06 November 2017

Undeclared war on Carpathia

A church in the Rusin style, Uzhgorod, Zakarpatska Oblast’

It’s unfortunately been a truism in history that the Orthodox Rusins get the short end of the stick, no matter who has managed to get a hold of the other end.

Lem.fm has a story up about how the Ukrainian government has, since its inception, refused to recognise even marginally, the cultural distinctiveness of the Rusin people. The Rusin language is not permitted to be taught in schools, and even referring to oneself as Rusin is enough to get one branded a ‘separatist’ (and lose one’s job and social standing). The Ukrainian government refers to the Rusins as Verkhovyntsi, or ‘uplanders’ – the classist and pejorative implications of which ought to be clear to anyone who has studied the region in any detail. It is, of course, not very surprising, given the long and depressing history of repression, forced displacement, mass murder, book-burning and desecration of graves in the region at the hands of (variously) the Poles, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Galician nationalists and the boot-licking Uniate priesthood. And it is also very little wonder that the Rusins have been very reluctant to join in any nationalist projects, and that, when given the opportunity, they have lent their voices to various different left-wing and regionalist causes.

But the Ukrainians in particular will not admit to any wrongdoings against the Rusin people because to them, the Rusins are not a people. The entire nationalist project of the Ukraine, based on the bourgeois urban language politics of the nineteenth-century Galician elite class, depends on the coöptation and subjugation of Rusin linguistic and social forms to a ‘Ukrainian’ template. This, in spite of the fact that some of the White Croats, the ancestors of the Lemko Rusin people according to historian Dr Simeon Pyzh, have been Orthodox for longer than the Ukrainians or the Russians have, being part of the original mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs in the Kingdom of Great Moravia. These Rusins, indeed, were the ones who sent priests to baptise Saint Vladimir and the Rus’.

The Ukrainian nation and identity is currently under no existential threat; no, not even from Russia. But they themselves pose a grave threat to a brave and noble people of the Carpathian Mountains. A people who were never very wealthy, but rich in ancient tradition and always made to feel keenly aware of their own distinctiveness (often by their very poverty). The Rusin people deserve far better than their current abuse at the hands of the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian junta now.

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