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Old Ruthenianism

Old Ruthenianism — a cultural orientation among East Slavs living in the former Austrian province of Galicia. The supporters of this orientation, known as Old Ruthenians/Starorusyny, believed in the cultural unity of all the East Slavs (present-day Russians, Belarusans, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Rusyns), who, they argued, should use a single literary language. Although this language was called “Russian”/russkii , its literary form was believed to have been created as a result of an amalgam of Little Russian (Ukrainian), Belorussian (Belarusan), and Great Russian (Russian) dialects. Old Ruthenian political views were more vague. Despite an affinity with the East, that is, with Holy Rus’/Sviataia Rus’, most Old Ruthenians remained loyal Habsburg subjects and limited their political horizons to the borders of Austrian Galicia and Bukovina.

Old Ruthenianism was the dominant view of most of the Galician Rus’ intelligentsia during the national awakening connected with the Revolution of 1848. Its leading spokespersons were the hierarchy, priests, and lay supporters of the Greek Catholic Metropolitanate of L’viv, centered on the cathedral church of St. George. Their primary organ was the newspaper Slovo (1861-1887). In the course of the second half of the nineteenth century the Old Ruthenians gradually lost influence in Galician society. In the 1880s they were accused by the Habsburg authorities of harboring pro-tsarist and imperial Russian sympathies, and some of their leading intellectuals (together with Adol’f *Dobrians’kyi and his daughter Ol’ga *Hrabar) were put on trial. Although acquitted most emigrated permanently to tsarist Russia. Meanwhile, at home the Old Ruthenians were increasingly challenged by the more dynamic populist *Ukrainophiles and later *Russophiles. Supporters of both those orientations rejected what they considered the antiquated cultural views and pro-Habsburg sentiments of the Old Ruthenians.

There was never an Old Ruthenian orientation among the Rusyns of *Subcarpathian Rus’ and the *Presov Region. It was, however, with the Old Ruthenians of Galicia (not the “Ukrainians” as is often incorrectly alleged) that the leading nineteenth-century national awakeners (Aleksander Dukhnovych, Adol’f Dobrians’kyi, among others) maintained close contacts. By the end of the nineteenth century Old Ruthenianism had been eclipsed by the Ukrainian movement throughout most of Galicia. It survived, however, among Rusyns in the Lemko Region, where it was represented largely through the work of the *Kachkovs’kyi Society in the interwar years of the twentieth century.

Bibliography: Paul Robert Magocsi, “Old Ruthenianism and Russophilism: A New Conceptual Framework for Analyzing National Ideologies in Late 19th Century Eastern Galicia,” in Paul Debreczyn, ed., American Contributions to the Ninth International Congress of Slavists, Vol. II: Literature, Poetics, History (Columbus, Ohio; 1983), pp. 305-324.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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