Past Without Glory






A New Era







The end of the first World War was the turning-point of Carpatho-Ukrainian history. Owing to the defeat of Germany and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, several small nations in Central Europe were given an opportunity to realise their national aspirations, and even tiny Carpatho-Ukraine, which had never appeared on the map of Europe as an independent country, wanted to have its place in the sun.


As political life had been at a low ebb in the country and wartime persecution made organised political activities very difficult, it was not surprising that the first practical step towards the country’s emancipation was taken by CarpathoUkrainians living in America. Realizing that a small, poor and isolated province could hardly exist as an independent State, they proposed that their kinsmen in the home country should either join hands with the Ukrainians in Galicia and form a national State together, or else enter into partnership with one of the neighbouring countries which would be prepared to grant them autonomy. In October 1918, when it became apparent that an independent Czechoslovak Republic would come into being in the immediate neighbourhood of Carpatho-Ukrainian territory, G. Zatkovic, the leader of the American Carpatho-Ukrainians, negotiated with T. G. Masaryk, prospective President of Czechoslovakia, and as a result a union of the two countries was sponsored by the majority of the American Carpatho-Ukrainians. A similar resolution was ultimately adopted by the Central Council of Carpatho-Ukrainians at Uzhorod in May 1 919, and so the province under the name of Sub-Carpathian Russia subsequently became part of the Czechoslovak Republic.


The autonomy, promised to the Carpatho-Ukrainians and guaranteed by the Czechoslovak Constitution. provided for a provincial Diet and a Governor, responsible to the Diet and appointed by the President of the Republic. The Diet was to have authority to legislate in matters of language, education, religion and local administration.


The problem was how to implement these provisions. In 1919 very few Carpatho-Ukrainians were sufficiently qualified to hold higher administrative posts, while the largely illiterate peasantry was politically immature and ill-prepared for democratic self-government. Time was needed, too, to heal the wounds inflicted by the war and to restore peace and order in the province where conditions were chaotic. It was not until July 1920, that the Czechoslovak authorities obtained control.

Because of these difficulties the promised autonomy was deferred and the province administered from the centre. But unlike the past, the policy of the new State was liberal and constructive. The democratic electoral law enabled the Carpatho-Ukrainians to be appropriately represented in the National Assembly in Prague, freedom of the press and speech gave them an opportunity to voice their demands or complaints, and much was done to give the country a chance to emerge from its condition of backwardness and poverty.


Economic reconstruction and development were essential to a country where bread used to be a delicacy and meat or salt a luxury. Agriculture was in a sorry plight. While the greater part of the land had belonged to a few landlords, the peasants with their large families could not subsist on their diminutive holdings of inferior quality and tilled in the most primitive manner ; moreover, dues had to be paid for the right to graze on the upland pastures, and credit could only be obtained at ruinous rates of interest. Under these circum-stances, the Land Reform introduced in the whole of Czechoslovakia and the setting-up of agricultural credit banks were steps in the right direction; but the peasants were in serious economic straits and their standard of living was so low, that without additional sources of income no major improvement was possible.


The new administration organised an intensive and systematic exploitation of the country’s vast forests which gave employment to thousands of people and stimulated the manufacture of various timber products. Other industries, too, were encouraged, and during the twenty years of Carpatho-Ukraine’s association with the Republic many factories sprang up in the province. An important contribution to this industrial development was the electrification of the country, which before 1919 had hardly any electricity. Better road communications also assisted in Carpatho-Ukraine’s gradual progress.


No less urgent was the problem of the appalling sanitary conditions . The rate of infant mortality in Carpatho-Ukraine was among the highest in Europe ; many people used to die every year from tuberculosis ; typhoid, dysentery and malaria ravaged the country periodically ; under-nourishment was responsible for sporadic pellagra ; venereal diseases were a curse owing to lack of medical attention and of appropriate legislation.


This formidable task was tackled by the authorities of the Republic with commendable vigor. In a country which used to have very few doctors a proper medical service was soon organised, and the needy could apply for free treatment and medicines. Up-to-date hospitals in the major towns, Red Cross stations and other sanitary or welfare institutions set up in various parts of the province, strove to combat and prevent disease. This systematic effort resulted in a substantial reduction of mortality, while the draining of marshlands and the regulation of ponds and streams considerably checked epidemics.


