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  • Writer's pictureEd & Phil

S04 E04 Carpatho-Ukraine transcript

This is the full transcript to our episode. That said, it won't include adlibbed stuff or stuff later cut out. You can also listen to the full episode on Carpatho-Ukraine.


On Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore, we often talk about countries splitting off from other larger entities. A lot of the time it’s funny. As one of our 5 star reviews says. Or not funny. As a 1 star reviewer also said. 


But Carpathian Ukraine is going to be a bit harder to be totally lighthearted about. Not only because of the dark time in Europe when this all took place, but also the modern parallels in the Ukrainian bit of the world today where yet another aggressive Eurasian leader is currently mid-invasion.


Phil:

Putin? Yes, but he does say he’s doing that to actually stop the Nazis.


An aggressive autocrat invades a democratic country ran by a leftwing Jewish President, and he’s stopping Nazis.


Phil:

I guess Russia saw Britain and the USA invade Iraq on flimsy pretenses and thought “Hold my vodka.”


Well, there is that.


So today we’re going to tread a fine line. Hopefully informative. Hopefully entertaining. Hopefully respectful. Hopefully all things at the right time.  


Can we at Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore do all that whilst covering the short-lived nation of Carpatho-Ukraine while getting everything right and not ruffling any feathers? 


Phil:

If you're thinking "yes" you've not heard many episodes of…


Theme


VO:

It’s countries… It’s don’t exist anymore… it’s Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore.


In Sept 1939 - Nazi Germany invades Poland. And I know what a lot of you are thinking. You’re thinking… that’s the start of the war, right?


Phil:

Yes.


Well, yes from a Western standpoint but as far as German aggression in Europe goes, that was just the latest encroachment they made. Today we'll be talking about what happened before.


You see. The short split of Carpathian Ukraine from the state of Czechoslovakia to form an independent country was a bi-product of earlier Nazi aggression. Kinda blows your mind.


Phil:

But Germany invades Poland. Still the start of the war.


Ed:

Or was it?


Phil:

It was.


Ed:

Look Phil. I'm going for an interesting cold open rhetorical style here - like more successful history podcasts. I didn't want to just default to a man who doesn't sound much like Matt Berry asking a question to cue up a pre-scripted answer.


PAUSE


Phil:

Can I do the…


Ed:

Fine.


Where was Carpathian Ukraine?


It’s a small area mainly on the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains in Eastern Europe, home to the same community of people for a thousand years. We're talking about 13,352 km2 of land, which is a bit smaller than Northern Ireland.


So who were the Carpatho-Ukrainians?


It’s a nationality that doesn’t really exist by that name. What I mean by that is that the place was called Subcarpathian Rus as part of Czechoslovakia and then only changed its name to Carpathian Ukraine in 1938. So for a more permanent sense of who these people were/are, we should keep things simple and refer to them as Rusyns or Ruthenians.


Ruthenia is a Latinised form of Rusyn - the same group of people that made up the Kievan Rus - i.e. Vikings that went east and set up kingdoms there.


Ok. So who were the Ruthenians then?

Difficult to say. 


Phil:

Seems easier to say than Capatho-Ukrainians.


No I mean that Ruthenia never just referred to the small area of poor farmland briefly known as Carpatho-Ukraine.


Ruthenia has also been used as a name variously to refer to both Belarus and Ukraine. In historical sources, Ruthenians also could refer to eastern Slavs who called themselves Rus throughout the Middle Ages. 


Later on, Ruthenians just referred to Ukrainians living under the Habsburg Monarchy and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


So yes. Confusing. Just bear in mind that for most of history, information has been scarce and writers were often ignorant of who people were and where they came from.



Under the Austro-Hungarian empire, formed in 1867, Rusyn language schools were forced to shut down and Rusyn names were given a Hungarian makeover.


Partridge:

They’ve rebadged it you fool. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tehmaxy4K6Q


Rusyn culture was under threat. With such a bleak future, many Rusyns left for the new world between 1870-1920.


Bob:

Finally, America. The land of the free where I can preserve the Ruthenian name of Basilus Letsovych.


Immigration guard:

Basilus Letsovych? No way bub. From now on your name's….err…Bob Lewis. Yeah, that's real swell.


After WW1, thanks to the self-determination trend that the newly formed League of Nations were putting about, the  Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up into smaller blocks generally containing specific peoples who wanted a nation to call their own. Generally. 


