The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Rusins of Hungary
Rusins of Hungary
Professor at the University of Prague.
That branch of the Russian nation living south of the Carpathian Mountains has been attached by the peace conference to the Czechoslovak Republic. Our nation has not maintained, up to the present time, any political or intellectual relations with this Slav element, although the language of this fragment of the Russian nation is very close to the Czech language. Nearly a hundred years ago, in 1828, a Polish writer, Ondřej Kucharski, noted in the course of his travels through Hungary a striking resemblance between the Czech tongue and the “Rusňack” tongue of the district of Marmaroš.
How does it happen that the Russians, or, as they call themselves, the Rusins of the former kingdom of Hungary, became attached to the Czechoslovak Republic? Is it the Czech imperialism which annexed a strange ethnic element, or is it the Entente which has generously presented the Uhro-Rusins to the Czechoslovak Republic? It is neither.
The union of the Rusins with our Republic has occurred through their own decision. Magyar oppression has lain so heavily upon them, both in the political and in the economic and national spheres, that after the disruption of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy it became out of question to incorporate them in the new Magyar state. It was thought that they would desire to attach themselves to Russia. But since Russia even before Austria-Hungary suffered an eclipse, there was nothing left for the Rusins south of the Carpathians except to ask for independence or else join a neighboring state. They did not dare accept the first solution to found their own state, because they did not feel strong enough. Among neighboring nations the Ukrainians are their nearest kinsmen, and one would have expected that the Rusins south of the mountains would attach themselves to the Ukrainian state north of the range, a state that was then in the process of formation. But the Rusins of Hungary do not favor Ukrainian nationalism and prefer to emphasize their unity with the great Russian nation. Between the years 1849 and 1867 an attempt was made to create a written Uhro-Rusin literature in a language imitating the Russin and called “jazyčije”. This artificial language was the cause of the lack of national consciousness among the Russian people south of the Carpathian Mountains. This was really a national misfortune, for there was thus no efficient means to combat systematic magyarization. For that matter, intellectual leaders who could arrest magyarization are very rare among the Rusins.
The Ukrainian cause did not encounter much sympathy among the people south of the mountains even after the disruption of the Danubian Monarchy. Only the Czech people enjoyed their confidence, and thus they decided to unite with the Czchoslovak Republic on condition that they received internal autonomy. The same hostility toward the Ukrainians showed itself among the Lemky. These constitute the most western branch of the Russian people in Galicia. The Rusins to the north of the Carpathians, refusing to call themselves Ukrainians, united with the Rusins south of the Carpathians, and toward the end of 1918 formed the National Council of Carpatho-Russians, with headquarters at Prešov. The president was a former member of the Hungarian parliament, Dr. Antonin Beskid. He came to Paris in January, 1919, with the Czechoslovak delegation to the peace conference, and in the name of his countrymen offered to our delegates and to the representatives of the Entente the union of the Carpatho-Russians with the Czechoslovak Republic. It is well known that the peace conference approved of this union, so far as it applied to Rusins of Hungary. Thus our state receives a Russian element and becomes the direct neighbor of Roumania, which now includes large sections of the former kingdom of St. Stephen.
On the 8th of May a congress was held, attended by delegations of Rusins from the districts of Uzhorod, Presov and Hust; this congress was remarkable for the distrust which the people showed to the majority of their “intellectuals.” It was realized that the Rusin leaders, and especially the clergy, have not been reliable from the national point of view. Not only during the war, but long before it, they were willing instruments of magyarization, or at any rate feeble defenders of the national idea. Thus the Rusin people felt tha.t their future was better secured by incorporation in the Czechoslovak Republic than by independent existence under their own leaders. A delegation went to Prague on May 22 to confer on the position which their people should occupy within the Czechoslovak Republic.
Since the general public is little informed about this branch of the Russian people, the following facts about the Rusins of former Hungary may prove of interest.
