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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ruthenian deja vu

4 November, 2008 - 00:00

On Oct. 31, 2008, a number of Internet publications reported that on Oct. 25 the European Congress of Subcarpathian Ruthenians in Mukachiv proclaimed the Subcarpathian Ruthenian Republic. The congress was attended by 109 people, and its “international” status was secured by the presence of a single participant from the Czech Republic.

The Rusyns signed the Act of the Revival of the Ruthenian State” proclaiming the Republic of Carpathian Ruthenia, thereby reinstating its status “as of Nov. 22, 1938 (including the territories that were part of Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in 1945? — V.I.), and electing the “executive branch,” a government made up of 50 individuals whose identities are a secret.

There is nothing new, let alone sensational, about this conclave. It is a Ruthenian deja vu. In the past century the political history of the Zakarpattia region has demonstrated an interesting regularity: public unrest would start only in the capital cities while the central government was torn apart by squabbles, thus creating a prime opportunity for separatists.

This is precisely what happened in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1938, when political power was in the hands of Emil Hacha, a leader who was not as competent as his predecessors Tomas Masaryk and Edvard Benes. This ultimately led a country that was far from weak to break up.

The same thing happened in the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was beginning to strain at the seams. The next time that political provocateurs who work for the benefit for those who are interested in destabilizing the situation in Ukraine became active was in 1993-94, when the political squabbles on the Pechersk hills [the location of Ukraine’s parliament, cabinet, and the president’s office — Ed.] led to an early parliamentary and president election. Now we are seeing the third “government of Subcarpathian Ruthenia” in the past 17 years.

The events in Zakarpattia reveal another very interesting regularity: the fate of both the “titular” and secret leaders of the separatist movement has always been dismal. Andrii Brodii, the first prime minister of Subcarpathian Ruthenia, who held his post for 15 days, from Oct. 11 to Oct. 26, 1938, was arrested by the Czechoslovak authorities The Day after being relieved of his post (Oct. 27), on charges of spying for Hungary. He was shot in 1946, after Zakarpattia became part of the Ukrainian SSR.

In October 1991, pressured by picketers, Mykhailo Voloshchuk, a diehard supporter of the Soviet Union and one of the main architects of modern Subcarpathian autonomy, had to resign his post as chairman of the raion council and left politics for good.

Dr. Ivan Turianytsia, a biochemist by profession, was the prime minister of the operetta “interim government of Subcarpathian Ruthenia.” He fled abroad after the media exposed his “non-targeted” use of Ruthenian funds. President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine also sent packing the local governor, Serhii Ustych. Despite his young age, after returning home, Ustych abandoned political life.


Dr. Serhii FEDAKA, professor of history at Uzhhorod National University:

Last Saturday there emerged a [Russian-language] document entitled “Memorandum of the Second European Congress of Subcarpathian Ruthenians on the Adoption of a Packet of Documents to the Act of Proclamation of the Reinstated Ruthenian State.” Although it is ostensibly written in Russian, every paragraph contains errors of grammar and syntax. If anyone in Vladimir Putin’s immediate circle reads those ridiculous passages, the consequences for the authors of this document would be very unpleasant.

Leaving aside the emotionally-charged statements that fill this document, the end result is the desire of certain members of the Transcarpathian establishment to proclaim Zakarpattia a self-governing territory by Dec. 1, 2008, to coincide with the 17th anniversary of the barely recalled oblast referendum on this same issue. This “document,” drawn up allegedly on behalf of certain civic organizations, is legally meaningless. It is simply a trial balloon to test the responses of the local and Kyiv political communities; to find out where they will strike in return.

If one calls a spade a spade, this self-governed status means, above all, a maximum degree of independence from Kyiv in all personnel matters. To put it more plainly, it means that the oblast government would control an area of several hundred kilometers along the state border, where Zakarpattia adjoins four countries.

In other words, the subtext of this national romantic episode is another scheme to secure non-interference by Kyiv and appoint “their own people” to all law enforcement and other power structures, including customs, various controlling agencies, and forestry enterprises — whatever is left of the oblast’s economy that has not been plundered, including its historic and cultural sites. We’re talking about individual clans establishing control over all material assets, as well as the financial and trade flows in this oblast.

Needless to say, these “lucky gentlemen” have absolutely no legal ways to institute this legally absurd document, even if the confidence of the local population in the central government is at its record lowest. The level of trust in the regional authorities is no higher. The most that this document can do is help V. Chepak, the general of the militia, retain his post. All the other Napoleonic plans are still in the planning stages.

