Between 1919 and 1939 Subcarpathian Rus formed the easternmost part of the Czechoslovak Republic, which it had joined in the wake of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Its inclusion in the new democracy resulted from the combined efforts of leading Ruthenians living abroad and local political activists, the wise policy of T.G. Masaryk and of course the support of the great powers. Including Subcarpathian Rus in the republic was not a mere formality. The young Czechoslovak state took up the task of administering the region full of good will and a desire to restore order (the Hungarians tried to retain their control of the area, and hordes of Russian emissaries also appeared on the scene) and improve the economy, the transport network, schools, the level of education and cultural standards. Gradually these efforts bore fruit And if the promising development of Subcarpathian Rus had not been brutally interrupted by the Second World War and, at its end, its forced inclusion in the Soviet Union – a kind of war “booty” – it would clearly have continued to advance, to the benefit of both the region itself and Czechoslovakia. But unfortunately this area lying on the slopes of the Carpathians has the extreme bad luck to be situated at a point of great strategic importance (for example, after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 the USSR set up military bases here). Now the region forms part of the Ukraine, as the province of Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia), but many local inhabitants as well as people elsewhere still refer to it as in the past – as Subcarpathian Rus. It covers an area of 12,800 sq km (4,950 sq miles) and has 1,288,000 inhabitants. Ethnically its makeup is complex. Older statistics showed perhaps 70 percent of the people to be Ruthenian. But the Ukraine does not recognize this as a nationality and so records the people as Ukrainians. The local minorities include Hungarians, Russians, Romanians, Roma, Slovaks and Germans.
After the collapse of the USSR and the birth of an independent Ukraine at the beginning of the 1990s, almost 80 percent of the inhabitants of Subcarpathian Rus voted in favour the region being granted autonomy within the Ukraine. However, the results of the referendum were simply ignored. At the present time the region suffers from serious economic problems; as a result, developing awareness of national identity is a slow process, and one has to admit that in all likelihood many Ruthenians have no interest que out hope for the future. Subcarpathian Rus has a permanent place in Czech art and culture, which were immeasurably enriched by Ruthenian elements and themes during the First Republic (1918- 1938). This can be seen in works of prose fic tion (Ivan Olbracht, Karel Čapek, Ja roslav Durych), films (Vladislav Vančura’s Ma rijka the Unfaithful, Jiří Weiss’s Song of a Sad Land), paintings and recordings of folk songs and folk tales. This close bond was strengthened during the Second World War by the Ruthenians who fought, and often died, for the liberation of the republic, unaware that it would not longer be theirs. In subsequent years, interest in Subcarpathian Rus and Ruthenian themes continued: Jaromír Hořec’s poems (which could be published only after the fall of the Communist regime) recall the town in Subcarpathian Rus where he was born; Dana Kyndrová, Rudolf Šturma and Karel Cudlín have all published cycles of photographs from the region; Ivan Olbracht’s Nikola the Outlaw has come alive in an adaptation by Milan Uhde and Miloš Štědroň entitled Ballad for a Bandit that has seen stage, film and musical versions. Czech documentary film makers of all generations travel to the Subcarpathian region to admire the beautiful countryside and listen to fascinating tales of people and places. A number of contemporary individuals with Ruthenian roots have made major contributions to Czech culture, for example man of the theatre Ladislav Smoljak, the guitarist Štěpán Rak and the painters Jiří Sopko and Jan Kristofori. Subcarpathian Rus is small, on the map it looks like the small tip of a fluttering headscarf. Even so, it can hardly fit into a short article like this. For Czechs, it has always been present, here (or, now, “there”). It is always with us, still within us.Agáta Pilátová
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