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Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage





The Slovak Catholic Church

By Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


The Greek Catholic churches of the former Yugoslavia

by Michael J.L. La Civita

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


Faith and Tradition

Celebrating with the Hutsuls of the Carpathian Mountains

text by Matthew Matuszak and Petro Didula

photographs by Petro Didula

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


Rooted in Wood

Slovakia’s Greek Catholic Heritage

by Jacqueline Ruyak with photographs by Andrej Bán & Jacqueline Ruyak

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


Ruthenians Celebrate their Culture

Around Slovakia  

Compiled by, Zuzana Vilikovská

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


Carpatho-Ruthenian Region

by, Stephanie MacLellan

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


The People From No Mans Land

The Carpatho-Rusyns of Austria-Hungary

by, Thomas A. Peters, C.G.R.S.


Who are the Ruthenians

"The Slovak Spectator", Robin Rigg


The Rusyns of Hungary

End of the millennial struggle

 by, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001


Ruthenians, Immigration, & the Greek Catholic Church

Passaic, New Jersey - 1890 to 1930

by, Joy E. Kovalycsik


Heritage Endurance in the Hungarian Kingdom

by Yelena Simrenko


Pre-1848 Social Status in the Villages of Present-Day Slovakia

by, Mr. Vladimir Bohinc


The People From the Borderlands

Despite the fact that the Ruthenians are the fourth largest ethnic group in Slovakia, few people are familiar with their culture

by, Andrea Chalupa

Special to the Spectator


Carpatho-Rusyn Historical Background

Passaic, New Jersey - 1890 to 1930

by, Joy E. Kovalycsik


Caught in the Middle

Carpatho-Rusyns and the Vojvodina

by, Brian J Pozun, 26 June 2000


Rusyn Review

Rusyns in Central and Eastern Europe

by, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001


Svidnik - Ruthenian Heartland

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


The Jews & Carpathian-Rusyns

Minority Heritages of Slovakia

by, Joseph Levin


Rusyns Finally Dont Have to Pretend

by, Matthew J. Reynolds - Spectator Staff

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


Ethnic Titles

by, Julianna Chickov


The Ethnic Wilderness 

by, Julianna Chickov


Carpatho-Rusyn Fraternal Organizations

by, Maria Boysak


Greek Rite Catholic Prayer Books

Sample Images


Has Political Rusynism Ended

Radio Free Europe

Prague, Czech Republic


Rusyn Patriots Questioning Purpose of Linguistic Revival

by, Matthew J. Reynolds - Spectator Staff

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


A Fractured Identity: The Lemko of Poland

The Lemko are finding the reconstruction of their ethnic identity hindered by a variety of internal divisions.

by, Karen M Laun, 5 December 1999


Lemko Genealogy Case Studies

Emphasizing Procedures & Pitfalls

Lecture Handout - 1996

by, Thomas A. Peters

Certified Genealogical Records Specialist


Lemk People Fight for Survival

8 August 2002

Posted with Permission of...

BBC News Online


Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (YouTube)



The Slovak Catholic Church

By Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA

The religious history of Greek Catholics in Slovakia is closely related to that of the Ruthenians. Indeed, for centuries their histories were intertwined, since the 1646 Union of Užhorod was almost unanimously accepted in the territory that is now eastern Slovakia.

At the end of World War I, most Greek Catholic Ruthenians and Slovaks were included within the territory of the new Czechoslovak republic, including the dioceses of Prešov and Mukačevo. During the interwar period a significant movement back towards Orthodoxy took place among these Greek Catholics. In 1937 the Byzantine diocese of Prešov, which had been created on September 22, 1818, was removed from the jurisdiction of the Hungarian primate and made immediately subject to the Holy See.

At the end of World War II, Transcarpathia with the diocese of Mukačevo was annexed by the Soviet Union. The diocese of Prešov then included all the Greek Catholics that remained in Czechoslovakia.

In April 1950, soon after the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, a mock “synod” was convoked at Prešov at which five priests and a number of laymen signed a document declaring that the union with Rome was dissolved and asking to be received into the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia after 1951). Bishop Gojdic of Prešov and his auxiliary, Bishop Basil Hopko, were imprisoned. Bishop Gojdic died in prison from harsh treatment in 1960; Bishop Hopko was released from prison in 1968 and died in 1976.

This situation persisted until 1968 when, under the influence of the “Prague Spring” presided over by Alexander Dubcek, former Greek Catholic parishes were allowed to return to Catholicism if they so desired. Of 292 parishes involved, 205 voted to return to communion with Rome. This was one of the few Dubcek reforms that survived the Soviet invasion of 1968. Most of their church buildings, however, remained in the hands of the Orthodox. Under the new non-communist Slovak government, most of these had been returned to the Slovak Greek Catholic Church by 1993. In 1997 Pope John Paul II created an Apostolic Exarchate of Kosice, Slovakia, from territory taken from the Prešov diocese. The Pope also beatified Bishop Gojdic in 2001 and Bishop Hopko in 2003.

A Greek Catholic Theological College was founded in Prešov in 1880. It was handed over to the Orthodox in 1950. In 1990, after the fall of communism, the Greek Catholic theological school was revived and incorporated into the Pavol Jozef Safarik University of Kosice. On January 1, 1997, a Slovak government decree established a new University of Prešov and mandated that the theological school in Kosice be transferred there. Since 2005 it has been known as the Greek Catholic Faculty of Theology of the University of Prešov. Its specific task is to provide for the scientific and theological formation of candidates for priesthood and those who are preparing to serve in various other ministries.

The Prešov diocese includes a considerable number of ethnic Rusyn Greek Catholics. In recent times, however, they have been absorbed into Slovak culture to a certain extent, as very few religious books are available in Rusyn, and the liturgy is almost always celebrated in either Church Slavonic or Slovak. In the 2001 Slovak census, 24,000 people claimed Rusyn ethnicity.

By 2006 the two jurisdictions in Slovakia had about 218,000 faithful and 256 parishes served by 386 diocesan and 34 religious priests. There were 131 women religious, and 92 seminarians. In the United States and most other areas, the Slovaks are not distinguished from the Ruthenians. They have a separate diocese, however, in Canada, at present presided over by Bishop John Pažak (Eparchy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius of Toronto, 223 Carlton Road, Unionville, Ontario L3R 2L8). There are seven parishes and six priests for about 25,000 Slovak Greek Catholics in Canada.

On January 30, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI reorganized the Greek CatholicChurch in Slovakia and raised it to the status of a Metropolitan Churchsui iuris. In doing so, he elevated the eparchy of Presov toMetropolitan See, elevated the Apostolic Exarchate of Kosice to thestatus of eparchy, and created a new eparchy in Bratislava, the Slovak capital.



The Greek Catholic churches of the former Yugoslavia

by Michael J.L. La Civita
Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


imgYugoslavia, the “land of the Southern Slavs,” was the fruit of an intellectual concept born in Europe in the 19th century. Members of the intelligentsia speculated that a union of the Balkans’ Southern Slavs — Catholic Croats and Slovenes, Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbs — would free them from the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, which had competed for control of the Balkan Peninsula for centuries.


In December 1918, after the collapse of the two empires, an uneasy union of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was achieved, and the king of Serbia was proclaimed its head. Until its dismemberment in 1991, the Yugoslav experiment proved defective, as rival groups jostled one another for supremacy.


Despite the Yugoslav collapse, its former constituents turned on one another in a bloodletting that did not abate until the new millennium. Bosniaks, Croats, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs were all complicit in mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape and other acts of wanton violence. Today, an eerie calm presides over the Balkans — “the powder keg of Europe.”


Lost in the confusion were Yugoslav minorities — Greek Catholics, Jews and Protestants. The 58,000 Greek Catholics of Yugoslavia were particularly vulnerable; perceived by both Croat and Serb extremists as neither Catholic nor Byzantine, they included six distinct groups: Orthodox Serbs who accepted papal authority; Croats from the village of Žumberak; Rusyns who left the Carpathians in the 18th century; Macedonians who accepted papal authority; Ukrainians who left Galicia at the turn of the 20th century; and Romanians living in the Serbian province of Vojvodina.


After the Yugoslav kingdom was created in 1918, the Holy See extended the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Križevci, (erected in 1777) to embrace all Yugoslavian Greek Catholics. Since the disintegration of the Southern Slav state, the Holy See has regrouped them into three separate jurisdictions.


Eparchy of Križevci. Based in the town of Križevci, near the Croatian capital city of Zagreb, the eparchy includes about 21,350 people living in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and is led by Bishop Nikola Nino Kekić.


When the Ottoman Turks first invaded the Balkans in the 14th century, they smashed states that had squabbled among themselves since the Byzantine hegemony of the peninsula evaporated in the 12th century. The wars between the Ottomans and the powers of Central Europe that followed provoked a significant refugee problem. Tens of thousands of Serbs sought safety in the Military Frontier of the Hapsburg emperors. Bishops and generals, peasants and soldiers brought their icons and weapons, families and retainers. The Hapsburgs guaranteed the Serbs certain privileges, including the freedom to set up eparchies and monasteries.


In the late 16th century, the Serbs established an Orthodox monastery in the village of Stara Marča, near Zagreb, which eventually became the focus of a pro-Catholic party within the Serbian Orthodox community. In 1611, the pope appointed a bishop for them. He served as the Byzantine vicar of the Latin Catholic bishop of Zagreb and established his residence at the monastery.


This spurred controversy. Refusing to acknowledge the authority of the Latin bishop of Zagreb, Serbian monks rallied the Orthodox faithful, who turned the Catholic party out of the monastery, setting it aflame in 1739. In 1775, the monastery was liquidated by the Hapsburgs and two years later the Holy See erected a Greek Catholic eparchy, locating it in the nearby town of Križevci.


Many of the eparchy’s Rusyn Greek Catholics immigrated to the United States in the first two decades of the 20th century, settling in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Some of those who remained eventually left their villages and settled in Zagreb, where many were absorbed into the Latin Catholic majority.


Macedonia. In 2001, the Holy See established an exarchate for Greek Catholics living in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Led by the Latin bishop of Skopje, Kiro Stojanov, it includes some 15,000 faithful.


Greek Catholics in Macedonia descend largely from families who were received into the Catholic Church in the 19th century, due to the efforts of a Bulgarian priest, Joseph Sokolsky. Ordained to the episcopate by Pope Pius IX in 1861, he was named “archbishop for Bulgarian Catholics of the Byzantine rite.” This newly independent church grew rapidly, and within a decade more than 60,000 Bulgarian Orthodox Christians opted for communion with Rome.


By the end of the century, however, three quarters of those who joined the Greek Catholic community returned to Orthodoxy. Surviving Greek Catholics lived in a few isolated villages in what is now Macedonia.


Serbia and Montenegro. In 2003, the Holy See set up an exarchate for Greek Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro. Led by Bishop Djura Džudžar, it includes about 22,500 members, most of whom are ethnic Rusyns living in the Serbian region of Vojvodina.


Though now divided, the Greek Catholics of the former Yugoslavia share the same liturgical language, Church Slavonic, and the same Byzantine rites associated with the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.


Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s assistant secretary for communications.



Faith and Tradition

Celebrating with the Hutsuls of the Carpathian Mountains


text by Matthew Matuszak and Petro Didula
photographs by Petro Didula

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA

I’ve traveled the world a bit and I have to say no one celebrates holidays quite like the Hutsuls,” says Yurii Prodoniuk, a resident of Kosmach, a village of 6,200.


Tucked into the Carpathian Mountains in southwestern Ukraine, Kosmach is the center of the 500,000-strong Greek Catholic and Orthodox Hutsul community.


The 13th-century Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus – which includes parts of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine – is an essential chapter in Hutsul history. Many of those who survived the ruthless devastation of their homeland, peasants mostly, headed for the hills, seeking refuge in the Carpathians.


The earliest written references identifying these refugees as Hutsuls date to 14th- and early 15th-century Polish documents.


The intensification of serfdom, which bound the peasants to the land, provoked another exodus to the mountains hundreds of years later.

Today, the descendants of these refugees live in an area covering 2,500 square miles in southwestern Ukraine and northern Romania.


“In general, the Hutsuls are conservative,” says Roman Kyrchiv, professor emeritus of philology at the Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. “It was difficult for them to accept Christianity. They were attached to their pre-Christian traditions.”

Christianity, in its Byzantine form, arrived in Kievan Rus with the baptism of its grand duke, Vladimir, in 988.


“There are remnants of pre-Christian pantheism in some Christmas carols,” Mr. Kyrchiv continues. Instead of referring to the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph or the Magi, these carols simply recount village life and ask for prosperity for neighbors. To “Christianize” the carols, Hutsuls sometimes add a refrain after every verse, such as “O God, grant.”


For centuries church leaders sought to end the singing of these carols, Mr. Kyrchiv says. Bishop Hryhorii Khomyshyn, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Ivano-Frankivsk in the first half of the 20th century, advised that “Hutsul Christmas carols be rooted out.” But the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 to 1944, Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky of Lviv, thought otherwise, even writing a pastoral letter to the Hutsuls in their own distinctive dialect, which is similar to literary Ukrainian but with some Romanian influences.


Mykhailo Didushytskyi, a local woodcarver, sits outside his home in Kosmach.



Though for centuries geographically isolated, the Hutsuls were not insulated from the outside world. Depending on who governed the region and when (Catholic Poland and Austria to the west, Orthodox Russia to the east), Hutsuls, while true to their Byzantine Christian faith, were either Greek Catholic or Orthodox. “But this [jurisdictional divide] didn’t mean much to the people,” Mr. Kyrchiv says. Historically, Greek Catholics and Orthodox “celebrated religious feasts in each other’s churches.”


For centuries, Kosmach had but one parish, which was Greek Catholic, until the Soviets suppressed it in March 1946, forcing it to integrate with the Russian Orthodox Church.


Snow drapes the church during the Christmas Day liturgy.


Though deprived of its church, Kosmach’s Greek Catholic community survived; many celebrated the sacraments in secret while others participated in the Orthodox rite. This state of affairs lasted four decades, until the Soviet Union unraveled, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church resurfaced and Ukraine achieved independence.


Today, mixed Greek Catholic and Orthodox Hutsul communities are the norm. But with proximity comes competition; this surfaces mainly during Theophany, the great feast of Christ’s baptism commemorated 12 days after Christmas. Both communities process to the river for the blessing of water.


“The Orthodox stand at one place for the blessing, but Greek Catholics go farther up the river so the Orthodox drink ‘Catholic’ water,” says longtime resident Mykhailo Didushytskyi. “I laugh and cry. Adults act like children. There’s a contest: The Orthodox want the Catholics to try the water first and vice versa.”


For the Hutsuls, however, tradition remains more important than denomination.


“They don’t listen to the priest,” says Father Vasylii Hunchak, pastor of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Kosmach.


For example, Father Hunchak instructs his faithful that they can work on minor holy days. “They say, the priest says that, but my mother says we can’t work,’” Father Hunchak continues. “Their beliefs are more important than what Christ handed down.”


“The Hutsuls are convinced this is how they avoid disaster,” Mr. Prodoniuk says. “They celebrate every minor holy day by not working the land. They celebrate not only St. Ann, St. Andrew and St. Nicholas, but St. Barbara and all the feasts of St. John,” he continues. “Misfortune doesn’t touch them. Other regions have floods, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters. These pass by the Hutsuls.


“On holy days, the women don’t even use a knife,” Mr. Prodoniuk adds. “The day before the feast, they slice a lot of bread. They also make bread out of potatoes and corn, which can be broken by hand.”


The Soviets tried to modernize and socialize the Hutsuls with mixed results. Electricity may have been introduced, but collectivization failed. With a dearth of agricultural land, and with communities scattered throughout the Carpathians, logging and raising cattle and sheep remained the primary means of livelihood.


The Soviets frowned on tradition, particularly those traditions rooted in religion. But the Hutsuls took pride in their distinctive dress, dances and songs, says Vasyl Markus, editor of the Encyclopedia of the Ukrainian Diaspora and a professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Families continued to decorate Easter eggs, or pysanky, as well as practice embroidery and other examples of folk art. And unlike most parts of the Soviet Union, religious expression never really wavered. But that expression is not purely Christian.


“The Christian faith in the area is nuanced,” says Father Hunchak. “There is faith, but it is not exactly Christian, rather half-Christian, half-pagan … a mystical faith. In the Carpathian Mountains, there are people who know about trees, plants, nature.” The Hutsuls are intimately connected to nature, the elements and to their dead.

“Before Christmas Eve supper, people visit cemeteries,” says Mr. Didushytskyi. “They put candles on the graves of their relatives and invite them to come for supper. A place is then left at the table, with plate and utensils for a deceased relative, to show respect for the dead.”

Timing is important.


“When the cattle are fed and the first star appears, we sit down at the table, light candles and pray,” Mr. Didushytskyi continues. “The eldest takes the kuttia [porridge made of wheat, honey, nuts and poppy seeds] and throws it on the ceiling with a spoon.” If the porridge sticks, this means God has blessed the family with health, cattle and fertile fields.


Caroling remains an important Christmas tradition. “According to legend, God gave gifts to all the countries,” says Father Hunchak, “Ukraine came late and God had nothing left to give except songs. Our Christmas carols are simply gifts from God.”


Anna Havryliuk’s grandchildren prepare for a night of caroling.



On Christmas Eve, grandchildren carol for their grandparents. On Christmas Day, older children carol. After that, however, only adult men who have permission from their pastors may carol. Proceeds from the singing – carolers receive “tips” – are donated to the parish.


“In some villages, first they sing to the man and woman of the house, then the cattle and the fields so that all will be healthy, they will have a good harvest and healthy animals,” says Mr. Didushytskyi.


“They can carol for a whole day at one house, if the man of the house provides enough food and drink. In the 1980’s some carolers came to Kosmach from another village to make more money,” he remembers. “At first people didn’t know the difference, but now they don’t give outsiders anything.”


But outside ways are making an impact on the Hutsuls; a dearth of job opportunities threatens the Hutsuls and their traditions.


“There’s no work in the village,” says a native of Kosmach, Anna Havryliuk. “Young people leave the country looking for work in the Czech Republic, Portugal and Italy.”


Still, even as they venture out into the world, the Hutsuls hang on to their traditions. On Christmas visits, Mrs. Havryliuk’s three grandchildren never fail to return to carol.



Rooted in Wood

Slovakia’s Greek Catholic Heritage

by Jacqueline Ruyak with photographs by Andrej Bán & Jacqueline Ruyak

Reprinted here with Permission of CNEWA


Early morning sunshine fills St. Basil the Great Church in Krajné Čierno. (photo: Andrej Bán)

On a cold and wet November day, a group of carpenters hammered away at the roof of St. Michael the Archangel Greek Catholic Church in the village of Ladomirová in northeastern Slovakia. Built in 1742, St. Michael’s stands out as perhaps Slovakia’s most beautiful and celebrated historic wooden church. Surveying the men’s work, the church’s pastor, Father Peter Jakub, explained that after 40 years, it was time to replace the worn hand-cut spruce shingles.


Only some 50 wooden churches, most dating back two centuries, survive in the modern central European republic of Slovakia; historians estimate more than 300 may have been built between the 16th and 18th centuries. Approximately 30 belong to the Slovak Greek Catholic Church. A handful have been closed and restored as museums, while the remaining churches are used by Evangelical Protestant or Latin (Roman) Catholic congregations. In recent decades, the Slovak government has designated 27 of these tserkvi (Slavonic for wooden churches) as national cultural monuments.


These wooden structures are inexorably fragile, vulnerable to decay and fire. But as architectural achievements constructed during a tumultuous and religiously volatile era, they now galvanize significant interest in and support for their restoration and preservation.


The lion’s share of Slovakia’s wooden churches clusters in the eastern region of Prešov, a mountainous and heavily forested area bordering Poland and Ukraine. Rusyn Greek Catholics — who inhabited tiny hamlets scattered throughout the Carpathian Mountains — constructed most of these churches.


A distinct Slavic ethnic group of poor peasant farmers, foresters and shepherds, early Rusyns followed the Byzantine form of the Christian faith even as the churches of East and West parted company after the Great Schism in 1054.


Rooted in the rites and disciplines of the Church of Mukačevo, now a town in Ukraine, Orthodox Rusyns attracted little attention from their predominantly Roman Catholic neighbors, if for no other reason than because of their isolation.


But in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, sociopolitical and religious events — the Protestant Reformation, the Ottoman Turkish invasion of central Europe and the rise of the Hapsburg Dynasty — prompted these Rusyn Orthodox communities to enter into full communion with the Church of Rome. As Greek Catholics, Rusyns maintained their liturgical rites, customs and privileges, including a married clergy, while professing union with the papacy.



A neatly kept cemetery surrounds the closed wooden Church of the Dormition in Hunkovce. (photo: Jacqueline Ruyak)

Gifted loggers and carpenters, Rusyns preferred wood when building sacred and secular structures. Both practical and ornamental, woodwork adorns church towers, gates, doors and beam supports. Hand-forged wooden hinges and locks on hand-carved doors also characterize many of the churches. In place of nails, the Rusyns fashioned square wood pegs to hold together their elaborate wooden edifices.


Pointing to the heavy square pegs that fasten St. Michael’s wood frame, Father Jakub explained that Rusyn custom at the time forbade the use of metal nails in building churches. According to tradition, Jesus had been crucified with iron nails.


An edict issued by Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I in 1681 reinforced Rusyn building preferences. The edict limited construction of stone churches to Roman Catholics alone. It also stipulated that non-Roman Catholics build their sanctuaries outside the village or town center and within a fixed time period, usually one year.


Whereas medieval Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque churches inspire awe, overwhelming the visitor with their splendor, the smaller and simpler Rusyn Greek Catholic tserkvi make one feel at home, welcomed. Usually built atop hills away from bustling village life, these wooden churches inspire a sense of height and transcendence not by their size, but rather by their location.


“The famous Gothic reredos in Levoča is about 70 meters [224 feet] tall. That’s the height of the wooden church in Mikulašová,” said Martin Mešša, former director of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava, contrasting Roman and Rusyn Greek Catholic churches.


“Gothic churches were built for 5,000 not 500. It’s town versus country,” he added. Though modest, Rusyn Greek Catholic wooden churches still required the expertise of specialized carpenters, sophisticated architectural techniques and significant financial sponsorship for their construction. Parishioners contributed what they could, but more often, major donations from local wealthy landowners finished the work. For instance, Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi (1676-1735), Hungary’s wealthiest landowner and leader of the Hungarian uprising against the Hapsburgs, rewarded his Rusyn Greek Catholic soldiers by financing the construction of many of their churches.


While each of Slovakia’s Greek Catholic wooden churches is unique, most share basic architectural elements. Essentially a polygonal building, a tserkva’s structural design resembles that of a typical log cabin. Interlocking logs provide the structural frame and walls of the church. Generally, the surfaces of the logs of the exterior are left rounded, while interior logs are hand-planed to create a flat surface.


When assembling the frame, the original builders often preferred logs of red spruce for its high content of tannic acid, which acts as a natural preservative. They also used cedar, pine and birch. Wood siding, usually spruce and cedar shingles, covers the frame to preserve it and insulate the church. Until recently, church caretakers treated the exterior with a dark brown stain. Now they use a colorless protective treatment that allows the wood surfaces of many of the churches to acquire their natural patina.


