When in Ruthenia . . .

ruthenia111408.jpgRecent stories about Russian passports being distributed in Crimea, Ukraine have raised quite a ruckus. But that doesn’t seem to be the only place in the Ukraine with some ethnic nationalism issues, and a new report we’ve translated from Izvestiya after the jump tells the story of Moscow’s possible assistance to the Ruthenians – an ethnic group located in Transcarpathia, the western-most Oblast of the country, near the Polish, Slovakian, Hungarian, and Romanian borders. For centuries, the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and known as Subcarpathia. (Everything depends on where you’re looking from: if your vantage point is Vienna or Budapest, the region is in the foothills “below” the Carpathian mountains, hence “Subcarpathia”. But if you’re looking from Moscow or Kiev, it’s on the “other side” of the mountains, hence “Transcarpathia”!) After World War I, it became an autonomous region in the very east of the newly-formed country of Czecho-Slovakia. And then, after the Red Army had “liberated” it in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Stalin decided to keep the region for himself and attached it to Ukraine. The local inhabitants are known as the Rusyn; Ruthenian is a Latinized version of the word. The Ruthenians have never had an independent state of their own, but, as mentioned above, did enjoy a measure of autonomy in the inter-war period. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Ruthenians had hoped for autonomous status within Ukraine, but this did not happen. For a small, nearly unknown nationality, the Ruthenians have certainly left their mark on the world. Many came to the US and Canada during the big immigration waves from Eastern Europe in the decades preceding World War I. A very large part settled in Pennsylvania and worked in the coal mines and steel mills. Their descendants include Andy Warhol, the actors Tom Selleck, Robert Urich, and Sandra Dee, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, comic book illustrator Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spiderman), jazz pianist Bill Evans, and the inventor of the LED, Nick Holonyak. The highly acclaimed 1978 Vietnam war movie The Deer Hunter is about Ruthenian-Americans in Pennsylvania.

The following is an exclusive translation from Izvestiya:ruthenia2111408.jpg

Ruthenians will wake up and bloodlessly separate from Ukraine?A new republic is this close to appearing in TranscarpathiaBy Yuri SnegirevTwelve policemen burst into the church of Christ the Saviour last Friday. They broke down doors, scuffled with the abbot, and broke a digital photo camera for him. You will say that such a thing can not be? But the church is found in Transcarpathian Uzhgorod! The guardians of order were looking for traces of a conspiracy, practically a state overthrow. And they had weighty reasons. The abbot of the church of Christ the Saviour in Uzhgorod, father Dmitry Sidor, heads a movement of Ruthenians for the restoration of their original statehood. The Soim [a representative body (same root as the Polish Sejm)—Trans.] of the Ruthenian people has already issued an ultimatum: if by 1 December the Oblast Rada does not come to its senses and does not recognize the state of the Ruthenians Transcarpathian Ruthenia in the composition of Ukraine on the rights of an autonomy, then the Ruthenians themselves will declare themselves to be fully independent. On the example of Kosovo. Our observer ended up in the very center of the struggle for the independence of the Ruthenian people.The Fourth SlavicI remember school history lessons well. And where lived the Western Slavs, the Southern and the Eastern. Among the Eastern only three peoples – Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians.“There was, there was still a fourth Eastern Slavic people!”, convinces me the chairman of the Oblast party organization “Rodina” and the political bloc “Ruthenian Rodina”, Petr Hrecko. “But Stalin blacked out all mentions of it. And after the war they annexed Subcarpathian Ruthenia (that’s how they call Transcarpathia here.—Yu.S.) to Ukraine. And we, the Ruthenians, by the way, had our own statehood even two years before the formation of the USSR. And for this reason are demanding that Russia, as the legal successoress of the USSR, recognize the erroneousness of the Stalinist annexation.We’re talking with Petr in the damp and cold refectory of the still unfinished Uzhgorod church of Christ the Saviour. Here beats the heart of Ruthenian statehood. And its messiah is the abbot of the church, father Dmitry Sidor. But he’s always busy – he runs around with “mobilka” in hand and gives valuable indications. Finally, he found a brief minute for a talk with a correspondent. With a thick black beard and formidable sparkling eyes he looked like Malyuta Skuratov [one of Ivan the Terrible’s most notorious secret policemen—Trans.].“What!? You, a Russian person, don’t know who the Ruthenians are?!”, the server of the cult [Soviet term for “man of the cloth”—Trans.], and concurrently future president of Subcarpathian Ruthenia, furrowed his thick brows. “We’re going to bury you alive in clay!!!”“Have mercy, father! Leave the head at least!” – I understood, of course, that this was a joke, but that’s not how people meet correspondents.