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Autonomy

Autonomy — the right of a representative organ of a specific region or territory to issue its own laws and decrees that are valid for the given territory as well as to function on the basis of self-rule. The word derives from the Greek autos (self) and nomos (rule). Autonomy implies the existence of a higher legal-administrative entity (a federal or unitary state with autonomous territories) and perhaps a lower one (an autonomous or self-governing territory). An autonomous territory is not a state within a state but a legal-administrative entity of a lower order. A classical example of an autonomous territory was *Subcarpathian Rus’/*Carpatho-Ukraine within Czechoslovakia between October 1938 and March 1939.

Rusyn demands for autonomy date back to the Revolution of 1848-1849 in the Habsburg Empire. At that time Adol’f *Dobrians’kyi called for an autonomous entity for Rusyns throughout the empire (see Petition of the Rusyns, 1849). This demand was in part fulfilled for Rusyns living in Habsburg Hungary by the short-lived Uzhhorod Civil District (1849-1850), popularly known as the *Rusyn District/Rus’kyi okruh. After this entity was abolished, Dobrians’kyi and other Rusyn activists continued during the second half of the nineteenth century to submit demands for autonomy to the Hungarian government. None were ever fulfilled.

At the close of World War I the government of the new republic of Hungary created in December 1918 a short-lived autonomous entity, *Rus’ka Kraina. Within a few months, however, Rusyn leaders south of the Carpathians proclaimed their unification with the new state of Czechoslovakia (May 1919) on the basis of autonomy. The principle of autonomy was reiterated in the Paris Peace Conference’s *Treaty of St. Germain (September 1919) and in the Czechoslovak constitution (February 1920). In 1921 the Czechoslovak government drafted several proposals but in the end did not grant the promised autonomy to its eastern province, *Subcarpathian Rus’. Throughout the interwar decades Rusyn political activists in the European homeland and the United States protested against Czechoslovakia’s refusal to implement autonomy, and in 1936 the Russophile and Ukrainophile factions of the *Central Rusyn National Council jointly submitted to Prague a proposal for a law on autonomy.

The Czechoslovak government responded in June 1937 with what it called the first step toward the implementation of autonomy (Law No. 172) in Subcarpathian Rus’. It was not, however, until Czechoslovakia was forced to accept the Munich Pact (September 30, 1938) that Prague granted to Subcarpathian Rus’ its own government (October 11, 1938). The law on autonomy for the province was authored by one of its ministers, Iuliian *Revai, and ratified by the Czechoslovak parliament on November 22, 1938. The autonomous province, also known as *Carpatho-Ukraine, functioned until March 15, 1939, when its entire territory was reincorporated into Hungary. The Hungarian government initially stated an intention to grant autonomy to Subcarpathia, but its promises were never fulfilled. Throughout the World War II years Rusyn politicians, in particular Andrii *Brodii, criticized Hungary’s policy, but in vain. At the close of the war, when Subcarpathian Rus’, as *Transcarpathian Ukraine, was being incorporated into the Soviet Union, some Rusyn leaders hoped that their region might retain a degree of autonomy within the Soviet Ukraine or even Soviet Russia. Instead, the region was demoted to an oblast of the Soviet Ukraine (January 1946).

In 1990, during the last months of the Soviet Union, when the political future of that state was unclear, the administration of the *Transcarpathian oblast established a commission that proposed a plan for the region’s autonomy. During the presidential elections and referendum on Ukraine’s independence (December 1, 1991), 78 percent of Transcarpathia’s voters approved a question calling for the implementation of self-rule (samouprava) within Ukraine. Despite promises made by the Ukrainian authorities (including those of its first post-Communist president, Leonid Kravchuk), petitions from the Transcarpathian administration, and demands of deputies in the Transcarpathian regional parliament (Oblastna rada), Ukraine has not granted autonomy to the region.

Bibliography: Laszlo Balogh-Beery, A ruten autonomia (Pecs, 1937); Hans Ballreich, Karpathenrussland: ein Kapitel tschechischen Nationalitatenrechts und tschechischer Nationalitatenpolitik (Heidelberg, 1938); Antonio Scrimali, La regione autonoma della Rutenia dopo il Trattato di San Germano (Palermo, 1938); Lorant Tilkovszky, Revizio es nemzetisegpolitika Magyarorszagon, 1938-1941 (Budapest, 1967), esp. pp. 145-254; Peter G. Stercho, Diplomacy of Double Morality: Europe’s Crossroads in Carpatho-Ukraine, 1919-1939 (New York, 1971); Ladislav Susko, “Rokovania o autonomii Zakarpatskej Ukrajiny od roku 1936 do leta 1938,” Nove obzory, XV (Presov, 1973), pp. 33-59; P. Hod’mash, ed., Od avtonomnoi Podkarpats’koi Rusy do suverennoi Zakarpats’koi Ukrainy (Uzhhorod, 1996).

Paul Robert Magocsi

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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