Most of the churches possess three principal and distinct chambers, usually with three corresponding roofs, each of which may be multilayered and hipped.


Each roof usually climaxes in a cupola, tower or onion dome crowned with an iron cross. Small crosses and stars often ornament the iron crosses and may symbolize the Virgin Mary, the Magi or the Passion of Christ. Other motifs include sunlike circles, the Greek letters alpha and omega, and leaves. As with icons, said Mr. Messa, the wooden churches and their ornaments functioned as didactic elements for illiterate Rusyns.


Oriented from east to west, the cupolas or towers descend in height from the west.


“The towers in aggregate symbolize the Trinity,” said Father Jakub, “and light is the coming of Christ.

“The towers are built so the light of the rising sun hits all three at the same time.”


The tallest tower often contains the bells; its corresponding chamber constitutes the church entrance and the babinec, or narthex, a vestibule for penitents and others restricted from the nave. In the past, this included women.


The middle tower or cupola houses the nave, where the faithful worship. Its high ceiling generally has an octagonal form and symbolizes eternity.


The smallest tower rises above the sanctuary, reserved for the priests and ministers of the altar. Traditionally, the sanctuary is slightly higher, a step or two, than the nave and recalls the “step up to the higher world of paradise.”


The iconostasis — a wall of icons — divides the nave from the sanctuary.


Notwithstanding these shared elements, the architectural design of individual wooden churches varies widely, depending on the community’s needs, wealth, available talent and cultural expressions.


Some, for example Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Lukov-Venécia, have open porches. Centuries ago, a single church served several villages. People from neighboring communities would walk to the church the night before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and camp on the porch.


In many ways, Ladomirová’s church dedicated to the Archangel Michael exemplifies Slovakia’s Rusyn Greek Catholic wooden churches. Built at the edge of the village, a split rail fence topped with shingles runs around the church. The wooden, roofed gate culminates in an onion dome crowned with an iron cross. And among the graves in the churchyard stands an old wooden bell, also shingled.


The church’s Baroque iconostasis, featuring intricate and colorful carvings and icons, shimmers in the church’s cool light.


At its center, an elaborately decorated royal door is flanked by subdued doors reserved for the deacons and other liturgical ministers.


A row of medallions, each containing a cherub with three pairs of wings with which to cover himself in the presence of God, lines the bottom of the screen.


Above the cherubim, large icons of St. Nicholas, the Virgin Mary holding her son, Christ as Pantocrator, or judge, and the eponymous St. Michael the Archangel have been ordered according to ancient tradition.


Above these icons, images from the life of Christ are depicted; the Last Supper is centered above the royal door.


Icons of the Twelve Apostles, with Christ seated as righteous judge in the middle, compose the next row on the screen.


Lastly, a row of medallions, each featuring a prophet — flanking an icon of the crucifixion — runs along the top.


Since the 18th century, most icons and iconostases such as those at St. Michael’s were made in specialized workshops in Prešov, Bardejov and Cracow, then part of the Hapsburg’s Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Šariš Museum in Bardejov boasts a collection of nearly 450 icons from former churches.


In the early 1990’s, when St. Michael’s reopened (the Communists had closed the church), its icons and carved frame were sent to Bratislava for restoration. In 2006, an annual competition among restoration specialists awarded a prize to the craftsmen who lovingly renewed this unique work of liturgical art.


Since 2000, extensive restoration has begun on many of Slovakia’s wooden churches, with experts and craftsmen focusing on precious icons and iconostases and external carvings, frames and shingles. Specialized contractors now undertake most of this restoration work.


About 650 people, including 400 Roma, belong to St. Michael’s. But Father Peter Jakub’s pastoral duties also include celebrating the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and holy days at two neighboring Greek Catholic churches: St. Michael the Archangel in Šemetkovce and St. Basil the Great in Krajné Čierno.


St. Michael’s in Šemetkovce serves the village’s 90 residents, all of whom are Greek Catholic. Built in 1752, the wooden church was moved to its present site — high on a hill overlooking the hamlet — in the 1780’s. Board and batten cover the log structure and polychrome trims the edges. Only the first and tallest tower culminates in an onion dome; the two lower towers have gradated roofs topped with cupolas. Iron crosses, decorated with small crosses at arms’ end, crown all three towers.


The church’s wood-shingled roof is scheduled for cleaning this year. Replaced in 2001, the shingles have already acquired a thick blanket of moss and lichen. Damaged from water leaking through the old roof, a prominent mural inside the sanctuary awaits restoration once funding becomes available.


Inside the church, Father Jakub pointed out the altered icon of St. Thomas on the intricate 18th-century Baroque iconostasis, which had to be cut to fit into place. The church also possesses some rare 17th-century icons, depicting St. Michael and the raising of Lazarus.


St. Basil the Great is one of two churches that serve Krajné Čierno’s tiny population of 65. Built in 1730, St. Basil has three towers that, like its wooden gate, end in conical shingled roofs. Unlike most other wooden churches, the babinec and nave are the same width. Exceptionally small, the sanctuary allowed room for only one deacon door in its elaborately carved iconostasis. Between 1999 and 2004, St. Basil’s was fully restored. Treated with a colorless preservative, its new wood siding exudes a natural sheen.


When he first came to Ladomirová, the priest knew little about wooden churches. He now makes all decisions on restoration for the three churches, writing grant proposals and meeting with officials from the Ministry of Culture, the main source of funding.


Maintaining and restoring these wooden churches require a great amount of money. For example, the cost to restore one icon runs about $5,000. Unfortunately, the Presov region, where most of the country’s wooden churches are located, ranks as Slovakia’s poorest. Whereas Slovakia’s overall average monthly income reaches upward of $900, in the northeast it hovers closer to $350. Neither the parish communities nor the eparchies of the Slovak Greek Catholic Church can fund the restoration work, invaluable as it may be. To assist with expenses, the wooden churches charge visitors an admission fee and sell postcards.


Several important tserkvi survive just north of Ladomirová near Dukla, Poland. During World War II, this quaint countryside witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting on the Eastern Front. Probably Slovakia’s most picturesque wooden church, St. Nicholas in Bodružal, has been nominated — with Ladomirová’s St. Michael the Archangel — as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nestled in the wooded foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, it sits high on a long slope off the road at the edge of the village. Built in 1658, St. Nicholas has three tiered towers, each with an onion dome and iron cross. A coordinated wood-roofed fence surrounds the tserkva.


The church’s caretaker, Helena Kažmirova, reflexively picked up windblown twigs and branches as she hurried along the path to the church.


An aging bell maker walks toward St. Michael’s bell tower in Ladomirová to assess repairs. (photo: Andrej Bán)


Mrs. Kažmirova assumed her duties three years ago from her late father. Unlocking the door, she pointed out the bells overhead in the church’s first and tallest tower. She and her husband, Peter, also ring the bells for the parish.


Bodruzal once had a population of about 250, but in recent years it has dwindled to 50, of which seven families are Greek Catholic. “Young people go to towns to work,” she said, “and old people die.” Her own children work in Scotland and Ireland.


About 30 houses remain in the village, but most people live elsewhere. The village, Mrs. Kažmirova said, has produced many doctors, teachers and other educated people. Those who work in the region tend to come back on weekends to attend the liturgy and visit the graves of loved ones.


The Divine Liturgy used to be celebrated at St. Nicholas’s every Sunday, even during the Communist regime. “Maybe we were far enough out of the way to get away with it,” Mrs. Kažmirova speculated. But with fewer villagers, St. Nicholas’s now shares one priest with four other churches in the area; the priest rotates Sunday liturgy among the churches and the villagers follow him.


Several years ago, combined local and international funding paid for a new board-and-batten covering on the exterior of the church, which cost some $50,000. A new and much-needed electrical and security system is expected to cost about the same.


Inside St. Nicholas’s, icons glowed in the sunlight. Restored in the 1990’s, the elaborately carved, mid-18th-century iconostasis has only a very narrow deacon door — barely a foot wide — on its right-hand side. The parish community call the custom-made door the “children’s door,” as its use was limited to children alone when assisting in the liturgy.


A blemish on the church’s ceiling marks the spot where a German grenade crashed through during World War II. Miraculously, it fell to the floor but did not explode. The village’s traditional wooden houses, however, were leveled in the fighting.


Near the Polish border, perched on a low cliff on the outskirts of Hraničné, is the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. For centuries, Roman and Greek Catholics worshiped there, alternating liturgies from one Sunday to the next.


“But it really wasn’t practical because the holidays were different,” said caretaker Stefan Sdašak.


“Half of the village would be celebrating while the other half was working.”


At its peak, the village had as many as 600 residents. Today, only 220 villagers remain, all of whom are Roman Catholics.


First constructed in 1785, the church was rebuilt in the 19th century and then moved in 1972 when the adjacent road was widened. Exposed logs at the church’s foundation reveal its wooden frame. The church has a single, large tower, covered with wood shingles that climaxes in an onion dome and iron cross. An imposing Baroque pulpit and a trio of altars, dating from 1670, divide the nave from the sanctuary — gifts from a wealthy Roman Catholic parish in the nearby town of Stará L’ubovňa. A handful of icons, vestiges of the Greek Catholic past, hangs inside the church.


Several years ago, the villagers attempted to sell the church to an open-air museum and build a new one of brick. However, as a registered National Cultural Monument, the church cannot be sold easily. Meanwhile, the small village struggles to find the money to maintain the church.


“Upkeep is expensive,” said Mr. Sdašak. “There’s always something needing attention.”



Ruthenians Celebrate their Culture

Around Slovakia


Compiled by, Zuzana Vilikovská

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


THE CULTURAL and Education Centre (MKaOS) in Snina in eastern Slovakia, together with the Homeland Museum in Humenné, organised the 10th Podvihorlatský Folklore festival over the second weekend of May. The 10th version of the event also reached a milestone since the first festival had been organised 25 years ago to celebrate the various activities of associations representing Slovakia’s Ruthenian citizens.


This year’s programme included a concert of folklore music featuring the Vihorlat ensemble followed by 17 other folklore groups such as Šiňava, Starinčanka, Dúha, Dukát and others. Altogether there were 350 performers – both young and old – who also presented family traditions and rituals in a gala programme called Rodina, rodina, rodinôčka moja (Family, family, my dear family). Folklore and popular music bands and ensembles from Moravia in the Czech Republic also enhanced the festival together with a country band called Fox.


The TASR newswire wrote that a contest for the area’s best traditional pies, tatarčené pirohy, was part of the festival for the first time. Teams of three were asked to make these popular delicacies but they had to produce at least 60 pies that were then judged on appearance and taste. But the crucial thing was not so much to win but instead to have fun and draw attention to this popular local food, TASR wrote. Demonstrations of traditional crafts were also offered around the ponds of Snina.


The festival organisers said the main idea of the event was to show the good relations among various ethnic minorities in eastern Slovakia.  


Carpatho-Ruthenian Region


by, Stephanie MacLellan

Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator

One thing you'll notice when you drive into the northeastern part of Slovakia is that road signs suddenly start appearing in Cyrillic script. The language is Ruthenian, or Rusyn - the native tongue of an ethnic group that's not widely known outside of this country.


About 40,000 Slovaks declared themselves to be Rusyn in the last census, but other estimates say there are more than 150,000 in the country. Their dialect draws from Slovak, Polish and Hungarian. Their faith is Greek-Catholic, which blends Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.


The Rusyns have had a rocky and complicated history. The biggest blow was likely forced migration to Ukraine and mandatory Ukrainian educa-tion following the Second World War. Many more immigrated to the United States, including the parents of Andy Warhol.


The traditional Rusyn area, in the hills south of the Carpathian mountains near the eastern part of the country, has its own distinct architecture and atmosphere. You might have a hard time getting around by bus, but if you have access to a car, it makes a great place for a road trip.




"Remember this, because they won't build anything else like it."


imgThat was a comment someone left in the guest book at the Múzeum ukrajinskej a rusínskej dediny (Ukrainian and Rusyn Village Museum) skanzen in Svidník. Indeed, all of the buildings were constructed centuries ago and brought to the site in 1975, and it's hard to imagine how such a collection could be assembled again.


The museum contains a couple of dozen houses that were built between the late 18th century and the early 20th century. They were brought to the skanzen from the neighbouring Rusyn villages where they were found. The style and building materials vary: some roofs are thatched while others have wooden shingles; some walls are made of wooden beams, some use clay bricks and others are plastered and covered in the traditional sky blue paint. The homes are furnished with simple wooden furniture, with pictures of icons hanging in the corners and decorated ceramics on the walls.

Along with the houses, you can find a school house, fire hall, saw mill and grain mill. The latter has mill equipment that was restored in 1907, including a basket where the corn was fed decorated with painted flowers and carved birds. The wooden church, St. Paraskieva, was constructed in 1766 and contains icons from that era.


The skanzen does re-create the feel of a Rusyn village, especially with goats, sheep and a very friendly donkey wandering around. When you see the paneláky of Svidník from the hilltop site, it reminds you how valuable the buildings really are.


While you're in Svidník, you can learn more about the area's heritage at the Múzeum ukrajinsko-rusínskej kultúry (Museum of Ukrainian-Rusyn Culture). Among the treasures are rare books with intricate handwritten text in Cyrillic, beautifully decorated Easter eggs, traditional costumes and old farm tools and wooden chests. There is also a frighteningly complete collection of mounted animals and birds from the region.


Svidník also has a massive Soviet war memorial and museum, due to its location close to the Dukla Pass. This was a major mountain crossing where 60,000 Soviet soldiers and 6,500 Slovaks and Czechs died in battle during the Second World War, trying to reclaim the pass from the Nazis. Today, near the Polish border crossing at Vyšný Komárnik, there is a memorial at the battle site and an open-air museum of army vehicles and bunkers, which you can see from a watchtower.


Wooden churches


imgThere are dozens of wooden churches - also called "cerkvas" - scattered throughout the northeastern part of Slovakia. They all have three steeples and dark wood exteriors, but beyond that, each church really has its own character.


Some churches are contained in folk architecture skanzens, but it's not quite the same as seeing them in the villages where they were built, where they're sometimes still used by the community. Maps available at different tourist centres can point you in the direction of the churches. Most of them will be closed when you get there, but there will be signs that let you know where to get the key.


It's hard to know where to start with so many churches. My friend and I picked two by planning a route from Bardejov to Kežmarok.


The first church we saw was the Sv. Františka Assiského (St. Francis of Assissi) church at Hervatov, southwest of Bardejov. It's rare because it's a Roman Catholic wooden church. It's not one of the most esthetically-pleasing churches from the outside, with a very boxy, rectangular steeple. But on the inside, it contains some fascinating wall paintings. They include murals of St. George killing the dragon and the Wise and Foolish Virgins parable. The murals were painted by Andrej Haffčik in 1665 and owe their existence to two sets of restoration: the first in 1805, and more recently in 1970. In addition, the altar depicting the Virgin Mary, St. Catherine and St. Barbara dates from 1460 to 1470.


From Hervatov, you drive northwest through some lovely rolling fields and hills before you get to Krivé, where the Sv. Lukáša evanjelistu (St. Luke the Evangelist) church is found. It took a bit of a wait to find someone with the church key - she was working outside and apparently felt very inconvenienced by the interruption.


This Greek Catholic church has a fairly rectangular ground plan, with a steeple that looks like it's been recently added. It's also fairly young, built in 1826, but another church existed on that site previously.


The simple outward appearance belies an interior rich with icons. The iconostasis behind the altar takes up most of the front wall with a cacophony of different saints and prophets. There are two Royal Doors, one from the early 18th century and another from the 17th century. Other icons date from the 16th century. According to the church's information, "Similar artistic features can be found on icons on the Polish side of the Carpathian mountains. One can assume, then, that they were made in one of the workshops in Poland."


The village of Krivé still uses the church for its weekly masses, and according to the woman who gave us the key, it's always full.


The People From 'No Mans Land'

The Carpatho-Rusyns of Austria-Hungary

by, Thomas A. Peters, C.G.R.S.The Carpathian Connection would like to thank Mr. Thomas A. Peters, for offering this essay. He has extensive knowledge of the Carpatho-Rusyn people and is a guest speaker on this subject. Mr. Peters also performs professional genealogy services regarding this heritage and the regions they inhabited.


Have you ever been asked the question: "What is your ethnic background?" Most of us, I am sure, have been asked this question many times, particularly be fellow genealogists. We all have the ready answers: "I’m German; I’m Irish; I’m English;" ad infinitum. Yet, there are about one million descendants of an ethnically distinct people from the Carpathian Mountains region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire who have a confused or non-existent sense of ethnic identity. These descendants of late 19th and early 20th century immigrants know that they are of Slavic ancestry but are unsure to which specific ethnic group they belong to. This is understandable when you examine the origins of the Carpatho-Rusyns. They came from a specific geographic area with defined ethno-linguistic boundaries in the northeast region of Austria-Hungary.


This area encompassed the western part of Galicia and the old Hungarian counties of Saros; Zemplen; Szepes; Abauj; Ung; Ugocsa; Bereg and Maramaros. This area is now occupied by the countries of Poland; Slovakia; Ukraine; Hungary and a few villages in Romania. These immigrants originated in a small area of a very large empire. They did not come from a specific country. Furthermore, they were members of the Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church (also called Uniate) and the Russian Orthodox Church, both of which were totally unfamiliar to native born Americans. Their clergy were not required to be celibate. It was indeed a difficult thing for Americans to comprehend. Even the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States, in some cases, refused to believe that Catholic priests could be married! As you might imagine, this caused many an unpleasant incident when Eastern Rite Catholic priests came to America and presented themselves to the local Roman Catholic bishop as per the custom. In some cases, communications between the two sides were strained to the point that Roman Catholic bishops refused to grant faculties to the Greek Catholic priests. These priests often were insulted and angry because they were refused permission to exercise their religious rituals which were allowed by the Holy See and many converted to Orthodoxy along with their congregation. This "conversion" required no change in their religious rituals.


Confusion extended to the secular life as well and it was no small wonder then that the Rusyns did not know how to respond to their American friends and neighbors to the question: "What is your ethnic identity?" Some of the immigrants responded that they were Austrian or Hungarian because they came from Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some said that they were Ukrainian (these were few in number). These persons of Ukrainian national orientation came primarily from the eastern reaches of Galicia, the area east of the San River, where ethnic Ukrainians were numerous and very nationalistic. This Ukrainian identification was reinforced by Metropolitan Syl’vester Sembratovyc. Some countered that they were Russian because they were members of the Russian Orthodox church. The Orthodox priests reinforced this identity. This was a very confusing situation to say the least!


The immigrants within their own ethnic community called themselves: Rusyn; Rusnak; Ruthene; Ruthenian; Carpatho-Russian; Carpatho-Ruthenian; Carpatho-Ukranian and Lemko. These terms have a religious connotation signifying membership in either the Greek Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church. Some of the immigrants and their offspring called themselves "Slavish" which is a slang term meaning "like Slovak but not quite!" The Rusyns have a phrase in their own Rusyn language in which they refer to themselves as the "Po-nasomu" People. This in effect meant to them: people who look like us and speak like us. These words were often used in response to the question: "Who are you?" Such an answer leads one to the conclusion that a nationalistic identity problem did exist and still does, for this East Slavic group of people.





  • A Distinctive Ethnic Group Who Live Near the Crests of the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe.

  • Greek Catholic or Orthodox Church Members

  • Speak an East Slavic Language: Rusyn


Who are the Ruthenians?

"The Slovak Spectator", Robin RiggReprinted here with Permission ofThe Slovak Spectator

Ruthenians have lived in the easternmost part of Slovakia and westernmost part of Ukraine - called Sub-Carpathian Russia - since the 14th century. Their dialect is related to Ukrainian, but still maintains its own distinct flair. Ruthenians are a real ethnic group, no matter how hard other nationalities have tried to assimilate them. In the 1991 Czechoslovak census, nearly 17,000 people identified themselves as Ruthenian.


Rusini was actually the name of the inhabitants and territory of a large medieval state centered around Kiev. For centuries their culture was centered on a monastery at Krasny Brod, until the formation of a Greek Catholic bishopric in Presov in 1818. 


Traditionally, Ruthenians acted primarily as cattle breeders and farmers, rarely settling in larger towns before the turn of the 20th century. This is still true today, as one can see traveling through the tiny towns with Cyrillic signs that lie in the north-south valleys in eastern Slovakia.


Debated origins
How close to Ukrainian?

There is fierce debate among Ruthenian intellectuals over the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious origins of the people. Opinions are divided between those who believe Ruthenians to be a distinct group of Ukrainians, and those who campaign for an independent identity with close links to the Russians. In the late 1800’s the two groups were deeply polarized by the emancipation of Ukraine, with one side championing it and the other strongly opposed and hoping to keep friendly ties with mother Russia. 


But the one thing both sides had in common was the awful, inescapable poverty of the region and the shortage of land from 1870 until World War I. 


Thousands of Ruthenians emigrated to Canada, the United States and Argentina during this time. The most famous Ruthenian of them all, artist Andy Warhol, hailed from near Medzilaborce.

Refused Assimilation
Ukrainian label doesn’t work

Ruthenians were almost assimilated after World War II when Communist Czechoslovakia simply abolished the minority in 1952, recognizing them only as Ukrainians. 


Most Ruthenians either balked at the Ukrainian label, choosing Slovak schools over Ukrainian ones, or hardly heeded the ban, living their rural lives, preserving their language, and practicing the Greek-Catholic religion, which was banned in 1950, until better days returned.


After the 1989 revolution, the Ruthenian national movement resurfaced and fought to restore their status, finally codifying their language in 1995. Still, there are so few Ruthenians fighting for recognition that their future as a people is in serious doubt. 


The Rusyns of Hungary

End of the millennial struggle

 by, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001



Vol 3, No 16

Copyright (c) 2001 - Central Europe Review 


Never could it be said that the Rusyns and Hungarians are strangers to one another. From the very beginning of Magyar statehood over one thousand years ago, the two nations have existed side by side. The very fact that the East Slavs, who became the Rusyns, found themselves under Magyar rule for an entire millennium is the crux of the Rusyns' claim to the status of the fourth East Slavic nation; related to, but separate from, the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians.


While the history of the treatment of Rusyns by the Magyars is not necessarily something that can be held up as a shining example of majority-minority relations, the current policies in force in Hungary certainly can. Now that the Rusyn community in Hungary is counted in the hundreds and not in the hundreds of thousands (as it was before the First World War), Budapest has finally given the Rusyns what they had demanded for a millennium: a degree of autonomy.


Hungary and its minorities

The Rusyns may very well be the oldest minority group in Hungary, but they are by no means the only one or anything close to the largest. The country is currently home to thirteen groups recognized as national minorities. Armenians, Bulgarians, Croats, Germans, Greeks, Gypsies, Poles, Romanians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians all join the Rusyns in what could be a zoo with most all of the nations of Central Europe—and several more exotic species—on display.


