In Washington, D.C., on 15-17 November 2006, during a three-day visit to diplomatic missions in the United States, chairman of the World Congress of Rusyns, Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, together with a delegation of Rusyn-American community activists, was received by the embassies of Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, and the Vatican. Other members of the delegation were from the Carpatho-Rusyn Society of America: the National Capital Chapter president Dr. Victor Haburchak, vice-president Professor Elaine Rusinko, Dr. Mikulas Popovic, and the president of the society's New England Chapter Orestes Mihaly.
The main purpose of the delegation's visit to the Embassy of Romania was to review plans for the Ninth World Congress of Rusyns, to be held in Sighet (Sighetul Marmatiei) on 21-24 June 2007.
In response to Professor Magocsi's inquiry submitted one year ago about the status of the new bridge across the Tysa River, embassy officials informed the delegation that the formal opening is expected to take place before the end of 2006. This means that it should be possible for delegates from Ukraine to walk across the bridge in order to attend the World Congress. The new bridge will not only link Ukraine and Romania, it will also re-unite Carpatho-Rusyns who live on the northern and southern banks of the Tysa River and who have until now been separated by an international border.
Also under discussion was the topic of official guests at the World Congress. The Romanian Embassy expressed its government's interest in assuring the success of the congress and agreed to assist in issuing formal invitations to official guests who will represent various countries and the European Union at the World Congress.
For the second time within one year the Rusyn-American delegation and the World Congress chairman were received at the Embassy of Ukraine, this time by the Deputy Chief of the Mission, Minister-Counselor Dr. Viktor O. Nikitiuk. Professor Magocsi submitted a formal inquiry to Ambassador Oleh V. Shamshur, which requests clarification about what seems to be Ukraine's contradictory policies toward Rusyns.
On July 7, 2006, Ukraine's Ministry of Justice, in response to an inquiry for recognition of Rusyns as a distinct nationality, replied that "according to international legal norms as well as the laws of Ukraine, every person has the right to his or her own national self-identity," and that furthermore there is no "official list of nationalities that are recognized in Ukraine." These statements seem to be in contradiction to Ukraine's policies as reflected in its "Proposed Measures for Resolving the Problem of Ukrainians-Rusyns" (1996); its report to the Council of Europe defining Rusyns as a "sub-ethnos of the Ukrainian nationality" (1999), and a published list of nationalities in Ukraine from the country's most recent census (2001) in which Rusyns as a nationality are omitted.
Do the "Proposed Measures for Resolving the Problem of Ukrainians-Rusyns" still reflect the official policy of Ukraine? An answer to that question will determine the tenor of future talks between the World Congress of Rusyns and representatives of the European Union and the United States government.
At the Embassy of Serbia the Rusyn-American delegation had an extensive discussion with that country's ambassador, Ivan Vujacic. Professor Magocsi praised Serbia's wide-ranging support of the Rusyns in Vojvodina, where they are recognized as one of that province's five official nationalities. Of particular concern to the Rusyn-American delegation, however, is whether the present-day government of Serbia still requires a group, for classification as a nationality, to have a so-called mother country (maticna zemlja), that is, an independent state outside Serbia. A formal inquiry on this matter was submitted to the Serbian ambassador by Professor Magocsi.
Should Rusyns "need" a mother country, it logically would be Slovakia or Hungary (since most Vojvodinian Rusyns trace their roots to villages in those present-day countries), but certainly not Ukraine. More to point, Vojvodina's Rusyns do have a historic homeland. It is Carpathian Rus' (popularly referred to as Hornjica), which alongside Flanders, Catalonia, and the Basque Land, is one of the many recognized homelands of stateless peoples in Europe. Historic Carpathian Rus', which is within the borders of several present-day independent states, is the historic homeland of all Carpatho-Rusyns.
At the Embassy of the Vatican, the Rusyn-American delegation and the World Congress chairman were received by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. The Apostolic Nuncio was informed about Carpatho-Rusyns, a distinct nationality in central Europe which is known in Vatican circles as Ruthenians (Ruteni). Most of the discussion focused on the policies toward Rusyns carried out by the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Presov in Slovakia and the Eparchy of Mukachevo in Ukraine. Formally, each of those eparchies emphasizes the use of state languages, Slovak or Ukrainian, at the expense of liturgical Church Slavonic and spoken Rusyn vernacular. As a result of the policies of the Greek Catholic bishops of Prešov and Mukachevo, it seems that the Vatican is following policies similar to that of the former Soviet Union. In other words, the Vatican may note that Rusyns (Ruthenians) are an ethnic group, but it does not recognize Rusyns as a distinct nationality who have their own distinct Rusyn literary language.
Particularly troublesome is the policy of slovakization carried out by the authorities of the Eparchy of Presov and the gradual adoption of the Ukrainian language in the Eparchy of Mukachevo. The Rusyn-American delegation shared with the Papal Nuncio its surprise that the Vatican recently appointed as head of the Byzantine-rite Eparchy of Mukachevo an apostolic administrator, Bishop Milan Sasik, who is a Roman-rite Catholic. Consequently, the Eparchy of Mukachevo in Ukraine's Transcarpathian Region, which is home to many faithful for whom Rusyn is their native and primary language, now has an administrator (bishop) who is an ethnic Slovak and who does not speak Rusyn. Such qualifications would not be problematic if the eparchy were sympathetic to the cultural as well as spiritual needs of its Rusyn flock. The Rusyn-American delegation was heartened to hear the Papal Nuncio express the view that a key requirement in the selection of any bishop is the candidate's understanding of the cultural specificity and ability to communicate in the majority language of the community he is called to serve. Finally, the Papal Nuncio agreed to pass on a request to the Vatican's press and radio service that its reports should in the future not refer to Rusyns (Ruthenians) as Russians.
According to the World Congress Chairman Magocsi, the next series of meetings in Washington, D. C. will be with the Embassy of Croatia, the United States Department of State, and with members of the U.S. Congress who have a special interest in Ukraine.