“All right, the first time I forgive you. But it is criminal not to know about the existence of a fraternal people. There are, by the way, eight hundred thousand of us out of a one million two hundred thousand population of the Oblast. And in the whole world more than three millions! (To be fair, I will cite the official numbers: according to the latest all-Ukrainian census in Transcarpathian Oblast resided 10 069 Ruthenians.)“But according to official data…” I began to doubt.“They’re lying, those official data of yours! That Yushchenko rewrote everything. They’re afraid of us! And he personally promised before the elections to the Americans that he’d recognize us as an autonomy. He tricked! Here, even the Oblast Rada, where only one Ruthenian sits, by a majority recognized us as a separate people. But what kind of a people is it without a state?”“And if they don’t recognize, what are you going to do?”Father Sidor looked at me with a Leninist narrowing of the eyelids. As if though a radiological apparatus had turned on. In the deathly silence the clergyman pronounced:“And what do you need that for? You’ll write, and this will play into the hands of our enemies. I won’t tell you!!!”Recalling the promise of father Sidor, I didn’t want to argue with him. All the more so because in the corner there hung a real Ruthenian tricolour with a coat of arms, on which stood a Carpathian bear in battle position. Petr Hrecko with unheard-of enthusiasm sang to me the state hymn, where Russian brothers are mentioned three times, no less! To the singing, security peeped out, and, having convinced themselves that there was no violence, disappeared behind the doors. Then Hrecko showed me brand-new Ruthenian passports. Laminated multi-colored pieces of paper with the insignia “Legitimatsija”. Looking out at me from the passports were severe Ruthenian faces born in the 1940s. The Ruthenian people is getting old!“And what about money?”“We had wanted to issue our own cash “daks”. But then we thought it over. Every Ruthenian citizen is going to have a little plastic card. All settlements non-cash. Maybe in Russian rubles, or maybe in something else. The main thing is that there won’t be corruption in the new state! Everything is ingeniously simple!”, Hrecko continued the tale.One day before our meeting, two agents of the security Service of Ukraine attempted to detain Petr. They took him by the hands, but by a miracle he wrenched free and escaped. Now Petr won’t show his nose outside the confines of the church – employees of the SBU are promenading about the church fence and keeping watch on the apostles of the new faith in a Ruthenian state, in order to deliver them to interrogation. Neither Petr nor his confederates respond to the summonses in principle.“The Ukrainian state machine on our land is illegitimate!”, they declare. “We have our own tribunal. Only to it do we submit!”How do you say “vodka” in Ruthenian?That Petr wasn’t lying about Ukrainian security, this I understood immediately, as soon as I exited from the church. At the entrance stood “Zhigulis” [“Ladas” in English—Trans.] with completely dark tinted windows. Two characters in black coats were smoking nearby. One, with a bald head and a moustache, not even saying goodbye to his comrade, set off after me down along Schwabian Street. I purposely spent a long time examining shop display windows, walked into a bank to ask about the exchange rate of the hryvna to the Swaziland lilangeni. The bald guy kept pace. Finally, this got boring for me. With a can of beer I entered into a jeans store. There, having made an awkward movement, to the horror of the saleswoman, I poured “Obolon” all over myself.“Where have you got a toilet around here?”, I asked all innocent-like.When the saleswoman accompanied me “do vitru” [a local euphemism, which sounds suspiciously like “to the wind” to a Russian ear—Trans.], the bald guy was still hanging around by the shop window. From the toilet to the service exit was just one step. And I took it. I’ve had a dislike for tails since my student days…And where I was going was to a bookmonger’s, where one of the shining lights of the Ruthenian movement, the writer Ivan Petrovcij, works. Of course, the agents knew all the activists by name perfectly well. But I didn’t want to lead them to him.In the microscopic pigeonhole of “Fajnaja kniha” (which means “good book”—Yu.S.) sat the writer Petrovcij. He had written seven books in the Ruthenian language. One of them about obscene verses. The Ruthenians use our, Russian, obscenities. Now he’s writing an eighth. And is looking for sponsors for its publication – here too, commerce trumps true culture.“I’ve been in the Ruthenian movement since the very beginning, since the year 1989!”, began the writer.“What, there weren’t any Ruthenians before ’89?”“There have always been Ruthenians! There was no movement for our rights. At first a Ruthenian autonomy existed in the composition of Austria-Hungary. After the First World [War] they gave it over to Czechoslovakia. And there it prospered with equal rights on an equal footing with Slovakia right on up until the ending of the Second World [War].“On whose side did the Ruthenians fight?”