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ETHNONYMS: Lemki, Rusnatsi, Rusyny


Identification. Carpatho-Rusyns are a national minority who have never enjoyed independent statehood. Today most live within the boundaries of three countries: Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland.


Location. The Carpatho-Rusyn homeland is located along the crests, valleys, and adjacent lowlands of the north-central Carpathian Mountains. Elevations range from lightly forested hills of 500 meters in the west to densely forested peaks of over 2,000 meters in the east. The Rusyn-inhabited Carpathians are in the heart of Europe, and in the late nineteenth century a monument was erected near the Carpatho-Rusyn village of Dilove (today in Ukraine) to mark the precise geographical center of the continent.

The group's homeland has generally been referred to as Carpathian Rus', Carpatho-Ruthenia, Carpatho-Russia, Carpatho-Ukraine, or simply Ruthenia. In terms of administrative subdivisions, Carpatho-Rusyns in the former Soviet Union inhabited the Transcarpathian Oblast (Zakarpatskaya Oblast, historic Subcarpathian Rus') of Ukraine. In neighboring Slovakia and Poland their villages are not encompassed by any one administrative unit, although their territory in those countries is popularly referred to as the Prešov region (Priashivs'ka Rus', Priashivashchyna) in northeastern Slovakia and the Lemko region (Lemkivshchyna) in southeastern Poland. Smaller numbers of Rusyns live in the immediately adjacent territory of Romania (the Marmarosh region), and there is an emigrant group living farther away in the Vojvodina region of Serbia.

The climate is marked by heavy precipitation, which averages annually from 75 to 100 centimeters, and at higher elevations up to 150 centimeters. Average temperatures vary from 4° to 6° C in January and 17° to 20° C in July, with the lowland plain of the Transcarpathian Oblast tending to be a few degrees warmer and receiving less precipitation.

Demography. According to 1970 census figures, there were more than 1 million Carpatho-Rusyns: 808,000 in the Transcarpathian Oblast of the Soviet Union; 100,000 in the Prešov region of Czechoslovakia; 60,000 in the Lemko region and other parts of Poland; 30,000 in Romania; and 30,000 in Yugoslavia. With the exception of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the figures are only estimates because, particularly in Czechoslovakia and Poland, a significant percentage of Rusyns were assimilated or, for political reasons, reported themselves as either Slovak or Polish.


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Linguistic Affiliation. Carpatho-Rusyns speak a number of East Slavic dialects that are classified by linguists as belonging to the Ukrainian language. Since they live along the West Slavic-East Slavic linguistic border, however, their speech is heavily influenced by both Slovak and Polish and, because of historical circumstances, by Hungarian as well. Their alphabet is Cyrillic; although several past attempts to create a Carpatho-Rusyn literary language were mostly unsuccessful, such attempts continue. Only the Rusyns of Yugoslavia had their own officially recognized literary standard; the rest of the Rusyns in the Carpathian homeland have used other literary languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Slovak, and Polish.

History and Cultural Relations

The Carpatho-Rusyns and their ancestors have lived in the Carpathians since the sixth and seventh centuries. Further migration of East Slavs from the north and east and Vlach shepherds from the south continued from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. After a period of tenuous political ties with Kievan Rus' in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Rusyn-inhabited lands south of the mountain crests were joined to Hungary and those in the north (the Lemko region) to Poland. In 1772 the Lemko region became part of the Austrian province of Galicia, which, with Hungary, formed part of the Austrian and, later, Austro-Hungarian Empire. When that empire fell in late 1918, Carpatho-Rusyns strove to create an independent state or to join in federation with a larger neighbor. By 1919 Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians were incorporated into the new state of Czechoslovakia, whereas those to the north (the Lemko region) were, with the rest of Galicia, annexed to a restored Poland. In Czechoslovakia, about three-quarters of Carpatho-Rusyns lived in their own province called Subcarpathian Rus' (Carpatho-Ruthenia), where they enjoyed a measure of self-rule. In Poland, the Lemkos were deterred from joining Czechoslovakia, and until early 1920, when Poland established its authority over them, they governed themselves in a Lemko 'republic.' On the eve of World War II, Czechoslovakia granted Subcarpathian Rus' (by then known as Carpatho-Ukraine) full autonomy, but in March 1939 the region was reannexed to Hungary. A few months later (September) Poland fell and the Lemko region was annexed by Germany's Third Reich. In 1945 Subcarpathian Rus' was joined to the Soviet Union as the Transcarpathian Oblast of the Ukrainian SSR. This left the Rusyn-inhabited Prešov region within Czechoslovakia and the Lemko region within Poland. As a result of a Polish-Soviet agreement, nearly two-thirds of the Lemko Rusyn population were resettled in various parts of the Soviet Ukraine; the remainder were forcibly deported in 1947 to those parts of western and northern Poland (Silesia, Pomerania) that had formerly belonged to Germany.

