Old Ruthenians

Old Ruthenians (starorusyny or sviatoiurtsi). Representatives of a clerical, anti-Polish, pro-Austrian social-political current dominant in Galicia in the mid–19th century. During the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy the higher clergy of the Greek Catholic church in Galicia (Bishop Hryhorii Yakhymovych, Mykhailo Kuzemsky, Mykhailo Malynovsky) played a very important role in the Ukrainian movement, especially in the executive of its most representative organization, the Supreme Ruthenian Council. They remained loyal to the emperor throughout the revolution, partly out of a traditional gratitude to the Habsburg dynasty for numerous improvements it had introduced in Greek Catholic ecclesiastical life, but also because in the imperial court they hoped to find protection against Polish pretensions to rule Galicia. After the defeat of the revolution in 1849, which inaugurated a decade of neoabsolutism in the Habsburg monarchy, the Supreme Ruthenian Council and other Ukrainian institutions either ceased or radically scaled down their activities. Such leadership of the Ukrainian movement as existed was concentrated almost entirely in the hands of the Greek Catholic hierarchy (including Metropolitan Spyrydon Lytvynovych, Bishop and later Metropolitan Yakhymovych) and the canons of the Lviv cathedral chapter (including Mykhailo Kuzemsky and Mykhailo Malynovsky). Thus, during the 1850s the leadership of the Ukrainian movement was dubbed ‘the Saint George party’ (sviatoiurtsi), after Saint George's Cathedral in Lviv. The Saint George party and those who subscribed to its views were also known as Old Ruthenians, especially by the 1860s, when the political situation of Ukrainians in the monarchy changed markedly and younger activists became Russophiles or embraced Western Ukrainian populism.

Characteristic of the Old Ruthenians was strong pro-Austrian feeling, relative conservatism in social and political questions, and attachment to the Greek rite, the Cyrillic alphabet, and the etymological orthography (over which they engaged in the alphabet war of 1859–61). They had no clear conception of national identity. During the revolution of 1848–9 they mainly identified themselves as part of the Ukrainian nation, although already by then some considered themselves closely related to or even a part of the Russian nation. The Russian idea became more important in Old Ruthenian thinking as time passed. Many Old Ruthenians also thought of themselves as part of a separate Ruthenian or Rusyn nation, restricted to the Ukrainian population of the Habsburg monarchy.

In the 1860s Austria received a constitution and parliament and the crown land of Galicia became autonomous under the domination of the Polish gentry. The new situation called forth new political currents that were much more dynamic than those of the Old Ruthenians. Most Old Ruthenians then sided with the Russophile camp, which attracted them by its social and linguistic conservatism as well as by its Easternizing religious orientation; many of them, however, were never able to adopt Russophile views thoroughly, being unwilling to abandon their loyalty to either the Habsburg emperor or Catholic church. Some Old Ruthenians, such as Stepan Kachala, entered the populist movement, bringing with them their conservative views. An incident in 1870 may be considered the last stand of Old Ruthenianism: Metropolitan Yosyf Sembratovych and canon Mykhailo Malynovsky tried unsuccessfully to reconcile the Russophile and populist parties on the basis of recognizing a separate Ruthenian nation of three million. Some epigones of Old Ruthenianism survived into the late 19th century, an outstanding example being the bibliographer Ivan O. Levytsky.

John-Paul Himka, Ostap Sereda

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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