History

The Ruthenians / Rusyns live more than 260 years on the territory of present Serbia. In their rich tradition the 17th of January 1751 has been recorded as a special date. On that day Franz Joseph de Redl, counsellor of empress Maria Theresa and administrator of the Bačka Royal-State District in Sombor signed the first official document – Contract concerning the settlement of 200 Ruthenian Greek-Catholic families on the heath named Big Krstur. It was official beginning of present Ruski Krstur, the oldest, the biggest and the most familiar place of the Ruthenians in Vojvodina and Serbia. Because of that the date has been chosen as their national holiday.

The first setllers had already appeared in the middle of the twenties of the XVIII century individually, but only a roll from 1746 does testify of the sojurn of a certain number of families nearby Krstur. Their settlement was connected to common circumstances. After the end of the Austria-Turkey war period in 1739 Habsburg Monarchy got possession of fertile but almost deserted territories of South Hungary. Then it was decided to colonize them and economically renew. Among the peoples that came and settled on the fertile Vojvodinian plain there were the Ruthenians. They came from north-eastern counties of former Hungary, from the regions which are nowadays in East Slovakia, Transcarpathian region of Ukraine and Hungary. Under similar circumstances, on the 15th of May 1763, in Sombor, a document concerning settlement of another Ruthenian centre − Kucura was signed. According to regulations of these contracts the colonists should have been of the Rusyn / Ruthenian nationality, in the status of free people, confessionally Greek-Catholics (Uniates). Out of diligent inhabitants of these two villages, both out of the first 350 families mentioned in the contract and out of the new settlers from homeland called Hornjica (Горнїца, the Upper lands of Austria-Hungary), the national community of the Ruthenians in Vojvodina was developed in time. During the second half of the XVIII century the population of the mentioned settlements was constantly growing. Since there was not enough land the whole XIX century and the beginning of the XX century were marked by migration of the Ruthenians from Ruski Krstur and Kucura to the Bačka and Srem plains where symbolically around ten new Ruthenian colonies were sown.

Since the time of the settlement of the Ruthenians in Bačka the Greek-Catholic Church has played a special role. Greek-Catholics recognize Roman Pope to be their spiritual Sovereign Pontiff, but they cherish the Eastern rite, they use Church Slavonic books, and their priests are allowed to get married.

Social life of the community was organized in the parishes that presented the foundation of new Ruthenian colonies. The Ruski Krstur parish was founded in 1751, and only two years after that a school began with its work; nowadays the school is worthy of praise for its 255 years long tradition. A bishopric with its seat in Križevci was founded for all Greek-Catholics in this part of Habsburg Monarchy in 1777.

Nowadays, with regard to church organization, the Ruthenians belong to the Apostolic Exarchate for Greek-Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro which was established in 2003. Its seat is in Ruski Krstur.

After Krstur and Kucura the oldest Ruthenian colony was founded in a city environment, in Novi Sad, where the third Ruthenian parish in Bačka was established in 1780. The Ruthenians began to settle the property of the Križevci bishop in Šid in 1803. After the 1848/9 revolution several new colonies in Berkasovo and Vrbas were founded, and since the eighties of the XIX century the number of the Ruthenians in Đurđevo and Gospođinci had been growing. The Ruthenian colonies in Bačinci, Bikič Do and Sremska Mitrovica were founded too. The Ruthenians moved to Novo Orahovo after the Second World War and a larger number of members of our community began to appear in Subotica as well.

The 1848 census registered that the Ruthenian community had 8 500 members. According to the first state census of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians Kingdom from 1921 there were 20 383 Ruthenians, and according to the 1971 census there lived 24 640 Ruthenians in Yugoslavia. At the 2002 census 15 905 citizens declared their nationality as Ruthenian which is 0,2 % of the population of the Republic of Serbia. Out of all the settlements where the Ruthenians live Ruski Krstur and Kucura have remained the biggest and the most important Ruthenian centres. Krstur, the settlement of 6 000 inhabitants, with its educational, cultural and church institutions represents the main centre of the Ruthenians in Serbia. There are around 5 000 inhabitants in Kucura and approximately 3 000 of them are of Ruthenian origine.

As far as historical origin is concerned the Ruthenians belong to Eastern Slavs. All inhabitants of the Kievan Rus` were called Rusyns in the Middle Ages. During the centuries borders and states changed. The ethnonym defined all the subjects of the Habsburg Monarchy who lived in the XIX century in Galicia and North East Hungary. The Ruthenians themselves say that they are Rusnaks (Руснаци), they call their language ruski (руски), and they write in Cyrillic.

Those who speak Ruthenian can easily understand all Slavonic languages, especially the languages of the Carpathian area. The Ruthenians in Srbia have published books in their vernacular for more than a century. The language of the Ruthenians in Serbia is considered to be the youngest literary Slavonic language. The Ruthenians should be grateful to Havrijil Kostel`nik, who was born in 1886 in Ruski Krstur, for that. He was one of the most educated and distinguished Vojvodinian Ruthenians – a priest, doctor of philosophy, university professor and writer. Although he spent most of his tempestuous life in Lavov, he decisively influenced cultural-national development of the Vojvodinian Ruthenians. While attending high school young Kostel`nik published Idyllic wreath From My Village (Идилски венєц З мойого валала) in 1904. The work was written in the vernacular and represents the foundation of artistic literature of the Ruthenians in Vojvodina. He also wrote Grammar of the Bačka-Srem Ruthenian Speech (Граматика бачваньско-рускей бешеди) in 1923 and in that way he codified the language of the present Ruthenian community in Serbia. Kostel`nik created in five European languages and published more than twenty books. What he created in the Ruthenian language has become the foundation of culture and national identity of the Ruthenians in Vojvodina.

