In the latest event in the collapse of Ukraine, Deputies of the Legislative Assembly of Transcarpathia have demanded autonomy from the Ukrainian nationalist state. MPs demanded that the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Groysman grant autonomy to the region. The statement was adopted at the plenary session of the local parliament.
“We demand the recognition of Transcarpathia as a special self-governing administrative territory. The necessary amendments to the Constitution of the country must be made without delay”, – the document says.
Transcarpathia is the region that was last to join Ukraine. It was a part of Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then Czechoslovakia until 1945, when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin incorporated it into the Soviet Ukraine after World War II. Representatives of local communities (Orthodox congress of Carpathian Ruthenia, headed by Archimandrite Kabaljuk and Professor Lintur) asked him to include it in the USSR as an independent republic. This proposal was rejected by the Soviet leadership.
Most of the region’s population is Carpatho Rusyns who consider themselves separate people to the Ukrainians. Rusyns as an ethnic minority are recognized in Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, and Romania. There is a major Ruthenian diaspora in the US. The Ukrainian government has consistently pursued a policy of Ukrainization of the local population. However, the region has a strong desire for autonomy and independence. Besides Rusyns in Transcarpathia, there is a large Hungarian community living there, and a smaller Romanian one.
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Neighboring Hungary supports the push for autonomy by Rusyns and Hungarians living in Transcarpathia. The “Jobbik – For a Better Hungary” party is the most active in this regard. They call on the Hungarian leadership to protect the interests of the Hungarian minority and Rusyns that are historically associated with Hungary. Jobbik MPs Márton Gyöngyösi and Adrienn Szaniszló participated as observers in the elections in Donetsk and Lugansk. In the context of the weakening of the Ukrainian state, Hungary cannot stand by and will strengthen their influence in the Carpathian region, including supporting the movement for autonomy. This is entirely in line with the national interests of Hungary.
The main cross-border trade flow between Ukraine and Europe goes through the Carpathians: both legal and illegal; smuggling is thriving in the region. Much of this criminal business is in the hands of the local Baloga clan, one of whom formerly headed the administration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Representatives of local oligarchic structures are also interested in autonomy from Kiev.
From an economic and geopolitical point of view, a small Carpathian region is of strategic importance for Ukraine. Within this region are the key gas pipelines through which Russian fuel is delivered to Europe. Therefore, Ukraine will have to salvage control of the region at any cost. At the same time it is an important trump card for the local elites and the supporters of independence. Europe is also interested in controlling this pipeline system.
Transcarpathia is not the only region of Ukraine that could demand autonomy. Ukraine is an artificial country made by the Soviets from disparate pieces cut out from different states. Strong separatist tendencies can be found in the Odessa region (Southern Bessarabia), which is home to a large Romanian (Moldovan) community. The Chernivtsi region is home to a large number of many who are also displeased with the rule of nationalists and oligarchs in modern Ukraine. Both regions were part of Romania in past. Unsuccessful European integration of Ukraine, corruption, the collapse of the state, rampant Ukrainian nationalism, chauvinism, and xenophobia all contribute to the revival of pro-Romanian sympathies in these regions. One should not forget about the eastern regions of the country that are populated mainly by ethnic Russians.