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Vasas, Géza

On the crossroads of Ruthenian autonomy (March-September, 1939)

When Sub-Carpathia (Ruthenia) [Kárpátalja] was reannexed to Hungary upon the collapse of the Czechoslovak state in the middle of March, 1939, the various governments in Budapest had been promising the mostly Ruthene population self-government for nearly two decades in case of an integral revision. And, of course, they had never failed to mention that the Czechoslovak state was continually violating its obligation to establish Ruthenian autonomy, promised in the minority treaty signed at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

The time to make good the Hungarian promise came just at a time when the man at the head of the government was Pál Teleki, who as a geographer had been clearly endeavouring to reconcile the demands of a political and economical entity in the Carpathian Basin with the needs of minority and/or regional self-governments. Teleki wanted a political consensus that would include relevant persons and political forces in Hungarian public life, as well as loyal Ruthenian politicians. The consensus was nearly complete in that autonomy was necessary and the parties were bound by their given word.

Most of the innumerable plans for autonomy drafted between March and September, 1939 were of either of two opinions. One argued for the so called popular (cultural), the other for territorial autonomy. Although the existing county system would perhaps have been administratively more compatible with the popular autonomy, the Department of Nationalities of the Prime Minister's Office as well as most of the prominent persons who submitted proposals were trying to find a way to establish territorial autonomy. The reason lay mostly in Hungarian constitutional traditions and in the political tradition that explicitly left individuals to decide which nation or nationality they wished to belong to. That is why the popular principle, a favourite of the German (National Socialist) constitutional law, was regarded with considerable dislike.

In the meantime, a number of opinions were also formulated that explicitly conflicted with the intentions of the government. While the representatives of the Ruthenian Magyars would, in their heart of hearts, have restricted the jurisdiction of the autonomy to the minimum, the Ruthene autonomists laid claim to an autonomy as extensive as that of Croatia between 1868 and 1918, which meant the status of co-nation [társnemzet].

Due to the wide range of views and opinions, and to the lack of time, the Hungarian government, in the summer of 1939, in want of of a consensual bill, laid the foundations of an autonomy in the near future by decree. Imposed from above, this solution was a peculiar mixture of deconcentrated administration and self-government.

The paper discusses the material, consisting of protocols, plans, proposals made at the Department of Nationalities of the Prime Minister's office that has, through a curious stroke of luck, recently been recovered, and the originals of which were probably destroyed during the last days of World War II in Hungary.

Ugrás a lap tetejére

Szeged, 2001.03.21.

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