17547Re: Rusyns demand Rusyn in church
- Feb 12, 2007I think you gave a very good account of the situation, Joe. One's
identity is formed by what others tell us what we are, beginning with
our parents and soon by others. Once we are a little older, we use
that information to begin to decide who we are for ourselves, but then
others can still influence us by labeling us in ways different from
what we'd rather choose.
Most of the Eastern Slavs in the former Kingdom of Hungary acquired a
fairly clear identity -- they became Rusyns (just as the Western Slavs
in the Kingdom became Slovaks and the Southern Slavs became Croats).
It was more complicated in Poland-Ukraine because the borders shifted
a lot all the time.
Although the Rusyns/Eastern Slavs still used several labels for
themselves once they found themselves in Czechoslovakia after 1918
(Rusin, Rusnak, Malorus, Rus, Ukrajinec...), it was clear that those
who did saw their identity as different from that of their West Slavic
fellow citizens and neighbors, the Slovaks, and the other way round.
That was crushed after WW II. Their administrative part of
Czechoslovakia, Sub-Carpathian Rus (the north-eastern part of the
earlier Kingdom for the preceding 800 years), was annexed by the
Soviet Union in 1945 and all the Eastern Slavs had to call themselves
Ukrainians there after that (Rusyn identity was banned).
Czechoslovakia, which turned communist in 1948, had to follow suit.
When Prague copied the Soviet ban on Rusyn identity, many Rusyns in
Slovakia were eager to call themselves Slovak out of fear that their
villages might still be annexed by Moscow, too, or they personally
deported if they called themselves Ukrainians (those fears were
probably unfounded by then).
So, the Rusyns in communist Czechoslovakia were left with two options:
either call themselves Ukrainians or Slovaks. Understandably, most
chose the second option -- the identity of the majority in the state
where they lived rather than the identity that was being forced on the
Rusyns across the border just east of them, who had now found
themselves in the Soviet Union -- a lot incomparably worse than being
in communist Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland.
After 40 years of Rusyn "official non-existence," communism collapsed
in Czechoslovakia, people are allowed to call themselves whatever they
want again, and Rusyn activists are trying to persuade the descendants
of those who used to call themselves Rusyns before communism to
recognize that identity for themselves again. It's an uphill
struggle: the decades of Slovak identity, intermarriage, migration
have taken their heavy toll on a group of people that was not
particularly numerous in Slovakia to begin with. Moreover, they've
lost the supportive influence/"hinterland" of the about 500,000 pre-WW
II Rusyn majority in Sub-Carpathian Rus where Ukraine is still
suppressing Rusyn identity.
About 90,000 people called themselves Rusyns (and related identities)
in pre-WW II democracy in Slovakia in the 1930 census. Immediately
after the collapse of communism, about 17,000 called themselves Rusyns
+ about 13,000 Ukrainians for a total of ca. 31,000 in the 1991
census, a precipitous drop of 60% while Slovakia's population actually
grew by 60% during the same period. Although activists (and Magocsi)
hoped then that the number might quadruple within a decade, it hasn't
happened: about 24,000 called themselves Rusyns + about 11,000
Ukrainians for a total of ca. 35,000 in the 2001 census.
Rusyn activists base their hopes on the higher number of people in
Slovakia who say their mother tongue is Rusyn, ca. 55,000 + 8,000
Ukrainian for a total of about 63,000 more than a half of whom
identify as Slovak; and on the number of Greek Catholics, ca. 220,000
plus ca. 50,000 Eastern Orthodox for a total of 270,000, most of whom
Rusyn activists tend to see as people who lost their Rusyn/East Slavic
identity over the centuries of living in the Kingdom among the Roman
Catholic and Protestant Slovaks and Hungarians.
People can claim whatever ethnicity and religion in Slovakia, and
change both freely, so it's been up to the activists and people's
choice in the past 16 years. But the present choices are among the
results of the annihilating grinder through which Rusyn identity was
put in the decades between the end of WW II and the collapse of communism.
votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
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