World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


History. The ancestors of the Carpatho-Rusyns can be traced to Slavic peoples who began to appear in the valleys of the *Carpathian Mountains in small numbers during the fifth and sixth centuries. Their presence is related to the question of the original homeland of the Slavs and the incursion into eastern and central Europe of nomadic peoples from central Asia.

Today most scholars agree that the center of the original homeland for all Slavic peoples was the region just north of the Carpathian Mountains in what is today eastern Poland, southwestern Belarus, and northwestern Ukraine. In the 440s an Asiatic people known as the Huns crossed through the Slavic homeland and burst into central Europe, bringing with them Slavic peoples, some of whom settled in certain parts of what later became known as *Carpathian Rus’. A century later another Hunnic nomadic people, the *Avars, crossed into the Danubian Basin, where they created a state structure (khanate) and subjected to their rule the Danubian, Pannonian, and Carpathian Slavs. Among the tribes living in the original Slavic homeland north of the Carpathians were the *White Croats, who had begun to settle in the valleys of the northern as well as southern slopes of Carpathian Rus’.

In the course of the sixth and early seventh centuries the White Croats built fortified centers, or hill-forts to protect their people as well as the surrounding countryside, which still included some Slavic settlers who had settled there earlier during the Hunnic and Avar invasions. During the seventh century many of the Slavic tribes began to move out in various directions from their original homeland. Whereas some White Croats remained behind in Carpathian Rus’, most moved southward into the Balkan peninsula. Their descendants are the modern Croats.

The first important event in the history of Carpathian Rus’ occurred during the second half of the ninth century. In the early 860s two missionaries from the Byzantine Empire, the brothers *Constantine/Cyril and Methodius, set out to bring the Christian faith to the *Greater Moravian Empire, which at the time was centered in what is today the eastern part of the Czech Republic (Moravia) and western Slovakia. To this day Carpatho-Rusyns believe that before their mission to Moravia Constantine/Cyril and Methodius themselves brought the Christian religion to Carpathian Rus’—even establishing a bishopric at the fortified center of Mukachevo—or that this was accomplished during the 880s by the disciples of the Byzantine missionaries. Regardless of who actually carried out the conversion, it seems certain that there was some kind of Christian presence in the Carpathians well before the end of the ninth century.

The end of that century brought another event that was to have a profound effect on Rusyn historical development. Sometime between 896 and 898 a new Asiatic warrior people, the *Magyars, crossed the crests of the Carpathians, including through the *Verets’kyi pass, and settled in the region known as Pannonia, that is, the flat plain between the middle Danube and lower Tisza/Tysa Rivers. From their new home, the Magyars eventually built a state called Hungary.

According to traditional historiography, when the Magyars first crossed the Carpathians, they captured the White Croat hill fortress of Hungvar (modern-day Uzhhorod). There they defeated the legendary Prince *Laborets’ who was subsequently transformed by patriotic writers into one of the first heroes of Rusyn history. Despite their military victory the Magyars were initially unable to take control of Carpathian Rus’, which during the tenth and for most of the eleventh century remained a sparsely settled borderland (Latin: terra indagines; Hungarian: gyepu) between the kingdom of Hungary to south and the kingdom of Poland and Kievan Rus’ principality of Galicia to the north. In the absence of any outside political control Slavs from the north (Galicia) and east (who actually arrived from Podolia via the mountain passes of Transylvania) continued to settle in small numbers in various parts of the Carpathian borderland. These new settlers from the north and east, like the Slavs already living in Carpathian Rus’, had by the eleventh century come to be known as the people of Rus’, or *Rusyns. The term Rusyn also meant someone who was an Eastern Christian of the Byzantine rite. When speaking of this period, Hungarian and other medieval writers referred to an entity called the *Marchia Ruthenorum, or Rus’ March, which later Rusyn historians and patriotic writers considered to be the first Rus’ “state” in the Carpathians. It is most likely, however, that the Marchia Ruthenorum was not located in the mountainous region or even foothills of Carpathian Rus’, but rather somewaht farther south in the lowlands between the lower Latorytsia and Koros rivers.


Rusyn migration from the north and east, in particular from Galicia, continued until the sixteenth century and even later. This was possible because the mountains, especially in western Carpathian Rus’ (the Lemko Region), were not very high and were crossable through several passes (Tylicz/Tylic, Dukla/Dukl’a, Lupkow/Lupkov, Uzhok). The sixteenth century witnessed another migration into Carpathian Rus’, this time by Vlach shepherds from the south. The *Vlachs were originally of Romanian origin, although they were quickly assimilated by the Rusyns. The Vlachs moved throughout the entire range of the Carpathians as far west as Moravia. Their name soon came to denote a profession (shepherd) and legal status (tax-free person) rather than a nationality (Romanian).

The early origins of the Carpatho-Rusyns are thus complex. They were not, as is often asserted, exclusively associated with Kievan Rus’, from which it is said their name Rusyn drives. Rather, the ancestors of the present-day Carpatho-Rusyns are descendants of: (1) early Slavic peoples who came to the Danubian Basin with the Huns and Avars; (2) the White Croats; (3) the Rusyns of Galicia and Podolia; and (4) rusynized Vlachs from the southeast. Moreover, because Carpatho-Rusyns received Christianity over a century earlier than Kievan Rus’, it is likely that they used the name Rusyn and were called by others Rusyns (Latin: Rutheni) even before the arrival of subsequent Rusyn migration from the north and east. On the other hand, because their Eastern-rite Christian religion derived from Orthodox Byzantium, Carpatho-Rusyns maintained cultural and religious ties with the Kievan Rus’ principality of Galicia to the north, Moldavia/Transylvania to the south, and with other Orthodox lands (central Ukraine and later Russia) farther east. Carpathian Rus’ was not, however, under the political hegemony of Kievan Rus’ or of any other East Slavic political entity during the Middle Ages or at any time until the second half of the twentieth century. Instead, Carpathian Rus’ has historically been within political and cultural spheres that are firmly part of central Europe.

By the second half of the eleventh century Rusyn-inhabited lands on the southern slopes of the Carpathians came under the control and were incorporated into the *county administrative structure of the kingdom of Hungary.


Hungarian rule remained firmly entrenched until 1526, after which most of the kingdom was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The small amount of land that still constituted Hungary, including Rusyn-inhabited territory, was divided between the Austrian Habsburg Empire and the semi-independent Hungarian principality of Transylvania. The Ottoman presence lasted until the outset of the eighteenth century, when the Habsburgs finally gained control of all of Hungary, including Transylvania. Habsburg Hungary was to rule Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians until 1918.

North of the mountains, the Rusyn-inhabited Lemko Region that had been within the nominal sphere of the medieval Rus’ principality of Galicia was, in the mid-fourteenth century, incorporated into the kingdom of Poland and its *palatinate administrative structure. Polish rule lasted until 1772, when Galicia was annexed by the Habsburg Empire and made into one of the provinces of Austria. Thus, from the late eighteenth century until 1918 all Carpatho-Rusyns found themselves under Habsburg rule, whether in the Hungarian kingdom or in the Austrian province of Galicia.


Although since the early Middle Ages Carpatho-Rusyns had had no political independence, they were recognized as a distinct group within the multinational Hungarian and Polish kingdoms and later within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In earlier times, when Carpathian Rus’ was sparsely settled, Rusyn and Vlach mountain dwellers were treated as a privileged group that did not have to pay taxes. By the sixteenth century, however, most Carpatho-Rusyns were reduced to the status of peasant serfs dependent on either Hungarian, Polish, or later Austro-German landlords. Finally, during the last few decades of the Habsburg Empire’s existence, between the 1870s and 1918, there was an attempt, especially in the Hungarian kingdom, to eliminate the Carpatho-Rusyns as a group through a policy of state-supported national assimilation (magyarization).

Carpatho-Rusyns were able to survive as a distinct people largely because of their Eastern Christian or so-called old faith (*stara vira), which differentiated them from the otherwise dominant Roman Catholic social and political environment of the countries in which they lived: Hungary, Poland, and later Habsburg Austria-Hungary. Among the most important symbols for Carpatho-Rusyns of their Eastern Christian identity was the *Monastery of St. Nicholas on Monk’s Hill (Chernecha hora) near Mukachevo. This religious center, which since the fifteenth century was also the residence for bishops of the *Eparchy of Mukachevo, was founded in the 1390s by Prince Fedor *Koriatovych. Koriatovych, a Lithuanian prince from Podolia, was invited by the king of Hungary to administer the fortress of Mukachevo and the surrounding lands, which included several Rusyn villages. As the titular “lord of Mukachevo” Koriatovych is considered by Carpatho-Rusyns to be among their important national leaders.

