The Hutsul Republic

After the yesterday’s post on the affiliation of Subcarpathia I cannot postpone coming out any longer with the solution to the riddle which I asked precisely four months ago of the readers of río Wang.

“Kőrösmező [Yasinya]. Rafter’s prayer on the arrival of dam water”

“Ngs. [Nagyságos] Tabéry Géza urnak, Oradea-Mare, Kálvária útca 21.

Édes Gézám,
oly szép ez a vidék, ahol járunk, hogy idekivánunk benneteket is. Pompás helyek, kitünő koszt, szegény zsidók és rongyos oroszok… Igen érdekes helyek. Cseh-lengyel határnál, néha átjárunk 14°-os pilseni sört inni Csehiába. Kár hogy oly kevés a hátralevő idő, de vigaszul szolgál, hogy visszatértünk utján ujra meleg és értékes aranyos közeletekben leszünk pár órára. Igen nagy szeretettel gondolunk rátok! Károly.”
“To the Honourable Mr. Géza Tabéry, Oradea-Mare, Kálvária str. 21.

My dear Géza,
this region, where we are wandering, is so beautiful, that we wish you were here. Gorgeous places, excellent food, poor Jews and ragged Russians… Very interesting places. We sometimes cross the Czech-Polish border to drink 14° Pilsen beer in Czechia. Too bad that so little time remains, but it is a consolation that on our way home we will spend a few hours in your warm, precious and kind company. We think of you with much love! Károly.”

Kőrösmező/Yasinya in today’s Subcarpathia/Zakarpattya, Ukraine
“As we know”, I wrote then, “between the two world wars Kőrösmező/Yasinya (at that time Jasiňa) belonged to Czechoslovakia together with the whole of Subcarpathia, and it was transferred de facto only in 1944, and de jure in 1947 to the Ukraine. However, the above postcard, which we found on an auction site, was sent with a printed Romanian caption and Romanian stamp from Kőrösmező (here called Frasin) to Oradea-Mare in July 1922.* In addition, the sender writes that they “go over” to Czechia to have a beer from Pilsen – that is, they are in Jasiňa, but nevertheless not in Czechoslovakia.

How is this possible?”

Many answers were given to the question, both in comments and in private letters. The most ingenious solution was proposed by Dániel Szávoszt-Vass, who, using Agatha Christie’s method, an analysis of the successive layers of the postcard, infallibly revealed that the card was posted in the other Frasin, in Suceava county of Romania, where a resourceful entrepreneur obtained a large quantity of the poscards of the Subcarpathian Frasin/Jasiňa/Kőrösmező, and put them on sale for the people of Oradea on holiday there. A rather lapidary, but the more confident Ukrainian reader, ignorant of the Czech degrees of beer, proposed that Károly became so drunk from the 14° – that is, stronger than wine – beer that he did not know any more from which country to which he passed. According to Tamás Deák, Károly himself was the raftsman in the picture, who purchased the postcard in the Czech Jasiňa, but posted it to Oradea somewhat farther down the Tisa, in the Romanian Sighetu Marmației. And some other commentators tried to solve the equation by the insertion of a previously not mentioned unknown, the so-called Hutsul Republic.

But what is the Hutsul Republic, and how can you send a Romanian postcard from there?

rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects rusyndialects The Subcarpathian Rusyn dialects from Paul Magocsi’s Encyclopedia of Rusyn history and culture (Toronto, 2005) (enlarge). The red dots mark the places discussed in the text below.

