четверг, 6 ноября 2008 г.

Restoration of the Autonomy of Rusyns in Transcarpathia: a Step Towards the Federalization of Ukraine

The “orange” nationalist administration in Kyiv is in confusion: now it has another headache on top of the semi-dissolved parliament and the financial crisis. On October 25, the 2nd European Congress of the Carpathian Rusyns convened in Mukachevo and was attended by over 100 delegates from Ukraine and other countries with large Rusyn communities. Some 500 supporters rallied outside the building which hosted the assembly. The Congress promises to become an event of historical importance: it adopted the statement proclaiming the restoration of the Rusyn nationhood and of the Republic of the Carpathian Rus' as an integral part of Ukraine. Priest Dmitro Sydor who chairs the parliament (Soim) of the Carpathian Rusyns said that in case the Transcarpathian district council does not declare the region a national autonomy of Rusyns within Ukraine by December 1, Rusyns would proclaim their nationhood independently.

In other words, so far the Rusyns' demands are not that far-reaching — their claims are limited to an autonomous status in Ukraine. However, if Kyiv ignores the fairly moderate bid, Rusyns will be likely to ask for more and to resort to a more radical tactic.

In fact the orange leadership in Kyiv is given an ultimatum. Now the Kyiv “orangists” who eagerly lecture their “totalitarian” neighbors on democracy are confronted with a problem as the allegations of Russia's undemocratic and totalitarian policies can be disproved with the help of just one obvious argument. Unlike Ukraine, Russia is a federation in which ethnic republics enjoy a real and broad (in some cases, overly broad) autonomy. Therefore, Russia has the moral right to demand that Ukraine - as the country where even according to conservative official estimates Russians account for 17% of the population — observe similar democratic norms.

Ukraine's only autonomy is the Crimea, but even this arrangement is for the most part nominal. The second region in Ukraine which has been claiming autonomy rightfully and for quite a while is the Transcarpathia where Rusyns constitute a large part of the population. Ukrainians who moved into Transcarpathia which is originally known as the Carpathian Rus' from the regions located east of the Carpathian Mountains cannot be regarded as its indigenous population.

Since the 2004 “democratic” coup it has been increasingly difficult for the orange Kyiv to explain away the neglect for the right of nations to self-determination, which is one of the basic internationally acknowledged principles. Rusyns do not seek independence (at least so far), though the reasons for it might be much more serious than for the independence of the very Ukraine which had been forged by putting together several regions with distinct cultural and historical identities and closer ties with other countries than with one another. Moreover, Kyiv is now rejecting under the ridiculous pretext of «poor translation» the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which it has formerly ratified. The Rusyn language is not on the official school curricula — a program of Ukrainization is being implemented in the Transcarpathia instead. In fact, the very term Rusyn is banned.

The resolutions of the 2nd European Congress of the Carpathian Rusyns in Mukachevo are not the first effort made by the Rusyns to have their autonomy restored, and further moves are likely to follow. On October 28, priest Dmitro Sydor, the leader of the Rusyn parliament, said: «We are not separatists. We are ready to be a Republic within Ukraine, which is the status we had prior to joining the USSR and which was confirmed in a referendum in 1991».

In December 2007, the Rusyn parliament asked Russia and the EU to be the guarantors of the Carpathian Rus', thus leaving Kyiv pretty much upset. Ukrainian administrations - the «authoritarian» one under president Kuchma and the «democratic» one under Yushchenko alike — tend to frown upon the ideas of allowing the Rusyn autonomy or even recognizing the Rusyn nationhood. Running for President, both Kuchma and Yushchenko did promise to recognize Rusyns, though. In fact, President Yushchenko meets representatives of the Rusyn movement regularly during his visits to the US and vows to recognize their nationhood or to allow at least a cultural autonomy.

This time Kyiv will probably have to react somehow to the desperate move made by the Rusyns who currently face the prospects of cultural or even physical extinction (this summer, Rusyns suffered the worst damage as a result of the seasonal floods which largely resulted from the damage to the environment of the Carpathian region caused by the barbarian forest-cutting practices of their Galician neighbors). Strangely, it was not Russia, but the US who responded to the Rusyn problem, while the Russian administration is not reacting in any way to the violations of the rights of Rusyns despite their strong ethnic and religious ties with the country. According to the KMnews, the Rusyn community in the US managed to convince the US Republican Vice-Presidential nominee S. Palin to demand that Ukrainian President Yushchenko recognize Rusyns. The US reaction is explainable — it is worried that the issue can be overtaken by Russia. In particular, it was scared by the activity of the US Rusyn community leader Paul Robert Magocsi who should be credited with making Washington wake up to the problem. It is fair to say that the US has de facto expressed support for the federalization of Ukraine, because the centerpiece of the Rusyn agenda is the federation. It must also be noted that the transition to federation should not be limited to the Rusyns — Ukraine's other regions, and not only the pro-Russian south and east, need it no less. The truth about the current Ukrainization is that — according to the plan charted by Vakarchuk from Lviv — in the process the Ukrainian is implicitly replaced by the Galician. In all the past epochs as well as nowadays, the main threat to the Ukrainian nationhood has been posed by the Galician nationalism.

Federalization may be the only way of saving the Ukrainian nationhood which is falling apart as we watch. Due to historical reasons, such regions as the Crimea and Galicia or Donbass and Volhynia have very little in common, and their present-day geopolitical orientations diverge absolutely. Nevertheless, Kyiv is unlikely to make even minimal concessions to Rusyns. So far we see it habitually tighten the regime and blame all of its problems on «the hand of Moscow» which the “orange” administration should believe to be grasping even S. Palin.


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