The sixteenth century began a period of transformation in the socioeconomic and religious life of Carpatho-Rusyns. North of the mountains Polish landlords expanded their estates into the Lemko Region, where the local Rusyn peasant population became enserfed. This meant that landlords steadily acquired control over all aspects of peasant life, including the amount of work a peasant family had to perform on the landlord’s estate, the amount of taxes a peasant household had to pay, even when and whom peasants could marry. In order to ensure that these duties were fulfilled Rusyn peasants were forbidden to leave their property, even temporarily, without the permission of the landlord. In practice, the serf became legally tied to the land.

South of the mountains the Hungarian government also passed laws (1514) that established serfdom in the countryside. Those laws were for some time not enforceable, however. This is because Hungary was invaded by the Ottoman Turks, who annihilated the Hungarian army in 1526 and who within a few decades came to control nearly three-quarters of the country. For nearly the next two centuries all that remained of Hungary was a small strip of territory under Habsburg Austria (primarily what is today Slovakia and part of Croatia) and the semi-independent principality of Transylvania (present-day central Romania) in the east. The Catholic Habsburgs spent as much time fighting their rivals for control of Hungary—the Protestant princes of Transylvania—as they did the Ottoman Turks.

Tucked in between Transylvania and Habsburg-controlled Hungary was Carpathian Rus’, which for most of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was ravaged by the conflicts between the military forces of Catholic Austria and Protestant Transylvania. Villages were frequently destroyed by marauding troops and the size of the Rusyn population declined because of flight or death by disease brought by soldiers in the wake of foreign invasions. Frustrated with their fate, many Rusyns joined Hungary’s independent Transylvanian princes in their struggle against the Habsburgs. For instance, during the last great anti-Habsburg rebellion the troops serving the Transylvanian Hungarian Prince Ferenc II *Rakoczy (who was raised in the family castle of Mukachevo) were largely Rusyn peasants. Even though Rakoczy was finally defeated in 1711, a Hungarian legend arose about how the Rusyns proved themselves to be a people most faithful (gens fidelissima) to “their” prince and country. Another result of the defeat of Rakoczy was the full implementation of Austrian Habsburg rule throughout all of Hungary. For Carpathian Rus’ this meant the influx of new landlords, in particular the *Schonborn family from central Germany, which during the eighteenth century came to control large tracts of land and numerous Rusyn villages.

The Orthodox Church in Hungary was also caught up in the political rivalry between Catholic Austria and Protestant Transylvania. The church’s fate was closely tied to developments in Poland, where that country’s Catholic rulers were becoming increasingly alarmed at the rapid spread of Protestantism within their realm. Faced with such political and religious rivalries, several Orthodox priests and a few bishops, first in Poland and then in Hungary, decided to accept the *Unia/Church Union with the Catholic Church and thereby to recognize the authority of the pope in Rome. This was confirmed by agreements reached at the Union of Brest (1596) and the Union of Uzhorod (1646), after which the Uniate church came into being. Over the course of the next century the Orthodox Church was banned and all Carpatho-Rusyns became officially Uniate or, as they came to be known after the 1770s, Greek Catholic. Unlike the Orthodox, the Uniate/Greek Catholics were recognized as a Habsburg state church, and in 1771 they received their own independent *Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. Financially supported by the Austrian Habsburg authorities, the Greek Catholic Church by the late eighteenth century operated elementary schools and theological seminaries in which the Rusyn and Church Slavonic languages were taught. From these institutions came Greek Catholic clerics (Ioanykii *Bazylovych, Mykhail *Luchkai), who during the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries wrote the first histories of the Carpatho-Rusyns.