The ethnogenesis of the various Rusyn groups living in the valleys of the Carpathians was a complicated process, in which many people took part over 1500 years, from the early medieval White Croatians through the Kievan Rus immigrants to the 16th-century Slavicized Vlach shepherds, whose memory is still retained by the attribute Wołosky in the names of many Rusyn settlements from the Bieszczady to Moravia. Their latest group arriving there were the Hutsuls, who in the 17th century climbed up from Galicia, fleeing Polish and Turkish oppression, to their modern territory, the then largely uninhabited valleys between the two sources of the Tisa. The origin of their name is disputed. Some say it comes from the Uz, the Turkic nomads who herded for a thousand years on the other side of the border, and who served for a long time as the border guards of the Golden Horde – hence the many place names beginning with “Tatar” on the other side of the ridge –, while according to others it comes from Romanian hoțul meaning “highwayman”. In fact, arriving in Hungary, they dealt mainly in robbery, in addition to herding, along the road leading through the Tatar Pass. This lasted until Oleksa Dovbush, the Hutsul Robin Hood, upon his death in 1745, commanded his followers to distribute the loot among themselves and to settle down: this is the legend of the Hutsul conquest of the land.

The Hutsuls as an ethnographic exotism were discovered by the Czechoslovakian postcard publishers

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After the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary, the article of law 103/1723 invited people from the West to settle in the unpopulated regions of the country, with the promise of exemption from taxes. Kőrösmező was settled in the 1720s by Germans, who by the second half of the century were already engaged in extensive and purposeful logging along the whole upper reaches of the Tisa. They also made use of the Hutsuls as cheap labor, who then started to give up herding and establish villages. The German craftsmen built a series of dams on the Tisa, which, when opened up twice a week, increased the river level to the point that the rafts prepared from the previously gathered lumber could float unhindered down the stream to the Hungarian Plains. The above postcard shows the moment before such an opening of the sluices. Along the way, the rafters gradually sold the wood, as well as the salt loaded on the rafts from the salt mines of Máramarossziget–Aknaszlatina (today Sighetu Marmației–Solotvino), and from Szolnok they returned on foot along the Tisa to Kőrösmező, which is qualified as a “Russo-German village” in the monograph of Elek Fényes in 1851. This trade was pursued by both nations mentioned in the postcard, the “ragged Russians” as well as the “poor Jews”. These latter are commemorated in Judit Elek’s film Tutajosok (Rafters, 1988), and their similar travels on the other side of the ridge, along the Cheremosh river are described by Funk, the “forest Jew” to Stanisław Vincenz, the author of Encounters with Hasids:

“There are eighty-seven great bends on the Cheremosh! And smaller ones – a lot. And you have to keep them all in mind, as if they were mapped on paper! Otherwise, oyoyoy, it is better not to say what would happen… The mountain kermanich were great people! Death is waiting for them on the left and on the right, but that’s nothing for them. Where can we find such people in the great world? I’m just a little apprentice, I only rafted some twenty years on the river. Think about it, when the dam of the Szybene Lake opens up, up there in the mountain, and the logs start to come, the current is rumbling, that’s a great splash! And you take them alone, my brother, but what a mass it was! A trifle, five wagons of wood! As if you would say, fifty tons. A trifle! And you only pay attention to where you could slide through with them between those rocks. And there are also the eddies, the underwater stones and reefs, just for the sake of variety, so you do not get bored. Devilry! However, what a trip! We had in the mountains a great man, although he lived as a peasant. He was called Master Foka Sumey. That one traveled all over the world! How much he must have seen, and nevertheless he said: there is no more delightful travel than to go by raft on the Cheremosh.”

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The Hutsuls, writes Paul Magocsi in his excelleent Rusyn encyclopedia, traditionally distinguished themselves from the Carpathian Rusyns, and from the turn of the century, under the influence of the Ukrainian nationalism spreading from Lemberg, they increasingly considered themselves Ukrainians. It is therefore no wonder that in 1918, when, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Rusyns were able to choose among an adhesion to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Western Ukraine, it was only the Hutsuls who decided for the third option. To understand better the history of the region, it is worth briefly reviewing the history of these three choices.