The 1990 census counted Rusyns together with Ukrainians, following standard Eastern-Bloc practice, and found only 674 people speaking either Rusyn or Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Today, Budapest's official estimates say there are 1000 Rusyns in Hungary (separate from Ukrainians), while Rusyn organizations claim the figure is as high as 6000.


Rusyns no longer make much of an impact on Hungarian society. The Rusyn language is used as a significant mode of communication in just two villages, both in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county in the north-east. One the Rusyns call Mucon (Múcsony) and the other Komloška (Komlóska).


The Rusyn movement in Hungary has made significant progress since taking its first steps in 1991 with the formation of the Organization of Rusyns in Hungary. Several cultural institutions have been created, among them the Andy Warhol Arts Association (1995), the Rusyn Research Institute (1996) and the Rusyn Museum in Múcsony (1998).


Beginning with the 1995/6 school year, eighteen grade schoolers in Múcsony had the opportunity to study in the Rusyn language, and the following year enrollment jumped to 68.


The Rusyn language is also promoted in the media. The community has two primary publications, Ruszinszkij Zsivot/Rusinskyj Život (Rusyn Life), and Országos Ruszin Hírlap/Vsederžavnyj Rusynskyj Visnyk (National Rusyn Newsbulletin). Starting in 1996, channel 1 of Hungarian television began broadcasting a monthly program in Rusyn, and from October of 1997, it has broadcast a weekly Rusyn-language program on channel 2.


Capping off the achievements, Budapest hosted the fourth World Congress of Rusyns in 1997. The Congress, held biennially, is the central event of the international Rusyn community. Representatives of Rusyn organizations from throughout Central Europe and abroad attended the three-day event, and all were impressed with the hospitality showed by the Hungarian capital.


Diversity, real or imagined

Hungary is a highly diverse country, though the sheer number of national groups gives a false impression of this diversity. The thirteen groups that have been granted full national minority protection, however, account for little more than one percent of the total population of Hungary.


Their situation is precarious, given the fact that 40 to 60 percent of adult members of minority groups live in ethnically-mixed marriages, which increases the rate of assimilation into the majority population. International observers believe that minority populations (with the notable exception of the Roma) are fully integrated into Magyar society, a fact which attests to both the reasonable policies of Budapest and to the increasing rates of assimilation.


Out of the goodness of their hearts?

By all accounts, Hungary has instituted what may be the most liberal minority policies in Europe, covering almost all of its non-Magyar residents. The most striking aspect of the policies is the system of minority self-governments throughout the country. International observers has hailed the unique experiment as a significant step forward for minority rights worldwide, even though it is not without its flaws.


The basic document delineating minority rights in Hungary is Article 68 of the Constitution, which grants minorities the rights to collective participation in public life; to use their own languages; to receive schooling in their own languages; and to establish local and national self-governments. A 96-percent majority passed the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities in 1993, extending minority rights to have not only a collective but also an individual nature.


In 1996, a Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities was elected by parliament to act as an ombudsman for minority rights. Also in 1996, legislation was passed which introduced the concept of hate-crimes against national minorities.


All this, however, was not done because Budapest has suddenly taken a liking to its domestic minorities. The overriding motivation was that such large numbers of Magyars live outside the borders of today's Hungary: in Slovakia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and elsewhere. The general belief is that if Budapest provides its minorities with the highest levels of protection, then it has the right to demand the same levels of protection for Magyar minorities abroad. Even so, the motivation should not belittle the accomplishment.


Self-governance—a bold experiment

The system of self-governance Budapest has established for its minorities is unique in Europe, if not worldwide. In settlements with a significant number of inhabitants belonging to a minority, that minority is permitted by the constitution to establish a local self-government structure with several minority-specific mandates. The members of the self-government are chosen in popular elections.


Additionally, each of the minorities with local self-governments is entitled to form a national self-government in the capital.


The members of the national bodies are elected by the members of the local ones. Though it has not happened as of yet, a group of local self-governments could, theoretically, form a regional tier of minority autonomy.


The basic mandate of a local self-government is to promote the national culture of the minority. It also has the right to consult with local authorities on matters concerning the minority, such as in the fields of public education, culture, media and use of languages.


The national self-governments work in tandem with the national government in the same way. They promote the minority's culture on the national level, and have the right to register content or disapproval with national decisions in similar fields.


Nothing is perfect

Even though the minority self-government system represents one of the highest levels of minority involvement in governance anywhere in Europe, it is faced with several problems that must be resolved quickly in order for the system to function smoothly.


The biggest problem with the system is no surprise: lack of funding. The government must provide each local and national minority self-government with both appropriate facilities to act as a central office and funding according to legislation as well as allocations from the national budget. Unfortunately, the resources made available to the self-governments are, most times, not even close to fulfilling their requirements, and too often programs planned by the self-governments must be scaled back or canceled altogether for lack of funding.


Another concern is the method of electing representatives to the self-governments. As it stands, the elections to self-governments are open to all voters in the country, regardless of whether they actually belong to the minority involved.


Several options have been explored to devise a solution, but none have proved acceptable thus far. The idea of registering members of national minorities was quickly shelved, after it conjured up nightmares of Nazi-era policies. Another suggestion was to have the elections to minority self-governments on a different day from general elections, with the thought that only members of the minority would be inclined to make the effort to vote.


Self-government: the Rusyn experience

The system of minority self-governments came into force when elections to these bodies were held in tandem with the local elections of 1994 throughout Hungary. By the 1998 elections, 1363 local self-government organizations were established, 48 of which actually replaced their municipal administrations and assumed all of their duties. By February 1999, twelve of the thirteen eligible groups had also established a self-government at the national level.


In 1994, the Rusyns founded their first local self-government in Múcsony, and currently there is a total of ten all together. Aside from three in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county, where the majority of Rusyns live in Hungary, there are also five in various districts of Budapest and another in the municipality of Pest.


The tenth is the national self-government based in Budapest. Rusyns formed the national self-government in October 1998, when local Rusyn self-governments elected the five members of the nation administration. National self-governments are headed jointly by a president and attachés for environmental, media and cultural issues.


After the first elections to national self-governments, the XII district of Budapest was home to just four, serving the German, Croat, Slovene and Armenian communities. With the 1998 elections, four more were created, to serve the Roma, Serb, Greek and Rusyn communities.


While this represented a significant step forward in minority representation in the capital, it came at a price: the district's budget was stretched to the breaking point and it was decided that none of the members of the national self-governments in the XII district would receive the honoraria they had received in the past. For now, this is the only such district in Budapest, but the pattern could easily be repeated elsewhere.


Even though the Rusyns had the bad luck of founding their national self-government in the district with the tightest budget, the self-government has undertaken several important initiatives in the past three years. They have organized dozens of important cultural events and have their own website. They are also working closely with other parts of the Rusyn community.


One of their partners is the Organization of Rusyn Youth, which has set for itself the mission of promoting a Rusyn and European identity among young people, helping them to better themselves; working to help the poor and disadvantaged; preventing drug, alcohol and tobacco use among Rusyn children.


Another major partner is the Rusyn Research Institute in Budapest. With the Institute, the self-government has organized several series of lectures and biannual international conferences of Rusyn studies. Themes from the past two years include "1100 Years of Peaceful Rusyn-Magyar Coexistence: An Example for the Nations of Central Europe" and "The Rusophile Trend in the Rusyn National Renaissance."


The national self-government also promotes the use of the Rusyn language in media. Together with its support and that of the national Foundation for National and Ethnic Minorities, the bilingual black-and-white monthly newsbulletin of the capital was able to introduce a color cover in March 2000, and is now called the Országos Ruszin Hírlap/Vsederžavnyj Rusynskyj Visnyk (National Rusyn Newsbulletin).


In the final analysis...

Since its inception in 1994, Hungary's system of minority self-governments has represented one of the most important steps forward in protection of national minorities to be found anywhere in Europe, if not the world. Given that the thirteen national minorities are an insignificant proportion of the Hungarian population, that it has taken place in Hungary is curious, but also quite important. Due to their small size, the minority populations in Hungary face an even greater threat of assimilation and extinction than more sizable groups elsewhere.


It is impossible to say that the self-governments and Hungarian minority policy have created a utopia for minorities. The self-governments have limited mandates and serve only an advisory role, there is a constant lack of funds for them and their elections are open to all voters. And the government's very motivation for pursuing a liberal minority policy is not necessarily pure of heart. Even still, the self-governments go a long way towards securing the place of minorities in society.


The Rusyns of Hungary are among the luckiest of Rusyn communities elsewhere in Europe. Numerically, they are paltry compared to Rusyn communities in Ukraine or Slovakia, but their situation is significantly better. This fact represents a major historical turnaround. For more than a millennium, the majority of Rusyns in Europe lived in the Kingdom of Hungary, and faced intense official "Magyarization" policies that threatened to destroy the nation.


The Rusyns in the Kingdom of Hungary tried unsuccessfully to gain at least some degree of autonomy beginning in the mid-nineteenth century until the end of the Hapsburg Empire, and again, when Hungary regained control of the then Czechoslovak province of Ruthenia from 1938 to 1945.


The turnaround was so great that Budapest has given the chairman of the Organization of Rusyns a diplomatic passport, making him the only Rusyn "diplomat" in the world. Though it has, unfortunately, come much too late to be of benefit to the majority of Rusyns, it seems that the dream of autonomy has been realized, at least in part, in modern-day Hungary.


by, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001



Ruthenians, Immigration, & the Greek Catholic Church

Passaic, New Jersey - 1890 to 1930

by, Joy E. Kovalycsik


In order to compile a detailed family history, the first step (before you view records) is to undertake a comprehensive study of the nature and background histories of individuals who were listed as Ruthenian (also called Carpatho-Rusyns, Rusnaks or just Rusyns.) If you research the social, political, religious structure and attitudes of the past, your entire history, not just a small segment, will be more comprehensible. If this foundation is completed initially research efforts are more rewarding.  Also, it will assist your genealogy pursuits by answering many questions beforehand.  These questions will no doubt arise during the course of record research. 

This essay deals exclusively with Ruthenian immigrants who came to Passaic, New Jersey from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of course, many issues are similar for others who immigrated to other areas of America. You will find differences depending upon areas of research and no one way is absolute. Differences in general (how children were named) to the language (i.e. dialects) will show many disparities due to the area of residence.  Those from the areas close to present day Poland may have Polish overtones in their folk tales; whereas, those who came from areas of present-day Ukraine may have a different dialect and pronunciation of words due to interaction with other languages in their regions. 

The Ruthenians were a people without a country. The best definition and easiest way to understand this is within the context of the similar category of individuals of Jewish heritage before the birth of the State of Israel. The similarities of the two heritages (minority status, persecution for no good reason, a different language from the majority, different customs, etc.) may speak for how many villages had a respectful interaction with members of the Jewish faith as they were in the same social class.  The Ruthenians were a people scattered over a narrow strip of territory that was quite expansive.  The Carpathian Mountain regions that were situated within the boundaries of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed an area of approximately 7,500 square miles. The majority of Ruthenians lived in areas that were not bountiful.  These regions followed inefficient agricultural practices, offered poor soil, experienced economic and political oppression and saw a high illiteracy rate (40%), wars and disease. This combination of factors offered substandard existences for many Ruthenians who were generally from what was termed "peasant society" and had few opportunities to improve their station in life. Escaping the various forms of oppression and want was unheard of, outside of death, until the great immigration towards the United States and other countries began in the late nineteenth century.

A good way to understand Ruthenians is to do research from many sources and not just take one researcher’s writings as positive proof evidence. There are many fine reports, books, summaries and information available. The New York Public Library in New York City has a section dedicated to Ruthenians. An excerpt from the book "The Rusyns from Slovakia" by Alexander Bonkalo states "During 700 years of living on the slopes of the Carpathian forest region, the Rusyns participated in Hungarian history by deeds and by suffering." This quote by itself truly does much to identify Ruthenians. As a minority people; and as all minorities were subject to abuse and prejudices; those from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire had limited choices; assimilation to the "party line" of the Empire ensured survival.  A review of countless records clearly shows many learned Hungarian and Austrian/German languages; these languages ensured better treatment by authorities and those at higher levels of society.  Always keep in mind this was an area ruled by a monarchy and therefore, democracy was not the first order of business. The atmosphere, along with an unfortunate lack of formal education and financial security gave Ruthenians a sense of insecurity and a general attitude of the times to "be quiet and submit." It appears Ruthenians were colonists in what was originally uninhabited territory. Since these areas were rural in nature, it was easier to retain many of their customs and heritage (i.e. language, rituals whether secular or sacred) and this is a potential reason why so many stayed in non-productive areas. The old proverb, well known to the peasant class of Imperial Russia where livestock were treated better than peasant individuals is recalled "The farther you are from the Tsar, the longer you live." This was excellent thinking as the farther (and more remote) you are from centralized government and bureaucratic offices, the better your chances to live in peace.

To give a brief summary of these people and their background prior to the entrance onto American soil, the priest/historian, the Reverend Stephen Gulovich (+1957) described the following: "The Rusins of the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s could really boast of only three classes of people, the clergy, the peasant and the cantor. They had no landed nobility who could champion their case with few exceptions and members of the learned middle class cared very little for their own people and almost imperceptibly became Magyarised (i.e. assimilated into the Hungarian nationality.) The lowly and at times miserable life of the Rusin peasant was shared by the rustic priest who, frequently disliked by his flock, vainly tried to elevate the cultural standard of his people, and by the country man who acted as teacher in the parochial school and cantor in the church. Strangely enough, these three truly typical representatives of the Rusin people could never get together and were constantly at odds." There is also this description which was taken from an official report of the humanitarian bureaucrat Commissioner Edward Egan on the economic conditions of the Ruthenians in Hungary, submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture in 1900: "These people are without land and without cattle, and their destiny lies in the hands of extortioners. They are deliberately induced to drinking and are demoralized to such a degree, that even their own clergy are unable to help them. They are subject to constant harassment and abuse by the administrative powers and no one extends them a helping hand. Morally and economically, these people are swiftly deteriorating and, in the near future, will completely disappear." These statements, which have been written by other authors, were a basic commentary of the Ruthenians at the turn of the century.

The Ruthenians who immigrated to the United States of America were limited initially.   The Hungarian records of 1870 reveal only 59 Subcarpathian Ruthenians immigrating, but after 1879 these numbers grew to almost unheard of figures. No doubt the word spread from former immigrants who made the journey back and forth (which was common, especially for males before 1900) and many leaflets were passed out from companies in America looking for inexpensive labor which was required to build American industry.  As more and more Ruthenians heard work was available, the stories expanded of wealth and freedom multiplied.  This fueled their imaginations to a point where the floodgates opened and great numbers of Ruthenians began the journey to America. Also to be remembered at this time it was not just freedom which forced the immigrants to leave.  The European economy at that time was depressed, work was scarce and, in America, they could find more than was available in their areas of residence. 

The American Immigration Commission estimates that about 500,000 Ruthenian immigrants had arrived in America by 1897.  This figure, although higher than other researchers’ figures, takes into account all those who came from the Ruthenian areas, not just those who stated their national heritage was Ruthenian. A breakdown of numbers for the year 1909 by the American historian Andrew Shipman states figures for areas Ruthenians settled were Pennsylvania 190,000; New York 50,500; New Jersey 40,000; Ohio 35,000; Connecticut 10,000; Massachusetts 7,500; Illinois 8,000; Rhode Island 1,500; Missouri 6,500; Indiana 6,000; Colorado. the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana 8,000; West Virginia, Virginia and other southern states 5,000. Of course, this does not take into account those who chose not to identify, for whatever reasons, with their heritage and therefore, figures were probably much higher. It is good to remember in statistic counting, no author who has or will compile figures is totally accurate.  There are many census figures and surveys that will not agree with other authors’ research but are given here as a basis to follow. Compiling data in reference to the Ruthenians is difficult at best, since many came here with Hungarian paperwork and were thus classified as Hungarians, Slovaks, or another title.  The immigrant, only wishing to gain entrance to America, was not about to dispute a title placed on travel paperwork by government officials as long as they received permission to travel.

According to United States government statistics the greatest number of Ruthenian immigrants arrived here between 1899 and 1914. According to the historian Walter Warzeski's research the peak year being for the Ruthenian immigrant 1914 when the total reached 42,413. The Ruthenians were refugees from poverty and socio-political discrimination which oppressed them in their native lands, but here in America they also experienced some of these same ugly forms of discrimination; sometimes even from the hands of individuals of their own heritage.

Immigration in itself was no easy road for immigrants. Many had to sell all they owned to come to America and therefore, there was no option for a return trip, this truly was a “one way ticket” as they old saying goes.  The German ports of Bremerhaven (Bremen) and Hamburg were used by approximately two-thirds of immigrants from Austria-Hungary. At first, in the early years the immigrant would walk to the closest rail station to take them to the port areas. Towards the end of the century, the European railway system featured trains, often subsidized by the steamship companies. Immigrant traffic was big business and steady income, therefore, the rail and steamship companies had much to gain making the trip from a small village to the port as easy and quick as possible. Once at the port, the immigrants were given a medical examination before they boarded the ship (the companies had to absorb the cost of a return trip for anyone who was refused entry at Ellis Island.)  After 1891 American Immigration laws demanded the steamship lines vaccinate, disinfect and properly examine their passengers prior to sailing to lower the prospects of anyone entering the United States in anything but good health.

Once on board the immigrants who could not afford better accommodations were directed to their area, known as "steerage". The Historian Alan M. Kraut described these accommodations in one of his reports: "Steerage referred to the one or more below-deck compartments of a ship located fore and aft where the ship's steering equipment had been located in an earlier era. Travelers had to bring their own straw mattresses which were cast overboard on the last day of the voyage. The air was always fetid because of poor ventilation. Immigrants had to bring their own cups, plates and utensils. They cooked their own meals in one of the several galleys shared by all those in steerage. The ship companies provided herring because it was inexpensive, nourishing and it helped to combat sea-sickness. Toilet facilities varied from vessel to vessel. Some earlier ships had as few as twenty-one toilets per thousand immigrants. Later vessels had one toilet for every forty-seven travelers."

Even as the shipping companies tried to improve accommodations a complaint from 1903 states: We climbed down to steerage by going down a narrow, steep stairway. It was dark and slippery. Once there I saw people lying on bunks that were stacked up one on top of the other. The people did not have enough room to sit up in bed. The smell inside was terrible. The trip could take from eight to twenty-one days depending upon the point of departure. A ticket in 1910 cost about ten dollars. The immigrants, never having been far from their villages, must have gone through great trauma upon entering this situation for two or so weeks.  The thought of coming to America or any new destination must have surpassed any and all fears as this would only be a temporary journey and at the end of it would be a better life. 

Ruthenians who arrived in Passaic, New Jersey enjoyed employment practices outlawed in other places.  Laws in numerous areas of New Jersey outlawed the "company store, paid in script and company owned home" ideas by 1900 and, unfortunately, these ideas were prevalent in other areas.  Compared to their former homeland, a non-skilled laborer was doing much better in the United States. In Hungary the Ruthenian would labor fourteen hours to earn approximately twenty-five to thirty-five cents; the same wage could be earned in America for one hour’s worth of work (in 1911, the average wage for non-skilled labor in a factory was $1.98.)  If a family worked hard, saved their money and were careful, they could own their own home in a short time. Many especially took in boarders to help pay the rent and, therefore, became more financially independent sooner than others who had no assistance.  Most who came to this city arrived and lived on the "Lower East Side" which was an eight block area where most of the city's Slavic residents lived. At the height of immigration there were Ruthenians, Russians, Jews, Polish, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Czechs—all residing, on their own streets, in this area. Most lived in tenement buildings at that time, but there were some two family homes (more were built after 1910) that immigrants bought for one dollar and then paid high monthly payments to the seller who held the title to the home until amount was paid in full.  In this way, no one had to go through a financial institution and there were no legal questions, even though they were minor in those days, to be asked. This area teemed with butchers, bakeries, undertakers, stores of all kinds and every type of service which the immigrant could secure in his or her own language. The next phase of the immigrant’s life once they were settled here after the long voyage was to find a church to attend, which, as of 1885, the only church in the city was a German Roman Catholic (Saint Nicholas) parish, the rest being of various Protestant denominations. 

The Ruthenians, being Greek Catholics, gathered and planned to start their own church. In 1890, a group of Ruthenians, the majority originated from Ujak/Udol in present-day Eastern Slovakia, set out to start St. Michael’s Greek Catholic church on the corner of First and Bergen Streets, Lower East Side, Passaic. From this church, the first in the city for Ruthenians, three other churches would develop in future years.  One church began with a major focus on Ukrainian identity and is now Ukrainian Catholic, the other two left the Greek Catholic Church and joined the Russian Orthodox jurisdiction.  Not to be overlooked in research are the numbers of immigrants who left these churches and assimilated into American culture by joining various Protestant denominations.  Lastly, there are numbers of immigrants who left the churches altogether, especially when religious disputes took place, as the years progressed.  When performing research it is always best to take into account all non-denominational cemeteries along with those attached to specific churches, you never know if this could be a resting place of an ancestor you would have thought belonged in one place but, was in another.        

By this time the Greek Catholic church was growing in leaps and bounds due to the never ending influx of immigrants that arrived in Passaic daily. However, troubles presented themselves and became almost as daily as the new immigrants arriving in the city. As far as the immigrants themselves, the first documented case in a local newspaper of the treatment of those of Slavic heritage was entitled "JOHN KRYNACK'S CRUEL TREATMENT." In synopsis, the story was about an individual who was Hungarian and earned his living as a tailor. His wife and family were still in the old country and he lived, ate, slept and worked in one room. He bought food from a butcher and when he ran up a bill of $3.00 the butcher took him to court. The butcher was given the right to attach his property as payment for the debt as he told the judge that the Hungarian was going to leave the country. A local lawyer heard of the case and decided to help the Hungarian. The butcher had taken the Hungarian’s sewing machine as payment for the debt and now the man had no form of income at all.

"When this gentleman (the attorney) learned that Krynack had no means of earning a livelihood without his sewing machine, he first went before Justice Conkling and got the attachment cancelled and restored the machine. Then he brought Krynack before Justice Ross and began an action for damages against the butcher on the ground that he falsified when representing Krynack as an absconding debtor". Taken from Passaic City Daily News, Thursday, February 5, 1891.

Other news stories began to appear such as the one entitled "FOREIGNERS AT THE PASSAIC POST OFFICE" which states "The Passaic postal officials are frequently annoyed by foreigners who call for registered letters. They are generally fellows with unpronounceable names, and when they fail to establish their identity, they not infrequently want to whip the postmaster or his assistants". Taken from Passaic City Daily News, Tuesday, March 3, 1891. Of course, much of this can also be counted as the prejudice of the times which was experience at all levels of society everywhere.

