Who are the Carpatho-Rusyn People??

Carpatho-Rusyns, pronounced Kar-PAY-tho ROOS-ins, are part of the East Slavic branch of European peoples. The purpose of this web page is to provide an introduction into ‘Who are the Carpatho-Rusyn People’. There are internet websites and many publications available that provide much more detail regarding the history, culture, religion, language, identity, geography, economic and politics of the Carpatho-Rusyn people than I attempt to provide here.

The homeland of the Carpatho-Rusyns is located along the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains of East-Central Europe. The region was called Carpathian Rus’ or Ruthenia. Today, the region is divided into what is now present day Slovakia, Poland, and Ukraine. The people of this region have been referred to by many names such as: Rusyns, Rusnaks, Ruthenians, Lemkos, Carpatho-Russians, Carpatho-Ukrainians, Uhro-Rusyns and Hunkies (a more derogatory term). In recent years, the term Carpatho-Rusyn has been adopted as their name. From their settlements in the area around the 6th and 7th centuries, Carpatho-Rusyns lived in small villages of a few hundred inhabitants at most. Their livelihood mainly centered around sheepherding, logging, and small scale agriculture and their way of life remain essentially the same even in today’s world.

Because of their location Carpatho-Rusyns have been greatly influenced by both the East and the West. Their language is an East-Slavic dialect and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, developed in the 9th century by Saint Cyril. The Carpatho-Rusyn language is grammatically and etymologically related to the other East-Slavic languages of Russian, Byelorussian and in particular Ukrainian (many linguist consider the Carpatho-Rusyn language is a dialect of Ukrainian). However living in close proximity to the West-Slavic people of Poland and Slovakia, and the non-Slavic Hungarians; the Carpatho-Rusyn language has been influenced by these languages as well.

The religion of the Carpatho-Rusyns’ has also been influenced by both the East and West. Christianity was brought to the Slavic people by Saint Cyril and his brother Saint Methodius, who were 9th century Christian missionaries from the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire. In 1054 a split occurred between the Eastern and Western Christian over doctrinal differences regarding the spiritual and temporal authority of the pope. Constantinople became the center of the Eastern, or Orthodox, Church; while Rome remained the center of the Western, or Catholic Church. The Carpatho-Rusyns living under the rule of Hungary and Poland, which were officially Roman Catholic, for centuries managed to maintain their ties to the Orthodox Church. Due to the increased influence of the Catholic Church several Orthodox bishops officially united with Catholic Church in Rome and created the Uniate Church; keeping many of the traditions and customs of the Orthodox Church but accepting the Pope in Rome as the head of the church. This union first occurred in 1596 with the Union of Brest; the second occurred in 1664 with the Union of Užhorod. It wasn’t until the 1772 when the term “Uniate” was replaced by “Greek Catholic”, or Byzantine rite. However, this arrangement placed the Carpatho-Rusyns in a situation where “The Quest of the Rusyn Soul” became a political issue between the two churches, even to this day.

The Carpatho-Rusyns are often referred to as “the people from nowhere” or the people from “no man’s land”. Since the late 9th century when the Magyars (present day Hungarians) crossed the Carpathian Mountains and settled in the flat plains of Pannonia between the Danube and Tisza Rivers eventually becoming known as the Kingdom of Hungary, the Carpatho-Rusyns have always been dominated and ruled by foreign powers. First, it was the Kingdom of Hungary, then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, after World War I they were governed by newly created state of Czechoslovakia and the newly reinstated Poland. In 1939 Hungary invaded and annexed a vast majority of the region that was part of Czechoslovakia. At the end of World War II region and its people were ceded to the Soviet Union and made part of the Soviet Ukraine. The Carpatho-Rusyns (Lemkos) living in Poland were forced to relocate to other parts of Poland and the Ukraine. During the era of the Soviet Union, Carpatho-Rusyns were not permitted to exist as a distinct group of people but were recognized as Ukrainian. This was not the only time that Carpatho-Rusyns were denied their existence. Over the centuries many attempts were made to assimilate then into the ethnic group in control of the government. However, they persevered and hung on to their heritage in spit of these efforts. With the fall of the Soviet empire in 1989, Carpatho-Rusyns still remained in the Ukraine. The Ukraine is the only Eastern European country that does not recognize Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct ethnic group.

During the 19th century when nationalism was sweeping Europe, the Carpatho-Rusyns also were awakened. Two individual, Adol’f Donbrians’kyi (1817-1901) and Aleksander Dukhnovych (1803-1865) played major roles. Adol’f Donbrians'kyi from a political and cultural interest; as a member of the Hungarian parliament. Whereas Aleksander Dukhnovycy was purely cultural and he has been identified as the “national awakener” of the Carpatho-Rusyns. He published the first grammar books written in the Carpatho-Rusyn vernacular, edited the first literary almanacs, and wrote the text of a poem that would become the national anthem of the Carpatho-Rusyns - “Ia Rusyn byl, iesm I budu” (“I Was, Am and Will Remain a Rusyn”). Since the fall of the Soviet empire, there has been a renewed awakening among the Carpatho-Rusyns world-wide.

Between 1880-1918 Carpatho-Rusyns were leaving Carpathian Rus’ and immigrating to other counties to find a better life. They immigrated to such countries as Argentina, Australia, Canada and the Unites State. However; due to various reason many Carpatho-Rusyns found it easier to identify themselves by a known country; i.e. Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland then to explain the complex problem of what it meant to belong to a national minority in a multinational region or state. Consequently many were misidentified. Also because of their religion and language, many were labeled as Russian or Ukrainian. How many Carpatho-Rusyns are there in the world today? Because of their history, it has been impossible to get an accurate count; but it is estimated that there are approximately 1.6 million Carpatho-Rusyns worldwide. Ukraine has the most at 740,000, followed by the United States with 620,000 and Slovakia third with 130,000. The reminder are spread throughout Eastern Europe. However, some scholars disagree with these numbers and advocate smaller numbers.

1. The Immigrant Experience The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, by Paul Robert Magocsi, ed. Sandra Stotsky and Reed Ueda, Philadelphia, 2001.
2. The People from Nowhere an Illustrated History of Carpatho-Rusyns, by Paul Robert Magocsi, captions Valerii Padiak, Uzhhorod, 2006.