The rise of *nationalism throughout Europe during the nineteenth century also reached the Carpatho-Rusyns. They became particularly active as a group following the revolution of 1848 and after what turned out to be Hungary’s failed war of independence against Habsburg Austria. The short revolutionary period of 1848-1849 produced three important results: the abolition of serfdom; the arrival on the throne of a new Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph (who was to rule until 1916); and the beginnings of a Rusyn national revival. The Rusyn national revival was largely the work of two individuals. One was the Greek Catholic priest Aleksander *Dukhnovych, who in the 1850s founded the first Rusyn cultural society (in Presov), published the first literary almanacs and elementary schoolbooks, and wrote the lines to what became the Rusyn national credo: Ia Rusyn byl, iesm’ y budu (I was, am, and will remain a Rusyn). His name is also associated (perhaps incorrectly) with the Rusyn national *anthem: Podkarpatski rusyny, ostavte hlubokyj son (Subcarpathian Rusyns, Arise From Your Deep Slumber). The other was Adol’f *Dobrians’kyi, a member of the Hungarian parliament and Austrian government official who between 1849 and 1865 attempted to create a distinct Rusyn territorial entity within the Habsburg Empire.

Following political changes in the Habsburg Empire during the 1860s, the last decades of the nineteenth century turned out to be a difficult time for Carpatho-Rusyns. The empire was transformed into the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, which in practice meant that the Hungarian authorities could rule their “half” of the state without any intervention by the imperial government in Vienna. By the 1870s the Hungarian government had set out on a course to enhance the status of the Magyars and their language and culture. As a result, the Carpatho-Rusyn national revival was stopped by the rise of Hungarian chauvinism. This was also a period when the inhabitants of many Rusyn-inhabited villages, especially in the lowland regions of *Borshod, *Abov, *Zemplyn, and *Uzh counties, adapted either a Slovak or Magyar national identity.

Despite the establishment of a few factories (beginning in the 1870s and mostly related to forestry and mineral extractions) and the Hungarian government’s *Highlands Program (1897) intended to improve agricultural conditions, the Rusyn population continued to experience widespread poverty. Their situation was further acerbated by an increase in population, land shortage, and an underdeveloped industrial sector incapable of providing large-scale employment. Consequently, thousands of young men, in some cases entire families, were forced to emigrate in search of work. The out-migration was, in part, made easier by the appearance of several new railroad lines designed to connect the Austrian province of Galicia and upper Hungary with the Habsburg Monarchy’s capitals of Vienna and Budapest. The first Carpatho-Rusyn emigrants moved to the Backa Region (*Vojvodina) in the southern part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where colonists began to arrive as early as 1745. A much larger number of Carpatho-Rusyns, estimated at about 225,000, left between the 1880s and 1914 for the industrial regions of the northeastern United States.

The mid-nineteenth-century cultural revival led by Dukhnovych and Dobrians’kyi was able to preserve a sense of Carpatho-Rusyn national identity. It failed, however, to obtain *autonomy or any other political status specifically for Carpatho-Rusyns. All that was to change with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. For the next four years, thousands of Carpatho-Rusyns served loyally in the imperial Austro-Hungarian army, where many died or were wounded on the eastern front against Russia or in the killing fields of northeastern Italy. The war years also brought another kind of tragedy, especially for Rusyns in the *Lemko Region. In 1914-1915, as tsarist Russia occupied most of Galicia, Austrian officials suspected Lemko Rusyns of treason and deported nearly 6,000 to concentration camps, especially at *Talerhof near the city of Graz in Austria.

When the war ended in late 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist. Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in the United States had already begun to meet during late 1917 and early 1918 to discuss the political future of their European homeland, and under their leader Gregory *Zhatkovych they eventually supported the idea of a fully autonomous “Rusyn state” within the new country of Czechoslovakia. The idea of Carpatho-Rusyn autonomy or statehood was also accepted in the European homeland. At the same time, the postwar republic of Hungary responded by creating an autonomous entity called *Rus’ka Kraїna in December 1918, while Carpatho-Rusyn leaders were meeting between November 1918 and January 1919 in various national councils that called for union with either Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, or Czechoslovakia. Finally, in May 1919, the *Central Rusyn National Council met in Uzhhorod and decided that Rusyn living south of the Carpathians should be united as a “third state” with the new republic of Czechoslovakia.

The Lemko Rusyns north of the mountains expected to join their brethren to the south, but that request was rejected by the Uzhhorod Central National Council as well as by the Czechoslovak government. Consequently, they created an independent Lemko Rusyn Republic based in the village of Florynka and headed by Iaroslav *Kachmarchyk. The Florynka Lemko Republic lasted for nearly 16 months until March 1920, when its territory was incorporated into Poland. Finally, the 10,000 or so Rusyns living in the Vojvodina (Backa) region of southern Hungary joined a Serbian-dominated national congress and voted in November 1918 to be part of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia).

