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The Political History of Ruthenia

The first time I remember hearing of Ruthenia was when I read of the economist Milton Friedman saying that his parents were immigrants from Ruthenia. I however must have previously heard something of Ruthenia because I was dimly aware that Ruthenia was in Eastern Europe. I do remember finding that there was some confusion as to which country Ruthenia was a part of. The following explains that confusion.

Ruthenia is a territory in the Carpathian Mountains largely, but not by any means exclusively, populated by people speaking the Ukranian language. Before 1918 it was ruled by Hungary as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was Slavic territory located a great distance from the seats of Slavic power and taken over by the Hungarians.

After World War I ended the Western powers dismembered the Austro-Hungarian Empire and decided to separate non-German segments of the German Empire from Germany. One key plan was to combine the Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia with the Slovaks. Their languages were similar. To this Czechoslavakia the Allied planners decided to add Ruthenia. Ruthenia was the end of the tail of Slovakia.

Many of the Ukrainian-speaking inhabitants of Ruthenia were Catholic in religion and reluctant to be submerged in the Greek Orthodox population of the Ukraine. There were many non-Ukrainian inhabitants of Ruthenia such as Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans and Jews who also perferred a tie to the Czechs and Slovaks rather submergence in the Ukraine.

For twenty years, from 1918 to 1938, Ruthenia was part of Czechoslavakia. In September of 1938 a conference in Munich separated the mountainous ring around Bohemia and made it part of Germany as Sudetentland. In November of that year a conference in Vienna separated major sections of Ruthenia and Slovakia and made them part of Hungary. The sections of Ruthenia awarded to Hungary contained the major cities of Ruthenia, Uzhgorod and Mukachevo .

Later Hitler sent German troop into Bohemia to take control. Slovakia decided to declare independence from the Republic of Czechoslavakia and ask for German protection. Ruthenia decided to do likewise and the leaders believed they had Hitler's approval of this move. Hitler instead had sanctioned a takeover of Ruthenia by Hungarian troops.

However for one single day there was an independent republic of Ruthenia. That day was March 15, 1939. After that day Ruthenia was part of Hungary.

After World War II Ruthenia was incorporated into the Ukraine as Zarkarpattia and is referred to as Carpatho-Ukraine. When the Ukraine became independent of Russia there was a half-hearted attempt to declare Ruthenia an independent republic but nothing came of that.

The story is further complicated by the fact that Rutheni was once a term for Russians and the present day Ruthenian once called themselves Rusyns.

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