Closely related to political change has been the question of national identity. A national revival began during the second half of the nineteenth century, and since then there has been an ongoing debate whether Carpatho-Rusyns are Russians, Ukrainians, or a distinct nationality. After 1945, with direct Soviet rule in the Transcarpathian Oblast and its political dominance over Poland and Czechoslovakia, all Rusyns were simply declared to be Ukrainian. With the political changes of the 1980s culminating in the upheavals of 1989, there has been a revival of the Rusyn identity among Rusyns living in Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland.


Until quite recently virtually all Carpatho-Rusyns lived in small villages with a few hundred to at most 1,500 inhabitants. The nearby towns and small cities (Uzhgorod, Mukachevo, Humenné, Bardejov, Sanok, Gorlice, Nowy Sącz), whether within or immediately adjacent to Carpatho-Rusyn ethnic territory, were inhabited primarily by Poles and Jews in the north and Hungarians or Slovaks and Jews in the south. Only since post-World War II industrialization have Carpatho-Rusyns settled in nearby towns and cities, so that today only 60 percent of the group resides in villages. The villages are generally laid out in a linear pattern along both banks of a mountain river or creek with individual houses surrounded by half a hectare or so of garden. Traditional houses were built of wood logs and were sometimes covered with stucco and painted a bright sky-blue color. The steeply sloped roofs were of thatched straw. The shape was a rectangle consisting of roughly three equal partsthe living quarters, kitchen, and a stable for animals. Today the village layout remains the same, although many traditional houses have been replaced by square, two-floor structures constructed with stucco-covered brick and covered by a gently sloping roof made of tin.


The pre-World War II economy was based almost exclusively on subsistence agriculture, supplemented in the higher mountainous areas by sheepherding or woodcutting. With the exception of some adjacent low-lying plains, most of the mountainous valleys and foothills were not especially productive, so that by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries poverty and starvation were common, causing massive emigration (especially to the northeast United States) in the decade before World War I. The meager staple diet consisted of potatoes, milk, and varying kinds of noodles; meat and fowl were rarities served only on holidays.

After World War II, the industrialization policies of Communist regimes resulted in factories to process wood and make building materials, shoes, textiles, and glass that have changed the face of Carpatho-Rusyn economic life. Communist rule also brought an end to private landholding, as the land was forcibly collectivized from the 1940s to the 1950s. Today, the middle and older generations work for a salary in the local collective farms; the younger generations travel daily or migrate to the towns and cities, where they work in factories or in the various service sectors. Formerly self-sufficient villages, which were able to grow or make all their food, drink, clothing, and farm tools, have joined the regimen of commercial relations; families now purchase these items from the cooperatives and the village store.


It is not uncommon to find Carpatho-Rusyn villages composed of people who almost all derive from three or four familial lines. Such relationships are most evident in the predominance of only a few family names in many villages. Distant third, fourth, and fifth cousins are often co-opted back into the family social unit by becoming godparents, who quite often are chosen from the same lineage (fajta ) as the parents.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Carpatho-Rusyn marriages were traditionally arranged by parents, but this practice had died out entirely by the second half of the twentieth century. Seeking marriage partners outside one's ethnic group was frowned upon, especially if they were from the 'ruling groups' (Hungarians, Poles) or from another race or non-Christian religion (Gypsies, Jews). In the past, suitable partners were often found in neighboring villages; today, it is most common for couples from geographically dispersed, areas to meet at high schools, universities, or places of work in towns and cities far from their native villages. Legal abortion is a principal means of birth control. Divorce is legal and not uncommon among couples who reside in urban areas.

Domestic Unit. Traditionally, it was common for the young married couple to liveoften in cramped quartersin the home of the groom's parents until they could afford to build their own house. The oldest son would inherit the family homestead, and each of his brothers and sisters would receive some form of compensation, either in money or land. Today, despite greater geographical and social mobility, a severe shortage of apartments in urban areas has forced many newly married couples to share living space with their parents in towns or even return to village homesteads until such time as their requests on a government waiting list for state-owned apartments are fulfilled.

Sociopolitical Organization

From the 1940s until recently, all countries in which Carpatho-Rusyns live have been ruled by Communist governments. Since 1989, other parties have come into existence in both Poland and Czechoslovakia, where the Communist party is no longer the dominant political force.

