The Emergence of Subcarpathian Ruthenia

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The Ruthenians (from the Ukrainian Rusyn--a name used for Ukrainians in the Hapsburg monarchy) were Ukrainian-speaking mountain people who lived in the deep, narrow valleys of the Carpathian Mountains. In the eleventh century, Ruthenia (also known as Subcarpathian Ruthenia) came under the Hungarian crown. Poor peasants, grazers, and lumbermen, the Ruthenians were vassals and serfs of the Hungarian magnates dominating the plains of the Tisza River. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ruthenia lay within the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire. Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, most Ruthenians were converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to the Uniate Church. Combining spiritual allegiance to Rome with Orthodox rites, the Uniate Church enabled the Hungarian clergy to win the loyalty of their Eastern-oriented subjects.

The Ruthenians remained a poor, agrarian, and politically inert people. Ruthenian delegates did, however, attend the Slavic Congress in 1848 and later appealed to Vienna for autonomy and the right of cultural development. The great awakener of Subcarpathian Ruthenia was Oleksander Dukhnovych, a Uniate priest, who through his pedagogical, literary, and publishing activities attempted to save the Ruthenians from Hungarianization. The Ruthenian revival was fueled further by a vigorous movement in Galicia (under Austrian administration). But the Compromise of 1867 virtually eliminated the possibility of educational progress; Hungarianization affected all secondary schools and most elementary schools in Ruthenia. Many Ruthenians emigrated (over 50,000 before World War I). Russian pan-Slavic propaganda had an impact beginning in the late nineteenth century, and many Ruthenians became converts to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Political activity on behalf of Ruthenia during World War I was conducted by Ruthenian emigrants in the United States. They formed groups with varying political objectives: semiautonomy within Hungary, complete independence, federation in a Ukrainian state, inclusion in a Soviet federation, or union with the Czechs. The American Ruthenian leader, Gregory Zatkovic, negotiated with Masaryk to make Subcarpathian Ruthenia part of the Czechoslovak Republic. This decision received international sanction in the Treaty of Saint-Germain (September 10, 1919), which guaranteed Subcarpathian Ruthenia autonomy within the Czechoslovak Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress