88th Anniversary of the Florynka Lemko Republic

Today, 5 December, marks the 88th anniversary of the founding of the Lemko Rusyn Republic (Ruska narodna respublika Lemkiv) in the village of Florynka. The republic was led by Jaroslav Kachmarchyk and lasted for 16 months in the final throes of the First World War. It roughly covered the western half of Lemko Rusyn ethnographic territory.

The Lemko Rusyn Republic did not necessarily have independence as its final goal – its leaders were more interested in uniting the Rusyns in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire into a single state (Carpathian Rus), or, alternatively, ensuring that all Rusyns ended up within the borders of the first Czechoslovakia. Another leading option was to try to secure union with Russia, as many of the republic’s leaders were Russophiles who saw the Rusyns as part of a greater Russian nation.

Regardless of the specifics, everyone agreed on one thing: the Rusyn lands of Austria-Hungary should remain together after the war. Ultimately, however, the republic was unsuccessful with any variation of its goals: Rusyns south of the Carpathians did end up within Czechoslovakia, but the Lemko Rusyn Republic north of the Carpathians was finally incorporated into Poland in March 1920.

The one and only ... substantial work on this (and the other) Lemko Rusyn Republic is Dzialnosc Polityczna Lemkow na Lemkowszczyznie 1918-1921, available (in Polish) on the web at http://www.lemko.org/pdf/horbal97.pdf (thanks, Bogdan!)

Following this unsuccessful republic, there was only one other attempt by Rusyns to found a state, when Subcarpathian Rus’ (officially known then as Carpatho-Ukraine) declared independence from Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939.

For The New York Times, Anne O’Hare McCormick described that situation:

Of all the incredible episodes in the break-up of Czecho-Slovakia what has happened during the last three days in Carpatho-Ukraine is the most fantastic.

"On Tuesday this smallest sector of the tripartite Czech State was fighting the Czechs. On Tuesday night it proclaimed itself an independent State. On Wednesday morning Czech flags were down, Czech troops in full flight and Ukrainian colors were flying from every window in the capital, Huszt.

"By Wednesday afternoon the Hungarian tricolor had displaced the Ukrainian blue and yellow in a hundred villages as a Hungarian army advanced toward the capital.

"Carpatho-Ukraine was actually under three flags in twenty-seven hours. In three days it had fought two wars – the first to drive out the Czechs, the second to keep the Hungarians from coming in” ("Carpatho-Ukrainians Still Fight Despite Seizure by Hungarians," New York Times, 17 March 1939).

Hungary easily took the land and annexed it, and after the war Czechoslovakia ceded it to the Soviet Union and it was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. Today, the Rusyns are one of Europe’s stateless people – in the company of the Catalans, Basques, Scots, Sorbs, Roma and many others.

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