When Emperor Charles in his 16 October 1918 manifesto announced the federalization of the Monarchy, and called for the individual nations to establish their national councils, the Rusyn National Assembly, set up in Ungvár (today Uzhgorod) under the leadership of Petr Gebei and Augustin Voloshin, which felt no commonality with the Ukrainians over the Carpathians, but appreciated the pre-war efforts of the Hungarian government – above all, of Commissioner Ede Egán, much praised also by the great Czech journalist Ivan Olbracht in the 1930s – to raise the standard of living of the Rusyns, opted for autonomy within Hungary. On 29 November, the Rusyn National Assembly convoked in the Town Hall of Budapest, approved the Program of the Rusyn Nation, and the 23 December law of Hungary announced the establishment of the autonomous government of Ruska-Kraina with Munkács (today Mukachevo) as its center.

The Hutsuls, however, disagreed with staying in Hungary, and on 8 November in Kőrösmező/Yasinya, led by the local-born Austro-Hungarian officer Stepan Klochurak, they declared the birth of the independent Hutsul Republic, which – just like the Republic of Crimea or of Donetsk in our days – immediately applied for its admission into the Western Ukrainian Republic, proclaimed two weeks earlier in Lemberg. The Hutsuls living lower along the Tisa declared the same on 10 November in their assembly in Huszt (today Khust), and on 17 November they established a “Ukrainian National Rada” in Máramarossziget (today Sighetu Marmației), which declared war on the Rusyn National Assembly of Ungvár. In January 1919 the Ukrainian army broke into Subcarpathia to assist the Hutsul Republic, so that on 21 January the National Rada declared the union of Subcarpathia with the Ukraine. However, a few days later the Ukrainian army was captured by the National Guard of Munkács without firing a shot, and they were transported back unarmed to Poland.

Twenty years later. The 49th Hutsul Rifle Regiment. From Adam Nowak’s collection. On 14 September 1939 the regiment wiped out the motorized battalion of the SS regiment “Germania” in half an hour before Lwów.

Meanwhile, however, they also started to organize the third option, which sounded the least likely to the Rusyns, that is, joining Czechoslovakia. The future Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who, as the husband of President Wilson’s niece, and enjoyed a unique opportunity to influence post-war conditions, suggested this as early as May 1918 during his American tour to the American Rusyns, who, in shock, refused it. But Masaryk was aware well before Brecht, that if the leaders are dissatisfied with the people, the people must be replaced. He contacted the lawyer Grigory Zhatkovich, counsel of General Motors in Detroit, and the prospective first governor of the prospective Podkarpatská Rus, who then established the Ruthenian American National Council. In the name of the latter organization he signed an agreement with Masaryk in Pittsburgh on the joining of the prospective autonomous Rusyn land with the prospective Czechoslovakia. President Wilson, when Masaryk introduced the agreement to him, might have considered the idea unlikely himself, because before its approval, he requested a solicitation of the opinions of the Rusyns in Hungary on the matter.

For the formation of a correct opinion, the correct conditions were needed. On 23 December the Entente assigned the Eastern demarcation line of the Czechoslovakian occupation of Northern Hungary, more or less along the Slovak language boundary, to the west of Ungvár. On 7 January the Rusyns of Šariš – the foothill area along the demarcation line –, who lived sporadically in this region, under Czechoslovakian pressure, convoked a reunion to Eperjes (today Prešov). On behalf of the whole Rusyn nation, they called  the Czechoslovak army to extend its authority over the entire Rusyn land, that is, also on Ruska-Kraina, which, in the name of national self-determination, had already opted for autonomy within Hungary. The Czechoslovak army honored the request. On 12 January they crossed the demarcation line assigned to them, and, occupying Ungvár, they forced the Rusyn National Assembly convoked to the town hall to approve the American agreement. Subsequently, on 5 February Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš announced in the Paris Peace Conference, that although this did not figure among the Czechoslovakian claims, nevertheless the Rusyns want to join Czechoslovakia of their own free will. The Rusyn land, previously considered a part of Hungary, was allotted to Czechoslovakia by the Conference on 13 March.

Twenty years later. Hutsul wedding on the Polish side of the Carpathians. On the houses, already appear the flags of the new power. From Adam Nowak’s collection.