One of the exceptions to this was the national Lego brick concoction known as Czecholsalvakia. A union of Czechs, Slovaks and other peoples, including Ruthenians.


Phil:

So they split up the multinational Austro Hungarian empire to create a… smaller Austro Hungarian empire?


Pretty much.


Geezer:

Unions of nations don't work. That's why we had to get out of the EU.


Right, and why the SNP is right to want to get Scotland out of the UK.


Geezer:

Not the same thing at all.


At its formation in 1921, Carpatho-Rusyns made up 3.5% of Czechoslovakia’s 13.6 million inhabitants, which also included Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Magyars (AKA Hungarians) and a smaller number of Jews and Poles.


So all Ruthenians lived in Czechoslovakia?


Nope. Not that simple. 


So all Czechosolakians lived in Ruthenia?


Eh?


While there was a sizable community in the Eastern rump of Czechoslovakia, Ruthenians could also be found in neighbouring Hungary, Poland and Soviet Russia.


In 1920, the Czechoslovak constitution (sort of but not quite following League of Nations recommendations) determined that Subcarpathian Rus - as it was then known - wouldn’t be given immediate autonomy but that it would come later down the line.


But even amongst the Ruthenians of Czechoslovakia, there wasn’t total agreement about what would be best.


Phil:

People? Disagreeing? I’m shocked.


Some wanted union with Soviet Ukraine. Others were Russophiles and wanted to make more of their links with Russia. And many were quite happy to be in Czechoslovakia. 


And, in fairness, they could have had a much worse deal.


The Czechoslovak government may not have granted independence but they left the region free to have their own schooling, language and traditions. This encouraged immigration of Ruthenians living in Ukraine determined to level up their homeland.


On the other hand the Subcarpathian Rus had nothing like the autonomy mentioned by the League of Nations in 1919, and some were rather peeved that they were unable to form their own Diet or Parliament. 


Yes, they had a Carpatho-Rusyn governor, but he was effectively powerless. So much so that the first governor of the province resigned as soon as he was appointed in 1921.


Phil:

I don’t get it. Cushy government job, lots of influence but no power to actually do anything all day? Sounds like the dream.


Things improved in 1928 when Czechsolavakia was reorganised and Subcarpathian Rus was given a 24 member assembly, although again a rather diluted arrangement since one third of them were appointed by the Czech government. So we’re a long way off independent territory just now. 


The governor this time was given a proper office to work out of, albeit in a room in the city museum.


Phil:

I don’t get it. A cushy government job in a comfy office next to a gift shop?


When the Subcarpathian Rus were allowed to vote in elections, they unfailingly cast their ballots for anti-government parties. 


In 1924, the Subcarpathian Communist Party received nearly 40% of the vote. Which in our curious UK Parliamentary system would be enough for a spanking majority.


And while anti-government parties might make you think: “Boo Czechoslovakia. Hi independence!” again, that wasn’t the case.


Phil:

No one was thinking that, Ed.


Ed:

Ssshh. I’m going somewhere with this.


A lot of this anti-government vote was less rejection of Czechosolavkia and more just an economic protest vote. Subcarpathian Rus had little or no industry and 75% of the working population relied on small-scale agricultural work and forestry. 


No wonder those communists and their labour-saving tractor obsession seemed so attractor-ve. Attractive.


But while the population of Subcarpathian voters were slapping the central government on the wrist for not providing them with EU-style funding to improve regional conditions…


Geezer:

So you’d rather be on your knees to the Nazi EU…


The actual Nazis AKA Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938. This left Czechoslovakia surrounded by really pro-taking over stuff powers. 


And, surprise surprise, it wasn’t long before Nazi Germany took a bite out of Czechosolavakia - annexing the bordering Sudetenlands - claiming that they were just there to reunite ethnic Germans with their Fatherland.


Nazi soldier:

We’re here to liberate you, German brethren.


Man:

But I’m Moravian.


Nazi soldier:

What’s that you’re eating for lunch? 


Man:

A hamburger?


Nazi soldier:

Ha! That totally counts. You’re totally German.


But what did the West do about the annexation of the Sudetenlands?


Nothing. Or very close to nothing. They had a nice conference in Munich in 1938 and agreed with Adolf Hitler that it was all basically fine. 


