Andy Worhol. Ruthenian? Rusyn? Ukrainian? Austro-Hungarian? Slovak? Czech? He told people he was from “nowhere.”
I want to republish an insightful comment that Michael Monastyrskyj, a reader of this humble publication, added to something that Evgenia and I had discussed on our last episode: the newness of nationalism.
We talked about how nationalism is a very recent creation, yet how we’re supposed treat national identity as if it’s something that stands outside of time. In the 19th century, identity was more or less regional — based on a mixture of location, religion, language, and culture. But in the 20th all that began to get wiped out and replaced with much more monolithic notions of national identity. It was a useful and I guess maybe even necessary innovation at the time. How else could the post-monarchist nations and nationalist movements that emerged after World War I define their legitimacy, if not through some kind of blood and we-all-emerged-organically-from-the-same-soil ideology?
Specifically, Evgenia and I talked about how this applies to the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the recent normalization and acceptance out here of a certain type of Ukrainian nationalism. But this same discussion could be applied to other types of cultures and nationalisms — including to Jews and to Jewish nationalism (aka Zionism) that’s been embraced by almost all the Soviet immigrants I know.
Michael’s comment about the shifting self-identities of Ukrainian immigrants in North America is a perfect example of how fractured and regional and, frankly, much more interesting “national” identity was before the big monopolistic mythical nationalisms took over in the early 20th century. I’m reprinting it here with his permission.
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Hi. I enjoyed this episode. I want to write a bit about Ukrainian immigration to Canada. In particular, I want to say something about how those immigrants self-identified. This is going to be a long message. I hope you find it interesting, but if you don't, you can delete it. I'm not trying to pass myself off as any kind of expert.
Ukrainians started to coming to Canada in the 1890s. Almost all of them came from what is now western Ukraine. They came from the historic regions of eastern Galicia (Halychyna) and Bukovina. These regions were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Few of the immigrants called themselves Ukrainian. As you mentioned, Ukrainian nationalism is a modern phenomenon and while the name Ukraine is ancient, it's only in modern times that it came to be used as the name of a nation.
These "Ukrainian" immigrants generally called themselves rusyny (singular rusyn) and their language ruski. These words are derived from Rus. The Austrians translated Rusyn into Ruthene and Ruthenische. Ruthene comes from the Latin Ruthenia which can mean either Rus or Russia. In fact, there's an element on the periodic table called Ruthenium because it was discovered by a Baltic German scientist who wanted to honor Russia. The English equivalents of these words are Ruthene and Ruthenian.
I'm going to make a short digression because it's relevant to this question of nationalism and national identity.
As I'm sure you know, in 1848 there was a series of revolutions in Europe. These upheavals are sometimes called the "Springtime of Peoples", because many of the revolutionaries were nationalists. At this time, Ruthenians and Poles lived together in the Austrian province of Galicia. Ukrainian-speaking peasants were a majority in the eastern half of the province but Polish-speakers were dominant in the west.
The Ruthenians in eastern Galicia were almost entirely peasants, but the local nobility was Polish. In 1848 the Polish nobility of Galicia began making nationalist demands.
The only educated Ruthenians were Greek Catholic clergy. Some of this clergy, partly at the instigation of the Austrian authorities, formed a group to counter Polish demands. These clergymen called themselves the Holovna Ruska Rada, which can be translated as the Main Ruthenian Council or the Main Russian Council. In fact, Solzhenitsyn was eager to point this out in one of his essays against Ukrainian independence. He wrote this in 1991:
"As late as 1848, Galicians in Austria-Hungary referred to their national council as 'Chief Russian Rada.' But then in a severed Galicia, with active Austrian encouragement, a distorted Ukrainian language was produced, unrelated to popular usage and chock-full of German and Polish words." (Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals.)
The emergence of Ukrainian nationalism angered Polish nationalists, because the Poles saw all of Galicia as Polish land. In later years, Polish nationalists would say that Vienna had "invented" the Ukrainians.
The Galician Ruthenians themselves disagreed about their national identity. After 1848, there were three main political tendencies: the Old Ruthenians who saw Galician Ruthenians as a separate nationality, the Russophiles (moskvofily) who saw Galician Ruthenians as a branch of the Russian nation, and the Ukrainian nationalists, who saw local Ruthenians as belonging to the same nation as the Ukrainians in the Russian Empire. Eventually, the Ukrainian nationalists won out.
Back to North America.
You have immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who called themselves rusyny. Sometimes, particularly in Canada this was translated as Ruthenians, but occasionally it was also translated as Russians, which didn't necessarily mean these immigrants identified with Russians from the Russian Empire. These immigrants also didn't necessarily identify with the Ukrainians from the Russian Empire either. In fact, they were too busy working in the mines (US) or creating homesteads to be thinking about these identity questions period.
As you've mentioned on other episodes of the podcast, after the Tsar was overthrown, there was an attempt in Kyiv to create an independent Ukraine, which failed. I don't think you've mentioned this but after the fall of the Austrian Kaiser, there was also an attempt in Lviv to create a Western Ukrainian People's Republic (Zakhidna Ukrainska Narodna Respublika). This led to a war between west Ukrainian and Polish nationalists over the status of eastern Galicia. Ukrainians lost that war. The fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists emerged out of the bitterness of losing to the Poles. OUN was a west Ukrainian phenomenon. This group emerged in Galicia which had been incorporated into the new Polish republic.
After things were settled in Europe, immigration to North America from western Ukraine resumed. Many of these new immigrants were politicized. There was also some political immigration from Russian Ukraine. The new immigrants brought with them a strong Ukrainian identity which the earlier generation of Ruthenian immigrants then adopted as well.
My grandfather immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. He was an Austrian soldier during World War I, but he came to Canada as a Polish citizen. He called himself Ukrainian, but his father, my great-grandfather, called himself rusyn. In my father's village, there was a woman from Russian Ukraine. The local people gave her the nickname Moskalka. Incidentally, the west Ukrainian immigrants I grew up with called Russian Ukraine, Velyka Ukrayina.
You mentioned Andy Warhol. The question of his ethnic background is tied to the larger issue of whether the Ruthenians of Slovakia are Carpatho-Ukrainians or a separate nationality. It's a long story so I won't get into it, but if you haven't already seen it, you might want to look up the movie The Deer Hunter. The characters in this movie are called Russians, but they are in fact Ruthenian immigrants from either Slovakia or western Ukraine. You might also want to look up Alexis Toth as well as the Orthodox Church in America.
PS: Some of the things Michael wrote about are discussed in a great book I have: Ukrainians in North America: An Illustrated History. Check it out if you want to go down this particular rabbit hole and trace all the various religious, cultural, and linguistic splits in that community.
Previously on this subject: