Carpatho-Rusyns - History and Cultural Relations



The Carpatho-Rusyns and their ancestors have lived in the Carpathians since the sixth and seventh centuries. Further migration of East Slavs from the north and east and Vlach shepherds from the south continued from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. After a period of tenuous political ties with Kievan Rus' in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Rusyn-inhabited lands south of the mountain crests were joined to Hungary and those in the north (the Lemko region) to Poland. In 1772 the Lemko region became part of the Austrian province of Galicia, which, with Hungary, formed part of the Austrian and, later, Austro-Hungarian Empire. When that empire fell in late 1918, Carpatho-Rusyns strove to create an independent state or to join in federation with a larger neighbor. By 1919 Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians were incorporated into the new state of Czechoslovakia, whereas those to the north (the Lemko region) were, with the rest of Galicia, annexed to a restored Poland. In Czechoslovakia, about three-quarters of Carpatho-Rusyns lived in their own province called Subcarpathian Rus' (Carpatho-Ruthenia), where they enjoyed a measure of self-rule. In Poland, the Lemkos were deterred from joining Czechoslovakia, and until early 1920, when Poland established its authority over them, they governed themselves in a Lemko "republic." On the eve of World War II, Czechoslovakia granted Subcarpathian Rus' (by then known as Carpatho-Ukraine) full autonomy, but in March 1939 the region was reannexed to Hungary. A few months later (September) Poland fell and the Lemko region was annexed by Germany's Third Reich. In 1945 Subcarpathian Rus' was joined to the Soviet Union as the Transcarpathian Oblast of the Ukrainian SSR. This left the Rusyn-inhabited Prešov region within Czechoslovakia and the Lemko region within Poland. As a result of a Polish-Soviet agreement, nearly two-thirds of the Lemko Rusyn population were resettled in various parts of the Soviet Ukraine; the remainder were forcibly deported in 1947 to those parts of western and northern Poland (Silesia, Pomerania) that had formerly belonged to Germany.

Closely related to political change has been the question of national identity. A national revival began during the second half of the nineteenth century, and since then there has been an ongoing debate whether Carpatho-Rusyns are Russians, Ukrainians, or a distinct nationality. After 1945, with direct Soviet rule in the Transcarpathian Oblast and its political dominance over Poland and Czechoslovakia, all Rusyns were simply declared to be Ukrainian. With the political changes of the 1980s culminating in the upheavals of 1989, there has been a revival of the Rusyn identity among Rusyns living in Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland.

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