Simultaneously with the Czechoslovak army, the Romanian army, having previously invaded Transylvania, also attacked the region to assert their territorial claims in Subcarpathia. On 19 January they seized Máramarossziget from the Hutsul Republic, and on 11 June, to assure their fresh conquest of Bukovina, they occupied the railway line leading through the Upper Tisa valley and the Tatar Pass to Kolomea and Czernowitz, on whose Kőrösmező station we have already written in other respects. They arrested the whole government of the Republic, and after interrogations they set them free one by one. The final release, after three months, was the Prime Minister, Stepan Klochurak, whose fate would be quite adventurous in Czechoslovakia. He became a founder of the Social Democratic Party, and then switched to the close-to-government Agrarian Party, and would become its main promoter in Subcarpathia. In 1938, when, under the shadow of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia is finally ready to give to the Rusyn land the autonomy promised in vain for twenty years, he became the secretary of the new governor, Augustin Voloshin, the former founder of Ruska-Kraina, and then, in the first hours, the Minister of Defense of Carpatho-Ukraine that became briefly independent in the early afternoon of 15 March 1939. He fled to Prague to avoid the arrival of the Hungarian army. Here he was arrested in 1945 by the Soviet counterintelligence service. The politician who first proclaimed the union of Subcarpathia and the Ukraine, which came to be exactly in those months, would be deported to the Gulag.

The Romanian occupation lasted long in the Hutsul land. The winners quarreled over the bone, and the Czechoslovakian-Romanian boder remained undefined for a long time. Romania wanted to seize the valley of the Upper Tisa with the railway leading from Maramureș to Bukovina, and they started to settle in Kőrösmező. They even gave an official Romanian names to the settlement where there never lived any Romanians: Frasin, by translating the Hutsul name meaning “ash tree”. The Hungarian postcards that they found in the post offices were overprinted in Romanian, writes Lajos Horváth in the third volume of the Subcarpathian Yearbooks of Postal History (2007), in which he also presents some more overprinted postcards from Kőrösmező, which is to say, Frasin. These also testify, that with the pacification of the region, hotel guests also started to return to the settlement, which had been long considered an established holiday destination. The unofficial triple – Czechoslovak-Polish-Romanian – border ran not far from here, offering a comfortable way to Károly to go over to “Czechia” for a beer from Pilsen.

Surviving Czechoslovak border stone in the mountains above Kőrösmező (for the similarly surviving Polish border stone check here)

Although the peace treaty of Saint-Germain allotted Subcarpathia to Czechoslovakia already on 10 September 1919, the Romanian army remained for a long time on the territory they occupied. Their withdrawal started only in March 1920, and it lasted until October. Kőrösmező/Frasin was handed over to the Czechoslovaks on 25 July. The border disputes and land exchanges went on for a long time between the two states, so that the final border treaty was signed by them only on 4 May 1921. On this occasion, the Prague government gave away to Romania as a present the town of Máramarossziget, with an 80% Hungarian population, “as an evidence and token of the good neighborly and friendly relationship”. As a result, the Csap/Čap – Kőrösmező/Jasiňa train here provisionally went over to Romanian territory, and thus in the interwar period it was usual that at the last Czechoslovakian station, Romanian border guards boarded the train, all the doors were locked shut, and they were reopened only when, after Sighetu Marmației, the train entered Czechoslovakian territory again.

The peace treaty made the Tisa, until then the road of livelihood for the rafters, a border river, and cut the Subcarpathian lumbermen off from their traditional Hungarian market. Rafting from Jasiňa to Szolnok was bound to special licenses. Wood transport was thus increasingly shifted to rail, which fell into the hands of the Czech legionnaires, who became wealthy during the Russian civil war. The Hutsuls, as Ivan Olbracht vividly described in his reports in the 1930s, lost their main source of income, and sank into increasing poverty.

With the fall of the Hutsul Republic, Yasinya lost its status as a capital, but in the new republic it gained a new prominence as its ultima Thule, the easternmost town. As the contemporary patriotic Czech proverb held: “Od Jasini do Aše republika je naše”, “from [the Hutsul] Yasinya to [the Sudeten German] Asch, the republic is ours!” And its wooden church, built in honor of the Resurrection of Christ (with the Hungarian king of St. Stephan on its processional banner) became a symbol of the distant and exotic region, and as one of the examples from yesterday’s post demonstrates, it still remains.

