Staunton, April 18 – One of the most reliable leading indicators of Russian aggressiveness toward its neighbors is the expression of concern about ethnic minorities not just along Russia’s borders with its neighbors but far removed from those borders. The classic case of this concerns Moscow’s attempts to set ethnic minorities in western Ukraine against Kyiv.
The longest-standing of these efforts concerns the Rusins, an Eastern Slavic sub-ethnos numbering somewhere between 55,000 (on the basis of official censuses) to four million according to some of its activists whose members live in western Ukraine, eastern Slovakia and southeastern Poland.
Over the last 20 years, Moscow outlets have focused on the Rusins and suggested they are an oppressed minority which the Russian government should take the lead in protesting because of the supposedly close cultural ties between the Rusins and the Russians. (See windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2011/01/window-on-eurasia-encouraged-by-moscow.html and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2008/12/window-on-eurasia-another-unrecognized.html.)
Andrey Marchukov, a researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and perhaps Russia’s leading specialist on the Rusins, says that Ukraine has done everything to eliminate the Rusins as a people and identity and that tragically the Soviets helped Kyiv to do so (kp.ru/daily/27266.5/4400282/).
According to him, the Rusins are part of “the great Russian nation” alongside the Russians, “the Little Russians” (Ukrainians), and Belorusians; but they have the misfortune to live across borders, much like the Kurds, and have never been able to form their own state. Instead, they have become the victims of others.
Indeed, Marchukov says, “the roots of Nazi concentration camps must be searched for in the tragic history of the Rusins at the beginning of the 20th century,” when the Rusins who welcomed the arrival of Russian troops in World War II were identified as enemies by the Austro-Hungarian state and confined in special prison camps.
Approximately 60,000 of them were killed outright, 80,000 passed through the Austro-Hungarian prison camps, and 100,000 fled to Russia, where because of their closeness to the Russian nation, they assimilated. In the 2010 census, Marchukov continues, only 225 residents of Russia listed themselves as Rusins.
The Rusins hoped for a better future after the 1917 Russian revolution, but the Bolsheviks betrayed them, supporting Ukrainian efforts to forcibly reidentify the Rusins as Ukrainians, Marchukov says. During World War II, some Rusins organized in the hopes of at least getting autonomy within the USSR.
In November 1944, a Rusin congress sent a delegation to Stalin to ask that he include Subcapthian Rus in the USSR “with the rights of an independent union republic, Carpatho-Russian SSR. “But Moscow didn’t support this initiative, and in 1944-1945, this land was included in the USSR but as part of the Ukrainian SSR and Ukrainization resumed.
“The last hope of the Rusins,” Marchukov says, “was in 1991 with the disintegration of the USSR.” But again, they lost out with the formation of an increasingly nationalistic Ukrainian state that continued to suppress them. Kyiv cannot tolerate the idea that many of the people it calls Ukrainians are Rusins and thus “part of the Russian nation.”
Moreover, he concludes, Ukraine has been allowed to suppress the Rusins even though in neighboring European countries, “the national-cultural development of the Rusins is taking place freely.”