Another interesting article was entitled "GIRLS FINED FOR INSULTING PRIEST", "Three good looking Slavish girls, members of St. Michael's Greek Rite church in First Street, were in police court this morning on charges of disorderly conduct made by the Rev. Basil Volosin, the rector of SS Peter and Paul's church of the same faith of Third Street. The court room was filled with friends and family of both sides. Father Volosin alleged that the girls had caused him considerable unpleasantness while he was walking through Third Street. The girls denied that they had in any way insulted Father Volosin or caused him any unpleasantness. Half a dozen witnesses for both sides were examined and then the Judge decided that the girls had been guilty of the charge". Taken from Passaic Daily Herald, Wednesday, May 27, 1903. No doubt, this incident was fueled by negative feelings between the two rival Greek Catholic churches.  Saints Peter and Paul church relocated two blocks away from Saint Michael’s and was started by those from another village area which was remote from the area village members who began Saint Michael’s. 

Lastly, tensions that had been simmering for some time boiled over and as recorded in the Passaic Daily Herald CEMETERY DECISION, LOOKED FOR SETTLEMENT OF DISPUTE ABOUT ST. PETER'S GREEK CHURCH BURYING GROUND, WILLING TO COMPROMISE. "It is expected that the case for the possession of St. Peters Greek Cemetery which has been hanging in the court of Chancery for some time will be decided one way or the other early next week. Suit was instituted by Rev. Father Molcsanyi of St. Michael's church against the trustees of the cemetery for control of it. The trustees are nearly all members of Saints Peter and Paul Greek Catholic Church on Third Street. This church was organized two years ago after a split in St. Michael's church. The control of the cemetery went with the new organization and Bishop O'Connor placed a ban on the cemetery which forbids any Catholics in good standing from using the cemetery for burial purposes."

"I am willing that a compromise should be made." said Father Molcsanyi this morning and the cemetery divided into half each church having control of a part. Under the present arrangement things are very unsatisfactory. My people don't like to have their loved ones buried in any cemetery other than that which was purchased by their church. "If the vice-chancellor orders a division of the cemetery all well and good, but if he decides against St. Michael's church, I shall take immediate steps towards purchasing several acres of ground to be used as a parish cemetery." The decision of the vice-chancellor is being awaited with interest for it will be the ending of one of the most exciting religious feuds that has been known to this city. Taken from Passaic Daily Herald, Thursday, July 28, 1904.

It was at this time that the dissent, frustrations and downright animosities broke and these matters took on a life of its own.  Family was pitted against family, neighbor against neighbor as many Ruthenians exercised their right to vocal expression and were no longer afraid to speak out in America.  Many clergy joined in these debates and the issues of property ownership of a respective church became heated.  Unfortunately, these debates, mentioned previously, had a negative effect on a number of immigrants and many ceased attending any church.   These issues continued for some time and touched upon the immigrants’ definition of who they were which was also the definition of their religious identities. Also, at this time other ethnic groups in Passaic began other churches such as two National Catholic churches, one for the Polish and one for the Slovak heritages. There was also a founding, mainly by Ruthenians, of a bible-reading sect church based out of Vermont which had a branch church in Passaic and offered their own publication Proroczeskoesvitlo/The Prophetic Light.  This group maintained strong ties to the Ruthenian community in their publication from 1921 to 1953.

In this atmosphere a very successful union movement also began and the City of Passaic experienced this in a major way.  New thoughts, ideas and people being in contact closely with so many others helped new immigrants to experience freedoms in America they could never dream of.  These issues did culminate with the great silk strike in Paterson, NJ of 1913 which also involved the entire City of Passaic.  At this time, more Ruthenians than in previous years became involved in the Union movement and also became leaders in their various communities.  With this backdrop and now that the immigrants had established themselves in Passaic; many turned their attentions to their family and making a solid life in America.  In later years and right down to our present day, the children and grandchildren of these original immigrants to Passaic continue to visit ancestral villages of their families.  It is truly amazing that even after 100 years; it is still common to speak with the elderly in an ancestral village and listen to their stories and memories of past relatives who were immigrants to Passaic, New Jersey.    


Heritage Endurance in the Hungarian Kingdom

by Yelena Simrenko


Individuals who are compiling family histories may find an ancestor's place of origin classified as Hungary. There were many that resided within the boarders of Hungary but not all were Hungarian. What of those who were not Magyar and came from the Hungarian provinces? What types of government rules and regulations were required of them? What types of heritage positions were enforced upon these regions? Rusyns resided in territories that were part of the Hungarian Kingdom for centuries. Not only Rusyns, but also those of German, Jewish, Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian and others were involved in this question. Since government administrative matters where handled by Magyars (or those who reinforced a pro-Magyar view) contact with Magyar ideologies was constant. No inhabitant of the former Hungarian Kingdom was exempt from government enforced views.


Hungary at the time of the empire was a multinational state and heritages of many types abounded there. To understand how Hungary came to be included with Austria a bit of reference is needed. Austria wished to find some form of accord with Hungary. For a period of time Austria had been regressing from her relations with the Russian Imperial government. A compromise could be beneficial, and was necessary. An agreement was finally reached in 1867, which came to be called the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (Ausgleich). In return for this agreement, the Magyars were awarded a major position within their lands. Since both of these countries were officially Roman Catholic, it was to Austria’s benefit to enjoy an agreement with Roman Catholic Hungary. A Russophile position was being proposed upon many inhabitants of these lands and became especially pronounced in the 1890's. To counter this pro-Russian (and also pro-Ukrainian) stand and defuse it, a policy of Magyarization would be enforced. This would make Hungary a territory of continuity, not of diversity.


Living within Hungarian boarders could be difficult for the intellectual or common laborer. If you lived within the Russian Empire claiming Russian identity was simple if you were a Slav. A subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had more difficulties. Those who resided within these boarders had an official policy. The major emphasis was on those of Austrian, German or Hungarian nationalities. For those of eastern Slavic heritage such as the Rusyns, how could they identify with Hungarian culture? The language and culture were vastly different (Eastern vs. Western), and most important, they spoke a different language (Eastern vs. Western and Latin alphabet vs. Cyrillic). To function within this environment, especially for those of a higher status, total focus on Magyar identity was mandatory. Many times, names were changed to sound more "Magyar," the Hungarian language was mastered and identity with Hungarian culture was promoted. These views made things much more simple and agreeable. No one can count how many individuals lost his or her original ethnic identity due to this pro-Magyar atmosphere.


To demonstrate the effects of this environment the following is of interest. Review of the founding of a committee, which was named The National Committee of Magyars of the Greek Catholic Faith, is a good example. This committee, formed on June 20, 1898 was implemented for the express purpose of gaining official recognition of Hungarian as the liturgical language of the Greek Catholic Church. At this time most Rusyns who were Greek Catholic used Church Slavonic as their liturgical language. Hungarians, and those who were pro-Hungarian, wished to implement these changes. The National Committee not only had Magyars but many assimilated Rusyn intellectuals living in Budapest as members. During this time, Geza Petrashevych, a member of the Rusyn intelligentsia stated of 11,357 members who joined The National Committee, approximately 60 percent were Rusyn with 42 percent being Magyar. From these numbers it is clear that the vast majority of this committee was definitely not Magyar. This enforcement of Magyar identity is clear. These Rusyns were under a pro-Hungarian influence for some reasons to ask for these changes.


The "Hajdudorog Movement" or The Hungarian Greek Catholics on the other hand was conceived in the 1860's with the intent of using Hungarian as the official liturgical language. Other positions demanded were having Hungarian ritual books and replacing the commonly used Julian (i.e. old) calendar with the Gregorian (i.e. new). These positions were looked upon favorably by the government and were reinforced in the seminaries that trained priests for the Greek Catholic Church. The Hajdudorog Movement was a better indicator of how important Magyar identity was in the empire. This movement did well among better-off peasants, intellectuals, artisans and most noted, those who were in government employment who were of the Greek Catholic religion. Seeing this, it is quite clear that an individual, no matter what station in life, may have felt they had more opportunity available. Identity with the official government policy on the heritage issue could be of benefit. Further reference is observed on the issue of Rusyns who felt it better to identify with Hungarian rather than Rusyn culture. Many individuals believed that if they were to advance and gain educational opportunity submission to official Magyar government policies was necessary. Janos Prodan, although a descendent of Subcarpathian Rusyns promoted assimilation into Hungarian culture. As the managing editor of Gorogkatolikus hirlap he said "I am a Magyar in body and a Greek Catholic in soul." Promoting Hungarian identity worked well for Janos Prodan. Even after the fall of the empire a review of historical data reveals that during the 1930's he was an advisor to Hungary’s Ministry of Education.


For the simple farmer things could be identical although on a minor level. A resident of a village would have contact with a government official (i.e. tax collector, official government registrar, and the military) and again the identity or the leanings towards Hungarian identity could have assisted. Many priests in remote villages had been trained under pro-Magyar conditions and reinforced this view as synonymous with being a good subject of the emperor. In all countries, the dominant race and language are favored. If someone were to present themselves speaking a different language and expressing a view contrary to official government doctrines, the results may be less than desirable. An expression of pro-Magyar views, however minor, and to speak the "official" language, might cause a situation to go more smoothly. Within this framework include a total monarchy rule tiered system and the outcome is not hard to gauge. The issues of Magyar identity touched upon aspects of an individuals life within the Hungarian boarders and beyond. Even with migration to America and other countries, most paperwork was written and processed in Hungarian. Numerous individuals who were not Hungarian to this day carry their original surname, which was written in Hungarian. Many who immigrated to new lands had events recorded and again, Hungary was listed as the place of origin. These issues were so intertwined into former generation's lives, pre and post immigration, that it is necessary to research this issue. These views were imposed upon not only Rusyns but also other cultures. All suffered in some way due to those governments policies. Research of this topic is to gain a better understanding of what residents of the former Hungarian kingdom were exposed to. The larger amount of historical information a researcher has gives a better foundation. The end result is that it presents a crystal view of the era their ancestors lived in and the confusion of identities that was and is found among Rusyns, and other heritages. 


Pre -1848 Social Status in the Villages of Present-Day Slovakia

by, Mr. Vladimir Bohinc


Not much has been said about this topic on this list and since there are some discussions about the records etc, I thought, this might contribute a little to better understanding of the social hierarchy in a Slovak village under feudalism.  Almost all villages were founded out there in the woods, out of nothing.


Soltys / Locator - The Village Founder - First In Status

A man, who had a contract with the Landlord, and was responsible for one village, to bring the people there, and to oversee the construction etc, was called Soltys, or Locator. He was the first Mayor, and his descendants inherited this right. Some even took a surname Soltys. Others took the name of the place as surname ( or was it vice versa? I am not sure about that) The fact is, that I found many old Mayors to have names the same as the place they were living in. After the village was established, they got a grace period of 6 or 8 years, where they did not have to pay any taxes. They had to cultivate the land and bring up the livestock etc. Such a grace period is in Slovak called "Lehota". This is why so many places have such name Lehota.  Such a Soltys, or Richtar or Judex or Fojt, was the number one in the village.( was A. J. Foyt, a famous Indianapolis racer of Slovak origin?)


Agricultural and Economic Property Units

At times, there were more than one [Soltys] at the same time, some being ex Judex.   Basic agricultural and taxing unit of land property was called "Usadlost" or "Sessio" or "Lan" or "Hof" or "Rola". The size of it was depending upon the quality of land and varied very much.  It was supposed to feed one family.   It included the land in the village (Intravilan) and also outside (Extravilan). As many of you have already seen, Slovak villages usually have houses alongside the main road. A standard width for a full Sessio was about 30 yards or steps. In the beginning, every family got such a property. With time, these properties (Sessio), began to divide in halves, thirds, quarters and smaller parts, depending on number of children or for other reasons. If you look at a village house today, you still can see, whether it was a full sessio or what part of it.


Sedliak /Jobbagion / Colonus / Sessionatus - Second in Status

Pretty exactly, a man, that had such a Sessio was called Sedliak, or Jobbagion or Colonus or Sessionatus.  In the beginning, this was the most numerous layer of population. They were No. 2 in the hierarchy. They had land and a home. With division of Sessios, the property became smaller and smaller.  If it was smaller than 1/8 of the full size, it was not a Sedliak any more.


Zeliar / Inquilinus /Hofer / Hostak - Third in Status

Here we come to the category No.3, which is called Zeliar, or Inquilinus or Hofer or Hostak or Domkar or Chalupnik. They had a small house and a small piece of land. Many Mayors had their "own" Inquilini on their land. So did also some priests.


Subinqilinus" or "Podludnik - Fourth In Status

Category No.4 was so called "Subinqilinus" or "Podludnik". They did not have their own house and also had no land. They were living with another Inquilinus as servants. Craftsmen like blacksmiths or millers etc were living as Inquilini or Subinquilini. They did not need land for their living.


Libertini - A Special Class - Freedom from Taxes

A special class were "Libertini". ( Thus the surname Slobodnik) They possessed papers, that gave them freedom from most of the Taxes and duties to the Landlord.


Mendicus / Zobrak - The Beggar

The last one in the village was naturally a beggar or mendicus or zobrak.


Empirical Evidence

In last couple of weeks I entered over 12000 oldest surnames, which I found in Urbar books from 16th and 17th century. These are the sources of first known surnames of subjects, that were not of noble origin, meaning ordinary people, from the territory of present Slovakia and some parts of Poland and Hungary. It is very interesting to see those surnames, that probably were created not long before the books were written. In many cases one can see surnames like Polak, Rusnak, Lengyel, Slovenec, Slovak, Czech, Crawat, Valach, which indicates, that this person, or his ancestor, did not have a particular surname, and was given such based on the country of his origin. There are many examples, where the miller was called Mlinar or Molnar, a fisherman was called Rybar, etc. This clearly indicates, that this surname was given either to this person or to his father, probably not further back.


For a limited number of names I can have a look into the data base, to see what was the original spelling and what was the location and status then. In many cases it can be seen, where this surname began to spread from. Inquiries are welcome. Another interesting fact is also, that in every Castle Estate, there were always some Sessios deserted, meaning, the people left to some better places. Naturally, the Landlord was interested to have as many as possible subjects, so there were always new people coming. The history of Slovakia is full of migration.


Mr. Bohnic is a Professional Genealogist, based in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, Slovakia.   More information and inquiries can be placed through his web site, Konekta s. r. o. 


This article has been re-printed with the permission of Mr. Bohnic.


The People From the Borderlands

Despite the fact that the Ruthenians are the fourth largest ethnic group in Slovakia, few people are familiar with their culture

by, Andrea Chalupa
Special to the Spectator


Reprinted here with Permission of

The Slovak Spectator


HISTORIAN Alexander Mušinka says that the Ruthenians are conservative as well as cosmopolitan.

photo: Courtesy of Alexander Mušinka


WOODEN churches and Andy Warhol may be what most people associate with the Ruthenians. Still, little is known about this eastern Slavic people who have lived in the borderlands of the Carpathian region - "the land of nowhere" as Warhol famously described it - for hundreds of years.

According to the latest census in Slovakia, in 2001, 24,201 people identified themselves as Ruthenian, which makes them the country's fourth largest minority. In order to find out more about them, The Slovak Spectator spoke to Alexander Mušinka, a Ruthenian, who works at the Department of Slovak History and Archives at the Philosophical Faculty in Prešov.








The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Who are the Ruthenians and where do they come from?

Alexander Mušinka (AM): To put it simply, the Ruthenians are the eastern Slavic inhabitants of the northeastern part of the Carpathians. Geopolitically, it's the northeastern part of Slovakia, from the Tatras to southeastern Poland and sub-Carpathian Ukraine. The corner where Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine meet is considered the homeland of the Ruthenians.


The Ruthenians are a marginalised group in a geopolitical and political context because they have always been in between something or someone. They found themselves in between eastern and western Slavs, and in between eastern and western Christianity. This is the line where orthodox Christianity ends and Catholicism begins and, of course, this had enormous influence [on their evolution].


GREEK Catholicism originated in this religious crossroads.

photo: Ján Svrček


It was a mixed group of people that, on one hand was very cosmopolitan, and on the other hand, very conservative. You could say that total conservatism met total cosmopolitanism. For example, Andy Warhol is an innovator who became world famous, yet he comes from a very conservative background, a phenomenon that plays a large role in his art.


TSS: What do you mean by conservatism meeting cosmopolitanism?

AM: This region has always been very poor, very conservative, yet cosmopolitan at the same time. Why? Because the area has always had very little to keep people there. It really was the middle of nowhere and people were forced to emigrate. There are several hundred thousand Ruthenians in the US and in Canada. Some say there are two or three million in the world, depending on how you count.


At the same time, this region has always managed to produce some very new things - to unite or connect the seemingly impossible: eastern and western Christians. The Greek Catholic religion came out of this intersection. To put it very simply, Greek Catholics are orthodox Christians who began to acknowledge the Pope. That happened in this region.


The people didn't have a problem placing a different structure onto something that hadn't changed for a very long time. There are historical documents about the fact that some villages went over to Greek Catholicism and people realised it only several decades later. Because, on the bottom layer, nothing had changed. Slovak was used in the same churches, and they used the same icons. For the regular person, the nuances were not visible. This happened in the 16th century.


TSS: What is the situation of the Ruthenians in Slovakia today?

AM: When we talk about the Ruthenians in Slovakia today, we can observe two tendencies. There is a certain political argument between two groups - the Ruthenians and the Ukrainians. On the one hand, the Ruthenians say that they make up the fourth independent eastern Slavic nation of this region - after the Russians, the Belorussians, and the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian side acknowledges the Ruthenians as Ruthenians, but claims that they are not an independent nation and instead form a part of the Ukrainian people. They regard the Ruthenian language as a Ukrainian dialect.


This argument, which already existed in different forms from the Hapsburg Empire through the first Czechoslovak Republic and up to 1968, started again after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. At this time, a counterpart to the centralised Ukrainian organisation appeared in Slovakia: the Ruthenian national organisation "Rusynska Obroda". So this community is divided into two parts when it comes to representation. Either they are pro-Ruthenian or pro-Ukrainian.


To avoid confusion, it needs to be said that there are also 'real Ukrainians' in Slovakia. There are thousands of people from central and eastern Ukraine who emigrated here, married here, etc.

TSS: How would you characterise Ruthenian identity in Slovakia today?

AM: I would say a normal assimilation process is taking place. Sooner or later, the new generation seems to feel less and less different from the majority population since the difference in culture is not so great. But if we are to talk about what is a characteristic of Ruthenian identity and if we don't use the usual political phrases, it is language, first of all. Secondly, it's the use of the Cyrillic alphabet. Linguistically, the Ruthenian language belongs to the eastern Slavic language group, in contrast to, for example, the Šariš and Zemplín Slovak dialects, which are part of the western Slavic language group.


TSS: What are the main differences between the Ruthenian and the Ukrainian tongue?

AM: It's a very simple question that is very difficult to answer. What is the difference between Czech and Slovak?


TSS: Can a Ruthenian communicate with a Ukrainian without problems?

AM: Yes, they can. But this is a subjective, immeasurable matter. If a Czech person wants to, he can always communicate with a Russian without problems. If he doesn't want to, he won't understand a word.


TSS: In what way can the linguistic relationship between Ruthenian and Ukrainian be compared to the one between Slovak and Czech?

AM: I think the Ruthenian language is maybe closer to Ukrainian than Slovak is to Czech. But again, if I want to prove that the two languages are further away from each other, I can. Similarly, if I want to prove that they are closer, I can. There is no exact way to measure this distance between languages.


TSS: Is the Ruthenian language in Slovakia different from, for example, the Ruthenian language in Poland?

AM: Yes it is. There is not one Ruthenian language. Currently there are six. Each country has codified its own form. In Slovakia it was codified in 1995. The Ukrainians, the Hungarians, the Poles, even the Americans have their own form.

I think the best comparison would be to compare it with the differences of various dialects of the Roma language. Wherever the Roma live, they take over words from the local country of residence. For example, the Hungarian Roma [language] is different from the eastern Slovak Roma, or Vlach Roma.

In Yugoslavia, there is a community of Ruthenians who emigrated there in the 18-19th centuries. They publish many books and periodicals, have their own schools, and are very active. This group of people started to use a peculiar form of Ruthenian that, linguistically, is a western Slovak dialect. To this day they argue about what language it really is. At first glance it's a Slovak dialect, but they consider themselves Ruthenians.


TSS: Is the Cyrillic alphabet in use everywhere?

AM: Yes, although there are certain groups like church institutions that want to use the Latin alphabet because of the younger generations, who use the Cyrillic alphabet less and less. They still speak the language but don't write in Cyrillic.


TSS: Can we speak of a Ruthenian political movement in Slovakia?

AM: There is a political movement, but it is regional. There is no real push to reach a level of state recognition like the Hungarians or the Roma.

The Pro-Ruthenian movement is connected with the Rusynska Obroda organisation, a part of the international Ruthenian Union, which has representatives from all countries. They want the Ruthenians to be acknowledged as an independent nation. There are extremists - mostly from the sub-Carpathian region - who want a Ruthenian state, but I don't think that there is a realistic foundation for that... although, you never know. But in Slovakia, there is no political representation on a parliamentary level. On the other hand, there are politicians with a Ruthenian background, for example the current Finance Minister [Ivan] Mikloš.


TSS: Is there a national Ruthenian education system?

AM: Yes, there is a complete educational structure, from kindergarten up to university, that was purely Ukrainian until 1989. After 1989 the number of schools was reduced from 100 to 17 here in eastern Slovakia. Now there are around 10 schools in which the Ruthenian language is taught.

Humanities subjects were always taught in Ruthenian, whereas subjects like chemistry, for example, were taught in Slovak. So, in reality, the Ruthenian national school system had the Ruthenian language as an additional subject, rather than the language of tuition.

There is also a Ukrainian high school here in Presov where Ukrainian is the language of tuition. A similar situation also exists in the Ukrainian education system.


TSS: In what way is the Ruthenian culture represented in Slovakia?

AM: There is the Ukrainian-Ruthenian theatre of Alexander Duchnovič here in Prešov. In Svidník, there is a museum of Ukrainian-Ruthenian culture. Ukrainian and Ruthenian periodicals are published in Prešov, and there is a Ruthenian radio programme in Košice. There are hundreds of folklore groups and folk festivals here, which are organised both by the pro-Ukrainian and pro-Ruthenian sides. I think they will have to unite eventually.


TSS: What does the future hold for the Ruthenian minority in light of Slovakia's EU-entry?

AM: Whether or not EU entry will bring about any developments for the Ruthenian issue is a big question mark. I would probably say any drastic change is unlikely. Pragmatically speaking, the Ruthenians really are in between two structures and the main part of the Ruthenian cultural foundation is found in the sub-Carpathian area, in western Ukraine, which will be beyond the Schengen frontier. So, communication will be problematic. I don't think that EU entry will facilitate communication between Slovak Ruthenians and Ukrainian Ruthenians. The question is what the communication will be like between Slovakia and Ukraine.



Carpatho-Rusyn Historical Background


In order to compile detailed genealogy research for the Ruthenian heritage, the first step is to undertake a comprehensive study of the history of this heritage. These people, also called Rusnaks, Carpatho-Russians, Ruthenes, Carpatho-Rusyns or just Rusyn have had various names. If you can research much background data you will gain a better understanding of what the social, political and religious attitudes were. In this way the continuance of research will be more rewarding.