And while Neville Chamberlain got to go home and claim “peace in our time” the Czechoslovak government had a different view, calling it the “Munich betrayal.”


I guess it’s just a case of tomayto/ tomat-oh god what have they done to us?


Having to pick up the pieces from losing a great chunk of land, Czechoslovakia became the Second Czechoslovakian Republic, granting autonomy to Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Russ.


To keep the Nazis from gobbling up any more land, the Czechs aligned with Germany - banning the communist party and introducing antisemitic laws. So, things weren’t going great.


Then in October 1938, Hungary attacked Czechoslovakia. 


But in this case, Germany and Italy announced that they would play peacemaker.


Crowd:

Yay.


Essentially by awarding Hungary with Czechosolovakian lands

Crowd:

Ah. (disappointed)


…including a piece of Subcarpathian Rus, in something called the Vienna Award.


VO:

And the award for best grab of Subcarpathian and Slovakian lands goes to… Hungary.


Nice… peacemaking.


As a result, Subcarpathian Rus got a new government which was strongly pro-Ukrainian and led by Augustin Voloshin - a priest, lecturer and Ukrainian nationalist.


And reflecting the Ukrainian swing of things, Sub Carpathian Rus rebranded itself as Carpathian Ukraine.


Ad agency guy:

Subcarpathian Rus is such a mouthful. We need something snappy, memorable and dynamic.


Junior:

How about Ruthenia?


Ad agency guy:

That’s even longer! I got it. Carpatho-Ukraine!


Junior:

You’ve done it again, sir!


Recognising that they were there for the taking, the Ruthenians set up a paramilitary force called the Sich. To cement things, Voloshin prepared to have a vote to show approval for his moves. True, his was the only party on the ticket but that's still a vote.


Rick: (Young Ones)

Hands up who likes me. 


But even Voloshin wasn’t suggesting a split with Czechoslavakia. In fact he claimed that the vote for his actions would show support for Czechoslovakia more broadly. So, yes to Ukraine. But not really to split off from Czechoslovakia.


In 1939, Hitler planned to invade Poland but wanted to neutralise Czechosolakia. Because despite the myth of the all-powerful Nazi war machine, Czechoslavakia still had a pretty well-trained and fearsome army.


It was one of the largest in Europe: 1.5 million strong and well-equipped with modern weapons, including tanks and aircraft. No joke.


So Hitler told Slovakia that its only chance of not getting stomped was to declare independence. In this way, Hitler hoped to get Czechoslovakia to break itself up.


Unfortunately, Carpatho Ukraine wasn’t yet ready to defend itself. In Ruthenia the paramilitary Sich had 15,000 members but an actual fighting force of 2,000.


It’s also possible that Hiltler wanted to stir up Ukraine (which might include Ruthenia) so that Ukraine (which was under the Russian thumb at the time) could form its own country - albeit one whose sole purpose would be to feed the Greater German Reich.


And there were parties within Nazi Germany that weren’t altogether indifferent to the fate of Carpatho-Ukraine. One newspaper report of the time had it that 100,000 German troops were being readied to defend the place against Hungarian and Polish aggression.


Wait. So Hungary and Poland wanted to invade too?


Yeah, it’s easy to think of only Nazi Germany as the only aggressive power, but all countries in this part of the world were going through the same thing, ie. the Treaty of Versailles redrew the map in 1919 and we feel hard done by. Both Hungary and Poland felt they had legitimately lost land that was traditionally theirs when Czechoslovakia was created.


Not that any of this is new anyway. Remember that Europe has been at war for most of its history and most countries had a claim on most other countries for one reason or another.


Ukrainians in Poland and Hungary had been crossing the border to join the Carpatho Ukrainian Sich. But Hitler ignored pro-Carpatho Ukrainian advisors in Germany and prepared to invade Czechosolavkia on March 15th 1938, also giving Hungary permission to invade Carpatho Ukraine. Which it did, as we’ve already mentioned.


But what could little Carpatho Ukraine do? Czechoslovakia looked doomed. So to distance themselves from Czechoslavakia and to ingratiate themselves with the Fuhrer, the Ruthenians responded by creating a single party state led by PM Voloshin under the Ukrainian National Union Party in an attempt to win German assistance.


Phil:

Bummer. So Carpatho-Ukraine was a really short lived Nazi state?


