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Optatsiia

Optatsiia — the rejection of one citizenship and adoption of another in those cases when a choice between one or the other is provided to an individual by mutual agreement between two states. As part of the treaty between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (June 29, 1945), which recognized the secession of *Transcarpathian Ukraine to the Soviet Ukraine, a separate protocol was attached. Residents in the Soviet Union—including as well *Subcarpathian Rus’ (Transcarpathian Ukraine)—of Czech or Slovak nationality were given the option to choose Czechoslovak citizenship; residents in Czechoslovakia of Ukrainian (including Rusyns) or Russian nationality could choose Soviet citizenship. The protocol provoked great displeasure among soldiers in the *Czechoslovak Army Corps (formed in the Soviet Union in 1943 and made up primarily of Rusyns), who considered it a terrible mark of ingratitude on the part of the Czechoslovak Republic, for whose liberation they had just fought for nearly three years. Consequently, an additional right of option for Czechoslovak citizenship was given to “military personnel of Rusyn and Ukrainian nationality” as well as their families.

The protocol also called for the creation of a Joint Czechoslovak-Soviet Liquidation Committee for Transcarpathian Ukraine, which began to operate following the ratification of the *Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty in November 1945. Two problems immediately arose: (1) the question of citizenship for Subcarpathian *Jews who survived the concentration camps or who served in the military; and (2) the very concept of “citizenship.” The Jews were not even mentioned in the treaty’s additional protocols. Nevertheless, the vast majority considered themselves Czechoslovak citizens, and not waiting for the decision of the Joint Commission they simply moved into the borderland regions of western Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland formerly inhabited by Germans). Between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews left Subcarpathian Rus’, mostly between July and September 1945. This development angered the postwar Czechoslovak administration as well as Czechs who themselves had just settled in the borderland regions.

For its part, the Soviet government declared that all persons born (regardless when) in territories annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940 were Soviet citizens, based on the fact that these territories (Karelia, the Baltic states, western Belarus, Bessarabia, or eastern Moldavia) were once part of the Russian Empire. Since Subcarpathian Rus’ had never been part of the Russian Empire, nor had it been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940, its inhabitants were declared Soviet citizens not on the basis that their territory was ceded to the Soviet Union (as Czechoslovakia viewed the matter), but rather that it was “reunited as an age-old Ukrainian land.” Hence, the Soviet government demanded the immediate repatriation of all Rusyns, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians, wherever they might be in Europe (often as result of being deported as forced laborers during World War II).

The Czechoslovak government attempted to observe the declarations issued by the newly established United Nations and the principle that an individual had a free choice to decide where he or she wished to live; consequently, it refused to abide by the Soviet policy. Soviet officials, who were carrying out their own investigations in Czechoslovakia, then turned directly to the local security and police forces (by this time already in the hands of Czechoslovakia’s Communists) and demanded that they turn over persons they considered Soviet citizens for repatriation to the Soviet Union, with or without the approval of the Czechoslovak central government. A widespread “hunt” thus took place in postwar Czechoslovakia. The result was the repatriation of a whole host of persons, including those who for decades had not lived in territories subsequently annexed to the Soviet Union as well as those who were never Soviet citizens. The Joint Liquidation Commission in fact found only Jews who had been rescued by Czechoslovakia’s Council of Jewish Religious Communities. But the Soviets did not want them and sent them back to Czechoslovakia.

As of April 1, 1946, Prague had received 25,000 requests for Czechoslovak citizenship from persons with origins in Subcarpathian Rus’. At the same time, the Joint Liquidation Commission in Uzhhorod was functioning with great difficulty, largely because of the obstructionist tactics by the chairman of the *National Council of Transcarpathian Ukraine, Ivan I. *Turianytsia. Nevertheless, by March 1, 1946, the commission had received 23,168 requests for repatriation to Czechoslovakia. In the words of one member of the Joint Liquidation Commission: “The idea of repatriation (optatsiia) had taken a hold over virtually the entire population of Subcarpathian Rus’. With the exception of the ‘new people’ (Soviet bureaucrats) and a small number of locals, everyone wanted to resettle in [postwar] Czechoslovakia.”

Such demands reflected the fact that any positive illusions regarding the Soviet Union quickly dissipated. Even some local *Russophiles, who had managed to obtain high positions in “Soviet” Transcarpathia (among others the first rector of Uzhhorod State University, Shtefan *Dobosh), opted for Czechoslovakia. This, of course, was an intolerable situation for the Soviet authorities, who proceeded to close the border with Slovakia as early as November 1945. Those persons who ignored the border closing and who in panic tried to cross over (with or without the appropriate repatriation documents) were arrested and sent to concentration camps in the Siberian Gulag. Others were simply not granted “release” from their recently imposed Soviet citizenship, regardless of the fact that according to international agreements they did not require such release. For instance, in the case of Slovak peasants living as the indigenous population in the village of Onokivtsi near Uzhhorod, the authorities simply refused to recognize their Slovak nationality. They argued that, as Greek Catholics, these Slovaks should be classified as Ukrainians—and therefore lose the option of repatriation to Czechoslovakia. Those who had already submitted requests for repatriation were harassed in various ways. The National Council’s Chairman Turianytsia even wanted to restrict those persons who had already received new Czechoslovak passports by delaying the transports scheduled to bring them across the border. Some had to wait for up to a year, during which time they, no longer “Soviet citizens,” had no way to support themselves through legal employment. Finally, at the outset of August 1947, Turianytsia delivered an ultimatum to the Czechoslovak Commission for Repatriation requiring that it cease operations in Subcarpathian Rus’ as of August 10.

Aside from individual repatriations, a total of 3,693 persons were part of the organized transports from Subcarpathian Rus’ to postwar Czechoslovakia. On the other side of the border, Soviet officials succeeded in forcibly deporting many more persons to the Soviet Union as well as in convincing thousands of Rusyn peasants from eastern Slovakia to resettle in what traditionally was believed to be the “breadbasket of Europe”—Ukraine (see Optanty).

Bibliography: Jaroslav Vaculik, Hledali svou vlast (Prague, 1995); Jaroslav Vaculik, “Zide Podkarpatske Rusi jako optanti pro ceskoslovenske statni obcanstvi v letech 1945-1947,” in Medzinarodni vedecka konference: Akce Nisko v historii ‘konecneho reseni zidovske otazky’ (Ostrava, 1995), pp. 292-300; Yeshayahu A. Jelinek, “Carpatho-Rus’ Jewry: The Last Czechoslovakian Chapter, 1944-1949, Shvut, N.S., Vol. I-II [XVII-XVIII] (Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva, 1995), pp. 265-295; Marian Gajdos, “Poznamky k procesu optacie,” Slezsky sbornik, XCIV, 3 (Opava, 1996), pp. 209-214; Jaroslav Vaculik, “Optanti z Podkarpatske Rusi v letech 1945-1948,” Slezsky sbornik, XCV, 1-2 (Opava, 1997), pp. 140-146; I. Vovkanych and Mariian Gaidosh, “Optatsiini protsesy mizh Chekhoslovachchynoiu i SRSR u pershi povoienni roky,” Naukovyi visnyk Uzhhorods’koho universytetu: Seriia istoriia, No. 2 (Uzhhorod, 1998), pp. 97-103.

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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