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A Note on ‘Ruthenia’

The question of “Ruthenia” has come up again in two letters to The New York Review.

One letter by Paul Robert Magocsi of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario claims that Rita Klimovà and I were both wrong on the subject of “Ruthenia” in our exchange of letters in The New York Review of April 8. He writes that I should have referred to a “people who call themselves Rusyns (Ruthenians)” who live in three different countries—Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland.

Another letter by Radim Marada of the New School for Social Research says that “Ruthenia was part of Czechoslovakia after 1918 but reverted to the Ukraine after 1945.”

I confess that I do not consider myself an expert in the geography of the former Czechoslovakia. I heard the area inhabited by “Ruthenians” in Slovakia referred to as “Ruthenia,” which I took to be a customary usage locally. I knew, of course, there was a Ruthenia in the Ukraine containing most Ruthenians but accepted that one might well refer to where Ruthenians lived in Slovakia as “Ruthenia.” In short, there are Ruthenians in Slovakia but no “Ruthenia.” I warn readers never to fail to make this distinction or they will bring down on their heads the wrath of Ruthenian experts.

Theodore Draper
Princeton, New Jersey

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