During the interwar years Carpatho-Rusyns in Czechoslovakia lived for the most part in the province of *Subcarpathian Rus’ (Podkarpats’ka Rus’). They had their own governor, elected representatives in both houses of the national parliament in Prague, and Rusyn-language schools. This was also a period when Rusyn cultural life flourished and when nearly one-third of the population left the Greek Catholic Church and “returned” to the Orthodox faith of their forefathers. Although Rusyns were considered one of the three “state peoples” of Czechoslovakia, they did not receive the political autonomy they were promised in 1918-1919. Moreover, about 100,000 Carpatho-Rusyns in the *Presov Region were administratively separated from Subcarpathian Rus’ and given only the status of a national minority within Slovakia. Despite such political problems, compounded by difficult economic conditions made worse by the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Carpatho-Rusyns enjoyed an extensive national revival and marked improvement in their educational and cultural status during Czechoslovak rule. In particular, they learned how to live in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.

One result of the newly found freedom was an increase in religious and national tensions. Left basically to themselves within a democratic Czechoslovakia, the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches clashed with each other in competition for new adherents and for control of church property, while supporters of the Rusyn, Russian, and Ukrainian national orientations, newspapers, the so-called *Rusynophiles, *Russophiles, and *Ukrainophiles, each had their own organizations, newspapers, and publications, which tried to convince the masses that they were either Rusyns, Russians, or Ukrainians.

In Poland, the Lemko Rusyns had no specific political status and no hopes for any kind of autonomy. Nevertheless, the Polish government during the 1930s did allow instruction in Lemko Rusyn in elementary schools and the establishment of Lemko civic and cultural organizations. Also, in an attempt to counteract the growing Orthodox movement, the Vatican created in 1934 a special Greek Catholic *Lemko Apostolic Administration so that parishes in the Lemko Region were no longer under the direct control of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic eparchy based in Przemysl.

On the eve of World War II the status of Carpatho-Rusyns changed substantially. As a result of the Munich Pact of September 30, 1938, Czechoslovakia became a federal state. In early October Subcarpathian Rus’ finally received its own long-awaited autonomous government, headed by Andrii *Brodii. By November 1938 a second autonomous government, headed by the local pro-Ukrainian leaders, Avhustyn *Voloshyn and *Iuliian Revai, changed the province’s name to *Carpatho-Ukraine. That same month, Hungary annexed a southern strip of Carpatho-Ukraine that included its main cities Uzhhorod and Mukachevo. When, on March 15, 1939, Hitler destroyed what remained of Czechoslovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence but was immediately invaded and soon annexed by Hungary. For the rest of the war Subcarpathian Rus’ (Carpatho-Ukraine) remained under Hungarian rule, while Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region remained in what became an independent Slovak state closely allied to Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, north of the mountains, the Lemko Rusyns found themselves under German rule after Poland was destroyed in September 1939 and the Lemko Region was annexed to Hitler’s Third Reich. Finally, in the wake of the German-led invasion of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, the Vojvodina with its Carpatho-Rusyn inhabitants was annexed to Hungary. Thus, during World War II, Carpatho-Rusyn lands were ruled either by Nazi Germany or its allies, Hungary and Slovakia.

For most of the war years the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland did not suffer any military damage and the economic situation was relatively stable. This did not mean, however, that all segments of the population were exempt from the suffering caused by the new political conditions. In 1939-1940 nearly 40,000 Carpatho-Rusyns, mostly young males opposed to Hungary’s annexation of Subcarpathian Rus’, fled across the mountains into eastern Galicia, the former Polish region which after September 1939 was annexed to the Soviet Union. The young refugees, who expected to be welcomed to join in the fight against fascism, were instead arrested, accused of crossing into Soviet territory illegally, and sent to concentration camps. Three years later, those who survived were allowed to join the new *Czechoslovak Army Corps set up to fight alongside the Soviet Army against Hitler.

At home in Subcarpathian Rus’, called simply Subcarpathia (Karpatalja) by the Hungarians, Carpatho-Rusyns had a modicum of cultural freedom. The “Uhro-Rusyn” language was taught in schools, and Rusyn publications and cultural societies were permitted as long as they were pro-Hungarian in political orientation. Expressions of pro-Ukrainian sentiment were forbidden, however. The war years were particularly harsh for the over 100,000 *Jews who made up nearly one-quarter of the population in Subcarpathian Rus’. In the spring of 1944 the Hungarian and Slovak authorities, under pressure from Germany, deported virtually all of the region’s Jewish inhabitants to the Nazi death camps, where they perished. As a result, the Jewish presence, which for several centuries had been an integral part of the Carpatho-Rusyn environment, ceased to exist.

