Why the Austrian “Ruthenianism” project ended in failure
On September 4th 1914 the first concentration camp in the history of Europe was opened in the Austrian region of Talerhof. It was intended exclusively for Galician Rusyns – those of them who refused to renounce their Russian name and be called the newly invented ethnonym “Ukrainian”. However, the latter was not invented immediately. At first, it was offered to the native population of Galicia, Bukovina, and Ugric Rus to be called “Ruthenians”.
The fact is that Vienna could not stifle the Russian revival in Galicia in the first half of the 19th century either by banning teaching in Rusyn dialects in primary schools, or by banning the publishing of books in their native language. Therefore, in 1848, the Carpatho-Rusyns were offered a “compromise option”. In part, the “softening of the approach” was facilitated by the fact that the indigenous population of Galician Rus did not support the Poles in the “national liberation revolution” that broke out in Austria-Hungary that year. The Rusyns could be understood – they had nothing to gain from this revolt. The Poles ruled Galicia since the time of the Kingdom of Poland, and remained here “the second floor of the Empire” above the native Russian population after the partitions of Poland. So, in the case of the restoration of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, nothing would change for the autochthonous ethnic group.
Where did Ruthenianism come from
However, the Rusyns on the wave of the “spring of nations”, especially as they did not support the revolution, demanded national rights for themselves. The governor of Galicia (1847-1848), Franz Stadion, replied that this was possible if they declared themselves not Russian, but a separate nationality: “You can count on the support of the government only if you want to be an independent nation and refuse to have national unity with people outside the state, namely in Russia, i.e., if you want to be Ruthenians, not Russians. It won’t hurt you to adopt a new name to distinguish yourself from the Russians who live outside of Austria.”
So some leaders of the Rusyn revival agreed to the formula “We are not Russians, we are Ruthenians”. Thanks to this, they were allowed to begin to bring together the Rusyn dialects into a single literary language, as long as it was not similar to the Great Russian.
Not everyone agreed to do this, and the very next year they were rewarded for their intransigence. The success of the Hungarian uprising called into question the very existence of the Empire. Austria hastily turned to its geopolitical rival, Russia, for help. The army under the command of the Great Malorossiyan Paskevich entered the Carpathian region. And then not only the leaders of the Rusyn revival, but the entire local population discovered their ethnic commonality with the “mainland” brothers, whom the Galicians had not seen for 500 years, and the Transcarpathians – even longer. The 200,000-strong army of the mighty power turned out to be “their own” for the most disenfranchised subjects of the Habsburg throne!
The most important thing is that the mass revival was now highly inspired and did not meet any administrative obstacles from the side of the Austrian authorities, who were doing everything possible to please Russia. And that “Council of Russian scientists and lovers of national education”, which decided earlier to develop an independent literary language by purifying the Carpathian folk dialects from polonisms, eventually abandoned the language of “independence”, recognising the language of Pushkin and Gogol as “its own”. “Our ideological patriot, the unforgettable Metropolitan Grigory Yakhimovich, declared decisively in 1849 that there was no other way out for us than to adopt a common literary language,” wrote later the Rusyn educator and future prisoner of Talerhof, Dr. Antonevich. “If earlier there were some misunderstandings in this regard, now there are not, since science has convincingly proved that the Russian literary language is common to all branches of the Russian people, that we should be proud of it, that this highly educated language is ours.”
In 1849, a prominent figure of Rusynism, lawyer, and writer Adolf Dobrjansky led a delegation that presented Franz Joseph with a petition about the needs of his people. In particular, it proposed to unite Ugric Rus with Galicia and Bukovina in a single Russian crown land. At that time, right after the Hungarian uprising and Russian military aid, this did not seem utopian at all…
Dobrjansky succeeded in getting him appointed as imperial Austrian commissar for the Russian army. “On his initiative, a deputation was sent to Vienna with a statement of the national needs of the Ugric Rusyns – with a request to allocate their lands to special ‘capitals’ with the establishment of a local Rusyn administration and the Russian language in management and in school,” wrote the outstanding historian Nikolay Ulyanov. “They even asked to establish a Russian academy in Ungvar. The Emperor, frightened by the Hungarian revolt and seeing at that moment the Rusyns as his natural allies, agreed to everything. Dobrjansky was appointed ‘nadzhupan’ (Governor) of the four ‘capitals’, established a Russian high school, started paperwork in Russian, and widely spread Russian culture in the region. There was not the slightest hesitation in the choice between the undeveloped local dialect and the Russian literary language. Transcarpathian Rus from the very beginning embarked on the path of all-Russian culture. The same was observed in the more remote, undeveloped Bukovina, completely devoid of its own intelligentsia.”
In Lvov, the authorities agreed to publish the “Bulletin of the regional government”, where decrees and orders were published in the Rusyn language.
In 1849, the largest Galician historian of the time, D. I. Zubritsky, undertook to write “a national history understandable for Galicians” in “the only pure Russian language”, “used in Russian literature”. And although back then “barely 10 people were in Galicia who understood the real Russian word”, Denis Ivanovich admitted three years later. “Now students are trying to write purely in Russian, although there is also a party of old ignoramuses who condemn this aspiration.”