Rusins of Hungary have played a considerable role in the history of Hungary ever since the Arpad dynasty. Magyar writers pretend that Rusins are comparatively recent immigrants. That is true only as regards part of the race. The oldest Hungarian chronicler, known as Anonymus, a notary of King Bela, states that a large number of Russians joined the Magyar prince, Almos, when he arrived in Hungary, and settled on his lands. He relates that the Russian duke of Galicia ordered two thousand archers and three thousand peasants to guide the Magyars to Hungary across the Carpathian forests. On the other hand, science proved that Russian Slavs were settled along both slopes of the Carpathians long before the arrival of the Magyars in Hungary. It appears, nevertheless, that the first Russians to the south of the Carpathian Mountains were not numerous. There are found at many points along the frontier localities called Orosz or Oroszi (Russian); these are undoubtedly traces of original Russian immigration. This is Karlsburg), near Bratislava. Biedermann believes that many Russian garrisons of Hungarian strongholds which down to the 16th century guarded certain royal castles were remnants of the Russian frontiers militia. They are mentioned in article 47 of a law enacted in 1498.so with Oroszvar (in German
Other free Russians or Rusins are mentioned in article 29 of a law of 1500. They are referred to as Rutheni Regiae Majestatis in Nagij-Oroszfalu residentes who were employed as retainers in the service of the king; some ancient documents actually give the word orosz the meaning of janitor.
Rusins crossed the frontier in small groups, composed of mountaineers; this has been probably taking place since the beginning of the tenth century. A certain number of Rusins came to Hungary at the beginning of the twelfth century in the suite of the daughter of the Galician prince Svatopluk whose name was Předslava and who married king Koloman. These newcomers who enjoyed the privileges of noblemen founded in the county of Hont the settlement of Nemes-Orosz.
But only in the 13th century can one speak of a considerable immigration of Rusins into Hungary. After Tartar devastations colonization of northern Hungary was undertaken on a grand scale. Up to that time the district on the northwest frontier of Hungary, mountainous and wooded and known as Krajina (marchia Ruthenorum) , was inhabited only by hunters, beaters and falconers of the king. Frequently these Hungarian districts were granted to members of the royal family who were called dukes. Emerich, son of St. Stephen, bore the title of dux Ruizorum which seems to refer to this region. After the retreat of the Tartars from Hungary many villages came to be established in the Slav Krajina which extended over the counties of Saryš, Zemplin, Užhorod and Bereg. Their Rusian name was Volja, analogous to the Czech Lhota. The head man of these villages bore the title of kňaz; if he administered an entire district, he was known as krajnik. This title had reference to his duties which consisted in watching the frontier or Krajna (compare with the Russian Ukrajina), namely a frontier country or a march.
These Rusin privileged villages were established in the north of Hungary from the 13th to the 16th century. Particularly in the 14th century, when the Lithuanian prince Theodore Korjatovich of Novgorod with his large suite was received by king Louis, numerous Rusin groups settled in Hungary. Prince Theodore received the manor of Satoralja-Ujhely and Humenne in the county of Zemplin and from 1398 he was called the voivod or duke of Mukačev. About that time the Mukačev district was colonized by Rusins. Aside from Rusin peasants with fixed habitations many Rusin nomads wandered with their flocks over the northeastern mountain ranges, but from the middle of the 17th century they gradually disappeared.
All these Rusins formed part of the free population and preserved their freedom even after the peasant revolution of 1514, when serfdom was imposed upon the rest of the country people of Hungary. The Hungarian code Tripartitum provides in volume 2, chapter 25, article 2, that Kumans, Rusins and Bulgarians settled on royal land shall be free peasants and their liberty shall be maintained.
The Rusins of Hungary showed little inclination for city life. They preferred to gather in small fortified places resembling villages. Among the cities of northern Hungary Huszt in the country of Marmoroš had the most Rusins. The Rusin element is even more rare among the Hungarian nobility; like the Roumanians they passed, when ennobled, into the ranks of the Magyars. Among renegades of Rusin origin are families Orosz, Telegdy, Tarnoczy, Komlossy, Ormandy and others. It is interesting to note that the first codification of Hungarian laws (Corpus Juris Hungarici,) had for its authors two Slavs of whom Nikolas Telegdy, bishop of Pecs, was Rusin, and the other Zacharias Mossoczy, surnamed Rohošnik, was a Slovak.
The free peasant population began to be enslaved by the nobility in the 16th century. This affected the position of the Rusin clergy who were recruited from the peasants. A number of documents dating from the 17th century indicate that the Rusin clergy was held by the lords to the same servitude as the peasants, had to pay the same contributions and were even subjected to corporeal punishment and imprisonment. At the same time the material position of the clergy was pitiful. They had no ecclesiastical landed property and they were not entitled to tithes, as the Catholic clergy, and so their only means of support were the fruit of their hands and fees for priestly services which were insignificant.
