National and other identities in Bukovina in late Austrian times

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Author: Fred Stambrook
Date: Annual 2004
From: Austrian History Yearbook(Vol. 35)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 9,670 words

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MANY YEARS AGO, Arthur J. May wrote, "Only the Bucovina provided a patch of blue in the beclouded nationality sky of Austria." (1) Without going into the comparative aspect of this assertion, the object of this study is to ascertain to what extent May's statement correctly reflects the complex relationships of the ethnocultural or national groups in Bukovina. How blue was the sky really?

Acquired by Austria in 1774-75, Bukovina prior to 1918 was a small Crownland in the northeastern corner of the Austrian Empire. It bordered on Hungary, Romania, the Russian Empire, and the Austrian province of Galicia. Its area was about 410,000 square kilometers, and its population in 1910 was just over 800,000. Some of the land was rolling and fairly fertile countryside, especially in the north and east, merging into the foothills that in turn gave way to the Carpathian Mountains in the south and west. Much of Bukovina was forested. The estates of the large landowners, sometimes with a palace or large manor house, stood in glaring contrast to the small landholdings of the peasantry and their cramped housing. (2) The capital, Czernowitz (Chernivtsi), with a population in 1910 of around 87,000, was the only sizable city.

Bukovina had the most ethnically diverse population of any of the Austrian Crownlands, with "mother tongue" and later language of general usage (Umgangssprache) being the indicator of nationality. In 1910, approximately 38.4 percent of the population gave "Ruthenian" (3) as their language, 34.4 percent Romanian, 21.4 percent German, 4.6 percent Polish, and 1.3 percent Magyar; the "German" contingent has to be broken down into roughly two-fifths ethnic German and three-fifths Jews. There were also Czechs, Armenians, Slovaks, and Lippowaner (that is, Russian Old Believers), and apparently mostly included--if they were counted at all--in the Romanian language group, Gypsies (Roma).

No one ethnolinguistic group constituted a majority of the population, which made Bukovina distinctive among Austrian provinces and had significant political implications, for it made for "a much greater tendency to coexist" among the people and their politicians. (4) German, Romanian, and Ukrainian were the official languages of the Land and were used by the populace in their dealings with officialdom. German was the internal language of the bureaucracy; the proceedings of the parliamentary assembly, the Landtag, were normally conducted in German, the lingua franca, though any of the three official languages might be used.

In this "land of cross currents," this "lush garden of cultures," (5) the religiousa affiliations of the population provided additional complexity. The great majority, just over 70 percent, were Orthodox Christians, roughly equally divided between Romanians and Ukrainians in 1910. (6) About 12.5 percent of the people were Jews; approximately 11 percent were Roman Catholics; 3 percent were Greek Catholics (Eastern Rite Catholics, Uniates); and 2.5 percent were Evangelicals. There were also Russian Old Believers, Armenian Catholics, and Armenian Orthodox. Poles were predominantly Roman Catholics; Magyars and ethnic Germans were split between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals; the Greek Catholics were mostly Ukrainians.

Until recently, historians...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A135888328