Supreme Ruthenian Council

Supreme Ruthenian Council (Holovna ruska rada, or HRR). The first legal Ukrainian political organization in modern times, founded in May 1848 in Lviv. The HRR was established in direct response to the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy, in particular to the formation in Galicia of the Polish People's Council (the Rada Narodowa), which declared itself the representative political body for the province. The emergence of the HRR in turn prompted the creation of yet another council, the pro-Polish Ruthenian Congress (Sobor Ruskyi).

Encouraged by the Austrian governor of Galicia, Count Franz Stadion, over 300 Ukrainians representing various social groups (except the peasantry) met on 2 May at the chancery of Saint George's Cathedral under the leadership of the Greek Catholic clergy headed by Canon Mykhailo Kuzemsky. They organized a council of 30 members (eventually increased to 66) and nominated Bishop Hryhorii Yakhymovych as chairman. Membership in the HRR was restricted to Greek Catholics (almost exclusively Ukrainians) born in Galicia. Its social composition was dominated by the urban clerical and secular intelligentsia, nearly one-third of its members being Greek Catholic priests, one-third civil servants, and the remainder students, teachers, lawyers, and townsmen.

The purpose of the HRR was to strengthen the Ukrainian people in Austria by encouraging publications in Ukrainian, introducing the Ukrainian language in schools and the local administration, and defending the constitutional rights of Ukrainians. At the same time it served the parallel function of upholding the interests of the Greek Catholic clergy. From the outset the HRR was loyal to the Habsburg emperor and Austrian government and maintained close ties with Galicia's governor, Franz Stadion. To promote its views the HRR founded on 15 May the newspaper Zoria halytska. The first issue contained a clear statement of the national orientation of the HRR: Galicia's Ukrainians were a nationality distinct from both Poles and Russians, and they belonged to ‘the great Ruthenian nation’ living across the border in the southwestern part of the Russian Empire. The sense of national unity with Ukrainians in the east was complemented by an awareness of a common historical past with its once-independent state and ‘perfected language.’

The HRR encouraged Ukrainians to form smaller councils throughout Galicia. They came into being in the spring and summer of 1848, and before the end of the year there were 50 local councils as well as 13 district councils. The size of the local councils ranged from a dozen members to as many as 540. Unlike the HRR, the local councils were made up primarily of peasants, and some included Polish and Jewish members as well as Ukrainians. Although the local and district councils had independent statutes, they maintained close ties with the HRR, whose representatives frequently participated in their meetings to present the political views of the central organization. The local councils were also a valuable transmission belt through which the HRR was able to learn the views and demands of the Ukrainian rural masses.

The HRR advised the local and district councils how to select candidates for elections to Austria's new national parliament in May 1848. Nonetheless, of the 25 Ukrainian deputies elected, not one was a candidate favored by the HRR. In late 1848 through 1849 the HRR issued several memorandums to the Austrian government on behalf of peasant demands for a favorable resolution of the rural and manorial land question.

Another primary concern of the HRR was the partition of Galicia into separate Ukrainian and Polish provinces. The council issued its first memorandum to the emperor on that matter in June 1848, and it continued to call for partition until its last statement on the issue in March 1849. The HRR was more successful in its request to establish a Ukrainian national guard in Galicia. The group was especially opposed to the revolution in Hungary, and in early 1849 it called on the people in Galicia's borderland districts to arm themselves and to join the newly established Ruthenian Battalion of Mountain Riflemen.

The HRR also interacted with fellow Slavs. It sent three delegates, including its vice-chairman, Ivan Borysykevych, to participate in the Slavic Congress in Prague, 1848. Although the HRR delegates disagreed with the protocol of the congress, which did not favor the partition of Galicia, their presence made the rest of the Slavic world aware of Galicia's Ukrainians.

The HRR played an active but indirect role in cultural matters. It encouraged the development of the Ukrainian vernacular through its official organ, Zoria halytska, by calling for its standardized use in publications, its use as a language of instruction in schools, and its use in Galicia's civil and Greek Catholic church administrations. To further cultural goals a new organization, the Halytsko-Ruska Matytsia, came into being in October 1848. The HRR also supported the initiative of the Austrian government to create a chair of Ruthenian (Ukrainian) language and literature at Lviv University (September 1848).

From its inception the HRR combined work on behalf of the Ukrainians of Galicia with unswerving loyalty to the Austrian government. Such loyalty, however, proved insufficient protection in changing political circumstances. With the end of the revolutionary era in 1849 and the onset of Austrian neoabsolutism, the HRR again followed the wishes of the state authorities and dissolved itself in 1851. Nonetheless, throughout its four years of existence it had initiated a national revival among Ukrainians in Galicia which was to guarantee their political and cultural survival.

Levyts’kyi, K. Istoriia politychnoï dumky halyts’kykh ukraïntsiv, 1848–1918, vol 1 (Lviv 1926)
Bohachevsky-Chomiak, M. The Spring of a Nation: The Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia in 1848 (Philadelphia 1967)
Kozik, J. The Ukrainian National Movement in Galicia: 1815–1849 (Edmonton 1986)

Paul Robert Magocsi

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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