Well, this has to be understood in the face of active hostility from Poland and Hungary, and potential hostility from the USSR - who obviously weren’t keen on the idea of Ukrainian nationalism. 


Horribly unreliable and abominable Nazi Germany were their only potential protectors. And when Adolf Hitler is your only potential mediator, you know things are bad.



VO: taking care of people's disputes, it's Adolf Hitler…


Wife:

And then Mr Lover Boy here had another kid with a local slut and then lied about…


Man:

Hey, I'm bringing in money here, and you're just sitting around on your fat ass…


Hitler:

Guys, guys. It sounds like you both need some lebensraum here.


Wife:

Maybe you're right. We do live in a small trailer with 7 kids and I guess that we could use some space.


Hitler:

And that is why you've got to actively listen to each other, work through your problems and then invade the Sudetenlands…for the glory of the Greater German Reich.



On March 14th, Slovakia declared independence and asked for the protection of Germany - who used this as a nice pretext to invade Bohemia and Moravia, i.e. the Czech bit.


Germany:

Hey! We’re only invading to protect the independence of our long standing allies, Blovakia.


Bystander:

Slovakia.


Germany:

Whatever.


Germany invaded and faced little resistance from the Czechs. Not surprising given all the assistance Czechoslovakia knew they couldn’t count on from the West.


And meanwhile the Carpatho Ukrainians were having to fend off the invading Hungarians. The Sich started arming themselves from Czech barracks. Naturally the Czech garissons in the area weren’t all that keen on this, and the two met in battle throughout the day.


And with fighting between the Ruthenians and the Cechs, which ironically they probably felt least like fighting, the Carpathian government assembly met for the first time and declared independence. So we now have the state of Carpatho-Ukraine.


Celebration


Phil:

Finally. You know Ed, we’re almost ¾ of the way through the episode.


Yes, this is one of those all context ones because the state we’re featuring was founded and gone in the blink of an eye.


Augustin Voloshin was named Head of State. The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was chosen and they even had time to cobble together an anthem: Ukraine has not perished.




Like Slovakia before it, Carpatho Ukraine sent a telegram to Germany asking them to take it under their protection, but received no reply.


Phil:

So they were pro Nazi Germany. Or rather just not getting wiped off the map by Hungary.


Yes, mainly the second thing.


Frankly, Carpatho Ukraine was looking for any possible protection at this point. Voloshin also suggested uniting with the Kingdom of Romania, but that didn't happen.


So Carpatho-Ukraine was on its own.


Geezer:

Just like our island nation when we stood alone against the Nazi menace.


Yes. On our own. Just us and an international empire that covered a quarter of the planet. 


Anyway, 3,000 Sich troops defended the capital at the Red Field. 230 Sich were killed with about half that number of Hungarians. 


At the same time, the Polish invaded from the North, but it didn't have much to do with Carpatho Ukraine. They were just after a bit of land called Zaolzie that it had lost in 1919. Still this led the commander of Ruthenian forces to flee to Romania before a shot was fired. The Carpathian government joined in on the fleeing on March 16th.


The only people seemingly not intent on fleeing were the Hungarians who annexed Carpatho Ukraine. And it was renamed again as Carpathia. The Ukrainian language was banned, Russian was tolerated, but on the other hand a new form of the Rusyn language was also cobbled together and promoted.


The New York Times reported that:


(with pathe music)

“Of all the incredible episode in the break up of Czechosolvakia what has happened in carpatho ukraine is the most fantastic. On Tuesday they were fighting the Czechs. On Tuesday night it proclaimed itself an independent state. On Wednesday morning, Czech flags were down, Czechs were in full flight and Ukrainian colours were flying from every window in the capital. By Wednesday night the Hungarian tri-colours had replaced the Ukrainian blue and yellow. Carpatho Ukraine was under 3 flags in 27 hours.”


On March 18th, the last holdouts in the mountains were defeated. Sich members who had crossed from Poland to Carpatho Ukraine were handed back to the Poles and many were executed.


27,000 Carpatho-Ukrainians were executed without trial in the weeks after. Ten of thousands fled to the USSR. Probably not the best refuge, since many would end up in the gulag. And it didn’t get much better for the occupants of Carpatho-Ukraine once the Nazis finally got involved.


Most notably, Carpatho Ukrainian Jews predictably met a grim fate in the death camps after Germany invaded Hungary in 1944.