In the fall of 1944 the German Army, together with its Hungarian and Slovak allies, was driven from all parts of Carpathian Rus’ by the Soviet Army. Among the victorious Soviet forces was the Czechoslovak Corps, with its large contingent of Rusyn soldiers. During the course of the war the Allied Powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union) had agreed that Subcarpathian Rus’ should again be part of a restored Czechoslovak state. In October 1944, however, the Soviet Generalissimo, Iosif Stalin, suddenly changed his mind. With the help of local Communists, the Soviets laid the groundwork for the annexation of Subcarpathian Rus’, now called *Transcarpathian Ukraine, to the “Soviet Ukrainian motherland.” No general plebiscite was ever held, and in June 1945 a provisional Czechoslovak parliament (in the absence of Carpatho-Rusyn representation) ceded Subcarpathian Rus’ to the Soviet Union. Within less than a year Transcarpathian Ukraine, designated simply Transcarpathia, was reduced to the status of an oblast like all others within the Soviet Ukraine. As for other parts of Carpathian Rus’, the Presov Region remained within Czechoslovakia; the Lemko Region became part of a restored Poland; and the Vojvodina became part of the republic of Serbia within a federated Yugoslavia.

Within a few years after the end of World War II all Carpatho-Rusyns found themselves under Communist rule, either in the Soviet Union or in countries under Soviet domination. The last of these countries to become Communist was Czechoslovakia, in 1948. That same year Yugoslavia freed itself from the Soviet bloc although still remaining Communist.

Communist rule had a particularly negative impact on traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life. During the first few years after World War II the Greek Catholic Church was outlawed; land was taken from the individual farmers who were obliged, often against their will, to work in collective or cooperative farms; and the Rusyn nationality was forbidden. Anyone who might claim his or her identity as Rusyn was forcibly listed in official documents as a Ukrainian. The Rusyn language was banned in schools and in all publications.

An even worse fate befell the nearly 180,000 Lemko Rusyns living in Poland. Soviet authorities encouraged Lemkos to emigrate to the Soviet Ukraine and between 1945 and 1946 about two-thirds did so. Then, in the spring of 1947, those Lemkos who had remained in the Carpathians (ca. 40,000) were driven from their homes by Polish security forces during the so-called *Vistula Operation. The Lemkos were forced to live in the former German lands of western and northern postwar Poland (in particular Silesia). As for the Lemko Region itself, many age-old Rusyn villages were destroyed while others were taken over by Polish settlers.

The only exception to the sad fate of Carpatho-Rusyns during the post-World War II Communist era was Yugoslavia. In the Vojvodina and the neighboring Srem region Rusyns were recognized as a distinct nationality with their own government-supported schools, publications, cultural organizations, radio, and television programs. The Greek Catholic Church was also allowed to function in Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1974, when the Vojvodina became an autonomous province within the republic of Serbia, the Rusyns became one of the five official nationalities in the region.

Despite the harshness of Communist rule, the Carpatho-Rusyns did from time to time protest their fate. In Poland during the late 1950s Lemkos began to return illegally to their native mountain villages, and by the 1980s about 10,000 succeeded in re-establishing homesteads or in buying back their old houses. Some Lemkos also tried to set up their own cultural organizations and publications distinct from Ukrainians, but they were blocked in those efforts by the Polish government.

In neighboring Slovakia Carpatho-Rusyns protested their reclassification as Ukrainians by identifying themselves as Slovaks and sending their children to Slovak schools. The result was large-scale assimilation among Carpatho-Rusyns in the Presov Region, whose numbers according to official statistics declined by two-thirds, especially after the policy of forced ukrainianization was implemented in 1952. During the Prague Spring of 1968, when Czechoslovakia’s leaders tried to “humanize” *Communism, Carpatho-Rusyns in Slovakia’s Presov Region demanded the return of their nationality as well as the re-establishment of Rusyn schools and publications. Those efforts were terminated, however, by the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union and its allies on August 21, 1968. Within a year of the invasion the hard-line pro-Soviet Czechoslovak Communist authorities once again banned all activity that might in any way be connected with a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn identity. Only the Greek Catholic Church, which was restored in Czechoslovakia in June 1968, was allowed to survive, although it rapidly dropped its former Carpatho-Rusyn orientation and became an instrument of slovakization. Thus, the four decades of Communist rule following World War II brought to an end many aspects of traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life and led to the virtual disappearance of the group as a distinct nationality.

