RFE/RL on intolerance in Belarus and Ruthenians in Ukraine

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Subject: RFE/RL on intolerance in Belarus and Ruthenians in Ukraine

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RFE/RL on intolerance in Belarus and Ruthenians in Ukraine

RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
Vol. 2, No. 2, 11 January 2000

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the
Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team



of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences interviewed some 250
youths living in Minsk and Minsk Oblast about social attitudes toward
other nationalities in Belarus, Belapan reported on 9 January.

Answering the question "Have you ever come across instances of
disrespect for persons of different nationalities?" 33 percent of
respondents answered "yes, and rather often." However, 53 percent said
they witnessed such an attitude "rarely," while 12 percent said they
had not come across such behavior at all.

Asked to name possible reasons for Belarusians' animosity toward other
ethnic groups, 49 percent said those groups "always swindle" and 44
percent said "they behave like masters." Thirty-three percent noted
that "they think that everything can be sold and bought," 29 percent
were of the opinion that "they create tension where they live," while
19 percent said that "they are always disdainful toward us." Other
respondents said that ethnic groups "brought drug addiction and AIDS
to us" (16 percent), "show no respect for our customs" (15 percent),
or "are richer than us" (12 percent).


After seven years of failing to gain recognition, the self-proclaimed
government of Carpathian Ruthenia has suspended its work, ITAR-TASS
reported on 3 January. "Ruthenians have appreciated the strategy and
efforts of President Leonid Kuchma and his firm course toward
democratic changes and the observance of human rights, the rights of
ethnic minorities and their free cultural development," the agency
quoted Ivan Turyanytsa, the "prime minister" of Carpathian Ruthenia,
as saying in a statement circulated by "local media" on 3 January. In
that statement, Turyanytsa also expressed the hope that Ukraine will
finally recognize the Ruthenians as a nation, ITAR-TASS added.

For most readers in either the West or the East, this is certainly a
mystifying piece of news. Who are the Ruthenians and where is their
Ruthenia? Two interesting books, to which this article is heavily
indebted, provide a fascinating introduction to the problem of the
people denoted in English by some writers as Ruthenians: "A New Slavic
Language Is Born" (1996, Columbia University Press, New York; edited
by Paul Robert Magocsi) and "Focus on the Rusyns" (1999, The Danish
Cultural Institute, Copenhagen). There is also an interesting Web site
at http://www.tccweb.org/rusynback.htm, with a great deal of
information on Carpatho-Rusyns - another name for Ruthenians.

Rusyns live in the Carpathian Mountains and are scattered across
several international frontiers. In Ukraine, they inhabit
Transcarpathian (Zakarpatska) Oblast, which borders on Romania,
Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. In Slovakia, they can be found mainly
in the Presov region, and in Poland, they live in two separate regions
in the southern part of the country. There is also a community of
Ruthenians in Yugoslavia's Vojvodina (to where they emigrated in the
18th century), and groups in Romania and Hungary, while there is a
large Rusyn diaspora in the U.S. and Canada, although its exact
numerical strength is not known. According to some estimates, there
may be as many as 1 million Ruthenians worldwide, including some
600,000 in Ukraine's Transcarpathia.

Linguists disagree as to whether the (Carpatho-) Rusyn language is a
separate Slavic language or a dialect of
Ukrainian. Professor Magocsi from the University of Toronto argues
that it is a separate language, at least that version spoken by Rusyns
in Slovakia, which was codified in Bratislava on 27 January 1995.
Another version of the Rusyn language was standardized in Vojvodina in
1923 and has been used in schools among Yugoslavia's Rusyns (Rusnaci)
since that time. A seminar on the Rusyn language held in Slovakia in
1992 - now known as the First Congress on the Rusyn Language -
concluded that Rusyns should develop four linguistic standards based
on the dialects in the countries where they live: Ukraine, Slovakia,
Poland, and Yugoslavia. Poland's Rusyns (known as Lemkos) have already
published several grammar books as well as a dictionary of their