Realizing that ignorance is the. root of many social evils and that autonomy would be a farce in a country where about two-thirds of the people could neither write nor read, the Government regarded education as one of its foremost tasks. In 191 9 the province had hardly any elementary schools where children could be taught in their native tongue ; a few years later there were 520 primary schools with Ukrainian or Russian as languages of instruction, in addition to several secondary schools and teachers’ colleges, as well as a consider-able number of agricultural, technical and other special schools. The sizable national minorities were not neglected. After fifteen years of progress, the small Carpathian province had 1,079 various Institutions of education. T be magnitude of this achievement becomes evident when it is borne in mind that it was necessary to educate the requisite number of teachers from among the rising generation.


[Wooden dam near Hoverla]


Thanks to these efforts, illiteracy became rare among the young and was reduced among the middle-aged. In the ‘thirties, the once neglected province boasted a fair number of educated people, the production of books grew from year to year, and mote than eighty periodicals in the various local languages catered for the reading public.


The reverse side of this promising development was lack of national, religious and even linguistic unity . The main antagonists were the Russophiles and the Ukrainian nationalists . Before the first World   War, their antagonism was not so apparent because the oppressive Magyar régime kept them both at bay; in the tolerant atmosphere of the Czechoslovak Republic they were given far more scope and the rift between them widened accordingly.


Politically, the Russophils were in a difficult position, because the Russia of the pre-war days had disappeared for ever; ; but they derived a good deal of support from the Russian Orthodox Church which increased its influence in Carpatho-Ukraine to a remarkable extent once the restrictions imposed by the Hungarians were removed. They demanded provincial autonomy within the framework of the Republic and advocated literary Russian as the language of instruction.


The Ukrainian nationalists, formerly an insignificant group in the province, emerged from the war greatly strengthened. They had the active support of their kinsmen beyond the Carpathians who had but narrowly failed in their attempt to set up an independent Ukrainian State. As regards religion, they favoured mainly the Greek Catholic Church which, in spite of vigorous competition , was still very powerful in the country.


At first, the Czechoslovak authorities were inclined slightly to favour the Ukrainian group ; in fact, Ukrainian was nude the language of instruction in the early twenties But the government’s attitude was, on the whole, impartial until the late ‘thirties, when official policy began to turn away from the Ukrainians, among whom the separatists were gaining ground.


The Government was, of course, aware that sooner or later the growing demand for autonomy would have to be met. As a first installment, a provincial Governor was appointed in 1935. The more radical autonomists were not satisfied. Some were sincere in demanding full self-government, as guaranteed by the Constitution, then and there. Others clamoured for complete autonomy as a means to an end ; their real and ultimate aim was to detach the

province from Czechoslovakia and make it the corner-stone of a Greater Ukraine.

Although the separatists made some headway, it is most unlikely that they would have got the upper hand without foreign aid. The Great Russian group was strongly opposed to Ukrainian ambitions, while the majority of the peasants, who spoke a local idiom and whose outlook was parochial, were little interested in a far-fetched scheme.


 [Carved Tishakans]


The Nazis saw a chance to make trouble. Hitler encouraged the Ukrainian separatists by making them believe that he would give them freedom in a Greater Ukraine ; Goebbels reminded the Carpathian Germans of their racial mission; and Horthy assured his fellow Magyars on the other side of the border that the day of their liberation was near at hand.


Horthy kept his word. The Vienna Award of November 1938 enabled Hungary to seize the Carpatho-Ukrainian low-lands , including the three principal towns . The truncated province, its former railroad communications with the west cut off, became autonomous, and its Government made a pathetic effort to govern from the rural town of Chust, still hoping that with German help the dream of a Greater Ukraine would come true. The illusion was short-lived. After nine-teen weeks of semi-totalitarian autonomy and one single day of doubtful sovereignty, the whole of Carpatho-Ukraine became a Hungarian province.


At first the new masters thought fit to make slight concessions to the new nationalism of the Carpatho-Ukrainians.


But when war broke out and the German armed forces entered the province, persecution was let loose. Some patriots managed to escape to the Soviet Union, others formed partisan units which disturbed the enemy in the rear.


In 1944 the people of Carpatho-Ukraine acclaimed the Red Army in its victorious advance through their country . While war was still raging in the west, in the liberated Carpathian province reconstruction was already beginning. Then, on 29th June, 1945, shortly after hostilities had ended in Europe, Carpatho-Ukraine became part of Soviet Ukraine.


In a way, the vision of a Greater Ukraine has become a reality . United with the powerful Soviet Union and backed by its vast resources, the small Carpathian country has an opportunity to continue off the road of progress on which it embarked a quarter of a century ago.


East Slovakia Genealogical Research Strategies