|Right Sector ultranationalists in Lviv this week|
First, some history. The oblast (province) of Transcarpathia is a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which between the world wars was attached by the League of Nations as the eastern “tail” of the new composite republic of Czecho-Slovakia. Its inhabitants included, and continue to include, Ukrainians, Magyars (Hungarians), Russians, and a long-standing local minority called the Ruthenian, or Rusyn, people—Slavs whose communities are also found in nearby Poland and Slovakia today, where they tend to be known as Lemkos. When Adolf Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, Ruthenia and Slovakia, separately, declared independence, but Transcarpathia was annexed by the Axis government in Hungary. After the Second World War, Transcarpathia, also called Carpathian Ruthenia or Carpatho-Ukraine, was grafted onto the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under Josef Stalin. In the centrally-governed Soviet empire, boundaries between constituent S.S.R.s had little meaning, but after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine became one of the places where, as Putin was later to put it, people went to bed as Soviet citizens and woke up as a Russian minority in a foreign country. (Imperialist karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?) Autonomy-minded residents, including some ethnic Hungarians (12% of the oblast), Russians (3%), and Ruthenians (by then less than 1%) declared an independent Republic of Subcarpathian Rus’ in 1993, but it fizzled.
|The flag of Transcarpathia|
In 2012, the new ethnically Russian–Polish–Belarussian pro-Kremlin president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, helped enshrine Russian, Ruthenian, Hungarian, and other minority languages as official. But after Yanukovych fled and was impeached in the popular “Euro-Maidan” uprising in 2014, the largely progressive, democratically-minded new government included strong elements of the Ukrainian-nationalist far right, including the fringe neo-fascist group Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor), who, because of their importance in the Euro-Maidan movement, were given a small political role, including some ministries. (I discussed Right Sector and kindred groups in an article last year; see also this article.) These right-wing elements pushed through an erasure of minority language rights—a policy which was quickly reversed, under international pressure, but remains for many non-Ukrainian-speakers a symbol of the new regime’s disdain for them and a pretext for ethnic-Russian separatism in places like Crimea and the Donbas. The cause of Transcarpathian autonomy has an ally (as discussed earlier in this blog) in Jobbik, the pro-Kremlin right-wing extremist nationalist group which is now Hungary’s third-largest political party. As in Kharkiv (see article from this blog) and Odessa (see article from this blog) oblasts, a pro-Kremlin “people’s republic” has been declared in Transcarpathia, but without any actual rebel control of territory as there is in the self-declared pro-Kremlin Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in southeastern Ukraine.
|Right Sector yobbos with “Wolfsangel” armbands|
|Will Transcarpathia join the archipelago of Russian puppet regimes?|
Ukrainian fascists with red-and-black flags were a minority but a high-profile presence
during the Euro-Maidan movement of 2013-14.
|A Right Sector roadblock in Transcarpathia this week|
|Right Sector on parade|
|The Euro-Maidan movement was—sometimes unfortunately so—a big tent.|
|Putin preparing to ride westward across the Steppes|
[You can read more about Transcarpathia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea, Transnistria, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]