)—as well as the 1991 referendum and the resultant unresolved problem of “self-rule” (samovriadnist’). It is significant that the territorial extent of each of the above-mentioned entities was always the same, encompassing the historic countries of *Uzh, *Bereg, *Ugocha, and *Maramorosh. It should also be mentioned that at least until 1945 political activists among the Dolyniane repeatedly expressed the hope that their own Rusyn core lands would be united with the Rusyn-inhabited regions in the Presov Region of northeastern Slovakia and the *Maramures region of the lower Viseu/Vyshova and Ruscova valleys of Romania.

Whereas the Rusyns/Rusnaks in the Presov Region shared from earliest times a common historical destiny with the Dolyniane of Subcarpathian Rus’, the relationship of the latter to the Lemko Rusyns along the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains may at first glance seem tenuous. It is necessary to recall two factors, however. First, all branches of the Rusyn people had, until the year 1918, lived and developed within the framework of a single state, the Habsburg Monarchy. Second, geographical factors did not hinder communication between Lemko Rusyns and Rusyns on the southern slopes most particularly in the Presov Region. In that westernmost Rusyn area communication was easily maintained through the lowest and most accessible of all the Carpathian passes—Tylicz/Tylic, Dukla/Dukl’a, and Lupkow/Lupkov. It is, therefore, not surprising that during the epoch-making years of 1918-1919 in central European history, Rusyn political activists on both sides of the mountains called for their lands to be amalgamated with the new state entity within Czechoslovakia known as Subcarpathian Rus’. It was the negative reaction to such goals on the part of the Czechoslovak government and diplomats at the Paris Peace Conference that prompted Rusyns living north of the Carpathians to proclaim their own *Lemko Republic of Florynka.

In the southeastern corner of Subcarpathian Rus’ live the Hutsuls, a Carpathian ethnographic group whose ethnic identity differs from that of the Rusyn Dolyniane and Lemkos/Rusnaks. The relatively few Hutsuls found on the southern slopes of the Carpathians inhabit the narrow Chorna and Bila Tysa valleys near the towns of Iasynia and Rakhiv. They inhabit 35 villages, 26 in present-day Ukraine, the remainder in neighboring Romania. It was only relatively recently, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that this population settled there. With regard to their ethnocultural characteristics, Subcarpathia’s Hutsuls are most closely related to the inhabitants of the Hutsul Region on the other side of the mountains in both Galicia and Bukovina (present-day Ivano-Frankivs’k and Chernivtsi oblasts of Ukraine), where they originated. With the rise of nationalism in Galicia and Bukovina toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Ukrainian orientation grew in strength through contacts and mutual influences among Hutsuls on both the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathians. The Ukrainian political orientation among those in Subcarpathian Rus’ was most evident during the period of the Hutsul Republic, based in Iasynia (1918-1919), and during the period of autonomous *Carpatho-Ukraine (1938-1939), which encompassed all of Subcarpathian Rus’.

The evolution of ethnic self-identity among the various branches of the Rusyn people throughout the Carpathian Rus’ was negatively affected by the activity of Ukrainian and Russian emigres during the 1920s and 1930s. But the most destructive impact upon Rusyn self-identity came as a result of the ukrainianization policies carried out by the dictatorial Communist regimes of the Soviet Union in Subcarpathian Rus’ (1945-1991), of Czechoslovakia in the Presov Region (1948-1989), and of Poland, where the entire Lemko-Rusyn population was deported (1945-1947). Most of the Rusyns in the Presov Region of northeastern Slovakia reacted against forced ukrainianization by adopting what seemed to them a much closer Slovak ethnopolitical orientation. As a result of strong pressure by the Communist regime, including a ban on the very use of the terms Rusyn and Rusnak, there developed among the Rusyn Dolyniane of Subcarpathian Rus’ (the Transcarpathian oblast of Ukraine) a passive effort to preserve and to demonstrate their distinctiveness from Ukrainians in neighboring Galicia and the rest of Ukraine. This took the form of adopting the regional term Transcarpathian/Zakarpatets’ as a self-identifier raised almost to the level of an ethnonym.

Since the fall of Communist regimes in central and eastern Europe the revival and development of a Rusyn identity has taken only partial root, in particular among the Lemko Rusyns of Poland and Rusyns of Slovakia and Hungary. Meanwhile, the largest concentration of Rusyns, those who live on the territory of Subcarpathian Rus’ (Ukraine’s Transcarpathian oblast), have become subjected to the pressure of new ukrainianizers. This has been expressed through the policies of the government of independent Ukraine and the political pressure and anti-Rusyn rhetoric of Ukrainian nationalists. And even if Ukraine’s governing bodies have begun to understand the Rusyn phenomenon, Ukrainian nationalist forces still try to block all efforts at a Rusyn spiritual and political revival. Despite such pressure and opposition, leaders among the Dolyniane in Subcarpathian Rus’ are doing whatever possible to promote the rights of the Rusyn people in post-Communist Ukraine.

The Rusyns living in the *Vojvodina (Yugoslavia) and the Srem (Croatia) continue to preserve their distinct Rusyn identity. Despite their small numbers at the outset of the twentieth century (ca. 12,000 in 1900) the Vojvodinian-Srem Rusyns succeeded in becoming a distinct national minority in the multinational regions they inhabited. Their distinct evolution was enhanced by the fact of their physical distance from the homeland of Ukrainians and the East Slavs in general. Consequently, a pro-Ukrainian orientation among the Vojvodinian-Srem Rusyns has been present but always minimal. Finally, the Vojvodinian-Srem Rusyns were completely spared the ukrainianization policy imposed by Moscow on other Rusyn lands during the decades after World War II. That Vojvodina’s Rusyns did not experience forced ukrainianization was in large part due to the 1948 political rift in the Communist world between the Soviet leader Stalin and Yugoslavia’s Tito. The ethnocultural development among the Rusyn-inhabited enclaves in the Balkans was interrupted during the mid-1990s war in former Yugoslavia, but it has gradually been renewed.

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Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

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