The predecessor of the “little wooden church”, rebuilt in 1824, was established according to legend by a Galician sheep-owner, Ivan Struk by name, who in the 16th century wanted to shift several hundred sheep bought in Hungary through the Tatar Pass. However, winter came suddenly upon them. He left his sheep on the site of the future chapel, and he himself was barely able to cross the pass before it was made impassable by the snow. In spring he went back to at least strip off the skin of the dead animals, but to his great surprise he saw them all alive, and what is more, many of them had even farrowed. In gratitude, he built this church, called after him “Strukovska”, an important pilgrimage site of the region.

korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 korosmezo3 The church became a favorite topic of Jasiňa postcards in Czechoslovak times

The two capitals :) Prague and Jasiňa at the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic, 28 October 1928, with a festive stamp

The beginning of the end. Czech French legionnaire stamp, one month before the Munich Agreement, and a Prague German family letter seven years before the deportation of the Prague Germans. “Liebe Mama, Die erste Woche war schönes Wetter, jetzt leider jeden Tag Regen, wobei die Gegend sehr schön. Nächste Woche werde ich noch schreiben mit welchem Zug ich ankomme da ich doch nicht weiß, wo ich bleibe. Grüße, Henia.”

The stamp issued on the 10th anniversary of the republic, with a new text, for the first (failed) meeting of the independent Carpatho-Ukrainian parliament in Hust (today Khust). (See also Ingert Kuzych’s article in the philatelic journal The Czechoslovak Specialist, April 1990)

An envelope from the independent Ukraine

“Connection!” Poster of the pseudo-referendum on the annexion of Subcarpathia, June 2014, Prague


When I first glimpsed them, peering out through the dirty window glass of the no. 5 tram as it scraped its way along the embankment of the Vltava, I had trouble making sense of them. Were they really a series of propaganda posters agitating for the Czech annexation of Subcarpathia? Were they really prominently displayed in the stone frames that, before 1989, displayed Communist propaganda to the travelers along one of Prague’s busiest thoroughfares?

I blinked, twice. Yes, it seemed to be true.

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Is this evidence of some latent thread of Czech hope, a nostalgic longing for a mythic Slavic past, a yearning for reunification with Československo’s lost little brother, Podkarpatská Rus? Emboldened, perhaps, by Putin’s recent swallowing in a single bite the whole of Crimea, were there Czech irredentists on the march?

The whole thing struck me as maybe satirical, so I went to the internet to find out more. It is true that, prior to 1989, the six stone frames built into the wall that separates Letná hill from the embankments named after Edvard Beneš and Kapitán Otakar Jaroš, were used for socialist propaganda. After the change of regime, they fell into disuse. In 2005, they were again put to use as an outdoor public art gallery named Artwall.

The current exhibition, Verchovina, is by a group of Slovak artists, known as Kassaboys, who hail from Košice (Kassa in Hungarian). The posters act as the ephemera from a fictitious referendum to reunite Czechoslovakia, including Subcarpathia, which was an integral part of the republic in the interwar period 1918-1938. The artists themselves state that the work is a reaction to current events in Ukraine, where an implicitly fictitious referendum in real life has brought Crimea back under Russian rule. And their choice of the series of words: integration, connection, affiliation, annexation serves as a commentary on a possible future for Podkarpatská Rus (and, pars pro toto, of the whole of Ukraine) with regard to the EU.

referendum referendum referendum referendum referendum referendum referendum The original posters show that they were composed by adding the red slogans on the illustrations of a German-language travel brochure of Subcarpathia from the 1930s

You can find out more at the Artwall web site (in Slovak) and in this article of the Aktualně.cz site (in Czech).