Voloshin initially fared a little better than his people. He first relocated to Prague where he became a professor of the Free Ukrainian University. But when the Soviets took Prague in 1945, they arrested him. 


He died in Soviet custody in 1945 after being arrested on accusations of Ukrainian nationalism. I mean as far as Soviet show trials go, they had pretty good evidence. Voloshin’s official cause of death was “heart failure.”


Soviet 1:

But didn’t you torture him for weeks on end?


Soviet 2:

Yes, and then his heart failed.


Soviet 1:

Right. So, it’s very much a chicken egg situation.


Following World War II, Subcarpathia was officially annexed by the Soviet Union and became part of Ukraine under the name of Zakarpattia Oblast. Subsequently, the Rusyn identity was essentially outlawed. Rusyns were rebadged again as Ukrainian and forced to learn the Ukrainian language.


Even Rusyns in the USA were herded one way or the other by cultural and religious organisations. They became labelled Russian with the Orthodox Church, Ukrainian with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, or Polish with the Roman-Catholic Church.


Wherever you cared to look, the Carpatho-Ukrainians or Ruthenians or Rusyns were essentially forgotten.


It's only recently that the distinctly Rusyn identity is recognised, in the west at least. In the East, the question is more difficult. In 2002, Augustyn Voloshin was made a Hero of Ukraine and given the Order of State posthumously. But not Carpatho Ukraine. Just Ukraine.


Circling back to what’s going on now, the Ruthenian identity was used to try to destabilise Ukraine by the another incredibly unreliable autocrat, Russia's Vladimir Putin. Just as Hitler encouraged local nationalities to break up Czechoslovakia.


But then Subcarpathian Russ emerged again in 2015 and announced its independence.


Phil:

I feel like I would have remembered that. 2015. Jeremy Clarkson punches that guy, VW emissions scandal… new country in Eastern Europe.


Well it did in the Russian media anyway. Reports in 2015 that a Ruthenian congress had formed and demanded independence turns out to have been totally cooked up by Russian news agency, TASS, who quoted Petro Getsko, apparently the Prime minister of Subcarpathian Rus. 


This surprised many Ruthenians who said they hadn't seen him for years and had understood that he lived in Russia. Maybe not a coincidence.


In fact, kinda like with their experience back in Czechoslovakian days, Ruthenian organisations had only asked to be recognised as an ethic group in the Ukraine, wanted a push towards democracy (which is what happened anyway) and wanted Ukraine to join the EU.


Now if I had said all this in 2015, I would have been accused of smearing Putin. But since he actually invaded Ukraine…I'm willing not to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Conclusion


Whether the fight for Carpatho-Ukraine was about a free Ukrainian republic, a free Ruthenia or just not getting wiped off the map, it was still a significant one. It represented the first fight back against the Axis powers in Europe.


Yes, Carpathian Ukraine didn't last long and only declared its independence basically so it could try and act to protect itself, i.e. being able to reach out to Germany or Romania or anyone who would pick up the phone as Hungary were battering down the walls. But this isn't another Republic of West Florida. This wasn't opportunitism. There are a people called Ruthenians and they had lived in that area for a thousand years. Had a recognisable culture and traditions and dialect. This is real countries stuff.


And since then the Ruthenians and their little parcel of land has been passed around from kingdoms to empires to countries and back again.


We can only hope that Ruthenians wherever they are get the recognition they deserve within Ukraine. Of course there's the small matter of the Russian aggression to deal with first.


Phil:

There's always some bastard.


There always is. But that said, Putin's invasion had had an interesting side effect. The reinforcement of a stronger Ukrainian national identity. Almost like Czechoslovakia, Ukraine isn't just one people. Polish parts, there are Hungarian parts, there are Romanian parts, there is a Ruthenian part all behind a pretty heroic Jewish, native Russian speaking president.


Slava Ukraini!


Song:

If you want to stand out, you've gotta -- shout about, Ukraine


If you want autonomy, ask Germany, Ukraine.


Carpatho, Carpatho, Carpatho,

Ukraine.


We turned from Russ to Ruthenia, Ukraine.


Wanna a solution, elect Voloshin, Ukraine.


Carpatho, Carpatho, Carpatho

Ukraine


When you get an itch, send in the sich. Ukraine.


You get your way, but it lasts a day. Ukraine.


Carpatho, Carpatho, Carpatho,

Ukraine.












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