In the last century the Carpatho-Russian people suffered a Golgotha. First, they suffered from cruel Austro-Hungarian oppressors, then from the bureaucracy of Czech colonialism, which divided Carpatho-Russia into Subcarpathian Russia and Presov Russia in Slovakia and refused it autonomy, but worst of all from Soviet Ukrainianism. So lives were destroyed by persecution and, after the Second World War, lives were wasted in the Soviet Gulag, in enslavement in the mines of the Ukrainian Donbass, in the frustrating and discreet silence of self-censorship, or else in distant exile. Moreover, this Golgotha is not yet finished, as the Galician nationalist elite in Kiev still persecutes Carpatho-Russians today. However, ascetically, in the longer term, the destructive can become constructive, as we can see from the sacrifices made by two inspiring examples of Carpatho-Russian patriotism, as described below.
Theodore (Fedor) Potushniak was born on 27 February 1910 in Osoi in Carpatho-Russia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and died on 11 February 1960 in Uzhgorod, the Carpatho-Russian capital. He was a professor, ethnographer, philosopher, archaeologist, man of letters and translator.
He studied at the Ukrainian-language high school in Beregovo (1922-1930) and then at the philosophy faculty of Charles University in Prague (1930-1937). He taught briefly until he was called up to join the Czechoslovak Army (1937-1938), at which time he published a short story and three collections of poetry in Ukrainian. After Subcarpathian Russia/Ruthenia (that part of Carpatho-Russia which between the wars was governed by Czechoslovakia) had been annexed by Fascist Hungary in 1939, he worked as a librarian in Brno in Moravia. Taking advantage of a Hungarian amnesty, he returned home but was suspected of disloyalty to the regime and could not get work. However, he contributed to the Subcarpathian Academic Society which published his poetry, short stories, translations and essays. Drafted into the Hungarian Army in 1944, he was sent to the Eastern front where he soon surrendered and became a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.
On returning to Subcarpathian Russia in March 1945, he worked for a short time for the Communist Party newspaper, then joined the staff of the new Uzhgorod State University, where he taught archaeology, ethnography and several Slavic languages. He basically ignored the Communist system. His training as an idealist philosopher had convinced him that Marxism, with its emphasis on determinism, was a primitive ideology. Instead, he directed his attention to archaeological research in Subcarpathian Russia and to writing short stories.
His literary career had begun in his student years, when he had become well-versed in contemporary European literature. His poetry was influenced by French symbolism in particular. In this way he stood in stark contrast to the amateur literary culture of interwar Subcarpathian Russia. As an ethnographer he was particularly interested in Carpatho-Russian traditions, folk music, ballads and the origins of local place names. He was the first scholar to analyse the development of philosophical thought among Carpatho-Russian thinkers from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. His other writings, including a unique approach to existentialist philosophy, were published in Subcarpathian newspapers and journals during World War II. Under the Soviet regime philosophical studies of this sort could no longer be published and he prepared a collection of essays which remain in manuscript with his family (‘Philosophical Articles 1945-1960’).
Fedor Potushniak was an intellectual of great breadth, who could easily have had a career beyond his homeland. However, as one who firmly believed in patriotic self-sacrifice, he consciously remained in a provincial environment, hoping that he could raise the educational and intellectual level of his fellow-countrymen. But Soviet ‘Transcarpathia’ did not need a European intellectual - on the contrary, his very presence was distasteful to the new Communist underclass of half-baked intellectuals. The Soviet herd mentality exported to Subcarpathian Russia systematically destroyed his living conditions and contributed to his premature death.
Pavel Cibere was born on 5 May 1910 in Carpatho-Russia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and died on 28 July 1979 in Mukachevo in Carpatho-Russia. He was a man of law, a politician, a social leader, and a lover of Carpatho-Russia and of Russia though with pro-Czechoslovak tendencies. He finished the Russian-language high school in Mukachevo in 1930 and graduated from the law faculty of the Charles University in Prague in 1935. There he was an active member of ‘Rebirth’, the Russophile Carpatho-Russian Student Union, and as such took part in anti-Fascist conferences in Prague, Paris, Vienna and Belgrade.
In 1936 he returned to Subcarpathian Russia/Ruthenia, set up an educational organisation and worked as a lawyer in land administration in the regional government. He also set up the legal society of Subcarpathian Russia. In 1938, with Hitler’s invasion of Bohemia and Moravia looming, he took an anti-Hungarian and anti-Ukrainian position, since both those groups had strong pro-Nazi orientations. He established ‘The Central Carpatho-Russian National Council’ in Prague and successfully influenced government and parliamentary circles, which had wanted to hand the government of Subcarpathian Russia to pro-Fascist Ukrainians.
After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he took refuge in Yugoslavia, then left for France in 1940. Here he encouraged Carpatho-Russians to serve in the military Czechoslovak Division which was being formed and wrote against the Hungarian Fascists who had eagerly occupied Subcarpathian Russia at Hitler’s biddingitler’s biddingHitler’s bidding. In June 1940 he fled to England where he became part of the Czechoslovak government in exile in London under Benes, with responsibility for Subcarpathian Russia. In England he was the editor of the Subcarpathian newspapers, ‘Unity’ and ‘Carpatho-Russian News’. He also set up ‘The Society of Friends of Subcarpathian Russia’.
During 1941-2 he learned of the imprisonment of many Carpatho-Russian refugees from Fascism in camps in the Soviet Union. He helped to obtain their release, so that they could fight in Russia in the Czechoslovak Unit under General Ludwig Svoboda. Given the Nazi attack and German successes in the Soviet Union and the alliance with the West, like many others Pavel naively hoped for liberalisation under Stalin and felt a certain optimism for the period after the war. In view of this and his view that Carpatho-Russians are simply part of the Russian (East Slav) people as a whole, he worked for the autonomy of Subcarpathian Russia after the war within a revived Czechoslovak Confederation of Czechs, Slovaks and Carpatho-Russians. However, the Czechoslovak government in exile did mot meet his quite legitimate demands and removed him, as a result of which he left the government.
At the end of the war he noted that Benes had lost all interest in Carpatho-Russia and was happy to hand it to the Soviet Union. However, in Moscow in 1945, Pavel still hoped to avoid its annexation by the Soviet Ukraine. This too was naive. In 1945 he returned to his native land. The new Soviet regime rejected the help he offered and in 1947, amid Cold War hysteria, they arrested him as ‘an English spy’. As such he was held in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow for three years and then sentenced to ten years in the Gulag. He was released after Khrushchov came to power in the 1950s and took employment as a specialist in the English language and culture at the University of Kharkov but was sacked after two weeks as ‘unreliable’. He returned home and did casual work, later working as a village school teacher.
In the destinies of the philosopher Fedor Potushniak and the lawyer Pavel Cibere, we see the tragic waste of two highly gifted Carpatho-Russians. They symbolise the tragic destiny of the whole Carpatho-Russian people during the twentieth century. Its brilliant patriots were destined to live provincial lives. Ascetically their frustration was turned into humility and their heroism was turned into inspiration for us who have come after them, and so the negative has become positive. For both men kept their integrity, despite the fact that their country had become the plaything of empires, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czech bureaucratic Empire, so satirised by Franz Kafka, the Soviet Ukrainian Empire and today the nationalist Ukrainian Empire. May God grant them salvation.
For the biographies of Fedor Potushniak and Pavel Cibere, we are indebted to the Russian Edition of ‘An Encyclopedia of Subcarpathian Russia’ by Ivan Pop, Uzhgorod, 2001, from which we have translated.