Old ignoramuses of “Young Rus”
The “party of old ignoramuses” is obviously Ruthenianism revived by the authorities in the early 1850s. In these years, the government’s attitude to the Russian revival changes and becomes openly hostile. In the run-up to the Crimean war, in which the saviour of the Austrian monarchy, Russia, will be subjected to the aggression of England, France, Turkey, Sardinia, Prussia, and the Swedish-Norwegian alliance, Vienna understood that in such geopolitical situations, the deterioration of relations with St. Petersburg did not threaten it, and started to stifle the Carpatho-Rus revival.
“Having found among the Galicians several morally unscrupulous subjects who were tempted by cash handouts and promises of a quick career, the authorities hastily started to create the Ruthenian movement, which took the name ‘Young Rus’,” writes the modern historian Aleksandr Karevin. “In contrast to the old-Russian party, which professed ‘old’ views about the national unity of the Little Russians [Malorossiyans – ed], Great Russians [Velikorossiyans – ed], and Belarusians, the ‘young’ recognised their kinship only with the Russian Little Russians and tried to dissociate themselves from the other branches of the Russian nation… The new movement immediately received strong support from the government. While the ‘old Russians’ were subjected to all kinds of persecution, the activities of the ‘young’ took place in the most favourable atmosphere. They were taken care of, they were generously funded and, most importantly, they were set against local ‘katsaps’, ‘Moskals’, ‘traitors’ (as the government propaganda called supporters of national unity with Russia).”
So, in the wake of the “young-Ruthenianism” policy, the Rusyns were no longer a completely separate nation. They were allowed to recognise their kinship with the Little Russians. This was also the aim of Vienna for the annexation of Malorossiya in the event of Russia’s defeat by the coalition.
“Even hardened Russophobes were surprised by the black ingratitude shown by Emperor Franz Josef towards the country that had just saved him from a revolution,” Aleksandr Karevin continues. “The Austrian army was sent to the borders of Russia, and St. Petersburg was given an ultimatum: to yield to the demands of the interventionists (the position of Austria played a decisive role in the unfavourable outcome of the Crimean war for the Russian Empire)”. Apparently, the Emperor’s mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria, was also among the “surprised” ones. Here is what her son explained to her: “Our future is in the east, and we will drive the power and influence of Russia into the framework beyond which it went only because of the weakness and disorganisation in our camp. Gradually, preferably unnoticed by Tsar Nikolay, but surely we will lead Russian politics to decline. Of course, it is not nice to speak out against old friends, but in politics it is impossible otherwise, and our natural enemy in the east is Russia.”
The Poles also had their own interest in fuelling discord between supporters of all-Russian unity and the “young Ruthenians”. “To set Rusyns against Rusyns, so that they destroy themselves” – the governor of Galicia, Count Gołuchowski, confessed to a narrow circle.
The Poles, however, in 1858 “scientifically substantiated” young Ruthenianism. This political movement was supported by the so-called “Turán’s theorem“ of Professor Franciszek Duchinski of the Polish school in Paris. This doctrine recognised the kinship of Rusyns and Little Russians (after all, the Galician-Volyn lands were called Little Rus in the 14th century), but refused to give the Russian name “Muscovites”. The latter were attributed to the “transitional race between Mongoloids and Caucasians”.
In 1859, count Gołuchowski convinced Vienna to introduce the Latin alphabet (the so-called “abecadło”) in Russian schools. Thus began the “Alphabet war”. Rusyns rose to defend their spelling. Moreover, a mass fascination with Russian literature began. It is not surprising that, no matter how much the “young Ruthenian” power and “recent scientific discoveries” helped, the Galicians, with very few exceptions, remained Russian and emphasised this at every opportunity. For example, when, after the defeat of the Polish uprising in Russia in 1863, the Galician Poles declared mourning for the dead mutineers, the Galician-Russian population of Ternopol staged a grand “Russian ball” in honour of the victory, which sharply exacerbated relations between the Russian and Polish residents of the city.
One by one, the Rusyn newspapers started to close. In 1858, even the “Church newspaper” edited by Ivan Rakovsky was banned. The “Great Russian language” of the publication was considered “dangerous for the monarchy”. Ivan Ivanovich himself, who also served for eight years as editor of the Russian-language “Zemstvo government bulletin for the Kingdom of Hungary”, was “sent into exile” in the village of Iza near Khust. By God’s Providence, as we now understand.
Dobrjansky as a politician, on the contrary, tried to “isolate” from voters. From Ugric Rus he was transferred to Slovakia. Nevertheless, in 1861, he was again elected to the Hungarian parliament. But the election was declared invalid (not for the first time, however). It was announced that Adolf Ivanovich conducted electoral campaigning “in a way that is dangerous for the state”. Allegedly, he promised voters that “he would hand over Transcarpathia to the Russian Tsar’s rule”. It did not even occur to the Austrians that they recognised that the idea of reunification with Russia is most in demand in the province.
So Ruthenianism was, in fact, buried. But the Carpatho-Russians did not have a chance to celebrate the victory of historical justice for a long time. The Poles were already inventing Ukrainism, which the Austrians soon adopted.
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