This essay deals exclusively with those of Ruthenian heritage from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many issues are similar for others who immigrated and some will not be. You will find differences depending upon which area you research and no one way is absolute. Differences in general (how children were named) to the language (i.e. dialects) will show many disparities due to their area of living. An example can be those from the areas that were close to present day Poland may have Polish overtones in their superstitions or others who came from the areas of present-day Ukraine may have many Ukrainian or Russian traits due to assimilation.


The Ruthenians were without a country. The best definition and the easier way to understand them is that they were in the same category as the Jewish faith before the birth of the State of Israel. The similarities of the two heritages (minority status, persecution for no good reason, a different language than the official one, different customs, etc.) is acknowledged for how many villages did get along so well with the Jewish heritage. Ruthenians were scattered over various areas, but had no country to call their own. The Carpathian Mountain regions that were situated within the boundaries of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed an area of approximately 8,000 square miles. The areas that most Ruthenians lived in were not that bountiful and had archaic agricultural practices, poor soil, economic and political oppression, a high illiteracy rate (40%), disease and wars. This made for a substandard existence for many who were classified as "peasant society" and had no opportunity to improve their station in life. Escaping the various forms of oppression and want in these areas was unheard of, outside of death, until the great immigration to the United States began to take place in the late nineteenth century.


A good way to understand this heritage is to do research from many sources and not just take one researcher’s writings as positive proof. There are many reports, books, summaries and information available. The New York Public Library in New York City has a section dedicated to Ruthenians. Since they were a minority race (and as such were subject to abuse and prejudices, but also offering much to the society they lived in) the Ruthenians of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire had little choice but to assimilate as best they could to the "party line" of that empire just to survive. Always keep in mind this area was under a repressive monarchy and democracy was not the first order of business. This atmosphere, along with their unfortunate lack of education and financial security was detrimental. It gave a sense of insecurity, a lack of identity, and, the general prevailing attitude of they just had to obey. The Ruthenians were colonists in what was uninhabited lands and since they originally inhabited areas where there were no settlements, it was easier for them to retain many of their customs and language (whether secular or sacred.) This could be a good reason why so many stayed in non-productive areas. The old proverb from Imperial Russia comes to mind of, "The farther you are from the Tsar, the longer you will live." This would have been excellent thinking as the farther (and more remote) you are from the centralized government, the better your chances to live in peace.


To give a brief summary of Ruthenian background history prior to their entrance onto American soil the following could be said. The Ruthenians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could only boast of only two classes. The clergy/cantor and the peasant. They had no landed nobility who could champion their cause with few exceptions and members of the learned upper class cared very little for their own people and almost automatically became Magyarised (i.e. assimilated into the Hungarian nationality). The lowly life of the peasant was shared by the rustic priest who often disliked by his flock, tried sometimes to inflate the cultural standard of his people. Sadly, these representatives of the Ruthenian people could never agree totally with each other and never came to agreement on any one subject. The Ruthenians who immigrated to the United States of America were small at first. Hungarian records of 1870 show only 59 Subcarpathian Ruthenians attempting the journey. After 1879, these numbers grew quickly. No doubt the word spread from former immigrants who made the journey back and forth. The many leaflets that were passed out from companies here in America looking for inexpensive labor to build a swiftly growing American industry and that offered work and freedom also were a consideration. As more Ruthenians heard of what was available and stories grew of the wealth of America (real and imagined) their imaginations were fueled to the point culminating with the floodgates opening and great numbers began the journey. At this time is it was not just freedom that forced the immigrants to leave. The economy at that time was depressed in Europe, work was scarce, and, in America, they could find more than what was offered in the homeland.


Trying to gage just how many made this journey is the guessing game of the century. In statistic counting, no author who has or will compile these figures is totally accurate. There are many census figures and surveys that will not agree with another authors’ research but are researched only as a basis to follow. Compiling data in reference to the Ruthenians is difficult at best. Many came here with Hungarian paperwork and were thus classified as Hungarians, Slovaks, or other titles the bureaucrat may have decided to write down. The immigrant, only wishing to gain entrance to America was not about to dispute the title given to him. Another point is the true fact that many did not chose to identify as being from Ruthenian heritage and chose other more commonly known heritages to be classified as.


The Ruthenians departed lands of poverty and socio-political discrimination. In America they also experienced some of these same ugly forms of discrimination and many times even from the hands of their own heritage especially when the religious issues started to develop. The journey to a new land in itself was no easy road for the immigrants. Many had to sell all they owned to make the journey and options to come back home again were non-existent. The German ports of Bremerhaven (Bremen) and Hamburg were used by approximately two-thirds of immigrants from Austria-Hungary. At first, the immigrant would walk to the closest rail station to take them to the port areas. Towards the end of the century, the European railway system featured trains, often subsidized by the steamship companies. Immigrant traffic was big business and constant income and therefore, the rail and steamship companies had much to gain making the trip as easy and quick as possible. Once at the port, immigrants were given a medical examination before they boarded the ship (the companies had to pay for the trip back for anyone who was refused entry at Ellis Island.) After 1891, American Immigration laws demanded that the steamship lines vaccinate, disinfect and examine their passengers prior to sailing so as to reduce the prospects of anyone entering the United States in poor health.


On board the immigrants were directed to their area, known as "steerage." Travelers had to bring their own mattresses, cups, plates and personal items. The air was always stale because of poor ventilation. They cooked meals in one of the galleys in steerage. The ship companies provided toilet facilities but this could be a difficult issue. Some earlier ships had as few as twenty-one toilets per one thousand immigrants or more. Later, it was stated that there was one toilet for every forty-seven to sixty travelers. The trip could take from eight to twenty-one days depending upon the point of departure. A ticket in 1910 cost about ten dollars. The immigrants, never having been far from their own villages, must have gone through great trauma upon entering this situation for the next two or so weeks but the voyage was only temporary.


Ruthenians who finally arrived had to find employment. Compared to their former homeland, a non-skilled laborer was doing much better in the United States. In Hungary, the Ruthenian would labor fourteen hours to earn approximately twenty-five to thirty-five cents; the same wage could be earned in America for one hour’s worth of work. If a family worked hard and saved their money they could own their own home in a short time. Many here especially took in boarders to help pay the rent and, therefore, made it ahead much sooner than others who had no assistance to pay their rental fees for the month.


These immigrants found many aspects of life common to what they knew in Europe. Prejudices, in all forms were well known during the turn of the century and the general American public were not sympathetic. A brief look at what the immigrants encountered can be seen in this reference to an old newspaper article from an immigrant ethnic city in America. Most at this time resented the new immigrants for not only social, but religious reasons. They lost no chance to give the immigrants trouble at times. A documented case of the treatment of those of Slavic heritage was entitled "JOHN KRYNACK’S CRUEL TREATMENT" In synopsis, the story is about an individual who was Hungarian and earned his living as a tailor. His wife and family were still in the old country and he lived, ate, slept and worked in one room. He bought food from a butcher and when he ran up a bill of $3.00 the butcher took him to court. The butcher was given the right to attach his property as payment for the debt as he told the judge that the Hungarian was going to leave the country. A local lawyer heard of the case and decided to help the Hungarian. The butcher had taken the Hungarian’s sewing machine as payment for the debt and now the man had no form of income at all.


"When this gentleman (the attorney) learned that Krynack had no means of earning a livelihood without his sewing machine, he first went before Justice Conkling and got the attachment canceled and restored the machine. Then he brought Krynack before Justice Ross and began an action for damages against Levy (the butcher) on the ground that he falsified when representing Krynack as an absconding debtor."

The Passaic City Daily News, Thursday, February 5, 1891.


Other news stories began to appear on various subjects that included the immigrants and one that was very interesting is an article entitled "FOREIGNERS AT THE PASSAIC POST OFFICE" which states:


"The Passaic postal officials are frequently annoyed by foreigners who call for registered letters. They are generally fellows with unpronounceable names, and when they fail to establish their identity, they not infrequently want to whip the postmaster or his assistants."

Passaic City Daily News, Tuesday, March 3, 1891.


These sediments were echoed in various towns and cities throughout the United States during the days of immigration (and beyond). The Ruthenians were not exempt from the prejudices of their old country, and, it would take them time to gain a foot hold in the new one to overcome references such as mentioned above. It is to their credit that they worked hard and strove for a better life. Not to be ever forgotten was how patriotic they were. Many served in the wars that were to come in America and did so very proudly. Good numbers of Ruthenians graduated to become business owners in many positions. Their love of this country also forced many to forsake all and make sure that their children would advance to higher educational institutions as there was no better way to "get ahead" than though the educational process. It was not uncommon as is evidenced in the numerous official census depending upon the region of the United States the immigrant resided in to see many immigrants who progressed in a few short years. Going from "unskilled laborer" to "business owner" and beyond was common, especially if one lived in an area that was more open market than those areas that had mills and mines. Those of Ruthenian heritage shared the same dreams and hopes as other immigrants who came to the shores of America to make a better life for themselves and to see their children, and grandchildren safe and secure.


Caught in the Middle

Carpatho-Rusyns and the Vojvodina

by, Brian J Pozun, 26 June 2000



Vol 2, No 25

Copyright (c) 2000 - Central Europe Review 


The vocal Albanian minority in Kosovo and Metohija and the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina are not the only national minorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Carpatho-Rusyns, or Ruthenians, are one of the smaller, lesser-known and more successful national minorities living in Yugoslavia today. But what will happen to them if the Vojvodina really is to be the next Kosovo?


The Carpatho-Rusyns (also called Ruthenians) are a small Slavic group of just under two million who live primarily in Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania, as well as in diaspora in Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, the United States and elsewhere. They speak a range of dialects and standardized languages that are officially classified as East Slavic and are written using the Cyrillic alphabet. Most belong to the Greek Catholic Church, but the Orthodox Church also has strong support among the group.


Some 250 years ago, Rusyns began migrating south from their homeland in the Carpathian mountains to the Srem and Bačka regions of what is now the Vojvodina in Yugoslavia and Eastern Slavonia in Croatia. At the time, the Carpathian region along with the Srem and Bačka regions were all parts of the Kingdom of Hungary. The first major Rusyn settlement in this region was in Ruski Kerestur (in Serbian, Ruski Krstur), to this day inhabited almost exclusively by Rusyns.


Rusyns in the Vojvodina

In the Vojvodina today there are officially about 18,000 Rusyns. They make up 0.2 per cent of the total population of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and 0.9 per cent of the population of the Vojvodina. Unofficial data taking voluntary assimilation and other factors into account shows significantly higher numbers, as high as 35,000. Apart from external factors such as voluntary assimilation and emigration, the Rusyn minority, like other groups in the Vojvodina, suffers from a low birthrate and declining population statistics.


The historical heart of the Rusyn settlement in Yugoslavia, Ruski Kerestur, remains the Rusyns' major center. It is home to 6000 Rusyns who make up 95 per cent of the population of the small town. Rusyns also live in significant numbers in the small towns of Kucura, Đurđevo several others. The cities of Novi Sad, Sid, Sremska Mitrovica, Vrbas and Kula also count Rusyns among their inhabitants.


Rusyn culture in Yugoslavia

The major organization working to protect and promote Rusyn culture in Yugoslavia is the Rusinska Matka, founded in 1945 and re-established in 1990. It is headed by a teacher, Mihajlo Varga. The organization works closely with other Rusyn groups throughout the world, and especially with those in Slovakia. An educational exchange program conducted by Rusinska Matka and its Slovak counterpart, Rusinska Obroda, has brought Slovak Rusyns to Ruski Kerestur and Yugoslav Rusyns to the Slovak Rusyn town of Medžilaborec. Cooperation between these two organizations also extends into the fields of culture and municipal administration.


The two most important Rusyn cultural events are the annual cultural festival Červena Ruža and theatre festival in memory of Petro Riznić Đađa. Both are held in Ruski Kerestur. The Society for Rusyn Language and Literature, founded in 1970, succeeded in publishing the first volume of a Serbian-Rusyn dictionary in 1996, and the second volume in 1999, in cooperation with the University of Novi Sad.


Use of the Rusyn language

The Yugoslav government has consistently supported the use of the Rusyn language since the days of Tito. While the Rusyn language was, and continues to be, suppressed by official policies elsewhere in Europe, in the Vojvodina there is a long tradition of its public use. Rusyn has been used in governmental administration since 1974, when the new constitution of the Vojvodina named it one of the five official languages of the province (the other four were Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian). Elementary education in the Vojvodina is routinely conducted in the all of the province's five official languages, including Rusyn, and there is a strong Rusyn-language tradition in the media.


Rusyn has been used in education on the territory of the Vojvodina since 1751. The Rusyn community has the lowest rate of illiteracy and the highest percentage of individuals with a secondary or higher education in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1992, students in Ruski Kerestur received the highest marks in the Vojvodina in standardised testing.


As of the 1996-1997 school year, more than 50 per cent of all Rusyn students in the Vojvodina had some form of Rusyn-language education. The Petro Kuzmjak Gymnasium in Ruski Kerestur is the only one in the world offering a complete elementary education conducted in Rusyn. In schools where Rusyn is not the primary language, classes in Rusyn language and national culture are offered. More than 125 Rusyns are presently enrolled at the University of Novi Sad, which until recently had the only Department of Rusyn Language and Literature in the world. At present, 15 Rusyn students are pursing that course of study.


Rusyn-language newspapers have appeared in the Vojvodina since 1924. The most important publisher of Rusyn-language materials is the publishing house Ruske Slovo, which annually publishes several books and four magazine titles, in addition to the 20-page weekly newspaper Ruske Slovo (Rusyn Word). Ruske Slovo has a print run of about 2500 copies. It has been noted that when the number of Rusyns in Yugoslavia is compared with Ruske Slovo's publication statistics, almost 10 per cent of all Rusyns in Yugoslavia subscribe to Ruske Slovo, and a far greater number read it without subscribing.


The Rusyn community is also served by radio and television. Radio Novi Sad annually broadcasts about 1500 hours of radio programming in Rusyn. Every week there are 4 hours of talk- and music-format Rusyn programming, complemented by several special programs in the course of each year, such as coverage of important cultural events and church services on important holidays. Radio and Television Serbia broadcasts about 143 hours of Rusyn-language TV programming annually. There is a ten-minute news broadcast in Rusyn five times per week, and on Saturday there is a 60-minute magazine show. There are also several other special programs aired throughout the year.


Prospects for the Rusyns

For all of the success the Rusyns have had in preserving their culture in Yugoslavia, there is much cause for concern. During the war between Serbia and Croatia in the first half of the 1990s, the Rusyn community was particularly hard hit. The fact that Rusyns from Serbia were drafted into the Yugoslav army, while those from Croatia were drafted into the Croat army, meant that Rusyns were fighting Rusyns in a war that was against their national interests. The Croatian region of Eastern Slavonia was home to a community of several thousand Rusyns, centered on the cities of Vukovar and Osijek. It was also the scene of some of the worst fighting of the war. Before the war, official statistics showed over 3000 Rusyns living in Vukovar. Death, deportations and escape left the community severely depleted. Today, however, signs of recovery are beginning to show.


The Rusyn community suffered with everyone else in the Vojvodina during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia last year. Fortunately, the Rusyn center of Ruski Kerestur was untouched. As one resident commented, "Sometimes it's a great plus when you live in a small and somewhat backward village without factories and bridges." As is well known, the regional center of Novi Sad and many other cities in the Vojvodina with Rusyn populations were not as lucky.


Life in the Rusyn community is slowly returning to normal. Last October, a group of 27 students and ten teachers from an elementary school in Medžilaborec, an important Rusyn town in Slovakia, participating in an exchange program with the Rusyn elementary school in Ruski Kerestur became one of the first foreign delegations to visit Yugoslavia after the end of the bombing.


The NATO bombing energized the significant Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina, which began intensifying demands for the return of autonomy to the Vojvodina. Fortunately for the Rusyn minority, the leader of League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina and Serbian opposition figure Nenad Canak is opposing those demands. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has reported, "the small Ruthenian and Ukrainian minorities would get practically nothing" given the demographic dominance of the Hungarian minority.


The preferred solution would be a return to the situation that existed from 1974 to 1989. At that time, the Vojvodina was an autonomous province within Serbia, like Kosovo and Metohija, which gave five nationalities (Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians and Rusyns) official status. These five nationalities remained official even after autonomy was revoked.


Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metohija

When the autonomy of the Vojvodina was revoked, there was public unrest, but nothing like that which occurred in Kosovo and Metohija. The Albanian minority in Kosovo had the same rights and guarantees as the Rusyn minority of the Vojvodina and other minority groups throughout Yugoslavia, but their desire for independence or unification with Albania created a completely different situation.


While it is impossible to condone the suppression of the Albanians in Kosovo by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments, one only has to refer to international coverage of the Kosovo situation from the late 1980s to see that the Albanians took a much different tack than the Rusyns in trying to secure more freedoms. One article published in the New York Times in 1987, concerning the problems brewing in Kosovo, said "The goal of the radical nationalists among them, one said in an interview, is an 'ethnic Albania that includes western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, part of southern Serbia, Kosovo and Albania itself.'" This persists to the present day, and has never seemed more likely.


The fact that the Albanians have the highest birthrate in Europe and made up 90 per cent of Kosovo's population while the Rusyns have a low birthrate and make up only 0.9 per cent of Vojvodina's population must also be taken into consideration. Moreover, the Rusyns are Slavic and are more easily assimilated into the majority Serb population. The Rusyns were and are much more vulnerable than the Albanians and considerably much less of a threat to the Serbian leadership. But the Hungarians are not.


The Rusyn experience in Yugoslavia has been marked by cultural achievements and peaceful coexistence. But in the past ten years, the Rusyns have twice been made victims simply by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: during the Serb-Croat war, and again during the NATO bombing. The potential for a third has remained on the horizon since the end of the bombings in the form of the Hungarian minority's calls for autonomy or unification with Hungary. The Hungarians' demands are the same as those of the Albanians and the issue must be addressed as soon as possible if a Kosovo-like situation is to be prevented. The Rusyns have survived in Yugoslavia for more than 250 years, but, through no fault of their own, they may not be able to survive there much longer.


by, Brian J Pozun, 26 June 2000



Rusyn Review

Rusyns in Central and Eastern Europeby, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001imgVol 3, No 16Copyright (c) 2001 - Central Europe Review 

The Rusyns have lived on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains since the Slavic migrations of the sixth century AD. Until the First World War, their territory was primarily within the Hungarian half of the Hapsburg Empire, with only a small part on the Austrian side.


With the 1919 Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, Ruthenia was carved out of Hungary and joined to Czechoslovakia ostensibly as an autonomous province, though Prague never sufficiently fulfilled this treaty obligation. Compounding the problem, the political territory of Ruthenia did not match the ethnographic territory of the Rusyn nation, and so substantial Rusyn minorities were left outside of Ruthenia, in Slovakia and Poland.


After a single day of independence on 14 March 1939, Ruthenia was occupied by Hungary which de facto held it until 1945, when Stalin annexed it into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Rusyn national identity was likewise annexed into the Ukrainian.


Only in the late 1980s, with the decline and fall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe, did the Rusyn identity resurface. Today, Rusyns live in eight countries: Ukraine (estimated population 650,000), Poland (estimated population 150,000), Slovakia (official population 17,000, estimated 120,000), Yugoslavia (official population 18,000, estimated 35,000), Hungary (official population 674, official estimate 1000, unofficial estimate 3000), the Czech Republic (official population 2,000, estimated 12,000), Croatia (estimated population 3000) and Romania (official population 350, estimated 40,000).


The situation of Rusyn communities in five of the eight countries where they live has been described in detail elsewhere in Central Europe Review. What follows is a short summary of the situation of the small Rusyn communities in the remaining three countries: the Czech Republic, Croatia and Romania.


The Czech Republic: Early successes falter

After the Velvet Divorce on 1 January 1993, the Czech Republic became virtually homogenous, with only about five per cent of the total population not ethnically Czech. Rusyns have been a recognised minority in the Czech lands since the creation of the first Czechoslovakia at the end of the First World War.


According to the 1991 Czechoslovak census, about 2000 Rusyns live in the Czech Republic, though about 500 more claimed Rusyn as their mother tongue. This number does not include those Rusyns who identified themselves for census purposes as Czech, Ukrainian, Russian or otherwise, and so unofficial estimates put the actual total at about 12,000.


The Czech Republic's Rusyns are dispersed throughout the country and have no compact settlement. Due to the small population and scattered nature of their settlement, they do not have any particular privileges in the Czech Republic other than the rights enjoyed by all citizens of the country.


When the Rusyn movement gained momentum in 1989, the Rusyns of the Czech Republic and their sympathisers were not left behind. The Society of Friends of Subcarpathian Rus', founded in 1990 and modelled on the 1930's organisation of the same name, is the primary organisation of Rusyns in the country. The Society is based in Prague and includes in its membership not only Rusyns but also supporters of all nationalities.


Initially, the Society called for the re-incorporation of Ruthenia into Czechoslovakia, but with the dissolution of that state, the goal was no longer tenable. Two other Rusyn organisations are also registered with the government, and all three work to promote Rusyn culture and identity in the Czech lands.


Croatia: Attack of the Rusyn-Ukrainians

About 3000 Rusyns live in Croatia, historically in the eastern regions around the cities of Vukovar and Osijek. The area of settlement adjoins the major Rusyn settlement in Vojvodina (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).


In the early 1990s, during the Serbo-Croat conflict, the Rusyn community was particularly hard hit. Aside from the fact that the region where the Rusyns live was one of the primary battlefields, Rusyns were also drafted into both the Yugoslav and Croat armies and were forced to fight against each other in a war that was against their national interests.


Rusyns have been a national minority in Croatia since the founding of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War. However, current government practice lumps both groups together (as Rusyn-Ukrainians or Ukrainian-Rusyns) in the fashion favoured by Ukraine but foreign to former Yugoslav practices.


The central organs of the Rusyn minority, including the Nova Dumka publishing house, national radio programming, cultural societies throughout the country, government-sponsored educational programs, a central library and ethnographic collection virtually all serve Rusyns and Ukrainians as a single unit.


The same practice is maintained for Rusyn representation in the Sabor's Chamber of Counties. The Chamber is composed of seven members. The Serb minority has three seats, while the others, including the Italian, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak, German, Austrian, Rusyn and Ukrainian minorities, each have one.


However, the non-governmental Council of National Minorities, which is an official watch-dog organisation for minority rights, is composed of 14 members, and allows for both Rusyn and Ukrainian representation.


Romania: Slow to organise, but excellent progress since

The 1992 census counted only 350 Rusyns, but unofficial estimates put the total Rusyn population of Romania as high as 40,000. Rusyns live as indigenous inhabitants in the north-eastern Maramureş and Bukovina regions, and a wave of immigration beginning in 1907 created a second Rusyn community in the south-western Banat region.


As of 1998, a Rusyn organisation was in the process of forming. The group intended to publish a newspaper called Pradid (Ancestor).