Carpatho-Rusyns, like every other people in central and eastern Europe, were profoundly influenced by the reforms that began in the Soviet Union after the accession to power in 1985 of Mikhail Gorbachev as head of the Soviet Communist party. The first changes took place among the Lemko Rusyns in Poland, who as early as 1983 organized in the Lemko Region an annual folk and cultural festival (*Vatra). The goal of the Vatra was to restore among Lemkos the idea that they belonged to a distinct nationality that was neither Ukrainian nor Polish, but Lemko, or Carpatho-Rusyn.

The latest Carpatho-Rusyn national revival really got underway only after the fall of Communism in 1989. During the next two years a new organization to promote the idea of a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality was established in each of the countries where Rusyns live except Romania: the *Society of Carpatho-Rusyns (Obshchestvo karpatskych rusynov) in Ukraine, the *Rusyn Renaissance Society (Rusyn’ska obroda) in Slovakia, the *Lemko Association (Stovaryshynia Lemkiv) in Poland, the *Society of Friends of Subcarpathian Rus’ (Spolecnost pratel Podkarpatske Rusi) in the Czech Republic, the *Rusyn Cultural Foundation (Ruska Matka) in Yugoslava, and the *Organization of Rusyns in Hungary, a country where it was thought Rusyns had disappeared through assimilation by the end of the nineteenth century. Also, for the first time since World War II, Rusyn-language newspapers and magazines began to appear, including *Rusyn and *Narodny novynky in Slovakia, *Podkarpats’ka Rus’ in Ukraine, *Besida in Poland, and *Rusynskyi zhyvot in Hungary.

The greater ease of travel following the fall of Communism allowed Carpatho-Rusyns new opportunities for cross-country cooperation. As a result, in March 1991 the first *World Congress of Rusyns and, in November 1992, the first Congress of the Rusyn Language were held, both in Slovakia. The cultural and organizational activities that have taken place since the Revolution of 1989 have in varying degrees been assisted by the governments of all the countries in which Rusyns live, except Ukraine. In 1991 Rusyns were recognized and recorded as a distinct nationality even in the census of the former Czech and Slovak Federated Republic.

In the wake of the Revolution of 1989 the vast majority of Carpatho-Rusyns in Europe found themselves living in new countries. In the summer of 1991 the Rusyns of Yugoslavia became divided by a new state boundary between a smaller Yugoslavia (that still included the Vojvodina) and a newly independent Croatia. The Rusyns in Croatia (about 2,500 in the area near Vukovar) found themselves in the war zone between Croatia and Serbia. There they suffered much material loss and were subjected to deportation as part of Serbia’s policy of ethnic cleansing. At the end of 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Carpatho-Rusyns in Transcarpathia voted overwhelmingly in favor of an independent Ukraine. Finally, in January 1993 the Czechoslovak state broke up, so that the Presov Region Rusyns since then live in an independent Slovakia.

Today, the governments of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Yugoslavia recognize Carpatho-Rusyns as a national minority. In Hungary the first of nine communities that have a *Rusyn minority self-government was created in 1994. Rusyn organizations in each country are concerned primarily with preserving the group’s existence as a distinct nationality through cultural activity, such as publications and the work of scholarly institutions, schools, and theaters. In Ukraine’s Transcarpathia, however, the emphasis has been on political activity, in particular efforts to obtain autonomy.

In December 1991, at the same time that the citizens of Ukraine voted in a referendum for their independence, 78 percent of the inhabitants of Transcarpathia voted in favor of autonomy (self-rule) for their province. To date, neither Ukraine’s government nor its parliament has implemented the promised autonomy voted on by over three-fourths of Transcarpathia’s population in a legal vote. In an attempt to put pressure on Ukraine to fulfill the results of the December 1991 referendum a “Provisional Government of the Republic of Subcarpathian Rus’” was formed in Uzhhorod in May 1993, headed by Ivan M. *Turianytsia.