It was this poverty and servitude of the Rusin Orthodox Clergy which made possible the union of their church with the See of Rome. It gave the priests an independent personal status as against the nobles, improved their economic situation and in general brought to them the advantages enjoyed by the Catholic clergy. The origin of the Uniate Church among the Rusins of Hungary cannot be traced with exactness. It is believed that the union was concluded in 1649, although Petrov gives 1652 as the date. The conditions were that the bishop should be elected by the people, and in fact the episcopal see was for some time filled by elections held by the secular and regular clergy. But the election had to be approved by the king and sanctioned by the pope, and gradually the influence of the royal power and of the Catholic clergy did away with free elections. The last free choice of bishop was held in 1733. From 1738 on, the Hungarian chancery and the archibishop of Eger proposed to the king three candidates of whom the king selected one.
Union made slow progress among the Rusins of Hungary; it was more than a century, before it took roots. The nobility opposed it, because by it Rusin clergy received the rights of the Catholic clergy in the diet and in the county assemblies, with the participation in county administration.
In accepting the Union with Rome the Rusin clergy did not choose wisely. Their social and economic conditions did not greatly improve. Catholic hierarchy looked down upon the Rusin priests as men without culture. Catholic archbishops of Eger kept the Rusin bishops in an undignified dependence until the year 1771, when the Uniate bishopric was fully recognized by the pope. Such inferior situation deprived the Rusin priests of their proper weight before the public officials, the nobles and even the people. This lasted until 1771. Under the regime of bishop Ondřej Bačinski (1772-1809), educational qualifications of the Rusin priests were raised and their material welfare improved. In 1760 and 1761 Roumanian-Serbian agitators made a last, fruitless attempt to bring the Rusins of Hungary back into the Eastern church. As it is, of all the races of Hungary professing the Orthodox religion the Rusins alone accepted union with the Western Church and maintained it till the present day. Since 1821 they have had two bishops; at that time the bishopric of Mukačev was divided into that of Mukačev and that of Prešov. But for nearly a century after the conclusion of the union there was a succession of Orthodox bishops parallel to the Uniate bishops; it was ended in 1735.
On the whole church union was not beneficial to the Rusin national cause. If they had remained Orthodox, they could have retained, as did the Serbians and Roumanians, independence in their ecclesiastical and educational affairs. That is one of the reasons for their pitiable state in the former kingdom of Hungary. But there were other reasons. For one thing, there have been too few Rusins in Hungary compared with other nationalities. Their number in recent decades did not exceed half a million. It failed to increase not only by reason of forcible magyarization, practised during the last half a century, but also by reason of mean material conditions of existence. These poor Carpathian people have not enough land to satisfy their modest needs. On the territory inhabited by them most of the soil belongs to great noblemen who were in the habit of leasing the fields to Jews recently arrived from Russia and Galicia. These again subleased them in small parcels to Rusin peasants, of course at an extortionate profit. At the same time these Jewish middlemen were usurers and rum-sellers, and the result was systematic pauperizing of the people. Rusins emigrated in thousands to the United States, to Canada, to Brazil.
When the Hungarian government realized that the northeast was being depopulated, they sent to the county of Bereg, and to the counties of Marmaroš and Ung, an expert who was to submit plans for improving the economic situation of the Uhro-Rusins. This commissioner, Edmund Egan, was not only a theoretical, but also a practical economist, descendant of an Irish family which settled in Hungary at the beginning of the 19th century. Egan’s memorandum transmitted to the minister of agriculture Daranyi, made astounding revelations about the economic conditions prevailing in the northeastern counties of Hungary. The government commissioner, an impartial witness, described powerfully the exploitation of the Rusins by Jewish parasites. At that time a great sensation was caused by Egan’s report, and when the author died from some mysterious cause in 1901, many believed that his death was due to Jewish vengeance.
After Egan’s death the Magyar government did nothing to improve the material condition of the Uhro-Rusins. They were still in a state of extreme poverty, when the general war broke out, and they are still poor, as they join the Czechoslovak Republic. He who knows their sad past, will understand their touching confidence in our Republic.
Our government will not only not oppress them, but will grant them full political and national liberty and will assist them by material means. One of the most important tasks of the new government will be equitable expropriation of the great landed estates and the improvement of agriculture and industry. Among the means to be used is the establishment of trade schools, banks and factories. It will also be necessary to build as soon as possible a railroad through the Rusin country which will connect our Republic with the Roumanian Kingdom and will develop the Rusin country.
*) Translated from La Nation .