In the stormy changes that took place after the end of the First World War, at the Great Popular Assembly held in the end of 1918 in Novi Sad, when the coalescence of the present Vojvodina to the Kingdom of Serbia was proclaimed even 21 representatives of the Ruthenian centres in Bačka participated. The priest of the Novi Sad Greek-Catholic parish, Jovan Hranilović, was the first chairman at the Great Popular Assembly.

Soon after that event the Bačka-Srem Ruthenians held their first popular assembly when they founded the Ruthenian Popular Educational Society – Prosvita (Руске народне просвитне дружтво – Просвита). The assembly was held on the 2nd of July 1919 in Novi Sad. After the first Yugoslav state had been formed this community small in numbers experienced its cultural-national renaissaince. Funded, especially, assisted and led by clergy in that period the Prosvita publishes school textbooks, books and journals and organizes cultural life.

The Ruski Novini (Ruthenian Newspaper / Руски новини) appeared in 1924 and the children journal Naša Zahradka (Our Garden / Наша заградка) in 1937. The first Ruthenian Calendar was published in 1921. During twenty years of publishing it played an important enlightening role in the people whose predominant occupation was agriculture; it was possible since the people rated the written word highly. Cultural life was developed on the pages of the mentioned publications and a new generation of Ruthenian intelligentsia was formed.

The Cultural-Educational Union of the Yugoslav Ruthenians (Културно-просвитни союз югославянских Русинох, КПСЮР) was founded on the 3rd of September 1933 in Stari Vrbas and it began to publish its newspaper the Zarja (Beam / Заря) in April in 1934 which was published till 1941 and during that period it changed several names.

After the end of the Second World War development of the Ruthenian community continued, but in different circumstances and with the help of the state. Already in 1945 the work of the Ruski Novini was renewed under new name the Ruske Slovo (Ruthenian Word / Руске слово). The Newspaper-Publishing Institution Ruske slovo (Новинско-видавательна установа Руске слово) was established in the same time when the newspaper having the same name was. It publishes a few journals and editions, such as the Journal for Literature, Culture and Art the Švetlosc (Light / Шветлосц), the Journal for Children the Zahradka (Garden / Заградка) and the Cultural-Political Journal for Youth МАК (Културно-политични часопис за младих МАК).

The NPI Ruske slovo, the Institution for Publishing Textbooks in Belgrade – the Department in Novi Sad, the Society for the Ruthenian Language, Literature and Culture and other publishers, such as the Greek-Catholic Church, have published over 600 titles of books in the Ruthenian language since 1945.

The Ruthenian community in Serbia has a network of electronic media. Thus in the system of the Radio-Diffusive Institution of Vojvodina within the Public Service the Ruthenians have had an editorial board since 1948 within the Radio Novi Sad and a television editorial board since 1975 that broadcast programmes daily. There are also several Ruthenian editorial boards within the local radio stations.

The first Ruthenian high school, which still exists, was founded in 1945 in Ruski Krstur. The high school teachers are active in organizing most of the activities concerning general development, especially development of Ruthenian education and culture. The Department for the Ruthenian Language and Literature, which today bears the name of the Department of Rusynistics, was established in 1981 at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad; 32 students have been graduated from the Department so far. Regular teaching in the Ruthenian language has been organized in three primary schools: in Ruski Krstur, Kucura and Đurđevo. The Society for the Ruthenian Language, Literature and Culture (Дружтво за руски язик, литературу и културу, established in 1970), in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia and the National Council of the Rusyn National Minority, organizes the optional study of the Ruthenian language with elements of national culture in the schools where there is no regular instruction in the Ruthenian language.

Fostering national culture and art among the Ruthenians has a long tradition. Cultural-artistic societies exist in the places where the Ruthenians live. The international Festival of Ruthenian Culture Red Rose (Фестивал рускей култури Червена ружа), which is famous even across the borders of our country, takes place in Ruski Krstur, then the Drama Memorial Petro Riznič Đađa (Драмски мемориял Петрa Ризничa Дядї) and the Literary Manifestation Kosteljnik’s Autumn (Литературна манифестация Костельникова єшень) whose programmes take place in all settlements where the Ruthenians live. Our societies organize traditional cultural manifestations of broader significance. All manifestations of the Ruthenians in Serbia are united and coordinated by the National Council of the Rusyn National Minority.

The Ruthenians can be proud of not a small number of intellectuals and artists who nowadays work and create in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica and other cities of Serbia. The most distinguished among them are the members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Serbia, the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Vojvodina, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the World Academy of Rusyn Culture. Many acknowledgements and prizes awarded by the Republic of Serbia for high scientific and artistic achievements are evidence of the value of the Ruthenian creators. There is a respectable number of doctors, engineers, professors, writers, journalists, musicians, actors and sportsmen who are respected in the country and abroad.

Today the Ruthenians represent a small community but, by tradition and by their cultural characteristics, a clearly recognizable national community in the Republic of Serbia and in its north province, the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. Thanks to two and a half centuries long persevering existence on this territory of the south area of the Pannonian Plain, Vojvodinian Ruthenians consider it to be their home country. At the same time the Ruthenians are a mediator in relations between Serbia and regions and countries of the Middle and East Europe where their historical roots are.