Last November, the Uniunea Culturala a Rutenilor din România (the Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural Union of Romania) received one of the 19 seats allotted to national minorities in the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, the Lower House of the Romanian Parliament. This means that one of the smallest Rusyn communities has received one of the highest levels of political representation of any Rusyn community in Europe.


by, Brian J Pozun, 7 May 2001



Svidnik - Ruthenian Heartland

Reprinted here with Permission ofThe Slovak Spectator

The focal point for any adventurous tourist in the east is Svidnik, a broad non-descript socialist-made town. Svidnik's two greatest attractions are on opposite ends of the scale, one showcasing the peaceful life of the Ruthenian people, the other displaying the horrors of war. The Poddukla Museum of Ruthenian-Ukrainian Culture (Centralna 258, tel. 0937-21365) documents the historical and cultural development of the Ruthenians in the Slovak Carpathians since the 15th century. These peaceful peasants have witnessed several centuries of war and political wrangling over their homeland and have been "moved" from the Hungarian Empire to Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and now the Slovak Republic, all without needing to leave their own villages.


The museum displays an interesting collection of documents, artefacts and costumes relating to the Ruthenian way of life. However, the ethnic origin of the Ruthenians is still a controversial issue amongst academics and the museum presents only the Ukrainian argument. Fifty years ago, 60% of Svidnik residents described themselves as Ruthenian. Now only 15% are likely to admit to their background. Svidnik amphitheatre hosts an annual festival of Ruthenian culture (usually the third weekend in June - tel. 0931/733-008) and next door is a skanzen, or open-air museum, with several traditional wooden buildings from east Slovakia.


In sharp contrast is the Military Museum (Bardejovska ulica 25/414, tel. 0937/213-98, 215-61), which was opened in 1969 on the 25th anniversary of the fighting at nearby Dukla Pass in 1944. There are substantial displays of uniforms, weapons and other war memorabilia from the 19th and 20th centuries. More striking is the Open-Air Military Museum which showcases a line of tanks, field guns and a plane for parachutists guarding a block of flats outside the museum building. The grand memorial to Soviet soldiers in Svidnik has become an evening meeting place for roller-bladers and guitar serenaders. 


The Jews & Carpathian-Rusyns

Minority Heritages of Slovakia

by, Joseph Levin


Slovakia was part of Hungary for almost a millennium. This territory was inhabited by many nationalities including two minority heritages, the Jews and the Carpathian-Rusyns. Jews residing in the Slovak regions included Neolog reformers and Chassidim which are proponents of religious Orthodoxy. Their strict adherence to religious beliefs was found in most of Eastern Europe during this time. The history of the Jewish people in Slovakia and their relationship to the Carpathian-Rusyns is both fascinating and eventful. Jewish culture, practices and even certain foods found their way into the lives of the heritages they resided with. Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe have been discovered which date back to the 10th century. Due to pogroms in Western Europe, many immigrated to the Eastern regions for security. The largest class of people during this period were serfs which the nobility did not trust. The landowners needed individuals to manage their vast estates and financial income. To accomplish this they turned to Jewish merchants. The nobility tolerated individuals of Jewish heritage to perform these administrative functions as they disliked the serfs. A good example is the Presov regions of Slovakia. During the 1730's Hungarian landlords wished to populate this region. Many incentives were offered to entice business owners, skilled workers and permanent residents. Because of the incentives offered numerous individuals, including Jews from Galicia, relocated to the Presov regions. The Jews became part of the "arenda" administrative system because of their skills as shop keepers, artisans, blacksmiths and other service orientated businesses. This system expanded and became overseen by high numbers of Jewish individuals. The Jews collected rents, taxes, fines and other financial transactions which were part of daily living.


During the eighteenth century most villages had an arenda system. This system was administered by those of Jewish heritage in many places. Towns and villages where Jewish individuals relocated were inhabited by Carpathian-Rusyns and other heritages. Jews lived in larger towns such as Bardejov, Presov and Humenne but also resided in distant villages. The average number of Jews in Carpathian-Rusyn villages was small. The remote regions of Eastern Slovakia at times would only have two to four families in a village. Some of the Carpathian-Rusyn villages which had a larger than average Jewish population were Circ, Prislop, Medzilaborce, Velka Polana, Ubla and Ulic. The Jews were scattered among various Carpathian-Rusyn and Slovak villages in this region and their numbers never grew extensive. The highest population of the Jewish community could always be found in larger towns and cities. Other towns where Jewish individuals lived were Brezovica, Banska Bystrica, Kurima, Lemesany, Levoca, Poprad, Sabinov, Snia, Stara Lubovna, Trebisov, Vrbovce and Zvolen. Many of the less populated villages in Eastern Slovakia either had Jewish residents or contact with Jewish merchants. It was common to see merchants at exact times of the year driving their wagons with items or services for sale. Many merchants drove from village to village selling merchandise for farming, tools and other goods. They also sharpened knives, sold candles and could fix garments or shoes while the purchaser waited. Many Jewish merchants were multi-skilled in various aspects of every day life and needs. A merchant may sell a cooking pot but would also help someone write a letter if they had no writing capabilities. According to the census taken by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1900, the number of Jews for the Hungarian regions was 851,378. It is estimated that between 125,000 to 150,000 Jewish individuals resided within Hungarian controlled territory which today comprises Slovakia.


In Eastern Slovakia Jews had their own code of rules and requirements based upon religious observance. It was common to find those of Jewish heritage having their own "section" but if the village was small they would be living in combination with their neighbors. Depending upon the size of the village a synagogue may be available. Many times, one synagogue was built in a centralized town which would serve the surrounding villages and cause less religious tension. Many synagogues were made of wood and some have survived to our present day. Others were made of stone and one such synagogue is located in the town of Spisska Podhradie below the Spis Castle. This two story synagogue was built in 1905 and thankfully at present is being restored. Another was built in Humenne and dates back to1792. Other synagogues were built in towns such as Bratislava, Cadca, Galanta, Kosice, Lucenec, Malacky, Nitra, Nove Zamky, Presov, Sered, Trencin, Trnava and Zilina. One feature some Jewish individuals had in common with their Carpathian-Rusyn and Slovak neighbors in small villages was poverty. It was common to see a Jewish farmer working the fields with others trying to feed his family. Many Jews, like their neighbors, supplemented their income by peddling farm produce and doing small scale artisan work. Not all were farmers and some owned shops and market stands where they sold cloth, hides, shoes, and groceries. The interior of these shops was rural, yet serviceable. A shopkeeper would have a row of shelves from the floor to the ceiling upon which various items for sale would be placed. Depending upon economic conditions in the village the shop may be full, or practically empty. The local tavern could also have a Jewish owner. The taverns not only sold alcohol and simple meals but served as a community gathering hall. Many of these taverns also offered a room for travelers to spend the night for a small fee.


A number of villages had a basic school. Depending upon the region and social climate, a Jewish teacher could be employed to educate students. Children would be taught basic reading and writing skills depending upon their age. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire a law was passed in 1868 which required obligatory education between the ages of six to 12 years. Unfortunately, this was not always adhered to as the 1900 census noted approximately 50% of the population could not read and write. Jewish children did not attend these schools but had lessons in private, or in a Suhl if one was available. The intellectual center for Jewish learning was Bratislava (known as Pressburg during the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Jews throughout the entire empire including Slovak territory would send their children to this renowned yeshiva. Villages in remote regions did see pogroms but these were less than bigger towns or regions. Tension was always under the surface especially in regard to the collection of taxes and fees. Pogroms did happen and most were due to the financial and religious issues. These regions tended to have short-lived upheavals on average. Baring unrest there was basically mutual cohabitation between Carpathian-Rusyns and Jews for centuries in remote villages. One area of agreement was the view which all minority heritages held of the Hungarian government. In this, the Jews and Carpathian-Rusyns were generally in agreement and the feeling was very negative toward governmental officials. Acceptance was necessary for harmony as living in such close proximity with each other mandated this. Also, since both were minority heritages which were discriminated against they knew full well the definitions of dislike and malice. If times were bad in the village, Jews would be in just as terrible a financial condition as their neighbors. If the crops withered, everyone starved. If an epidemic broke out all were susceptible.


Jews still strove to retain their Torah study, ritual practice and mutual assistance toward their own heritage and others. They remained separate and yet, fully immersed in village life. It was not unknown for a Jewish woman to assist at the birth of a child by a Christian woman and vice versa if this was necessary. Likewise, if a Christian farmer needed assistance with his fields he would ask his Jewish neighbor to aid him. Religious tensions did mount in the distant areas due to pressure from an established Christian religion or the government. Occasionally in these regions, Jews were asked to vacate a village. Sometimes this was just a simple request with no time limit for departure. At other times, it was an immediate and violent request. When this happened many packed and moved to another village where the climate was more accepting. It has been noted where Jews were asked to leave a particular village and then, within the span of a few years, they would return as the atmosphere had become tolerant again.


Most villages were Christian in majority and a separate Jewish cemetery was necessary. One such cemetery located in Eastern Slovakia is outside the village of Plavnica. There are approximately 100 stone grave markers with Jewish lettering still standing. The rest of the markers have disintegrated or been neglected beyond repair. It is difficult to know the exact number of burials here due to the lack of markers. The cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall, is overgrown with shrubs and neglected. No one visits this cemetery today as most relatives of the interred have moved away or are deceased. Other cemeteries can be found in Nova Mesta and most notable, The Chatam Sofer Mausoleum. This Mausoleum is part of the former Jewish cemetery dating back to 1670. The cemetery was used until 1847 and is located at the foothills of the Small Carpathian Mountains in Bratislava. A very interesting Jewish cemetery is located near the Carpathian-Rusyn village of Circ. This cemetery, located on a hillside is secluded. It is surrounded by a crumbling stone wall and is hidden from immediate view. A walk through this fascinating cemetery offers approximately 90 stone markers which are in original positions and very good condition. The dates on the stones read from the 19th century and inscriptions are in Jewish lettering which is easily read. Unfortunately, this cemetery is very neglected and rarely has visitors. It is hard to reach in the summer as massive vegetation and tall grass make it hard to navigate. The proximity of this cemetery for burial to the surrounding Carpathian-Rusyn villages in this district who did have one or two Jewish families are almost certain. With a cemetery in Plavinca and one in Circ, it is almost assured individuals within the radius of these two villages were interred at one or the other. There are mixed heritage towns in this region which have Jewish cemeteries. The cemetery in Stara Lubovna is located on a hill and hidden from view. You must search for the broken fence which surrounds the entire cemetery. There are approximately 80 stone markers which date back to the 19th century in Jewish lettering. There are individuals who visit this cemetery and some sections are cared for by family members or friends of the interred.


Another cemetery located west of Stara Lubovna is Hniezdne. It rests on a hillside with no signs to show you where it is located. The cemetery is open and not surrounded by any fence. There are approximately 20 stone markers from the 19th century with Jewish lettering. This cemetery is overgrown with trees and bushes. This cemetery is neglected due to a lack of visitors and may disappear completely in the next few years. The Jewish cemetery in Poprad is located on a flat parcel of land. A broken wall surrounds this cemetery and it holds approximately 90 stone markers with Jewish lettering. The cemetery is surrounded by homes of the residents of Poprad never is visited. One detail that must be taken into consideration for all these cemeteries is the lack of a large number of stone markers. Due to time, disintegration, and civil unrest many of the original stones have vanished. These cemeteries probably had higher numbers interred in them but only the stones can give an idea to the number of burials. The population in Slovakia of Jewish individuals was approximately 100,000 prior to World War II. Today, there are roughly 6,000 Jewish individuals residing in present day Slovakia. Many, like their Carpathian-Rusyn neighbors are not counted properly in census figures as it is common for individuals to state they are of Slovak heritage. This is very understandable as they do live in Slovakia. It is noteworthy to mention that in 1995 the Slovak government listed Chatam Sofer on a Slovak postage stamp. The majority of Jewish individuals today reside in Bratislava, Kosice, Presov, Nove Zamky, Komarno, Dunajska Streda, Galanta, Nitra, Tranava and other towns. A very few still live with other Carpathian-Rusyn inhabitants of secluded villages and continue to live as their ancestors have for centuries. 


Rusyns Finally Don't Have to Pretend

"The Slovak Spectator" by, Matthew J. Reynolds - Spectator Staff

Rusyns live along the southern and northern slopes of the north-central ranges of the Carpathian Mountains in central and eastern Europe. Today, between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Rusyns inhabit several countries, most notably Ukraine, which has between 600,000 and 800,000 Rusyns.


Rusyns have never had their own state, and the use of Rusyn as a written language has never been widespread. Even the terminology used to describe Rusyns is varied and tainted by foreign influences - Carpatho-Ruthenians, Capatho-Russians, Carpatho-Ukranians, Lemkos, Ruthenes, and Ruthenians, to name a few.


Rusyns, for centuries members of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in 1918 became citizens of the first Czechoslovak Republic, in which they enjoyed a significant level of autonomy. But after World War II, Ukraine (as a part of the Soviet Union) usurped almost all territories from Czechoslovakia that were inhabited by Rusyns. A comparative handful of Rusyns remained in Czechoslovakia in areas where Slovaks also lived.


After becoming part of Ukraine, Rusyns were subject to swift and comprehensive `Ukrainisation`, a policy that, by Soviet request, reached across international borders. Rusyns everywhere in the former Eastern Bloc were suddenly labelled Ukrainians and forced to use the Ukrainian language. In Czechoslovakia, Rusyn schools switched almost overnight to Ukraine as the language of instruction.


"Rusyns in Czechoslovakia were surprised to find out they were Ukraine all along. They had always thought that they were Rusyn," Alexander Zozuľák, chief editor of Slovakia`s only Rusyn newspaper Národny novinky, said sarcastically. "It is quite jarring to find out you were mistaken since birth about your nationality."


Zozuľák added that although it was still hard for him to understand exactly why politicians thought they could change the nationality of a million people, their goals were relatively clear.


"Nobody knew how long the new borders would last [after WWII]. The Ukrainians wanted to turn Rusyns into Ukrainians. And the Soviet Union figured that if it could also turn Rusyns in Czechoslovakia into Ukrainians it might be able to claim lands from Czechoslovakia," said Zozuľák.


According to Zozuľák, an ironic effect of this policy was the voluntary `Slovakisation` of Rusyns, many of whom claimed Slovak nationality rather than accepting Ukrainian, and demanded Slovak schools for their children. By 1989, only 15 of the original 322 schools which had been converted were still teaching in the Ukraine tongue.


Even after 1989, questions of nationality remained unresolved. In a 1991 census only 17,000 people claimed Rusyn as their nationality, although 50,000 said it was their mother language. Some 13,000 people said they were Ukrainians, of which 3,000 said Rusyn was their mother tongue.


Ethnic Titles

by, Julianna Chickov

The greatest identifier of a nationality is their title. This basic necessity is lost at times for those heritages that never held their own country. For minority peoples, living in a country that is dominated by one, or more majority heritages can be problematic. This dilemma becomes more pronounced if the heritage has no established country as a foundation. Such is the challenge of a minority race. Rusyns, or the longer form of the title Ruthenians, have never had a solidly established country. Those who tried to clarify what type of exact background they sprang from always confused the heritage question. Add to this turbulence in the title of their religious affiliations and the total question becomes a competition of theories. The Ruthenian people were always at the center of conflict, and for a proper answer to many title questions. The historical fact that Rusyns resided in areas that were at the crossroads of East and West adds yet more turmoil. Taking into consideration all of the above, it was quite natural that there has always been such a blizzard of ideas and pronouncements upon this heritage.


In relationship to the title question, look at the name offered that is many times used to identify this heritage, Carpatho-Rusyn. The term Carpatho derives from the word Carpathian, which denotes the Carpathian Mountain chain, which runs through most of Eastern Europe. The word Rusyn derives itself from Ruthenia, which was also an indicator of an area or territory, not a race. The natural progression of heritages is to claim identity with something they know and the Ruthenians were not different in this aspect. Since many of them resided in and around the Carpathian Mountain chain and, remembering the ancient term of Ruthenia for these areas, the evolution to identify with a title settled with this term. Not only in name but also in regions were there were dividing lines. Before the division of present day Poland in approximately 1772, the Rusyns who inhabited the Galician regions lived in Polish lands. In the northeastern Hungarian regions the Sub-Carpathian Rusyns made their homes. Not only where these Rusyns divided by regions but also by very marked cultural differences as well. Rusyns who resided to the north of the Carpathian Mountains tended to absorb some aspects of the cultures of the Polish and Ukrainians while those to the south saw Hungarian and Slovak traits intertwined with their own.


In addition to this, insert the factors of various religious titles. Until approximately the sixteenth century, many Rusyns were Eastern Orthodox in religious identity. With time came a new church, the "Greek Catholic" church. This church was expressly conceived so that those who were Orthodox could join with Rome (i.e. Catholicism) and still retain their Eastern Christian practices. It was considered too difficult to "convert" them from Eastern to Western religious practices and this compromise was the result. The title question avails itself in this area of the Rusyn’s existence. They were "Greek" Catholics, yet this word Greek does not denote that they identified with Hellenic culture. It was a title to imply "Greek Orthodox Christianity" which the faith was drawn from and which was the Eastern Orthodox faith. Vast numbers of the Rusyn population were peasants who never were given the opportunity to read, nor write. They did know what their religious observances were and it was easier for the Roman Catholic Church to permit these people to retain their eastern religious practices. The addition of the title "Catholic" was added so that they would be classified as being under the authority of Rome. The culmination of the birth of this new church was made after serious discussion between both hierarchies in 1595 at the Treaty of Brest and finally, concluding in 1646 with the Union of Uzhhorod.


The title question now becomes more involved. We have a heritage that draws its name from an area, or territory (i.e. Ruthenia) and added to this are the titles of "Greek Catholic" but not meaning the Greek or Hellenic culture for this race. Most religions at these times tended to be ethnic in origins and therefore, would not only denote ones religious adherence, but their heritage as well. A prime example is the "Roman" Catholic Church. Since this church was based in Rome, the title "Roman" which does denote a race was used exclusively. This was no different with those of Slavic heritage. Individuals would call their church a Slovak Catholic Church, a Magyar Catholic Church and so on for identity purposes. The minority heritage of the Ruthenians remained in the middle of not only governmental and territorial but also of religious conflicts. The problem of title has been hard on those of Rusyn heritage, not only many centuries ago but being still with us in the present day. How does one identify with such an entangled situation of identity, territory and religious affiliation? The answers came and still come in many different forms, and have been debated for centuries with no firm resolution.


One of the greatest avenues for the Rusyn to find some form of stability in life was assimilation. Assimilation, either in a minor or major way for their culture, religion, thoughts and language did take place on many occasions. Depending upon the area the Rusyn lived in, there was always some concession to make life easier. If one lived in a village in Eastern Europe, or in a big city in some other country after immigration, the need to grasp a title that would bring stability sometimes was a necessity. As to Eastern Europe it is a fact that the Rusyns themselves had definite marked differences in their language, customs, and even in the amount of importance each group placed upon their own identity. There have been many titles given to different types of territories that denote those of Rusyn heritage but also took in the different forms of language and customs. Some of the region classifications are Lemko, Bojko, Hutsul, Northern Bukovyna, Zakarpattia and Presov. Different sides of this heritage issue seem from research to have common problems but never having the common consensus to rectify them. The various outside influences that wished to impart their views upon this heritage increased the lack of clarity for this issue. The Hungarians, who tended under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to believe everyone within their regions should identify with a Magyar identity enforced this upon any Rusyn they could. This was to have dire consequences upon the only class who had constant contact with them and that was the clergy.


High numbers of clergy were forced to be "pro-Magyar" under this form of government and therefore, impart this heritage (i.e. customs, language) upon those in their churches. The religious conflict of these days was also strong. The Latin (i.e. Catholic) church was of the opinion that no Catholics, Eastern or Western Rite, should be lost to the church and therefore, forced opinions in support of this idea. The Orthodox church enforced their view and reminded her flocks that the Rusyns were Orthodox until the union with Rome and they should return to the Eastern Orthodox church as that is where their religious beginnings originated.

Combined with the Orthodox title was the identity factor of seeing oneself as a "cousin" to those of Russian (i.e. Moscow) heritage. There were many Pan-Slavists who insisted upon a Russian identity and they fought for this view. One of those who was hailed as the "awakener of the Rusyn people," Aleksander Dukhnovych, taught pro-Russian heritage views in some of his writings. Other heritages had different views and taught these also. Rusyns also lived with those of the Slovak heritage were seen as "Slovak Greek Catholics" and those of Ukranian heritage felt that Rusyns were of Ukrainian heritage but were confused as to their proper title. In light the above, it is very simple to see why a Rusyn, in one, or more of the situations mentioned above, would have assimilated into a particular pattern of life just for the sake of some type of uniformity. The fusion of the Rusyns as a separate heritage was hard enough and, even in doubt by those of Rusyn heritage themselves. On the one side, you had the Austro-Hungarian Empire with an official state religion of Roman Catholicism which was the "west," on the other you had the Russian Imperial Empire with an official state religion of Eastern Orthodoxy which was the "east." In the eye of this unfortunate situation stood the Ruthenians who gained at times a confused sense of identity themselves and not knowing if they should go to the left, to the right, or stay right in the middle as a neutral party.


This whirlwind of titles, ideas and views is curious in that both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Imperial Empire went to great lengths to "convert" those of Rusyn heritage to their particular views. Very few heritages in the world have been fought over as much as the Rusyns in Eastern Europe were. Not only was this a quest for a heritage title, but also for a religious one. Both governments of these empires expended vast amounts of finances to promote their particular views upon Rusyns and in so doing, would strengthen their government's views in their respective empires. After the period of 1848 some Rusyns did pursue the idea of a unified state under the administration of the Austrian monarchy. Here again, the title issue surfaced and territory boundaries presented themselves as indicators. In the regions of Galicia the Rusyns followed different paths into splinter groups, one which was pro-Ukrainian in thought, the other being pro-Russian. The pro-Ukrainian group enjoyed a vast popularity with the Rusyns in these regions. There were also some Galician Rusyns who accepted a pro-Polish position on the issue of language and nationality titles. Depending upon the position held, this would many times mirror what identity was chosen. If you were a peasant, the pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian views could dominate. If you were in some form of artisan or minor bureaucratic position, identity with the position that would secure your basic economic status would sometimes apply.


In approximately 1832 historical evidence shows that three educated Rusyns met and tried to answer the perplexing questions of Rusyn nationality and language. These men formed a group to discuss and research these ideas while finding proper titles. These men were Iskiv Holovats’kyi, Ivan Vahylevuch and Markiian Shashkevych. Unfortunately, these men never truly found any solid answers anymore then a Rusyn peasant in the most remote village could. After some time of trying to research and find answers that all would agree upon, it was apparent more friction than cohesion was brought forth. Markiian Shashkevuch died in 1843 before his research could be finished. Ivan Vahylevuch died in 1866 but came to the conclusion that in reference to Galician Rusyns, assimilation would offer the best course for survival in these territories. Iskiv Holovats’kyi discarded all theories offered by the group, became pro-Russian in position and finally moved to the Russian Empire. It is curious to see that not only did these questions of proper definition of title bring the Rusyn peasant to confusion, but they also brought those who were intellectuals to this same arena also. These title questions, which have always been asked, will continue to be asked by historical scholars and researchers. Hopefully, a solid answer may be found in the future to finally solve the title questions for all the Ruthenian people. In the meantime, the Ruthenian people continue to exist as they always have done for centuries which is more important than possibly ever finding the "perfect" title in relationship to their proper heritage and religious identities.


