Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Professors and Politics: The Role of Paul Robert Magocsi in the Modern Carpatho-Rusyn Revival

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Professors and Politics: The Role of Paul Robert Magocsi in the Modern Carpatho-Rusyn Revival

Article excerpt

Just as at one time before World War I Rusynism stubbornly pushed its way in to the Ukrainian environment, so now has it unexpectedly become aggressive again.

In the very center of this development stands one word: Magocsi ...

--Valentyn Moroz(1)

At the First World Congress we felt that we are a people, that we are a force, and that we must unit our strengths with all Rusyns in the world. Professor Magocsi gave us special help in that he explained in a scholarly fashion that we are Rusyns, that we are a people.

--Vasyl' Sochka(2)

The role of the intellectual in East Central Europe as a political catalyst has a strong tradition throughout the twentieth century. Tomas G. Masaryk, the founder of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and its first philosopher-president, set forth a precedent in which scholarly thought was energized into practical political action. The extension of Soviet power into the region and its accompanying Marxist-Leninist doctrine suppressed open political and social dialogue, but could not completely extinguish intellectual, regional, religious, and ethnic consciousness beneath the seemingly monolithic surface. Some intellectuals, such as the Polish historian of philosophy Leszek Kolakowski, fled to the West, later to see their positions vindicated by developments in the homeland. Others, such as the Polish Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, the Lithuanian professor of music history Vytautas Landsbergis, attained positions of national political leadership after the demise of Communism. Intellectuals such as professors continue their role as models of leadership in East Central Europe.

Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, is the person most responsible for the active promotion of the study of the Carpatho-Rusyn ethnic group in the world today. His scholarship, in its depth and breadth, towers over the scan attention paid to the Rusyns by other scholars, especially those in the West. Indeed, Professor Magocsi is referred to in East Central Europe both pejoratively and admiringly as "mohuchyj Magocsi"--"Mighty Magocsi."(3) Yet this appellation is not simply due to his thorough and prodigious record of publication. Since 1989, various organizations in East Central Europe have asserted the cultural and linguistic rights of Carpatho-Rusyns as a distinct people in several countries. Most of them credit Professor Magocsi with giving them the self-confidence to act by providing the necessary historical framework of their people.

The controversy over Magocsi's work includes a number of related but distinct areas. The Carpatho-Rusyn question has long been considered resolved by modern scholarship and administrative decree, especially in the European homeland, in favor of a Ukrainian ethnic identity. Professor Magocsi's scholarship has analyzed the ethnic alternatives traditionally available to the Rusyns, including that of a distinct East Slavic identity. He has also considered the present-day reality of Rusyn identity, especially in response to the fact that the Ukrainian orientation has been explicitly rejected by many people of Rusyn origin in such places as the former Yugoslavia and the United States. He credits the clumsy official implementation of Ukrainianization in Communist Czechoslovakia with causing substantial Rusyn assimilation into the Slovak ethnos. Magocsi has repeatedly shown that the conclusions of ethnographers and linguists about Rusyns were ineptly and insensitively imposed on the Rusyn masses, who largely did not feel the same way.

Magocsi has been at times criticized for overtly favoring data that supports his views, but it is rather his role as a scholar and how, according to some, he has used that position which has brought the most intense diatribes against him. The question of whether the Carpatho-Rusyns are an East Slavic ethnic group distinct from Ukrainians is problematic, and is best suited to scholarly journals in the fields of ethnography and linguistics. …

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