What is this adventure supposed to achieve? After all, even with all the chaos in Kyiv’s corridors of power, no one will allow a section of the state border to be leased out to a private business. Zakarpattia will never be allowed to become a platform with a special legal status, so what’s behind this circus?

The regional establishment has made its claims perfectly clear and set a maximum price: 20 billion dollars’ worth of damages stemming from having been part of Ukraine for 17 years. Obviously, after achieving independence, they will claim further damages. The point is not that these claims are in the form of a legally worthless paper, but that they have been made public knowledge.

Now they have cause for conducting lengthy negotiations with the Ukrainian business and political establishments, haggling over prices, whereby Zakarpattia will supply votes to Kyiv, especially during the presidential campaign, and Kyiv will give Zakarpattia a semblance of self-government. This haggling may well involve the presidential and other teams.

What’s more, the artificially aggravated situation in Zakarpattia may become one of many arguments in favor of enforcing an “emergency situation in Ukraine or certain of its areas,” according to Section 21, Article 106 of the Constitution of Ukraine. Of course, as a result of such an extreme move, Viktor Yushchenko will have to kiss goodbye to Ukraine’s integration into Europe, but no concrete steps in this direction can be seen in the nearest future. Instead, this is another more or less realistic chance of remaining in power, overcoming the opposition, getting the press under control, and so on.

This document may be used to finally torpedo Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic intentions. Certain forces are determined to create the absolutely unjustifiable image of Zakarpattia as a European Kurdistan. We all know that the Kurdish problem is the main reason why Turkey is barred admission to the European Union.

Last but not least, this document may have emerged because someone wants to distract the local population’s attention from the next round of worsening socioeconomic problems and the calm preparations for the next election campaign by foisting a moth-eaten debate on this community. But such hopes are in vain because there is little to be said on the subject.

Volodymyr PRYTULA, political scientist and head of the Civic Committee for Monitoring Press Freedom in the Crimea:

The issue of political Ruthenians in western Ukraine and its consequences for the Crimea has several rather complicated aspects. To begin with, it is obvious to us that the political Ruthenian movement in Transcarpathia has been inspired from outside because for these regions political separatism, even the issue of dividing their oblasts into autonomies, is not as topical a problem as that of retaining the special features of this Carpathian branch of the Ukrainian people. After all, if the Transcarpathian Ruthenians represented a truly independent, deep-reaching ethnic movement that would be determined by ethnic and historical circumstances, they would have identified themselves not with the Russian Church or the Russian people, but with the Ukrainian Church and the people of the former Kyivan Rus’, and therefore they should orient themselves toward Kyiv and the strengthening of today’s Ukraine.

On the other hand, the ultimatum issued by the Transcarpathian Ruthenians, especially autonomy, which they are seeking, may have a dual effect on the Crimea. First — and most likely — the pro-Russian movements in the Crimea, which share the Muscovite church (Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate) with the Rusyns, will follow their example and reinforce their separatist moods. They will start demanding Russian national autonomy, as was the case in the Crimea, and then demand that the Crimea be annexed to Russia, as evidenced by the statements of certain pro-Russian forces that are acting on orders from Russia.

On the other hand, the Crimean Tatars are increasingly inclined to emulate the example of the Transcarpathian Ruthenians. They say that their political problems remain unresolved in Ukraine, and they are making more insistent demands. The more radical Crimean Tatar movements and the Majlis may well switch from the tactic of demanding gradual changes to demanding the immediate transformation from today’s territorial autonomy according to the Constitution of Ukraine (essentially Russian national autonomy) into Crimean Tatar national-territorial autonomy, at least something along the lines of the model that existed from 1921 to 1945. This is precisely how, from the legal standpoint, one can treat the process of restoring the rights and status of the Crimean Tatars, which were liquidated during the deportation, rather than drawing up new laws for them.

In terms of social progress and finding solutions to political problems in Ukraine, this approach to the problem would seem to be the most progressive one, except for the third option: these two requirements can — and most likely will — emerge simultaneously, which will place Ukraine in a dead-end situation. It is impossible to satisfy them both.

Although one of them is obviously separatist, runs counter to the laws of Ukraine, threatens its territorial integrity, and cannot be satisfied a priori, and the other is progressive, the danger is that both will inevitably give rise to a public conflict that will be joined by external anti-Ukrainian political forces. This is a very dangerous and unwelcome situation. Thus, the overall impact of the Ruthenian ultimatum on the Crimea will most likely be very negative and undesirable right now, in the current sociopolitical and international conditions.

Compiled by Vasyl ILNYTSKY in Uzhhorod and Mykyta KASIANENKO in Symferopil