The Rusyn national revival that began in the 1980s has not been greeted with universal favor. Those individuals in each country who accept a Ukrainian self-identity and who head pro-Ukrainian organizations reject all efforts by Carpatho-Rusyns to assert their national identity. Local Ukrainian leaders state categorically that “there cannot and should not be” a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality: the pro-Ukrainians believe that all Rusyns are a regional variant or “branch” of the Ukrainian nationality. Such views are particularly widespread in Ukraine, the only country that refuses to recognize Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct people. Despite such denials, the idea of a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn nationality and culture continues to be greeted favorably in neighboring countries where the group lives as a minority (Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia) and by several non-governmental organizations based in other countries who are concerned with the fate of minority cultures and languages in Europe.

Bibliography: Hermann Ignac Bidermann, Die ungarischen Ruthenen, ihr Wohngebiet, ihr Erwerb und ihre Geschichte, 2 vols. (Innsbruck, 1862-67); L. Iavdyk, Istoriia Ugorskoi Rusi (Warsaw, 1904); Sokyrnyts’kyi Syrokhman [A. Hodinka], Uttsiuznyna, hazdustvo y proshlost’ iuzhno-karpatskykh Rusynuv (Budapest, 1922)—English ed.: “The Home of the Ruthenian People,” Oxford Hungarian Review (1922), pp. 51-77; Yrenei Mykh. Kondratovych, Ystoriia Podkarpatskoi Rusy dlia naroda (Uzhhorod, 1924; 2nd rev. ed., 1925; repr. 1st ed., 1991); Iuliian Tarnovych, Iliustrovana istoriia Lemkivshchyny (L’viv, 1936; repr. New York, 1964); Oleksander Mytsiuk, Narysy z sotsiial’no-hospodars’koi istorii b. Uhors’koi nyni Pidkarpats’koi Rusy, 2 vols. (Uzhhorod, 1936-38); Aldo Dami, La Ruthenie subcarpathique (Geneva-Annemasse, 1944); Ivan G. Kolomiets, Ocherki po istorii Zakarpat’ia, 2 vols. (Tomsk, 1953-59); Ivan G. Kolomiets, Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskie otnosheniia i obshchestvennoe dvizhenie v Zakarpat’e vo vtoroi polovine XIX stoletiia, 2 vols. (Tomsk, 1961-62); L’udovit Haraksim, K socialnym a kulturnym dejinam Ukrajincov na Slovensku do roku 1867 (Bratislava, 1961); Omelian Stavrovs’kyi, Slovats’ko-pol’s’ko-ukrains’ke prykordonnia do 18 stolittia (Bratislava and Presov, 1967); Y.F. Lemkyn [Ioann Polianskii], Ystoryia Lemkovyny (Yonkers, N.Y., 1969); Shliakhom do shchastia: narysy istorii Zakarpattia (Uzhhorod, 1973); Iz istorije vojvodanskih rusina do 1941 godine (Novi Sad, 1977); Paul Robert Magocsi, The Shaping of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rus’, 1848-1948 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978); Fedor Labosh, Istoriia rusinokh Bachkei, Srimu i Slavonii 1745-1918 (Vukovar, 1979); Ivan Vanat, Narysy novitn’oi istorii ukraintsiv Skhidnoi Slovachchyny, 2 vols. (Bratislava and Presov, 1979-85; 2nd ed., vol. I, 1990); Paul Robert Magocsi, Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America (Toronto, Ont., 1984; 3rd rev. ed., 1994); Ivan Hvat and Oleksander Baran, “Istoriia,” in Bohdan O. Strumins’kyi, ed., Lemkivshchyna: zemlia —liudy —istoriia —kul’tura, Vol. I (New York, Paris, Sydney, and Toronto, 1988), pp. 149-376; Oleksander Baran, Narysy istorii Priashivshchyny (Winnipeg, 1990); Vikentii Shandor, Zakarpattia: istorychno pravnyi narys vid IX st. do 1920 (New York, 1992); Ivan Hranchak, ed., Narysy istorii Zakarpattia, 2 vols. (Uzhhorod, 1993-95); Paul Robert Magocsi, The Rusyns of Slovakia: An Historical Survey (New York, 1993); Ianko Ramach, Kratka istoriia rusnatsokh (Novi Sad, 1994).

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

 Copyright © 2013