I am proud of all my ethnic heritage – English, Scottish, Danish, Dutch and Swedish – all of which is very easy to learn about. The culture and history of each is well known and there are many, many resources available both in libraries and online which cover hundreds of years of history.
The English, Scottish, Danish, Dutch and Swedish is all from my mother’s side of the family.
My father’s side is 100% Slovak, according to Nana. When Czechoslovakia was a political entity, she always said we were Slovak, not Czech. However, there is another term which I never heard Nana use – Carpatho-Rusyn.
I first heard it when a California friend, Kristy, told me that her family was Slovak, too, but actually Carpatho-Rusyn. Her ancestral village was only ten miles from Nana’s and the same priest who baptized her father in Pennsylvania married my grandparents in New Jersey a few months later.
Although Nana never called herself a Carpatho-Rusyn, I am sure she knew of her ethnic background. Her religion alone was a big tip off – Byzantine Catholic, often called Greek Catholic. Many Greek Catholics are of Carpatho-Rusyn background.
Before the internet age, it was next to impossible to learn much about the history of Carpathian Rus’. Some of what was written was in Eastern European languages and the tiny amount written in English was not widely published or available.
In just the last few years, I’ve accumulated a small reference library of works about the Carpatho-Rusyn people, their lives, culture and social ways.
Recently, I came across a book first published in 2015 and then reprinted with corrections in 2016 and updated information in 2017, written by Dr. Paul Robert Magocsi, a noted expert on Carpath-Rusyn history and published by the Central European University Press.
The book is titled With Their Backs to the Mountains.
This book could well serve as a classic textbook for a class on Carpathian Rus, which is a geographical area not limited to part of Slovakia. (Nana’s maternal and paternal villages are Udol and Hajtovka, situated about 40 miles northwest of Presov.)
The Table of Contents will give a good idea of the geographical context of these people:
1. Carpatho-Rusyns and the Land of Carpathian Rus’
2. Carpathian Rus’ in Prehistoric times
3. The Slavs and Their Arrival in the Carpathians
4. State Formation in Central Europe
5. Carpathian Rus’ Until the Early 16th Century
6. The Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and Carpathian Rus’
7. The Habsburg Restoration in Carpathian-Rus’
8. Habsburg Reforms and Their Impact on Carpatho-Rusyns
9, The Revolution of 1848 and the Carpatho-Rusyn National Awakening
10. Carpathian Rus’ in Austria-Hungary, 1868-1914
11. Carpathian-Rusyn Diasporas Before World War I
12. Carpathian Rus During World War I, 1914-1918
13. The End of the Old and the Birth of a New Order: 1918-1919
14. Subcarpathian Rus’ in Interwar Czechoslovakia, 1919-1938
15. The Presov Region in Interwar Slovakia, 1919-1938
16. The Lemko Region in Interwar Poland, 1919-1938
17. Carpatho-Rusyn Diasporas During the Interwar Years, 1919-1938
18. Other People in Subcarpathian Rys’
19. Autonomous Subcarpathian Rus’ and Carpatho-Ukraine, 1938-1939
20. Carpathian Rus’ During World War II, 1939-1944
21. Carpathian Rus’ in Transition, 1944-1945
22. Subcarpathian Rus’/Transcarpathia in the Soviet Union, 1945-1991
23. The Presov Region in Postwar and Communist Czechoslovakia, 1945-1989
24. The Lemko Region and Lemko Rusyns in Communist Poland, 1945-1989
25. Carpatho-Rusyn Diasporas Old and new, 1945-1989
26. The Revolutions of 1989
27. Post-Communist Transcarpathia-Ukraine
28. The Post-Communist Presov Region and the Lemko Region – Slovakia and Poland
29. Other Carpatho-Rusyn Communities in the Wake of the Revolutions of 1989
30. Carpathian Rus’ – Real or Imagined?
In addition to the 30 chapters, there are a number of maps throughout the text and over 100 photographs at the back of the book.
A quick overview of what I’ve gleaned:
The Carpatho-Rusyns are a Slavic group that settled in the area now known as Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland and Romania many centuries ago. They somewhat retained a cultural identity and Byzantine Catholic religion over time, but have never had a unified homeland or single language. Often, they adopt the cultural identity of the political entity currently in power.
This is a very, very simplified explanation for a complicated history. The thirty chapters of Dr. Magocsi’s book should make that clear!
It’s all a lot to take in and analyze, but I am grateful that resources are popping up and that they are top-notch quality. Dr. Magocsi is highly respected in his field and has both earned and honorary doctorates.
If you are of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage and would like to learn more about it, I highly recommend 500+ page With Their Backs to the Mountains, available online.