The Ethnic Wilderness 

by, Julianna Chickov


Rusyns Harvesting Grain



For those who have embarked upon genealogical research, it is not uncommon to discover various minority heritages that little, if none at all, ever had knowledge of. This is the plight of the Ruthenian heritage. This race, living among other heritages always had a hard time defining who they were to those not in their own ethnic group. Through the years various people and governments gave many tags to the Ruthenians. They were referred to as, Ruthenian, Carpatho-Russian, Rusnaks, Rusin, Ruthenes, and a few others. The issue of the Ruthenian as a separate ethnic group is a complex one. The following basics are offered to assist those who are trying to make sense of this heritage without all the political and religious jargon that can make this topic more entangled than it could otherwise be.


Ruthenians inhabited regions of what is today’s Eastern Europe. Many immigrated from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire regions and Galitsia, thereby confusing the situation as to what the actual heritage was. To offer some light on their background, the Ruthenians came from an area of roughly 8,000 square miles. These areas not only held the Ruthenians as residents but also a conglomeration of heritages, which made up the entire Empire. It was only natural that various customs, traits and dialects were absorbed by Ruthenians due to their close proximity with these other heritages. During the days before immigration was at its height to the United States and to other countries (approximately 1890 to 1914), the living conditions of the Ruthenians could be unbearable. The Ruthenians mostly being a peasant class except for their clergy and a select few mid-level artisans and craftsmen, toiled in the fields under horrid conditions. Many lived in small villages with limited access to the outside world. A large number were "tenant" farmers who rented their homes from the landlords that benefited from their hard work. Oppression was a way of existence for the Ruthenian and if it was not the government, it was the landlord, if not the landlord, then it could be a member of the clergy who oppressed this heritage in different aspects of their lives. Life had precious little happiness in those days and more than one immigrant has told of memories under these conditions with bitterness in the tone of their words.


The general population had no voice in government and no rights to shield them against their landlord's whims. Many of the clergy had to follow the dictates of official government policy in conjunction with strict religious enforcement that had no room for discussion. Teaching the Ruthenians to think for themselves was not high on the priory list. To be a good subject under an empire regime was simple, keep quiet and obey. The lowly life of most Ruthenian peasants started at birth and, if he or she was fortunate enough to achieve adulthood without dying of some disease or disaster, ones adult life would be a unending round of toil, hunger, oppression and want. The fear of many male adults was induction into the armed forces and this was to become a major driving force when the period of immigration to America arrived.


There have been numerous theories as to why so many chose to immigrate to America and to other countries outside of Eastern Europe. The first and foremost for the Ruthenian was to obtain work which paid more than what they'd receive in their own country. Their plan was to stay and save as much money as possible and then return to their villages. By doing so they would have the financial security to spare them from the want and hunger of their neighbors. Research has been done to pinpoint how many Ruthenians actually immigrated but depending on who conducted the study the numbers differ considerably. Therefore, we can only go with a basic assumption of what these numbers were, or could have been. Some basic immigration traits did exist. For example, men tended to emigrate first. After they were settled they would send for their wives, children and various extended family members. Word of a villager's new life in America would entice many from the same village to immigrate to the same area that their fellow friend and neighbor settled in. This can be noted in the U.S. census records. In one city or town, you may have many of the same heritage, and from the same village, living within close proximity to each other.


The Ruthenian peasant immigrated at "the right time" as they say. America was "growing up" at this point and her industrial might and expansion depended upon the unskilled labor of vast amounts of young, strong workers to operate her factories, mills and mines. Many of the previous immigrants to America had become assimilated and refused to contract for this type of labor. The Ruthenians and other Slavic people were willing to take the low wages (which to them were exceptional). Laws in America at this time were not as complicated as they are in the present day and therefore, one could obtain an apartment and rent out "spaces" to "boarders" who in turn would pay rent for a place to sleep, and for a cooked meal or two a day. It was not uncommon for those from the same village to stay with each other as not only was this financial security but, a type of mental security blanket which extended their home village settings to this new environment. Many immigrants did make the journey back and forth many times and were dubbed "birds of passage" by the shipping owners who made a fortune of this human cargo. The conditions of traveling "steerage" were not glorious, but an ends to a means. Patience may have helped them survive these hard journeys back and forth so often.


The Ruthenians confused sense of identity was further complicated upon their arrival in America. Since the immigrants tended to fear authority figures, no one disputed what a government or immigration official opted to place on their paperwork. Many of those prior to 1914 did have Ruthenian put in their classification but others would have Hungarian, Slovak, and even Austrian. Depending upon the area they immigrated to their heritage classification may have been changed again. If they lived in an area with perhaps a Slovak or Ukrainian majority, they may have said that they too were Slovak or Ukrainian. Many simply identified themselves with the catch all phrase of "slavish" to make it easier for their new American neighbors to understand. Here is where the definition of the Ruthenian lost itself as, due to many factors, many chose to identify with the easiest tag available and thereby giving the immigrant less trouble in the long run.


The problem of religious identification was also unstable. The Ruthenians were neither Roman Catholic, yet they were not "Russian" Orthodox, they were somewhere in the middle where this gray area did not offer a definite answer. Many religious institutions functioned solely with ethnic identifiers. If you went to a "Russian" church, you were a Russian, if you attended a Ukrainian church, you were a Ukrainian and so on. This confused sense of not only ethnic heritage but religious identity added to the complicated problems of the Ruthenian who was trying to hold onto his ethnic identity in his or her own way. Many had seen such a hard life that to argue the complicated facts of their heritage and religious affiliations were considered useless to fight for. The reason so many people are unclear as to what exactly their heritage is that the family themselves perpetuated this "mistaken" identity. It must be noted that there was nothing wrong with these immigrants having done this. Many felt that they had to for survival purposes. The problem of being a "land-less" people is also a deciding factor why so many chose to identify with a definition that was concrete. If you can say you came from a known territory, it is easier for those you are discussing this with to identify with you.


Once the Ruthenian immigrants were living in their new homes for a considerable period the natural progression of life went on. There were births, marriages and deaths, and therefore, these events had to be registered with not only the religious but also the civil administrations. Many of the civil registrars would enter under ethnic heritage the commonly used identifiers of the time. Such as, Slovak, Austrian, Hungarian and even slavish. None of these names would have applied to the Ruthenian but there was no sense arguing with the record keeper. Entering the place of birth followed the same route as ethnic heritage. There were also Ruthenians who knew who they were and where they came from and insisted this be placed on their official records. Depending upon how closely they identified and wished to identify with their heritage it is not uncommon to see ethnic conflict within the same family. One member of the family may have identified with being Ruthenian, whereas another member would identify with another heritage. Again, we have the confusion that is never ending with this race and makes research difficult. It is necessary to research the historical background from many different sources and to take the time to reference these sources. This is the only accurate way to conclude what the true ethnic heritage was, or may have been.  


Carpatho-Rusyn Fraternal Organizations


Michael Chanda's 1906 

Greek Catholic Union Certificate -  Courtesy of Steven Osifchin














1916 Pennsylvania Slovak Roman and Greek Catholic 

Union Membership Certificate










St. Michael the Archangel Soceity  Front  & Back View, 

founded April 23, 1899 - In Memory of Michael Osifchin, Sr.











Greek Catholic Women's Society - Front  & Back View, 

Circa 1912 - Courtesy of John Matsko



After arrival in their new homeland, Carpatho-Rusyns and other Slavic heritages began to establish themselves as communities. The building of churches, club halls and organizations to aid them financially and socially was a natural development. At first, these organizations would encompass all Rusyn immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empire regions. Later, these took on a territorial, heritage and linguistic emphasis. The Rusyns who immigrated set up the same social structures that were established in their former lands. Local grocery stores, butchers, bakeries, taverns, a church and other businesses helped Rusyns adapt. Fraternal brotherhoods were known in the regions Rusyns immigrated from. It is not surprising they brought these structural ideas with them. Fraternal organizations were organized in Galicia and Subcarpathia as early as the sixteenth century. Most times, they were utilized for the support of the particular religion of the area.


These brotherhoods in Europe were more religious than social in operation. Instead of paying death and disability benefits, they aided the construction of churches, church-run schools, training for icon and religious works artists, establishing church orphanages and support of area monasteries to preserve the faith. Upon arrival to new countries these organizations evolved and focused on secular aspects. The natural sequence of any group is mutual assistance. This is when the brotherhoods, fraternal groups and church-based organizations began. Since Rusyns had limited resources, various organizations were started for assistance. Loans to purchase a home, life insurance for burial expenses and worker compensation policies were made available. These organizations, some small, some very large, helped the immigrant feel more comfortable not only socially, but also financially.


Upon review of historical documentation, the first organized fraternal group mentioned was the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, which began in 1885. This group, from Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, was started by the Greek Catholic priest Father John Volansky. This brotherhood also sponsored a newspaper entitled "Ameryka" and was in operation from 1886 to 1890. Next to be founded was the Greek Catholic Union of Rusin Brotherhoods (later to be known as the Greek Catholic Union) (1892), and started a newspaper "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik.@" Other fraternal groups started were the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (1895) the Russian Brotherhood Organization who offered a newspaper "Pravda" (1901), the United Societies of Greek Catholic Religion (1903) which offered a newspaper "Prosvita" and later changed their name to United Societies of U.S.A., the Russian Orthodox Fraternity Lubov (1912), the United Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of America (1915) which later would change their name to the Orthodox Society of America and the Greek Catholic Carpatho-Russian Benevolent Association Liberty (1918) which offered a newspaper "Vostok."


There were other organizations, which were small and locally based in churches during this period. Various "Brotherhoods" or "Burial Societies" were started in churches. Many times, these organizations were named after a patron saint of the church but could have many titles (i.e., First Russian Slavonic Greek Catholic Benevolent Society, St. Dimitri Burial Society, St. Michael Brotherhood). A good number of these locally based fraternal organizations offered small payments for financial need or burial expenses. There were problems with church based fraternal organizations in later years. When the disagreements started in relationship to the Greek Catholic Church things became tangled. Many Rusyns had no way of knowing as years passed the fraternal organizations and their own churches would be caught up in many dilemmas. These situations would not only touch upon their churches but would affect the very fraternal organizations that they had worked so hard to establish.


In relationship to the smaller fraternal groups, which were, church-based matters could be distressing. When a congregation voted to apply for acceptance into an Orthodox jurisdiction, conflict ensued. A court battle would be instituted to secure the finances in the organization's bank account and this transpired often. For those who had paid premiums for years and were now too old to secure any form of insurance, this amounted to a crisis of faith and finances. To avoid this problem, or, if no fraternal was available, Rusyns at times joined other established organizations. There were many of these but the larger fraternal groups were the First Catholic Slovak Union Jednota (1890), Pennsylvania Slovak Roman and Greek Catholic Union (1891), Czech Sokol of St. Louis (1865) and the Roman and Greek Catholic Gymnastic Slovak Union Sokol (later to be known as the Slovak Catholic Sokol) (1905). These organizations offered the same types of insurance and financial stability for various aspects of immigrant’s lives. Many times they also supported social-based functions to help the immigrant stay in touch with others from their same regions.


It was beneficial to be involved with these organizations. These fraternal groups were acceptable for some. For other individuals they lacked the religious and ethnic identifier. Many Rusyns wished to have their own organizations for financial and social interaction. If Rusyns were involved in a fraternal organization, which offered little in their language, customs or religion it was natural to seek out organizations, which could. Various fraternal organizations were connected directly with the religious identities of the membership. It was sensible for those of one faith to attend an organization that offered the same. Many heritages became attached to organizations that offered financial, religious, ethnic and social benefits. The search for an organization that offered heritage affiliation and the same language became more pronounced. The withdrawal of many members and splinter groups began in fraternal organizations due to these reasons. Individuals who identified ethnically would leave an organization that had a majority of another heritage in control. Many Rusyns left different heritage-based organizations for others and vice versa. This not only was common in the large fraternal groups but in local churches. Many problems began to develop especially from political and religious avenues. The Reverend Andrew Hodobay, Hungarian apostolic visitor came to America on church related business in 1902. He tried to have the editor of Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, Paul Zhatkovich, removed. It was felt the pro-Rusyn views of this newspaper were harming the policy of "Magyarization" in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When this failed, he worked to have him extradited from America to Hungary, which ultimately failed.


The bickering within these organizations was fueled by the religious and ethnic sectors. These conflicts would produce more organizations. A large group decided to leave the Greek Catholic Union due to disagreements. This group primarily immigrated from Galicia and present day Ukraine. They founded the Russian/Rusyn National Association in 1894. Their paper "Svoboda" began printing in 1894 and in 1914 the name was officially changed to the Ukrainian National Association. Today, this association is the largest Ukrainian secular group in America. The various newspapers of the fraternal organizations were learning first hand about freedom of the press. Many periodicals, pamphlets and fraternal newspapers used this medium to express their views on a variety of topics. Ethnic bantering was always under the surface in many newspapers of this period. These newspapers began with the purpose of bringing information to their memberships. Many newspapers in the beginning were published in the language and alphabet of their memberships. For the Rusyn, it was necessary to publish newspapers in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. There were members who could read one, or both. The utilization of both alphabets was beneficial to the members and practical to the organization. Various fraternal organizations also published an elaborate Kalendr. This yearbook not only offered holy days of the church but also had spiritual and cultural items for educational purposes.


All fraternal organizations at their inception had one common goal. The entire reason was for the benefit of the membership. A review of documentation gives a glimpse into benefits and their cost. Members of these organizations paid premiums for different financial policies. The smaller church-based societies offered more flexibility due to their size. One church-sponsored organization, St. Dimitri Burial Society, charged their members an initial $.25 membership fee. Two basic payments of burial benefits were offered. First was a payment in the sum of $200.00 and the second was for $100.00. Charges for the higher amount of insurance cost $.50 per month, the lower amount was $.25 per month. If a family or individual were unemployed, ill or unable to pay the premium, the organization would waive payments until they could be made. In the larger organizations policies were more structured. The Slovak Catholic Sokol during the years 1918-1919 offered a death benefit at the minimum of $250.00. Policies were issued in increments of $500.00, $750.00 or $1,000.00. For children, the Sokol offered a set death benefit in the amount of $300.00. Another group, the Greek Catholic Union in 1893 offered the following. A death benefit was $400.00 for a husband. In the event his wife died, the husband would receive a payment of $200.00. An interesting note for this fraternal was that these policies were paid even if the beneficiary resided in Europe. To offset operating costs, $.50 was assessed as an initial membership fee and a monthly fee of one nickel was charged to support the organization.


Fraternal Organizations at this point had not been affected fully by outside religious influences. It was not long before tensions mounted and they became manifested. The reason for the inception of the United Societies of Greek Catholic Religion (United Societies of U.S.A.) in McKeesport, Pennsylvania was simple. This group felt the Greek Catholic Union was rebelling against the Greek Catholic Church and especially towards Bishop Soter Ortynsky , which United Societies of U.S.A. supported. The Greek Catholic Union felt that Bishop Ortynsky was supporting a "pro-Ukrainian" identity along with supporting Rome's "Ea Semper" decree which was strongly resented by many Rusyns. Thousands of Rusyns were stranded in the middle of these arguments both for and against these issues. As these debates raged Rusyns left fraternal groups depending upon the religious and political positions. This was to continue and both sides used their newspapers to reinforce views on their members for years. Many fraternal newspapers also carried European and local news events. In an issue of "Svit" (New York) from 1912 a lengthy article was published in relationship to a strike in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Labor conflicts were becoming common and many of the fraternal periodicals and newspapers carried these stories. Not only news but employment opportunities were also printed. Many times, people wonder how the immigrants moved to various states to obtain work. These periodicals routinely mentioned areas where work could be found, what companies were hiring and other important information. These newspapers were a vital link for the immigrant community. Rusyns not only read one, but as many as they could to keep in contact with events that were transpiring. 


The defection of many Greek Catholic churches (1910 to 1930) to the Orthodox jurisdictions led more members to leave one fraternal and join, or begin a new one. It was also during this time that many of the smaller, locally based fraternal groups saw their demise due to a lack of membership. The Latinization of the Greek Catholic churches by Rome did nothing to stop the issue but only gave it more momentum. There were various newspapers and periodicals during the early years of this century that Rusyns had exposure to. Some of the more common were "Novoe vremia" from Russia, "Russkoe slovo" from Galicia, "Nedilia" from Budapest, "Pravda" from Olyphant, Pennsylvania,, "Svoboda" from Jersey City, New Jersey, "Svit" from New York, "Russkii emigrant", New York and the "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik" by the Greek Catholic Union. Newspapers were obtained and read by Rusyns from their churches or passed hand to hand. These newspapers, printed by fraternal groups, or not, were read by a high number of Rusyns. For many, it did not matter who was printing them. Good numbers would read them and agree with positions they approved of. If the positions printed were not agreed with, many Rusyns paid no attention but still read as many as they could. 


During the period of religious turmoil many read these periodicals faithfully. The long-standing disagreements between the Greek Catholic Union and United Societies of U.S.A. can be seen in their newspapers of this period. Things became so tense between "Amerikansky Russky Viestnik" and "Prosvita" that the appointed bishop for Greek Catholics in America, Bishop Basil Takach, made an irrational decision and excommunicated the Greek Catholic Union as a fraternal organization and placed their newspaper on the Catholic church's "index of forbidden literature" list. The editor of Amerikansky Russky Viestnik along with other clergy and laity who were exhausted at trying to preserve Rusyn culture and religion within the Greek Catholic church decided to take action. These individuals saw no sense in continuing this battle and began the independent jurisdiction, the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, which today is based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.


As time and assimilation transpired, the need for these fraternal organizations by many Rusyns and other Slavic immigrants did decline somewhat. Many Rusyns were becoming comfortable in America society. They were doing well financially and their children were being educated. The main focus on these fraternal organizations decreased for many reasons. Rusyns were fully immersed in American culture and could purchase their policies though financial institutions, insurance companies and other outlets. The attraction to purchase life insurance and other financial assistance policies from outside sources was becoming more common. Instead of dealing with a fraternal organization which could be a great distance, one could be had in the same town, or close by. It was also convenient to have an agent of a local insurance company come to the home to receive payment, which was automatically done years ago. Many times, the rates given (1920 to 1940) were the same and sometimes a bit better since the insurance companies had a larger financial base. Also, being attached to a public insurance company offered one major benefit. A business transaction with a non-fraternal organization offered none of the pressures or discord of an organization, which had strong religious and ethnic positions. Many fraternal organizations mentioned chose to drop any form of particular ethnic identification or political positions as time went on. The Greek Catholic Union eventually focused on their life insurance and financial organization while keeping quiet on ethnic identity and religious arguments. The United Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of America dropped the ethnic identity wording and followed the religious identity theme with a new name, the Orthodox Society of America. The United Societies of Greek Catholic Religion dropped the religious identity in their original name and are now known as The United Societies of U.S.A. 


The various fraternal organizations spoken of were a much-needed part of Rusyn life in America. They served a purpose during an era when they were needed most. Without these fraternal organizations many Rusyns would never have secured the means for burial, worker compensation payments and other benefits. The social aspects of these organizations were vital for immigrants to associate with others of their own heritage and language. They were a necessity to those who used their services. Many of the organizations written about are still in existence and some have disbanded. As employment opportunities now include insurance and financial income grows, the need for these fraternal organizations has declined for some individuals. They are all very important in their own respect and offer a glimpse into the lives of our immigrant ancestors. The history of these fraternal organizations is the history of our ancestors. They are the ones who created and built them to where they are today. 


Greek Rite Catholic Prayer Books

Sample Images


1939 Greek Rite Catholic Communion Prayer 

Margaret Chanda's

Contributed by Steven Osifchin



Maria Chanda's "Nebesnaja Manna" 

A Practical Prayer Book of Devotions for Greek Rite Catholics, 1928

Contributed by Steven Osifchin















Malyi Zbornik "Small Prayer Book"

Anna Sokol Osifchin (pre-1900) 

Contributed by Steven Osifchin

img img













The Following Images Were Contributed by a TCC Viewer





Has 'Political Rusynism' Ended?


Radio Free Europe

Prague, Czech Republic

Copyright (c) 1999. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 2, 11 January 2000


A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team




HAS 'POLITICAL RUSYNISM' ENDED? After seven years of failing to gain recognition, the self-proclaimed government of Carpathian Ruthenia has suspended its work, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. "Ruthenians have appreciated the strategy and efforts of President Leonid Kuchma and his firm course toward democratic changes and the observance of human rights, the rights of ethnic minorities and their free cultural development," the agency quoted Ivan Turyanytsa, the "prime minister" of Carpathian Ruthenia, as saying in a statement circulated by "local media" on 3 January. In that statement, Turyanytsa also expressed the hope that Ukraine will finally recognize the Ruthenians as a nation, ITAR-TASS added.


For most readers in either the West or the East, this is certainly a mystifying piece of news. Who are the Ruthenians and where is their Ruthenia? Two interesting books, to which this article is heavily indebted, provide a fascinating introduction to the problem of the people denoted in English by some writers as Ruthenians: "A New Slavic Language Is Born" (1996, Columbia University Press, New York; edited by Paul Robert Magocsi) and "Focus on the Rusyns" (1999, The Danish Cultural Institute, Copenhagen). There is also an interesting Web site at http://www.tccweb.org/rusynback.htm, with a great deal of information on Carpatho-Rusyns--another name for Ruthenians.


Rusyns live in the Carpathian Mountains and are scattered across several international frontiers. In Ukraine, they inhabit Transcarpathian (Zakarpatska) Oblast, which borders on Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. In Slovakia, they can be found mainly in the Presov region, and in Poland, they live in two separate regions in the southern part of the country. There is also a community of Ruthenians in Yugoslavia's Vojvodina (to where they emigrated in the 18th century), and groups in Romania and Hungary, while there is a large Rusyn diaspora in the U.S. and Canada, although its exact numerical strength is not known. According to some estimates, there may be as many as 1 million Ruthenians worldwide, including some 600,000 in Ukraine's Transcarpathia.


Linguists disagree as to whether the (Carpatho-) Rusyn language is a separate Slavic language or a dialect of Ukrainian. Professor Magocsi from the University of Toronto argues that it is a separate language, at least that version spoken by Rusyns in Slovakia, which was codified in Bratislava on 27 January 1995. Another version of the Rusyn language was standardized in Vojvodina in 1923 and has been used in schools among Yugoslavia's Rusyns (Rusnaci) since that time. A seminar on the Rusyn language held in Slovakia in 1992 --now known as the First Congress on the Rusyn Language --concluded that Rusyns should develop four linguistic standards based on the dialects in the countries where they live: Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia. Poland's Rusyns (known as Lemkos) have already published several grammar books as well as a dictionary of their language.


