World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


Subcarpathian Rus’/Podkarpats’ka Rus’

Subcarpathian Rus’/Podkarpats’ka Rus’ — name for the territory in the upper Tisza/Tysa River valley along the southern slopes and foothills of the *Carpathian Mountains inhabited historically by Carpatho-Rusyns. The name is relatively recent in origin and first appeared in the writings of Rusyn national awakeners during the nineteenth century. At that time Subcarpathian Rus’ designated all Rusyn territory south of the Carpathians in the pre-World War I Hungarian Kingdom, that is, in what is today northeastern Slovakia as well as the *Transcarpathian oblast of Ukraine. The absence of an older “more historic” name for Rusyns living south of the Carpathians is explained by the fact that their homeland was always a territorially peripheral and politically marginal entity within the states that ruled over them. The nineteenth-century national awakeners tried to argue that Subcarpathian Rus’ derived from the existence in the early medieval period (eleventh century) of an entity called *Marchia Ruthenorum, whose ruler was the Dux Ruizorum (the Rus’ prince). While it is true that Marchia Ruthenorum did refer to a borderland (marchia is the Latin term for march or mark), the territory in question was centered on the lowlands of northeastern Pannonia, where at the time various Pannonian Slavic (not Rusyn) peoples lived.

The earliest documents refer to the territory inhabited by Rusyns south of the Carpathians as the res nullius or terra nullius, that is, the “no-man’s land.” This mountainous region, covered with ancient forests and connected to the north by only a few, difficult-to-cross passes, was in fact sparsely settled. Moreover, before the early thirteenth century it was little more than an “in-between territory” (terra indagines) among three states: Kievan Rus’, Poland, and the Hungarian Kingdom (see Map 7). In practice, no one of these states was able to nor needed to conquer this “in-between” land. At the outset of the thirteenth century, however, the Hungarian Kingdom began from the south to push its borders into the in-between territory. In contrast to their neighbors to the north (Poland and Kievan Rus’), the Hungarians had direct access to the territory and did not have to cross high mountain passes. As Hungary gradually took over the region, it did not create a single administrative unit but rather several counties—*Spish (Hungarian: Szepes, 1202), *Sharysh/Saros (1247), *Zemplyn/Zemplen, *Uzh/Ung, Bereg (1214/1261), *Ugocha/Ugocsa (1262), and *Maramorosh/Maramaros (1303/1330)—which in effect encompassed most Rusyn-inhabited territory.

During the nineteenth-century Rusyn national revival, a period which coincided with the rise of Slavophile ideology in the Russian Empire, the terms Ugorskaia, *Uhors’ka Rus’/Hungarian Rus’, and *Carpathian Rus’ (which the *Slavophiles took to mean eastern Galicia and northern Bukovina as well as Subcarpathian Rus’) began to appear in writings. These various names were used until the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918. The short-lived Hungarian People’s Republic christened the territory at the end of 1918 with the name *Rus’ka Kraina, or Rus’ Land (Hungarian: Ruszka krajna), although that name applied only to four of the Rusyn-inhabited counties (Uzh, Bereg, Ugocha, Maramorosh). In documents generated at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 the formulation, “territory inhabited by Ruthenians south of the Carpathians,” was used; in documents from this period produced by Rusyn-American immigrants the terms Subcarpathian Rus’ and Rusinia appeared. It was Czechoslovakia’s constitution (1920) which for the first time used as an official name Subcarpathian Rus’ (Czech: Podkarpatska Rus), although in some Czech publications the term Rusinsko was employed. Subcarpathian Rus’ referred, however, only to the new country’s administrative unit, basically east of the Uzh river (eastern Uzh, Bereg, Ugocha, and Maramarosh counties). Other Rusyn-inhabited lands south of the Carpathians that fell under a Slovak provincial administration (in western Uzh, Zemplyn, Sharysh, and *Spish counties) gradually came to be known as the Preshovs’ka, Priashovs’ka Rus’, or the *Presov Region. Ukrainian emigres who settled in Subcarpathian Rus’ after 1919 used a wide range of names, including Pidkarpats’ka Rus’ (Subcarpathian Rus’), Prykarpats’ka Ukraina (Ukraine near the Carpathians), Zakarpats’ka Ukraina (Ukraine beyond the Carpathians), Karpats’ka Ukraina (Carpatho-Ukraine), and even the vague term Sribna Zemlia (The Silver Land). After Czechoslovakia introduced a new territorial-administrative reform (July 1927) the republic was divided into four lands, the farthest east of which received the formal designation, Zeme podkarpatoruska (The Subcarpathian Land).

When, on October 11, 1938, the province was given its own autonomous government, Subcarpathian Rus’ became again the official name as entered into Czechoslovak constitutional law (November 22, 1938). After coming to power (October 26), the pro-Ukrainian autonomous government began to use the term *Carpatho-Ukraine. In response, the constitutional law made it clear that the “final name of the autonomous territory of Rusyns living south of the Carpathians would be decided by a law passed [in the future] by the diet of Subcarpathian Rus’.” The Ukrainophile premier of the province’s autonomous government, Avhustyn *Voloshyn, disregarded the caveat in the Czechoslovak law and decreed on December 30, 1938, that “the name Carpatho-Ukraine may be used alongside Subcarpathian Rus’ to designate the province.” In practice, however, only the name Carpatho-Ukraine was used, although it was not officially adopted by the Subcarpathian diet until March 15, 1939. Since the Hungarian Army had already begun to occupy the rest of the province, the term Carpatho-Ukraine as an official designation technically existed for only one day.

The Hungarian regime intended to name its new territorial acquisition Karpataljai vajdasag (The Carpathian Voivodeship), which assumed the existence of an autonomous entity. But since the Hungarians never granted any autonomy, the territory was officially called Karpataljai terulet (The Subcarpathian Territory). After the arrival of the Soviet Army in October 1944 the name *Transcarpathian Ukraine/Zakarpats’ka Ukraina (literally: Ukraine beyond the Carpathians, from the perspective of Kiev or Moscow) began to be used as a means to indicate Soviet territorial pretentions to this (still formally) eastern part of Czechoslovakia. When the territory was in fact annexed to the Soviet Union (June 1945), the historical and ethnonymic part of its name was dropped within a few months and it became simply the *Transcarpathian oblast/Zakarpats’ka oblast (literally: the territory beyond the Carpathians). Post-Communist independent Ukraine continues to use the term Transcarpathian oblast, although publications and organizations connected with the Rusyn national revival in the region and abroad use the historic name, Subcarpathian Rus’.

Bibliography: Omelian Stavrovs’kyi, Slovats’ko-pol’s’ko-ukrains’ke prykordonnia do 18 stolittia (Bratislava and Presov, 1967), pp. 9-26; Paul Robert Magocsi, The Shaping of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rus’ 1848-1948 (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1978), pp. 277-281; Ivan Pop, “Homo totalitaricus?: istoriia Zakarpattia, krytychni rozdumy,” Karpats’kyi krai, VI, 5-7 [114] (Uzhhorod, 1996), pp. 1-22; Mykhailo M. Boldyzhar, Nauka vymahaie pravdy (Uzhhorod, 1999), pp. 21-27.

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

 Copyright © 2013