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THE CULTURAL AND SOCIAL EVOLUTION

OF RUSYNS IN VOJVODINA (YUGOSLAVIA)

(Gabriel Koljesar, CRS, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)

Edited by Michele Parvensky, CRS

 

When one mentions the name Rusyn, the countries with which it would be associated (at least in the United States) would be Poland, Slovakia and western Ukraine. Yet the Rusyns who emigrated from the former Austro-Hungarian counties of Zemplyn, Ung, and Borshod to what is now eastern Croatia and northern Yugoslavia are almost unknown among the Rusyn community in the United States. This article is an attempt to demonstrate how this group of Rusyns succeeded in preserving their culture on a scale which far surpassed that of Rusyn groups in Europe or the United States.

 

The first wave of Rusyns moved to Backa (Vojvodina) and founded the village of Ruski Kerestur in 1745. Within eight years, they had established a Rusyn school and church. In 1763 a second group founded the village of Kocur and within two years had a school in operation. The Eparchy of Krizevci was created in 1777 to take care of the increasing number of Rusyns moving into the area.

 

TeachersIn 1834, the craftsman of Ruski Kerestur created their own guild. A tradition of a good education was strong among these Rusyns. As a result, they opened a library in the village in 1876 as well as a savings cooperative. Kocur followed with its first library in 1879. Realizing that education was just as important for the younger generation, the people in Ruski Kerestur built a kindergarten in 1896. A new and larger school consisting of two floors was built in 1905 followed by a second building constructed near the church in 1913.

Intelligentsia in Ruski Kerestur at the end of XIX century - priests, teachers and clerks

 

 

 

 

From My Village
The first book of poetry, From My Village by single author H. Kosteljnik

Near the end of the 18th century, the Rusyn community started to print books for school children and the community at large. A collection of folk poetry garnered from the populace, Russkij Solovej, was published by M. Vrabel in 1890. A second book of poetry, From My Village, written by a single author, Havriil Kosteljnik, was printed in 1904. The dialect was similar to that which was spoken in southern Zemplyn and Ung counties.

The first book of religion in the Rusyn language, Truths of the Catholic Religion, a catechism prepared by Bishop Dr. Dionizii Njaradi, was printed in 1912 in the village of Zhovkva. Theatrical performances in Rusyn starting appearing in Kocur in 1913.

In 1919 the first cultural organization - Rusyn National Education Society - was founded. As a result, the cultural accomplishments of Rusyns in Yugoslavia skyrocketed.

Since 1921 a Ruski Kalendar, has been in print and continues to this day. This publication contains poetry, stories and other material by the Rusyn community. This same year also saw the printing of the first Bukvar za južno-ruski osnovni školi, an elementary reading book and a Čitanka za III klasu južno-ruskih osnovnih školoh, a reading book for the 3rd grade (authored by Michail Polivka).

One of the most important texts which would help to preserve the native language, Gramatika bačko-srimskej bešedi (A Grammar of Bačko-Rusyn Language) by Dr. Havriil Kosteljnik, was published in 1923. Sports were also considered important to the mental and physical well being of the people. This led to the formation of the Rusyn Football Club in 1923 and later to the Rusyn Sport Association.

A weekly Rusyn newspaper Ruski Novini appeared in Novi Sad in 1924. In that same year, Dr. Kosteljnik authored a tragedy in five acts entitled Jepththah's Daughter. The latter part of the 1920's saw the founding of the Union of Rusyn Students in Kocur and the appearance of the first book of children's poetry Pupce (Bud), authored by Janko Fejsa.

Kindergarten in Kocur (1938)

Kindergarten in Kocur (1938)

 

 

 

 

A second cultural organization - Cultural National Alliance of Yugoslav Rusyns - appeared in 1933. With the establishment of the printing house Ruske Slovo in Ruski Kerestur in 1936, Rusyn newspapers and books could now be printed in Yugoslavia. Publications included an Almanac of Bačka-Srem poetry and Naša Zahradka (Our Garden), a children's magazine (1937). In the 40's, Ruske Slovo published the newspaper Ruske Slovo (Rusyn Word) and a children's magazine Pionirska Zahradka. In 1946 and each year thereafter, four to five textbooks continued to be printed. Since education was very important to the Rusyn community a high school was built in 1945 in Ruski Kerestur.

Volodimir Hnat'uk

One of five books of National Folklore by Volodimir Hnatjuk

 

 

Ruska Matka, a cultural organization was founded in 1946 but ceased to exist after two years due to the communist government's ban on the organizing of national minorities. Radio made its appearance in 1949 with Radio Novi Sad broadasting news and folk music in the Rusyn language until 1956. Broadcasting appeared on the scene again in 1966 and starting in 1990, 4 hours of programs in the Rusyn language were broadcast daily on the FM band. Due to the political situation in the 50's, Rusyn cultural and social life was kept to a minimum.

 

 

 

Narodni Kalendar 1957

Rusyn calendar has a long tradition, from 1921

 

 

Magazine Švetlosc (Light)

Svetlosc 1973

The only new publication which appeared was Švetlosc (Light), a magazine for literature, culture and social themes first published in 1952. The people still had their newspapers, schools, calendar, etc. but not much else.

