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An Emergency Capital

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Past Without Glory

 

 

 

The ill-starred events of 1938 suddenly promoted Chust, then a town of about 18,000 inhabitants, to the position of capital, on November 2nd, when the Axis powers allowed Hungary to annex the fertile lowlands of Carpatho-Ukraine, including its three leading towns, Uzhorod, Mukacevo and Berehovo. Chustís enhanced status was short-lived. Four-and-a-half months later, on March  15th, 1939, the Hungarian Army entered the town and put an end to its pretensions.

 

The choice of Chust as the new capital was by no means automatic, for its dangerous proximity to the Hungarian frontier exposed it to attack. Some considered Jasina, the centre of the nationally most advanced tribe of the Huculs, a more suitable place. Another alternative was the small town of Svalyava, which had the slight advantage of a more central position. Eventually Chust was chosen, mainly because it was the largest and the most town-like place in the truncated province. It boasted a small airfield, and the modern building of the district administration was suitable for housing the government. Such assets were so rare in the reduced province that they turned the scales in Chustís favour.

 

After the relative amenities of Uzhorod, however, Chust was not an imposing seat of government. True, the town had its share of old-fashioned villas and several new blocks of flats, and there were some modern public and commercial buildings, such as the school and the prison, the post-office and the Government House, the Bata warehouse and the headquarters of the Co-operative Society. The spites of two Catholic churches, the bulb-like domes of two Orthodox churches and the large synagogue also enhanced the townís appearance. From the top of the castle hill near by, Chust looked picturesque, but at close quarters the impression was not very inspiring. Facing the new two-storied Government House across the unpaved street was a rather decrepit paling, neat which were rows of primitive rural houses . This, and the geese and chickens, familiar sights in some of the muddy streets, the peasant carts parked by the government building, the primitive stalls in the market-place and the inadequate drainage system, were hardly a fitting background even for an emergency capital.

 

In this unsophisticated setting the members of the first autonomous government settled down to work. They aimed high. Their little country, Which had just gained full autonomy within the framework Of a weakened Czechoslovakia, was by their efforts to become economically self-sufficient. This was an uphill task. Carpatho-Ukraine had always been a financial burden on the Czechoslovak exchequer. In order to increase the countryís resources the Chust Government contemplated an organised exploitation of the forests, a systematic development of mineral wealth , and the setting up of new industries. Moreover, it promised to introduce social improvements, to raise the peopleís standard of living, to provide better communications and to promote culture.

 

This long-term programme would have required considerable investments, which a poor country with a heavily adverse balance of payments could not afford. The Czechs were naturally no longer inclined to subsidize a province which showed a rapidly growing tendency to emancipate itself from their control. Practical assistance was forth-coming from the numerous Ukrainians who had emigrated overseas, but this was utterly inadequate. Still, the Chust politicians were confident, pinning their hopes on Hitler. Nazi propaganda had for years promoted the idea of a Greater Ukraine as a means of German expansion in the East. Encouraged by ambiguous German promises which were never kept, the Government of the province hoped that the Third Reich would not only provide the money but also help unite some fifty million Ukrainians in a large independent State stretching from the Carpathians to the shores of the Sea of Azov.

 

For four-and-a-half months Chustís politicians played with the vision of a great future. Those were four-and-a-half months of grandiose plans and sanguine hopes, of political agitation and jingoism, of flag-waving and speech making, of marching and saluting. The rural capital of a diminutive country, which had never had sovereign rights, was getting ready to make history.

 

Events moved swiftly. On March 14th, 1939, the Chust Government proclaimed Carpatho-Ukraine an in-dependent republic. The following day the Hungarian army-with German connivance -- marched in. The dream of a Greater Ukraine vanished overnight.

 

When six years later liberation came and Carpatho-Ukraine was incorporated in Soviet Ukraine, Chust was no longer the capital.

 

East Slovakia Genealogical Research Strategies