Earlier this week, an ethnic group called the Ruthenians asked Russia to recognize their independence from Ukraine.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. He blogs at Window on Eurasia.
Window on Eurasia: Another ‘Unrecognized Republic’ is Born – This Time in Ukraine
Vienna, December 24 – The Transcarpathian Rusins (Ruthenians), who are estimated to number more than a million, are calling on Moscow to recognize the independence of Subcarpathian Rus because Kyiv has ignored their demands for autonomy within Ukraine, an appeal that could create yet another “unrecognized” republic in the former Soviet space.
That appeal, which was given prominence two days ago when Petr Getsko, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the self-proclaimed republic, gave an interview to the Russian government newspaper, “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” in fact has deeper roots.
On the one hand, there has been a resurgence of Ruthenian activism across eastern Europe, with most countries in the region providing some support to what is the fourth largest East Slavic group in the world. And on the other, Kyiv has infuriated many Rusins by refusing to acknowledge them as a separate nation, anger that Moscow has clearly sought to tap into.
The current Ruthenian campaign for greater rights began at the end of October when the Second European Congress of Ruthenians met in Mukachevo and formally demanded that Kyiv grant them the status of an autonomous republic before December 1. If that did not happen, the participants said, they would see national self-determination outside of Ukraine.
December 1 came and went, but on December 19, an international scientific practical conference on “Genocide and Cultural Ethnocide of the Rusins of Carpathian Rus (the end of the 19th Century to the Beginning of the 21st Century) assembled in Rostov-na-Donu and adopted a resolution on the Ruthenian cause.
Among the resolution’s key points was an insistence that alongside the Armenians, the Ruthenians were the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century, one carried out by the Austro-Hungarians. Today, the resolution continued, Kyiv is extending this through “a policy of cultural ethnocide.”
In addition, the resolution insisted that the Ruthenians are recognized as a unique people in all countries of the region except Ukraine and that they enjoy the support of international organizations like the UN whose committee on the liquidation of racial discrimination in August 2006 criticized Kyiv for not supporting them.
And the resolution specified that the status of the Transcarpathian Ruthenians has not yet been defined – Kyiv has not yet recognized the 1946 treaty which incorporated them into the Soviet Union – and that the Ukrainian government continues to ignore the December 1991 referendum in which Ruthenians voted for autonomy as well as for Ukrainian independence.
Eduard Popov, a Russian expert on Ukraine, subsequently argued that “Subcarpathian Rus has experience as an independent government and an autonomous republic” and thus has the historical basis for demanding recognition either from Kyiv or the international community.
And because of both that history and the higher status Ruthenians have received elsewhere, Popov continued, the refusal of the Ukrainian government to recognize them as a separate nationality and to offer courses in their distinctive language are increasingly offensive – all the more so since the ethnonym “Rusin” is much older than the one for Ukrainian.
At least some observers in Moscow dismiss the current Ruthenian cause as nothing more than the babblings of a few underemployed academics and any Russian government interest in them as a foolish policy that will infuriate the Ukrainian government and do little or nothing to advance Moscow’s interest in the region.
But however that may be, the Rusins of Ukraine are pressing ahead, and at least those who have taken part in these recent meetings believe that they have both a good case as a nationality whose interests have been ignored and a geographic advantage that makes them an even better candidate for Russian support than other “unrecognized” states have.
“Prime Minister” Getsko told “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that “we have sought autonomy for a long time and have appealed to the authorities of the country almost every month during recent years. But nothing came of this, and now we will seek independence” and international recognition.
Moreover, he pointedly told the paper in the kind of language the Russian government and business elite are certain to understand, “the lion’s share” of Russian gas on its way to European markets flows through Subcarpathian Rus, “twice more than through the Baltic states and twice more than through other neighboring countries.”
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