Ruthenians in Slovakia fighting for their rights

BRATISLAVA, April 21, 1997 (CTK) - Problems over the rights of ethnic minorities in Slovakia are usually connected with the half-million-strong ethnic Hungarian community, but the forgotten" Ruthenians, who number several thousand, are beginning to make themselves heard.

"Our basic demands are in connection with constitutional and European norms. For the defence of what we require, we are using all legal means," Association of the Ruthenian Nationality in Slovakia (ZIRS) chairman Jan Lipinsky told CTK.
Slovak Ruthenians have been demanding the right to declare their nationality "without limits and conditions" since 1989.The Slovak government however, according to Lipinsky, is subject to pressure exerted by Ukraine, which views endeavours to recognise a separate Ruthenian nationality as anti-Ukrainian.
After forty years of communism not even one of the 300 Ruthenian schools which existed in Czechoslovakia before the Second World War remains. Instead of these there are 30 kindergartens, ten primary schools and one secondary school where the Ukrainian language in taught.
Slovak Ruthenians who are "fighting" to for the right to have their nationality acknowledged, are annoyed by the alleged decree of the Ukrainian government office for ethinic minority affairs in October which warned against using the title Ruthenian. This statement referred to "ideological, material, personnel and cultural aid of Ukrainian organisations" in Eastern Slovakia and in other areas of the country and warned against cooperation with "Ruthenian" leaders and activists.
This "aid" is also given to the Federation of Ruthenians-Ukrainians which, says Lipinsky, "is aimed at deceiving the public by creating the impression that it represents the interests of Ruthenians."
This federation, regarded by Slovak Ruthenians as being pro-Ukrainian, some time ago appealed to Slovak President Michal Kovac for the prohibition of another organisation - Ruthenian Revival. This latter organisation was for protecting the rights of Ruthenians in Slovakia and the Ruthenian nationality as such.
"Nowhere in the world have Ruthenians and Ukrainians merged on ethnic or religious principles," Lipinsky said, adding that even in the United States Ruthenian groups prefer to mix with Slovaks.
"We assume our country to be Slovakia and we trust that we enjoy its full protection," stated Lipinsky.
During the last census in 1991 14,000 Slovak citizen allegedly registered themselves as Ukrainian, while 17,000 registered themselves as Ruthenians. About 50,000 people however, especially from Eastern Slovakia, listed Ruthenian as their mother tongue.
The leader of Ruthenian Revival, Milan Andras, conceded nevertheless that "the population itself is not quite clear on the matter of national identity."
"Nobody registered themselves as Ruthenian-Ukrainians as no such nationality exists." During the official census this variant could have been offered, added Andras.
Ruthenians also demand that their children attend bilingual schools where they can learn a couple hours of history and literature per week in their Ruthenian mother tongue.
"The Slovak government announced that it wants bilingual schools for ethnic minorities. We are the only nationality which also wants them, but we don't have them," said Lipinsky.
Education Ministry representative Lydia Bencova admitted to CTK that at present there is not one school in Slovakia which has instruction in Rusyn. She said however, that the reason was because of a lack of interest on the part of the Ruthenians.
She did not exclude the possibility however, that in the next school year several schools would have Rusyn language as a non-obligatory subject.
The codification of Ruthenian as a literary language was announced by Ruthenian Revival in 1995 and was supported by the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches and Matica Slovenska (an educational and cultural organisation established last century).
The Federation of Ruthenians-Ukrainians rejected the codification however, and asserted that "Ruthenians are an ethnic part of the Ukrainian nation and language, which part of the population in Eastern Slovakia who registered themselves as of Ukrainian or Ruthenian nationality speak, and this is a dialect of Ukrainian."
The Ruthenian-Ukrainian dispute in Slovakia takes various forms, including feuds over the cultural inheritance of Ruthenians and tension between the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Ruthenians also demand their own newspapers and radio slots. The director of Slovak Radio, Jan Tuzinsky, and the chairman of the Office of the Slovak Republic for Broadcasting, Jozef Bobok, argue however, that Ruthenians have not been recognised as a separate nationality by parliament.

To see the original text in Slovak (po slovensky click here.


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