In Ukraine, Rusyns are not recognized as a distinct national group.
Consequently, their language is officially
deemed a Ukrainian dialect. However, apart from a pro-Ukrainian
orientation among Ukraine's Rusyns, there is also a trend for
developing the Rusyn language as separate from Ukrainian and promoting
the idea of Rusyns as a separate nation. This trend is primarily
championed by the Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Uzhorod, which is
headed by Ivan Turyanytsa. In December 1991, when Ukrainians
overwhelmingly voted for an independent Ukraine, Transcarpathian
Oblast residents simultaneously held a vote on their autonomous status
in Ukraine. Some 78 percent of Transcarpathians supported the idea of
regional autonomy, but Kyiv ignored that vote. Some Ukrainians argue
that the question about the region's autonomy was included in one
phrase with the question about Ukraine's independence and thus people
in Transcapathia supported the independence of the state rather than
their self-rule. Some Rusyns, of course, think otherwise.

Some Ukrainians branded the movement for promoting Rusyn nationhood as
"political Rusynism," which they argue has no substantial linguistic,
ethnographic, or historical foundations. However, as the example of
Rusyns in Slovakia and Lemkos in Poland testifies (not to mention
Yugoslavia's Rusnaci), under some circumstances the Rusyn linguistic
and ethnic heritage can be cultivated.

Ukraine's disinclination to recognize its Rusyns as a distinct
nationality can be understood to some extent. This recognition seems
to be inextricably linked to the issue of Rusyn self-government in
Transcarpathia. Faced with ethnic problems in other regions (not to
mention Ukraine's 10 million Russians and Crimea with its Russian and
Tatar problems), Kyiv is reluctant to open what seems to be a
Pandora's box of ethnic demands for more rights and concessions.

However, the current practice of dismissing the Rusyn problem by
passing over it in silence (there appears to be no mention of Rusyns
in Ukrainian media) is no solution either. History provides ample
evidence that non-recognition, disregard, or suppression of ethnic
groups tends only to consolidate their struggle for more rights.

It is too early to say that Rusyns have already embarked on an
irreversible path toward acquiring nationhood. (In the 20th century,
only Belarusians, Macedonians, and, possibly, Bosnian Muslims among
the Slavic groups have managed to organize themselves into nations.)
Even more unclear are Rusyns' prospects for gaining some kind of
regional autonomy in the countries in which they live, let alone
statehood. However, the cultural and linguistic renaissance of Rusyns
seems set to survive into the next millennium. Rusyn activists report
that their ranks have recently been reinforced by considerable numbers
of well-educated young Rusyn females (notably in Poland and Slovakia).
This not only provides greater demographic balance within the movement
but also gives the movement a boost and imparts attractiveness for the
broader masses that it might otherwise have lacked.

The author of "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" has come
across only one mention of Ivan Turyanytsa's "Carpatho-Ruthenian
government" in world literature - in Timothy Garton Ash's "Hail
Ruthenia!" published in the 22 April 1999 issue of "The New York
Review of Books." Garton Ash's presentation of the Rusyn question is
rather a jocular one, and this author agrees with his conclusion that
Turyanytsa and his ministers have had no power or opportunities to
govern anything anywhere in a political sense. There are strong
grounds to suppose that the government's recent self-dissolution, as
announced by ITAR-TASS, has not been mourned by any significant part
of the Rusyn population (in fact it is more likely that it went
unnoticed by most Rusyns). However, as far as the future of Rusyns as
a distinct Slavic nationality is concerned, this author is far more
optimistic than Garton Ash.


Copyright (c) 2000. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan
Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by
"RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed
every Tuesday.

Direct comments to Jan Maksymiuk at maksymiukj@rferl.org. For
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>From the moderator: One more interesting website on Carpatho-Rusyns:

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