Come with us! Maramureș, Bukovina and South-Eastern Poland

This year, the travel season starts late along Río Wang, but this also demonstrates the strength of the Wang river. After all, a full revolution and the intervention of a superpower was necessary to renounce the repetition of the Crimean tour, planned for this spring and awaited by so many of our readers, as well as the Lemberg Easter, which is especially painful, because this year, as a rare constellation, every denomination of Lemberg – Catholic Poles, Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Russian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholics – celebrated it in the same days in the countless churches of the city, on its streets and squares, as well as in the open-air museum of wooden churches.

Our first tour in this year, by popular demand, is the repetition and expansion of last year’s Maramureș-Bukovina journey. Between 25 and 29 June (Wednesday–Sunday) we leave from Budapest by bus, and arrive through the medieval city of Baia Mare/Nagybánya, the cradle of Hungarian Impressionism and the gate of historical Maramureș, to one of the most archaic regions of Transylvania. We visit its wooden churches included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage and its Hasidic cemeteries, Sighetul Marmației/Máramarossziget, the central town of the region, cut in two by the Tisza river and the Ukrainian-Romanian border, and the “merry cemetery” of Sapânța/Szaplonca. We climb up with the narrow-gauge forestry railway to the virgin forest in the border mountains, to return in the afternoon, along with the wagons loaded with wood, to the Rusyn village of Vișeu de Sus/Felsővisó. We walk to the Horses’ Waterfall and the pass of the Radna Mountains. We visit the Renaissance-style princely monasteries in Bukovina, painted both inside and out with the full symbolism of Orthodox icons, which also feature on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Our accommodation will be in traditional peasant farms engaged in agroturism, and – if we manage to reserve in time – in the Bukovina monasteries. The participation fee for the five-day tour (accommodation with breakfast + bus from Budapest and back + guide) is about 270-300 euros, depending on the number of participants. If you are interested, please register by 31 May, after which we will publish, on the basis of the certain registrations, the final participation fee and send out the detailed program.

Our previous posts from the the former county of Maramureș (click for a full map), which will increase in the following weeks.

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On our second journey, between 13 and 17 August (Wednesday–Sunday) we will wander all over Western Galicia, today’s South-Eastern Poland, the richest region of the medieval and early Polish kingdom and the traditional center of Polish Jewry. Our road leads through Renaissance cities and castles, shtetls and beautifully carved Hasidic cemeteries. Leaving from Budapest by bus, we first stop in Krakow, where we visit the Renaissance old town, the Wawel and the Jewish suburb of Kazimierz, well off of the tourist routes. Through the medieval town of Sandomierz we arrive at Lublin, a second center of medieval Polish kingdom and formerly its largest Jewish center. From there we turn south to visit the most beautiful old towns along the modern Ukrainian border, the ideal Renaissance Zamość, Leżajsk, the Hasidic pilgrimage site and Jarosław, the seat of the former Jewish “parliament” of Poland, to Przemyśl at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, a former bulwark of the Austrian Empire, and to the Bieszczady, the most romantic mountains of present-day Poland, where we will also visit the ghost villages of the Rusyns displaced after WWII. Turning back to the west, we will pass through the Renaissance towns of Rzeszów, Tarnów and Nowy Sącz and come to the Dukla Pass, where we also stop at some of the soldiers’ cemeteries of the 1915 Gorlice breakthrough, and from where we will return, through Bardejov/Bártfa and Košice/Kassa to Budapest. Here you can find the planned route of the journey. The participation fee for the five-day tour (accommodation with breakfast + bus from Budapest and back + guide) is about 300-330 euros, depending on the number of participants. If you are interested, please register until 31 May, after which we will publish, on the basis of the certain registrations, the final participation fee and send out the detailed program.

Soon we will publish new plans of further journeys.

Dissolving: Europe from North to South

Lemberg/Lwów (Galicia, once Austrian Empire, then Poland, later Soviet Union, now Ukraine), c. 1900, from here

Rovinj/Rovigno (Istria, once Austrian Empire, then Italy, later Yugoslavia, now Croatia), 25 May 2014