In Ukraine, Rusyns are not recognized as a distinct national group. Consequently, their language is officially deemed a Ukrainian dialect. However, apart from a proUkrainian orientation among Ukraine's Rusyns, there is also a trend for developing the Rusyn language as separate from Ukrainian and promoting the idea of Rusyns as a separate nation. This trend is primarily championed by the Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Uzhorod, which is headed by Ivan Turyanytsa. In December 1991, when Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted for an independent Ukraine, Transcarpathian Oblast residents simultaneously held a vote on their autonomous status in Ukraine. Some 78 percent of Transcarpathians supported the idea of regional autonomy, but Kyiv ignored that vote. Some Ukrainians argue that the question about the region's autonomy was included in one phrase with the question about Ukraine's independence and thus people in Transcapathia supported the independence of the state rather than their self-rule. Some Rusyns, of course, think otherwise.


Some Ukrainians branded the movement for promoting Rusyn nationhood as "political Rusynism," which they argue has no substantial linguistic, ethnographic, or historical foundations. However, as the example of Rusyns in Slovakia and Lemkos in Poland testifies (not to mention Yugoslavia's Rusnaci), under some circumstances the Rusyn linguistic and ethnic heritage can be cultivated.


Ukraine's disinclination to recognize its Rusyns as a distinct nationality can be understood to some extent. This recognition seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of Rusyn self-government in Transcarpathia. Faced with ethnic problems in other regions (not to mention Ukraine's 10 million Russians and Crimea with its Russian and Tatar problems), Kyiv is reluctant to open what seems to be a Pandora's box of ethnic demands for more rights and concessions.


However, the current practice of dismissing the Rusyn problem by passing over it in silence (there appears to be no mention of Rusyns in Ukrainian media) is no solution either. History provides ample evidence that non-recognition, disregard, or suppression of ethnic groups tends only to consolidate their struggle for more rights.

It is too early to say that Rusyns have already embarked on an irreversible path toward acquiring nationhood. (In the 20th century, only Belarusians, Macedonians, and, possibly, Bosnian Muslims among the Slavic groups have managed to organize themselves into nations.) Even more unclear are Rusyns' prospects for gaining some kind of regional autonomy in the countries in which they live, let alone statehood. However, the cultural and linguistic renaissance of Rusyns seems set to survive into the next millennium. Rusyn activists report that their ranks have recently been reinforced by considerable numbers of well-educated young Rusyn females (notably in Poland and Slovakia). This not only provides greater demographic balance within the movement but also gives the movement a boost and imparts attractiveness for the broader masses that it might otherwise have lacked.


The author of "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" has come across only one mention of Ivan Turyanytsa's "Carpatho-Ruthenian government" in world literature--in Timothy Garton Ash's "Hail Ruthenia!" published in the 22 April 1999 issue of "The New York Review of Books." Garton Ash's presentation of the Rusyn question is rather a jocular one, and this author agrees with his conclusion that Turyanytsa and his ministers have had no power or opportunities to govern anything anywhere in a political sense. There are strong grounds to suppose that the government's recent self-dissolution, as announced by ITARTASS, has not been mourned by any significant part of the Rusyn population (in fact it is more likely that it went unnoticed by most Rusyns). However, as far as the future of Rusyns as a distinct Slavic nationality is concerned, this author is far more optimistic than Garton Ash.


"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday. 



Rusyn Patriots Questioning Purpose of Linguistic Revival

"The Slovak Spectator" by, Matthew J. Reynolds - Spectator Staff

ZBUDSKÁ BELA: A stroke has slowed Štefan Bunganič down in his golden years. The retired chemist, mathematician and scholar still gets around, but his limbs are not entirely obedient. They seem heavy when he changes position, and jiggle when he walks. But his spirit is bouyant, and his resolve remains fixed on one last, long, final project.

"I want to write a book on the philology [structure] of the Rusyn [Ruthenian] language," he says, sitting in his modest home in the small eastern Slovak village of Zbudská bela and patting a worn notebook containing thousands of words he has been collecting for over 30 years. "And I`m going to stick around long enough to finish it."

Bunganič`s sense of Rusyn indentity has survived political upheavals, border changes and assimilation pressures [see sidebar], and now, near the end of his long life, under a government supporting rather than supressing ethnic expression, he is intent on contributing to the birth of his mother tongue as a written language.

"Rusyn is a distinct nationality and without effort we will disappear, like the Native Americans in North America," he said, flipping through a manual he has already written on Rusyn phonology, morphology and phonetics. "Language is the most important thing. To have a nationality you must have a language. To have a culture you must have a language."

Official leaders in eastern Slovakia`s Prešov from the country`s Rusyn organisation Rusynska Obroda (Rusyn Revival) agree. Many of their efforts since founding the organisation in 1991 have revolved around developing a literary language for Slovakia`s estimated 100,000 Rusyns. Their most important moment in this process came in 1995 when the Rusyn dialect spoken in Slovakia was officially codified, an event they hoped would pave the way for its use as a language in schools and, eventually, a new literary tradition.

But codifying the language is one thing, and convincing people to use it is another. While leaders and academics in Prešov, as well as locals such as Bunganič, work to map the language, put out publications and train teachers to teach Rusyn in schools, a different attitude prevails among ordinary Rusyns living in small villages and cities in eastern Slovakia, who grew up speaking Rusyn at home, but using Slovak (or in some cases Ukrainian) in official settings.

In Medzilaborce, a poor city of roughly 7,000 near the Polish border, Rusyns are the overwhelming majority - it`s Rusyn, not Slovak, being spoken in the home, on the streets, in the pubs and at churches. But hardly anyone, a handful of professionals excepted, is interested in promoting their language beyond its spoken use. In recent interviews, many inhabitants of Slovakia`s largest predominantly Rusyn town said they had never heard of the some 30 Rusyn-language books that have been printed in Slovakia since 1989.

"The survival of the Rusyn language doesn`t matter one bit to me. I consider Rusyn a dialect, a language spoken at home," says one Rusyn man over a beer in a small Medzilaborce pub. On the walls, behind him and his group of Rusyn friends, hang advertisements in Slovak. The menus and signs are also in Slovak.

Unlike another of Slovakia`s minority languages, Hungarian, Rusyn has Slavic roots; Rusyns do not speak Slovak with an accent or have any other linguistic difficulties with the majority tongue. Why should they have signs in Rusyn, some ask, when visitors won`t be able to understand? Why should they read small-budget Rusyn papers when they get their news everyday from national papers in Slovak? Why should they want their children to study in Rusyn when they will have to switch to Slovak to study at a university?

Even more telling, perhaps, is that the average Rusyn isn`t even considering these questions.

"The Rusyn language has no meaning in the context of Slovakia moving towards Europe," the man in the pub continued. "I have a small son. I speak Slovak with him so that he will have good command of the language when he gets to school. And for a second language I would like him to study English."

Another pub-goer close by expressed more affection for the language, but still questioned the purpose of developing it into a written form. "I want to speak Rusyn with my children. Whenever I see Rusyns, we, of course, only speak Rusyn, but I don`t really see what the point would be in my learning how to read and write in Rusyn when I live in Slovakia."

Even some leading the charge sometimes wonder what it`s all about. At the end of a long day in his office, Fedor Vico, a caricaturist and vice-chairman of Rusínksa Obroda, shrugged his shoulders when asked why he personally was working towards promoting Rusyn as a written language, and admitted with a tinge of sadness, "sometimes, I don`t even know."

But later he reiterated that the struggle to establish the language was the struggle to keep Rusyn culture and identity separate form Slovak - a struggle for survival. "Our goal, after all the years of having our identity suppressed, is for Rusyns to be Rusyns, not to lose our culture and not to be assimilated."

In the post-communist Slavic world, at least seven other local `mother tongues` are attempting to make the jump to literary languages. Like those languages, Rusyn needed a sense of passion among some of its members to begin a linguistic revival in 1989. Now, pragmatism and the priorities of modern times are sharply limiting the scope of that revival. And the future of the Rusyn language and culture in Slovakia as a distinct phenomenon remains uncertain.



A Fractured Identity: The Lemko of Poland

The Lemko are finding the reconstruction of their ethnic identity hindered by a variety of internal divisions.

by, Karen M Laun, 5 December 1999


This article originally appeared in Central Europe Review


Copyright (c) 2000 - Central Europe Review 


Present-day Poland is perceived by many as being an ethnically homogenous country. To a great extent, this is true. However, there are still several significant minority groups residing within Poland’s borders - one of which is the Lemko. Now that Communism has come to an end, many minority groups are at last finding their voices once more and reviving their cultures in a new atmosphere of openness and freedom.


The Lemko, a distinct ethnic group from the southeast corner of the country, are also attempting to reassert their cultural identity. However, they seem to be caught in a continuing identity crisis, as a result of which they are unable to unify themselves into one community and create a strong political organization that could effectively represent their interests.


The northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland (near the Ukrainian border) has been the Lemko’s home for centuries and this area is known to the locals as Lemkovyna, or Lemkowszczyzna in Polish. The Lemko belonged to the eastern branch of Christianity, used the Cyrillic alphabet and spoke an East Slavic language - yet they were neither Polish nor Ukrainian.


The Lemko are sometimes considered to be Ruthenian or Rusyn, a term that indicates a pro-Russian orientation. Their attractive onion-domed wooden churches are still scattered throughout the remote and sparsely populated areas of the Beskid Sadecki, Beskid Niski and the Bieszczady mountains. Due to the inaccessibility of this region, the Lemko lived here relatively undisturbed by outside influences for many years.


This situation changed with the arrival of the 20th century and the two World Wars. In the interwar period, both the Poles and the neighboring Ukrainians tried to get the Lemko to identify with Polish or Ukrainian nationalist causes, with little success. Their allegiance was also sought by both during World War II, a conflict that was particularly destructive in this area.


In 1944, Poland and the Soviet Union agreed upon a series of population transfers that saw Ukrainians, Belorussians, Russians and Rusyns (Lemko) transferred to the Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia. Although these transfers were supposedly voluntary, there was strong pressure to move. Near the end of the war, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) sent some of its members to fight in the Lemko region. Whilst few of the Lemko actually sympathized with the UPA, the new Polish People’s Republic did not see it that way. In Warsaw the Lemko were perceived as Ukrainian sympathizers.


The result of this opinion was Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisla), the worst tragedy to befall the Lemko this century. In the spring and summer of 1947 the entire region was depopulated, whole villages emptied, as the Lemko were scattered throughout the northern and western territories of Poland. As they were moved out, Polish settlers moved into many of the abandoned villages and converted the Orthodox churches for Catholic use or left them empty. The theory was that exile would destroy support in the area for the Ukrainian nationalists. Instead, it nearly destroyed Lemko culture.


Despite some stirrings of cultural activity after 1956, when some Lemkos were allowed to return to their homeland, the question of Lemko culture and identity was essentially frozen until 1989 and the fall of Communism. Along with the Kashubians, Roma, Germans and other Polish minorities, the Lemko have now begun to focus on preserving their unique culture and asserting their political rights. However, they have not re-emerged from this period as a unified group, old differences remain and new ones have arisen to make the reconstruction of their ethnic unity a difficult task.


For all the Lemko their homeland has long been an important focus point of their cultural revival. While their mountain region was never autonomous, until 1947, it was always the geographic center of their identity. Thus the injustice of the deportations remains an important issue for many of the Lemko and the Polish government has yet to offer any reparations.


However, the post-1947 Lemko community has grown up surrounded by Polish influences and individuals have often hidden their ethnic background to avoid ridicule. As a result, many are now largely assimilated into Polish society and disinclined to return to a rural farming lifestyle. The homeland still exerts a strong pull on many Lemkos, but often as more of an ancestral myth or a place of pilgrimage than as a place to reside. The feelings of community and identity provided by living in one geographic region have been dissipated, leaving them more open to further assimilation into the larger Polish community.


Aside from the issue of assimilation, there are also major splits within the Lemko community, which pose difficult barriers to rebuilding a strong ethnic identity. The most contentious issue dividing the Lemko is that of religion, one of the main tenets of their identity.  While many of the Lemko are Orthodox, there is also a large segment of the population which has adopted the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.


This conflict is not new; when Ukrainian nationalists were pressuring the Lemko to identify with their struggle and with their religion, during the early part of this century, there occurred a parallel backlash which led other Lemko to return to Orthodoxy. During the Communist era, this conflict was submerged due to the liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but it has now returned in the post-Communist era.


Closely related to this division is one of ethno-national orientation. A recent census of minorities in Poland stated that there are between 50,000 and 150,000 Lemkos in the country. The huge disparity between theses two figures can be at least be partly explained by the fact that many of the Lemko, who are loyal to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, are also pro-Ukrainian and identify themselves with the larger Ukrainian community. In contrast, the Orthodox members of Lemko society usually see their identity as being part of a larger Slavonic or Carpatho-Rusyn group and state their ethnicity as Lemko or Rusyn.


These major divisions within Lemko society are not ameliorated by the attitude of the Polish government. While the government’s record of minority rights protection has generally been good, with ample provisions made for preservation of minority languages and traditions, the Lemko are officially considered to be part of the Ukrainian nation. This is problematic for the Orthodox Lemko who prefer a Rusyn orientation.


The Polish Helsinki Committee has noted in recent years that the Lemko have had difficulty in obtaining instruction in their native language as the Polish government felt that this need was already provided for via Ukrainian language provisions. It should be noted however, that there are now several schools teaching the Lemko language. There has never been a complete denial of the existence of the pro-Rusyn Lemko, but there is a lack of understanding of their cultural and linguistic needs and cultural identity.


Lemko Cultural Revival

As the Lemko continue to try to revive their cultural traditions in the post-Communist era, the splits in their community are reflected in the organizations that they have formed since 1989. The two leading groups are the Society of Lemkos, formed in 1989, and the Union of Lemkos, formed in 1990.


The Union represents the pro-Ukrainian segment of Lemko society, and is most active in the Lemko region itself. The Society, on the other hand, was formed in southwest Poland by a community of exiled Lemkos, and does not support identification with Ukraine. Both of these organizations are concerned specifically with group identity through scholarly research, seminars, publications, festivals and the promotion of their native language in schools.


One of the main expressions of the Lemko’s cultural revival is the Vatra(bonfire), a festival which started back in 1979. The first Vatra was held outside the Lemko region, in Michalow near Legnica. At these festivals, Lemkos from across Poland and around the world gather for a weekend of speeches, performances, competitions and church services.


These celebrations of Lemko culture and history have done much to build a sense of identity amongst their far-flung ethnic community, yet they do not entirely overcome the over-riding ethno-national and religious splits. Today there are two annual Vatras, one within the historic homeland and a "Vatra in exile." The former is sponsored  by the pro-Ukrainian Union of Lemkos and the "Vatra in Exile" by the pro-Rusyn Society of Lemkos.


The emigrant community has also played a major role in preserving and reviving Lemko culture, including sending aid to Lemkos remaining in Poland, yet they too are divided on the issue of Lemko identity.


After World War I and II, many Lemkos left Poland for the United States and Canada. There, the pro-Ukrainian groups established organizations such as the World Lemko Federation, the Defense of the Lemko Region and the Ukrainian language newspaper, Lemko News. Pro-Rusyn groups began publishing Karpatska Rus and organized the Lemko Association. More recently, a Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center was established by Paul Magocsi and a Carpatho-Rusyn website now promotes genealogical research, cultural events and scholarly research on the Lemko and other Carpatho-Rusyn groups.


The current situation among the Lemko, both within Poland and abroad, reveals a confusing mass of identities. Individuals may feel they are Polish, Ukrainian or Rusyn. They may attend the Orthodox or the Ukrainian Catholic Church, if they are religious at all that is. And due to assimilation and emigration, many may or may not feel that it is important to return to their homeland in order to be truly Lemko.


This confusion and the resultant lack of cohesion make it difficult for the Lemko to form a unified cultural identity. Therefore it is problematic for activist groups to adequately represent the entire society and protect their rights. While the tenacious existence of the Lemko ensures their survival, it is not yet known what form their future identity might take.


by, Karen M Laun, 5 December 1999

This article originally appeared in Central Europe Review




Lemko Genealogy Case Studies

Emphasizing Procedures & Pitfalls
Lecture Handout - 1996

by, Thomas A. Peters

Certified Genealogical Records Specialist




The Lemko Region is located in Southeastern Poland in the former province of Galicia, Austria-Hungary. The area extends from the Poprad River to the San River. It is entirely within the boundaries of present day Poland. While the area is best described as being near the district cities of: Nowy Sacz; Grybow; Gorlice; Jaslo; Krosno; Sanok and Lesko, the Lemko territory does not extend to these cities with the exceptions of : Sanok and Lesko. The region is defined on the basis of ethnolinguistic characteristics. The Lemkos or Lemko Rusyns are an East Slavic People who live on the northrn side of the Carpathian Mountain crests. They speak an East Slavic language called Lemko or Rusyn which uses the Cyrillic alphabet and is similar to, but distinct from: Ukrainian, Russian and Byelorussian. The Lemkos are members of the Orthodox or Greek Catholic religions.


Beginning Your Genealogical Research


This lecture presumes that you know that you are of Lemko descent. With this presumption in mind, how does one begin the ancestry research? The basics of genealogy proscrible that you gather every document available within your home as a first step in determining what you really know. You must also gather any documents available to you from the U.S. governmental sources and fro U.S. ethnic church resources. It is always a good idea to interview older members of your family: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Ask them what they know about your family. In particular, you are interested in the immigrant ancestors and their family. You should also ask within your extended family if there are any photographs of the immigrant's family. You will be surprised that distant cousins may have the only known photographs of the immigrant and his family. The most important pieces of information that you need to ascertain before making the jump across the ocean to the "old country" are the following:

  • Name of the Immigrant Ancestor (as recorded at birth); e.g. Vasyl' Boreczky, not "Bill" Boreczky.
  • Date of Birth of the Immigrant Ancestor (at least the year)
  • Names of the Immigrant's Parents (if available)
  • Religion of the Immigrant (for the vast majority, this will be Greek Catholic)
  • Ancestral Village of Origin (this is the most important piece of information needed)
  • Names of Siblings of the Immigrant (can often sort out related families in the village).

You will be surprised how rare your surname is in the United States and how common it is in the ancestral village

It is most important that all of this information be known to you before you expend time, effort, and money to trace your ancestry. Your success will depend upon this. Let's assume that you have now ascertained all of the information cited above. You now know the name of the ancestral village. How can you obtain information concerning your ancestors? There are a few basic approaches:


Go to your nearest LDS (Mormon) Family History Center. You can check the yellow pages of your telephone directory under: Churches: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Call them and ask if their church has an associated Family History Center. These Family History Centers are available to anyone. Indeed, most people using these centers are not LDS Church members. Access their CD-ROM version of the Family History Library Catalogue. Enter the village name. For example: Milik, POLAND. If the catalog indicates that there are Greek Catholic Church Records for the time frame you need, you should them order the microfilm(s) at $3 per roll. It will take a few weeks to arrive at the center. You then have 3 weeks to review the film and to make copies of any entries concerning your families of interest. You must remember to use the current POLISH name for the ancestral village.


If the records you need are not available via the Family History Center or if the years you need are not available, you can write to local vital statistic offices:

Urzad Stanu Cywilnego
[zip code], [village name]


If you need to write to the USC, contact me and I will give you the proper zip code and location of the USC.


You can write to the Polish State Archive in Warsaw at the address indicated below. Give them all of the pertinent information regarding your immigrant ancestor. If they have records available to them within their archival system, they will perform the research and bill you for their research services. If they do not have any of the records that can help you, they will forward your request to another archive in their system, or to the appropriate USC office. Many records are still maintained on the local or regional level (in this case, the vital records offices). The USC will attempt to provide you with the information (usually by means of a certificate of birth, marriage or death) but some provide the information writing the body of the letter they send to you. Never believe the statement by your friends or relatives that the church records and civil records were destroyed during the various wars, etc. These are myths!

Archiwum Glowne Akt DawnychUl.
Dluga 700-263 – Warszawa




Lemk People Fight for Survival

8 August 2002

Posted with Permission of...

BBC News Online

There are some 1.5m Lemkos worldwide

by, Nicholas Walton - In Warsaw


The Lemk people of the Carpathian mountains in Eastern Europe have managed to restore their identity after 50 years of exile under the communist regime, but now face different problems in the modern world. Already divided over several borders, they also face the challenge of border restrictions tightening in the future. Their traditional home nestles mainly between the borders of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia.

The Church is a sign that the Lemko community is re-establishing itself

If Poland and Slovakia succeed in joining the European Union, the border lying between them and the large community of Ukrainian Lemkos - also known as Rus or Ruthenians - will become harder to cross, with strict visa regimes and higher security. With an estimated one and a half million Lemkos worldwide, a fully codified written language could be crucial to retaining the Lemko identity. Most belong to the Greek Catholic, or Uniate, Church, a branch of the Orthodox Church that broke away and accepted the Catholic Pope as the Church's leader. At the onion-domed Lemko church in the southern Polish town of Krynica, a congregation of about 50 gathers to celebrate St Wlodzimierz's Day. The church itself is new, built after Lemkos began returning to the area following the communist deportations that took place after World War II. To them, the church is a symbol that their community is re-establishing itself in its former homeland of wild, rolling hills. Language preservation As well as reclaiming their religion, the Lemkos are looking to their language, similar to Ukrainian and Polish, for their identity.

Sandowicz: "Language is the foundation of our national consciousness"

Michal Sandowicz is the head of the Lemko Society in Warsaw. He says the language is the foundation of their national consciousness. "We are trying to reach back in time so that we can universalise our language, and show that it connects to a rich Lemko history." He is hoping to codify spoken Lemko into a full written language. He says computer technology has allowed the Lemko diaspora, especially in the United States and Australia, to contribute to the project. "Thanks to the internet we can communicate with other Lemkos in the world," he says. "We're finding that those who left here a long time ago have preserved language which we have since lost here. From these sources we're creating a dictionary, making our Lemko language richer." Education struggle Petro Murianka, a Lemko poet with a flamboyant moustache, runs theatre groups and writes Lemko exercise books for schoolchildren. He says keeping the language alive is difficult after a half century of communism.

Murianka: "Assimilation is the biggest challenge"

Most Polish Lemkos were resettled as individual families in predominantly Polish communities, and there were no written Lemko magazines or books. "In the Polish nation of 40 million people, we are only 50,000 or 60,000, and we're hardly noticeable," he argues. "We try to teach classes at school - but it's normally a problem to gather enough for a whole class. In places where there are only two or three Lemko families, they're assimilating." Keeping the traditions After World War II, Olga Stefanowska's family was sent to Szczecin, in the far north-west of Poland. She says that at the time, repression helped them to keep their traditions going, but now assimilation is proving a tougher challenge.

I am Lemko, I will be to death


Olga Stefanowska

"In my opinion it was easier then, because we loved the language very much and hoped we would come back to the mountains. It was the only thing in our lives, and that's why it was very easy to keep it," she says. "Now it's different because life is normal. We have to go to work somewhere, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres." Olga said that she made sure that she married another Lemko, to keep their traditions alive, and would be upset if her daughter married a Pole.

"Everything depends on our souls - what we believe in. For example I live in Szczecin, but I am Lemko, I will be to death. And I hope my daughter too - we have this inside, in our soul."



Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (YouTube)