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Rusyn

Rusyn — ethnonym used to describe the East Slavic population of Carpathian Rus’. In most parts of *Carpathian Rus’, the variant term Rusnak was traditionally used by the population to describe itself. This was particularly the case in the *Lemko Region, the *Presov Region, western *Subcarpathian Rus’, and in the *Vojvodina. By the outset of the twentieth century in the Lemko Region the term Lemko was gradually adopted as an ethnonym instead of Rusnak or Rusyn.

The term Rusyn was in common usage among the East Slavic inhabitants of central and eastern Subcarpathian Rus’. It was also adopted as an ethnonym during the nineteenth-century national awakening by the nationalist intelligentsia which claimed to speak on behalf of East Slavs throughout all of Carpathian Rus’. The national credo written by *Aleksander Dukhnovych reads: “I was, am, and will remain a Rusyn” (Ia rusyn byl, iesm’ y budu); and the national anthem with lyrics attributed to him begins with the line: “Subcarpathian Rusyns, Arise from Your Deep Slumber” (Podkarpatski rusyny, ostavte hlubokyi son). The term Rusyn was subsequently accepted as the official designation for the group living within Czechoslovakia during the interwar years of the twentieth century and it is the ethno-national self-descriptor used by organizations and publications in all countries where Rusyns live since the Revolution of 1989. The term has official status in present-day Slovakia, Poland (often as Lemko-Rusyn), Hungary, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, and the United States (as Carpatho-Rusyn in census reports).

It is useful to note that in the spoken Rusyn vernacular the adjectival form for the noun Rusyn is traditionally rus’ka/rus’ke(oe)/rus’kyi, as in the phrase: Bisiduju/Hovoriu po-rus’ky; Besheduiem po-ruski (I speak Rusyn). In Rusyn publications appearing since 1989, however, the adjectival form rusyn’skyi/rusyns’kyi/rusynskii/rusinski has gradually become the new norm.

The term Rusyn derives from the noun Rus’, which can mean the land of Rus’, or an inhabitant of the land of Rus’. The origin of that term is one of the great unresolved controversies of eastern European historiography. This issue relates to the beginning of a medieval state called Kievan Rus’, which at its height in the eleventh century extended its sphere of influence over what are today the states of Russia (west of the Urals), Belarus, and Ukraine (north of the open steppe zone). Some scholars (supporters of the so-called Normanist theory) believe that Rus’ derives from either a Finnish (ruotsi) or an Old Nordic (ropsmenn, ropskarlar) term, which the Finnic tribes living in what is today northern Russia used to describe adventurers who came from Sweden and created the state that subsequently was called Kievan Rus’. Other scholars (supporters of the anti-Normanist theory) believe that Rus’ derives from the name of a Slavic tribe that lived along the valley of the Ros’ River just south of the city of Kiev, and that this Ros tribe merged with another Slavic tribe (Polianians) and bequeathed their name to the entire region surrounding the town of Kiev which came to be known as Rus’. Still other scholars argue that Rus’ is originally not associated with any particular ethnic group or tribe, but derives from the name of an international trading company Rus, which plied the North Sea from the sixth century and that supplied the individuals who helped form Kievan Rus’ in the ninth century. According to this view the name of this international trading company (and therefore the origin of Rus’) is derived from Ruzzi, the Middle German equivalent of Middle French Rusi, which in turn refers to Rutenicis, the region in south-central France near the town of Rodez where the Rus trading company had its origins.

Regardless of its disputed origins, the name Rusyn (usually in the Latin forms Rusinus/Rusenus and Rutenus/Ruthenus) was applied from the late eleventh to the inhabitants of Carpathian Rus’. Nor was the term Rusyn limited to the Carpathian region. It initially was the ethnonym used by all East Slavs (primarily Belarusans and Ukrainians) living in the eastern regions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Until at least the outbreak of World War I the term remained widespread as a designation for Austria-Hungary’s East Slavs living in eastern Galicia and northern Bukovina as well as in northeastern Hungary. Since that time, the term Rusyn was gradually replaced by Belarusan and Ukrainian as ethnonyms among most East Slavs in the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Austria-Hungary. Only the East Slavs living in Carpathian Rus’ and emigrants from that region who settled elsewhere (the Vojvodina, United States, Canada) continue to use the ethnonyms Rusnak and Rusyn.

In various modern European languages the term is rendered as Rusin (Czech and Slovak), ruszin/ruten (Hungarian), Rusin (Polish and Serbian), Ruthene (German), ruthene (French), ruten (Italian) and Ruthenian (English). More problematic is the manner in which some of these languages render the territorial concept Rus’. It was and in some cases still is “translated” as Russia, with the result that Carpathian Rus’ and its Rusyn inhabitants are incorrectly described as Carpatho-Russia and Carpatho-Russians. By contrast, Rusyn sources have almost always used the noun Rus’ to describe all or part of the Carpathian homeland: Karpats’ka Rus’, Podkarpats’ka Rus’, Priashivs’ka Rus’, or Uhors’ka Rus’. For a brief period after World War I the Czech term Rusinsko was applied in some documents to Rusyn-inhabited territory south of the Carpathians in the new state of Czechoslovakia. American-Rusyn publications at the time rendered this term in English as Rusinia, or Ruthenia.

Bibliography: Henryk Paszkiewicz, The Origin of Russia (London, 1954), esp. pp. 1-25 and 331-335; Georgii I. Gerovskii, “K voprosu o znachenii nazvaniia Rusnak,” Duklia, VI, 3 (Presov, 1958), pp. 47-52; Paul Robert Magocsi, The Shaping of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rus’, 1848-1948 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), esp. pp. 277-281; Pavlo Chuchka, “Etnomimy rusyn ta rusnak i ikh deryvaty v pivdennokarpats’kykh hovoakh,” Naukovi zapysky Soiuzu rusyniv-ukraintsiv Slovats’koi respubliky, No. 18 (Presov, 1993), pp. 121-128.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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