Politicai Organization. Until recently, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were, theoretically speaking, federal states. In the Soviet Union the Carpatho-Rusyns lived in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in Czechoslovakia in the Slovak Socialist Republic. The basic administrative subdivision is the district or county (raion in the former Soviet Union; okres in former Czechoslovakia; województwo in Poland). Each village has its own people's council with members elected from the local inhabitants. Heads of the village councils as well as their staff were (at least until 1989) expected to be Communist party members. The village councils carry out government policies as passed down from the federal, republic, and district levels.

Conflict. As a minority people, Carpatho-Rusyns were historically subordinate to the governments that ruled them and that, by the late nineteenth century, had tried to assimilate them. This was particularly the case in Hungary, where Magyarization policies were implemented especially in schools and cultural life. Similar policies in Poland toward the Lemkos during the interwar years culminated in the group's displacement from their native Carpathian villages between 1945 and 1947. Thus, Carpatho-Rusyn popular attitudes are marked by a sense of resentment toward Hungarians and Poles. Internally, Carpatho-Rusyn society is marked by conflict over religion (Greek Catholic versus Orthodox) and national identity (Rusyn versus Ukrainian).

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Carpatho-Rusyns are Christian, having received that faith from saints Cyril and Methodius or their disciples in the late ninth century. According to local tradition, one of the original seven dioceses ('eparchies' in eastern terminology) founded by the Cyril-Methodian mission was located in the Carpathian Rus' homeland at Mukachevo. The early Carpatho-Rusyn church was part of the Orthodox world and under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. A movement for union with the Catholic Church of Rome, however, culminated in the mid-seventeenth century with the creation of the Uniate Church. The Uniate (later known as Greek Catholic) church retained Orthodox practices (liturgy in Church Slavonic, married priesthood, Julian calendar, elected bishops) but became subordinate to the pope. Orthodoxy was suppressed until its revival in the early twentieth century. As a result, much of Carpatho-Rusyn village life has been marked by the rivalry between adherents of Greek Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Religious Practitioners. The primary religious practitioner is the village priest (pop ). Also of great importance is the cantor (diak), who not only leads the responsive singing during the liturgy (organs or other instruments are forbidden) but who, until the introduction of state elementary schools, served as the village teacher as well.

Ceremonies. Traditional Carpatho-Rusyn life is determined by the church calendar. Easter and Christmas are the most important holidays, although there are many others that derive from ancient pagan practices but that were outwardly ChristianizedGreen Thursday (before Easter), Rusalja (Pentecost), Saint George's Day, and Kupala (Saint John's Day). Church holidays, workless Sundays, and strict fasting during Lent are still observed by older people, although Communist regimes have tried, without much success, to impose official atheism and to curtail the role of the church.

Arts. Until the twentieth century, art and culture have been associated almost exclusively with the church. This has taken the form of icon paintings (which decorated the facade of the iconostasis, or icon screen, that separates the altar from the congregation), wooden church buildings with elaborate roofs and steeples, and religious literature (lives of saints, poems of faith, etc.). At the more popular level, the art of painting eggs (pysanky, krashanky ) using dyes and wax is still a widespread custom during the week before Easter.

Medicine. Modern medical facilities did not reach areas where Carpatho-Rusyns live until the second half of the twentieth century. Until then, childbirth occurred at home with the help of village midwives, and minor diseases and sicknesses were cured with folk medicines.

Death and Afterlife. Death is interpreted following Christian practice: departed souls await the Second Coming of Christ, at which time they will be assigned to eternal life in heaven or damnation in hell. Many funerals are followed by feasts attended by family and friends. Little attention, however, is paid to the upkeep of gravesites.

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Bogatyrev, Pierre (1929). Actes magiques, rites et croyancesen Russie subcarpathique. Paris: Institut d'Etudes Slaves.

Bonkáló, Alexander (1990). The Rusyns. Boulder, Colo., and New York: East European Monographs.

Ssr Heart Of The Oceanhidden Hills Stable

Ssr Heart Of The Oceanhidden Hills Stables

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Magocsi, Paul Robert (1978). The Shaping of a NationalIdentity: Subcarpathian Rus', 1848-1948. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press.

Magocsi, Paul Robert (1988). Carpatho-Rusyn Studies: AnAnnotated Bibliography. Vol. 1, 1975-1984.New York and London: Garland Publishing.

Markovyč, Pavlo (1987). Rusyn Easter Eggs from EasternSlovakia. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller.