Ruthenians and Ukrainians in Czechoslovakia (1918–1938)
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Carpathian Ruthenia (later briefly independent as Carpatho-Ukraine) was economically Czechoslovakia’s poorest region.[neutrality is disputed] In 1914 the region was referred to by one historian as "little more than a Magyar deer park."[neutrality is disputed] Its people were wretchedly[neutrality is disputed] poor, having for centuries[neutrality is disputed] supplemented the meagre living the mountainous area afforded with seasonal agricultural labor and service in the Hungarian infantry.
Carpathian Ruthenia was a hotbed[neutrality is disputed] of secessionist sentiment throughout the inter-war period. These were manifested by strong cultural and linguistic links with the Ukrainians, in the Soviet Union and interwar Poland. There were also calls for Ukrainian autonomy within the Czechoslovak Republic, and calls for the formation of a Lemko-Rusyn Republic on the northern side of the Carpathians, attempted to unite with this faction.
During World War I, Ruthenian leaders had reached an agreement with Tomáš Masaryk to extend autonomy to Ruthenia within a future Czechoslovak Republic. The agreement received international sanction in the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain. The Paris Peace Conference had also stipulated earlier that year that Carpathian Ruthenia be granted full autonomy and promised the territory a diet having legislative power in all matters of local administration. However, the constitution of 1920 limited the provision on autonomy, making reference to the requirements of the unity of the state. All Ruthenian legislation was made subject to approval by the president of the republic, and the governor of Ruthenia was to be nominated by the president. As a result, even the constitutional provision for Ruthenian autonomy was never implemented; the Ruthenian diet was never convened. The issue of autonomy became a major source of discontent. Other grievances included the placement of the western boundary—which left 150,000 Ruthenians in Slovakia—and the large numbers of Czechs brought to Ruthenia as administrators and educators. Post-World War I Ruthenia was characterized by a proliferation of political parties and a diversity of cultural tendencies. All Czechoslovak political parties were represented, and a number of indigenous parties emerged as well. Of particular significance were the Ukrainophiles, Russophiles, Hungarians, and communists.
Ukrainophile and Russophile tendencies were strengthened by the large influx of émigrés following the war.
The Ukrainophiles were largely members of the Eastern Catholic Churches and espoused autonomy within Czechoslovakia. Some favored union with Soviet Ukraine. The Ukrainophiles were represented by the Ruthenian National Christian Party led by Avgustyn Voloshyn.
The Russophile Ruthenians were largely Eastern Orthodox and also espoused Ruthenian autonomy. They were organized politically in the Agricultural Federation, led by Andrej Brody, and the fascist-style Fencik Party.
Hungarians populated a compact area in southern Ruthenia. They were represented by the Unified Magyar Party, which consistently received ten percent of the vote in Carpathian Ruthenia and was in permanent opposition to the government.
The communists, strong in the poor province, attempted to appeal to the Ukrainian element by espousing union with Soviet Ukraine. In 1935 the communists polled 25 percent of the Ruthenian vote. The elections of 1935 gave only 37 percent of the Ruthenian vote to political parties supporting the Czechoslovak government. The communists, Unified Magyars, and autonomist groups polled 63 percent.