“Well, since we were in the composition of Czechoslovakia, that means, for the Czechs and the Slovaks.”“For Hitler?”“And where could they have gone? But that’s not what we’re talking about. The new Ukrainian power cruelly deceived the Ruthenians. Already at the referendum of 1 December of the year 1991 was our expression of will about how, and I quote: [in Ukrainian—Trans.] ‘Transcarpathia is a special self-administered territory and as a subject (of international law) in the composition of Ukraine.’ Crimea they gave autonomy to. But to us – no! Thereby was laid a delayed-action bomb.”“Just how rich and mighty is the Ruthenian language? Many scholars assert that it’s nothing more than a dialect of Ukrainian…”- They’re lying! It differs from Ukrainian both lexically and phonetically! And I’m not even talking about morphology! Here, for example, a watchmaker in Ukrainian – “hodynnyk”. But in our language, in Ruthenian – “chasownik”. In Ukrainian a flower – “kvytka”. But in our language – “kosica”.“And how will horilka [Ukrainian for vodka] be (our conversation was taking place in a small café. – Yu.S.)?”, and I indicated at a small decanter.“Palinka”, – the writer became flustered for some reason.“But ‘palinka’, that’s in Hungarian!”“The Hungarians came here from the Urals and took over the name from us!” – confidently declared Petrovcij. [He’s probably right; the word contains a Slavic root meaning “to burn”—Trans.]“An hour ago I was chatting with your leader father Sidor. He promised to bury me…”“Pay no mind. He’s impulsive like that. I myself was in opposition to him earlier. But now we’re going the same way. We need to wake up the Ruthenian people. And calmly, bloodlessly, separate from Ukraine. Like Czechia and Slovakia.”“And you’re confident that this will be better for the Ruthenians?”“How else?!!”“Well, first of all, you won’t be able to separate from Ukraine bloodlessly (I didn’t start telling the writer about my tail). Second, Subcarpathian Ruthenia right after its self-proclamation will turn out to be in isolation. On the one side, the European Union, where such jokes don’t play. On the other – Ukraine.“But Russia has got to help us!”“I’m not president Medvedev, but I will say that even dropping [tins of] Russian stewed meat from an airplane won’t be possible – the airspace will be closed.”The writer pondered mightily, while I set off to the Oblast Rada, to which the Ruthenians had issued the ultimatum.Yo, deputies!The Transcarpathian Oblast Rada occupied the entire fifth story of the former Oblast Party Committee. Before the stately gray building on a huge green lawn, the coat of arms of independent Ukraine, diligently planted in yellow and blue irises, was in the process of losing its blossoms. The wind along the greater part had already carried away the petals, and the coat of arms looked shabby. As soon as I introduced myself in the waiting room of the chairman of the Oblrada, a secret movement began.“The chairman is away!” – animatedly reported the secretary.“How about the deputy [chairman]?”“He’s gone around the districts!”“Well, then the press-secretary, if worst comes to worst, or an assistant…”“There is an assistant!” – the secretary rejoiced and asked to telephone after lunch.The assistant gave the phone number of some kind of official for small nationalities, who flatly refused to talk with a journalist.“You must understand, I haven’t yet entered into my post, they haven’t yet confirmed me in Kiev…”I walked around the offices in the hope of meeting at least one measly people’s choice.There’s a whole 90 of them here! But the deputies either disguised themselves well as clerks,or were urgently going off to their districts. The secretaries only shrugged…And so it was all three days that I spent in Uzhgorod. As became clear later, official Kiev had given a command point-blank not to notice the Ruthenian problem. Can a state figure pay attention to a tiny bunch of crazies, after all? And at the same time there passed an indication to local information agencies to block information about what’s taking place in Transcarpathia on the front of the struggle for independence. Particular emphasis was placed on Crimea. Why would Kiev need extra disturbances?I’ll say right off the bat: with one deputy, who asked not to introduce him, I did nevertheless manage to talk heart-to-heart. It turns out, not all is so simple with Ruthenian statehood. The leaders of the national movement are placing their bets not in a vacuum. But about that read in “Izvestiya” on Friday.Hymn of the Subcarpathian RutheniansWords by A. DukhnovichПодкарпатские русины, Subcarpathian Ruthenians,Оставьте глубокий сон! Leave deep sleep!Народный голос зовет вас: The people’s voice calls you:Не забудьте о своем! Don’t forget about your own!Наш народ любимый Our beloved peopleДа будет свободный! May it be free!От него да отдалится May from it distance itselfНеприятелей буря. The storm of adversaries.Да посетит справедливость May fairness visitУж и русское племя! The Russian tribe too at last!Желание русских вождь: Desire is the leader of the Russians:Русский да живет народ! Russian may the people live!Просим Бога Вышняго We ask God the HighestДа поддержит русскаго May he support the RussanИ даст века лучшаго! And bring a better age!