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Nationalism

Nationalism. An ideology which divides humanity into nationalities and which argues that the optimal social system is one in which nationalities enjoy cultural and political autonomy or, preferably, independent statehood. Nationalities are groups of people who have one or more of the following common characteristics: a distinct territory, language, historical tradition, ethnographic features, and social attitudes or mentalite.

Nationalism is not only an ideology, but also an historical process in which nationalities are established as distinct sociocultural units. This process is usually referred to as a national movement. Nationalism might represent the policy of an already-existing state, which is anxious to convince its citizens (usually of varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds) that they belong to a common state nationality. This was the challenge, for instance, faced by the new states of Italy after 1859 and summed up in the words of one authoritarian politician: “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” Nationalism can also be a program for a people who do not have their own state but who wish to be recognized as a distinct nationality. Nationalist movements among stateless peoples may strive for independent statehood, or they may be satisfied with political and/or cultural *autonomy within an existing state. It is not uncommon for the goals of state or civic nationalism to be in conflict with the nationalism of stateless peoples, or ethnic nationalism.

Nationalism has been present in some form throughout history, although as an ideology and movement it is associated mostly with the era following the French Revolution. The French experience set a pattern whereby political legitimacy no longer rested in a monarchy or oligarchy, but rather in the people or nationality as a whole. The success of nationalism as a movement was also dependent on the degree of industrialization, levels of education, and ease of communication within a given society. Not all societies, therefore, experienced a national movement at the same time.

Nationalism reached Carpatho-Rusyns, as it did other parts of central Europe, in the nineteenth century. Since Rusyns were a stateless people, their nationalism was dependent on the result of the activity of often self-appointed leaders, the nationalist intelligentsia, who tried “to awaken” among the people an awareness of a common “national” identity. Three Rusyn national awakenings or revivals have occurred since the nineteenth century. The first began in conjunction with the Revolution of 1848 in the Habsburg Empire and lasted just over two decades until, in the early 1870s, it was gradually suppressed by the Hungarian Kingdom policy of state nationalism and magyarization. The second Rusyn national revival occurred during the interwar years of the twentieth century. It was based primarily in the democratic state of Czechoslovakia, where Rusyns enjoyed full cultural autonomy and the beginnings of political autonomy in the form of the separate province of *Subcarpathian Rus’. This movement came to an end as a result of the events connected with World War II and the postwar Soviet-dominated Communist regimes, which repressed the idea of a distinct Rusyn culture and identity. The third Rusyn national revival began in connection with the Revolution of 1989 and the political and social changes taking place throughout post-Communist central and eastern Europe. These changes, characterized by the acceptance and encouragement of liberal democratic principles, have prompted many states where Rusyns live to promote equality among the various peoples and to tolerate national groups that had been restricted or even repressed by the previous communist regimes. The third revival is still in progress and is distinguished from previous ones in that for the first time it encompasses and is coordinated by Rusyns in all countries where they live (Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the United States).

Whereas the proponents of Rusyn nationalism have consistently felt that they were working on behalf of the cultural and psychological welfare of “the people” (narod), the Rusyn masses themselves have traditionally been reluctant to embrace the nationalist cause. In the popular Rusyn mind, nationalism is associated with politics, and more often than not the policies of the states which have ruled the area. Those states, however, seemed never to have worked to the political, economic, or cultural benefit of Rusyns. In the Rusyn mind the state and politics (including nationalism) should be dealt with minimally, as a necessary evil, and not be actively embraced and refashioned to serve citizen interests.

The traditionally multicultural nature of Rusyn society, in which daily interaction with peoples of other cultures and religions has been the norm rather than the exception, has also mitigated against nationalism. Imbued with the multicultural experience and a significant degree of tolerance for others, Rusyns are more likely to stress accommodation and cultural similarities with their neighbors than the kind of distinctiveness and often exclusivity that the ideology of nationalism often demands. Consequently, for Rusyns nationalism has a negative connotation and is often associated with state peoples who have ruled them in the past or present, whether *Magyars, *Poles, *Slovaks, or *Ukrainians. Finally, Rusyn culture has been strongly influenced by the principles of Christian universalism. Why stress national distinctions when Christians are expected to follow the precept of all in one?

Despite the skepticism of the Rusyn populace at large, some of their leaders continue to press the cause of nationalism. The basic argument of the intellectual leadership is that Rusyn culture and language are worthy phenomena, and that their existence in the future as well as the very survival of Rusyns as a people depends on a willingness to embrace the basic goals of nationalism; namely, recognition of distinctions between peoples and pride in one’s language, culture, and identity.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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