Ukrainian Russophiles - Background


After the fall of the westernmost East Slavic state in 1349, most of the area of what is now Western Ukraine came under the control of Poland and Hungary, with Poland ruling Galicia and Hungary controlling Transcarpathia. The loss of independence began a period of gradual, centuries-long assimilation of much of the native elite into Polish and Hungarian culture. These elite adopted a national orientation in which they saw the native Rus population of Galicia as a branch of the Polish nation who happened to be of the Eastern Christian faith. They believed that the native language was merely a dialect of Polish, comparable to Mazovian, and that assimilation would be inevitable.

This process of Polonization was, however, resented by the peasants, the clergy, and small minority of nobles who retained their East Slavic culture, religion or both. The latter two groups would form the nucleus of native national movements that would emerge with the loosening of Polish and Hungarian control in western Ukraine, which occurred when the entire region came under the control of the Austrian Habsburgs in the course of the Partitions of Poland. The Austrian Emperor emancipated the serfs, introduced compulsory education, and raised the status of the Ruthenian priests to that of their Polish and Hungarian counterparts. Furthermore, they mandated that Ukrainian Catholic seminarians receive a formal higher education (previously, priests had been educated informally by their fathers), and organized institutions in Vienna and Lviv that would serve this function. This led to the appearance, for the first time, of a large educated social class within the Ukrainian population in Galicia. Austrian reforms led to a gradual social mobilization of the native inhabitants of Western Ukraine and the emergence of several national ideologies that reflected the natives' East Slavic culture and were opposed to that of Roman Catholic Poland and Hungary. This development was encouraged by the Austrian authorities because it served to undermine Polish or Hungarian control of the area. The cultural movements included: Russophilia, the idea that Galicia was the westernmost part of Russia and that the natives of Western Ukraine were, like all of the Russian Empire's East Slavic inhabitants, members of one Russian nation; Ruthenianism, the idea that the people of Western Ukraine were a unique East Slavic nation; and Ukrainophilia, the idea that the people of western Ukraine were the same as those of neighboring lands in the Russian Empire but that both were a people different from Russians — Ukrainians.

Initially there existed a fluidity between all three national orientations, with people changing their allegiance throughout their lives, and until approximately the turn of the 20th century members of all three groups frequently identified themselves by the ethnonym Ruthenians (Rusyny). Initially the most prominent ideology was Ruthenianism, or Rutenstvo. Its proponents, referred to as "Old Ruthenians", were mainly wealthier or more influential priests and the remnants of the nobility who had not been Polonized, and were quite loyal to the Habsburgs to whom they owed their higher social standing. While emphasizing their separateness from the Poles in terms of religion and background, these people nevertheless maintained an elitist attitude towards the peasantry. They frequently spoke the Polish language among themselves, and tried to promote a version of Church Slavonic with elements of the local Ukrainian vernacular as well as the Russian language as a literary language for western Ukraine This language was never standardized, however. The language actually spoken by the common people was viewed with contempt. Old Ruthenians rejected both Ukrainophilism and Russophilism. The Ukrainian thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov wrote ironically of them, that "you Galician intellectuals really do think of creating some kind of Uniate Paraguay, with some kind of hierarchical bureaucratic aristocracy, just like you have created an Austro-Ruthenian literary language!" Old Ruthenianism dominated Galicia's cultural scene until the mid-19th century, when it was supplanted by Russophilia (many of the proponents of old Ruthenianism eventually became Russophiles).

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