 

Grammar

Grammar of Rusyn Language

 

 

As the political situation eased, the Rusyn community got more involved. The cultural festival Červena ruza (Red Rose) was established in 1962. This is not just an folk event of singing and dancing of ethnic music but also one of art exhibitions and poetry readings. A center for the publication of textbooks for Rusyn schools was established in Novi Sad in 1965, and a Homeland Museum was dedicated in Ruski Kerestur in 1967. The Greek Catholic Eparchy there started publishing church books and a Christian calendar in 1969. The following year marked the founding of the Amateur Rusyn Theater Djadja and the Society for Rusyn Language and Literature. Other events included the building of a high school or gymnasium in 1970 in Ruski Kerestur, the appearance of the youth magazine Mak published by the Ruske Slovo, an hourly broadcast in Rusyn on TV Novi Sad which started in 1975, and the building of a modern elementary school in Ruski Kerestur

 

In 1981, a Rusyn Study Group was formed at the University of Novi Sad. The following year, a department of Rusyn Language and Literature was established. This meant that the Rusyn community had a language presence from elementary school through the university level.

 

Citanka (1973)

Reading book (1973)

 

 

After the fall of communism, the national minorities had the opportunity to organize among themselves. As a result, a new Ruska Matka was founded in 1990. Its purpose was to protect the Rusyn identity through heritage and culture. Activities of this organization included the establishment of a Museum of Rusyn Culture, a Rusyn Art Gallery and a Rusyn Archives in Ruski Kerestur. The Greek Catholic Eparchy started a new publication, Dzvoni (Bells), for all the Vojvodinian Rusyns in Europe, America and Australia.

 

 

The Vojvodinians are extremely proud of what they have accomplished in their 255 year presence in Yugoslavia, especially their publications which include

 

 

the Grammar by Dr. Kosteljnik;

an Orthography of Rusyn Language by M. M. Kočiš, 1971;

Orthography

Orthography of Rusyn Language by M. M. Kočiš

Grammar of Rusyn Language by M.M. Kočiš, 1974;

History of Rusyns by Dr. F. Laboš, 1979;

A Brief History of Rusyns by Dr. Janko Ramač, 1994;

History of Literature by Dr. J. Tamaš, 1984;

Serbian Rusyn Ukrainian Dictionary by M.M. Kočiš 1972;

Holy Bible and New Testament by Dr. G. Bukatko, 1985;

Folklore of Rusyns in Vojvodina by Dr. M. Mušinka, 1988;

Bibliography of Rusyns in Yugoslavia by M. Ćurčić, 1989;

five books of National Folklore by Volodimir Hnatjuk, 1986-88;

Illustrated Bible for Young Ones by Fr. M. Malacko, 1989;

Our Song (Naša Pisnja) books of Rusyn folksongs by Onufrij Timko, 1952-53;

Serbian Rusyn Dictionary, by Dr. Julian Ramač, 1996-97, and a

History of Rusyn Literature by Dr. Julijan Tamaš, 1997.

Author Miron Žiroš states that there are fourteen factors which contributed to the strength and longevity of this small group of Rusyns who managed to maintain their native tongue, establish a literary language and develop a vibrant literary and cultural community. These include the existence of the original two Rusyn villages of Ruski Kerestur and Kocur, the awareness that they belonged to the Rusyns of the Transcarpathian region, the inclination to "stick together" among foreigners, their Greek Catholic Church which helped to preserve their national identity, their Rusyn schools, their constant contacts with the Hornjica where another group of Rusyns lived, the purchase of a printing press, the continuing and advanced education of the Rusyn intelligentsia, the preservation of the Rusyn traditions and customs including the celebration of religious holidays and Rusyn weddings, The Rusyn National Education Society, post war development 1945-1990, the preservation of the native language and the role of the Society for Rusyn Language and Literature, the cultural festival Red Rose, the Rusyn Amateur Theater and Djadja.

 

No other Rusyn community in Europe had a cultural development as did the Rusyns in Backa. While the wars in Yugoslavia have hindered us somewhat, those who have emigrated to other countries from Ruski Kerestur, Novi Sad and other villages have not forsaken their Rusyn identity and have managed to implement accomplishments from Vojvodina to their new countries.

 

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About author:

Gabriel Koljesar was born in Ruski Kerestur and graduated from the University of Novi Sad in 1972. He is a former journalist and editor who worked as a young reporter for Radio Novi Sad. In 1976 he started working for Ruske Slovo as the editor of the magazine MAK (a journal for teenagers) and later from 1982 until 1995 as editor of the weekly newspaper Ruske Slovo. He was president of the Society for Rusyn Language and Literature (1981-82, 1991-92) and secretary (1984-88, 1992-95). In 1995 he moved with his wife and two children to Kitchener,Ontario. He is the webmaster for the Rusyn Association of North America website which he established in 1998. ( M. Parvensky)