The following article, authored by P.R. Magocsi, first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn American, Volume 10 #1, 1987
copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission

During the past decade, many Americans have written the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center inquiring about their ethnic origins. Quite often these people are parishioners in a Orthodox "Russian" church and they know that their parents or grandparents came from the Carpathian mountain region of old Austria. Sometimes they have more specific information- : that their ancestors actually came from the province of Galicia, from mountain villages near the towns of Sanok, Krosno, Gorlice, or Nowy Sacz that are today in Poland.

Russians, Austrians, Galicians, Poles - who are these people and where did their forbears actually come from? What was it like in the old country and what is it like today? To anticipate our story, here are some quick answers: (l) the people in question are the people of Rus', who traditionally call themselves Lemkos, Rusnaks, or Rusyns (rendered sometimes in English incorrectly as Russians); (2) their European homeland is known as the Lemko Region, in the historic province of Galicia, which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and since 1918 is part of Poland; (3) today most of the Lemko Region has been emptied of Lemko Rusyns, who were forcibly driven from their homeland forty years ago.

Therefore, this year - 1987 - is the fortieth anniversary of the forced deportation of Lemko Rusyns from their native land. [note - 1997 will mark the 50th anniversary]. On this occasion, the Carpatho-Rusyn American decided to introduce the Lemko Region to its readers and at the same time to commemorate this most tragic event of the recent past. The present article will provide some geographic and historic background information for articles on various aspects of the Lemko Region and Lemko Rusyns that will appear in the next several issues of the Carpatho-Rusyn American.

Geographic Location

Like their brethren living south of the Carpathian crests, the Lemko Rusyns traditionally inhabited the mountain valleys and foothills on the northern slopes stretching from the Dunajec River in the west to the San River in the east. This area is geographically marked by the gently rolling hills of the Lower Beskyd range and the higher and more rugged Upper Beskyds (Bieszczady) with peaks between 3000 and 4000 feet in the far east. Several passes in the Lower Beskyds, the most famous known as the Dukla Pass, had at least before the establishment of strictly controlled borders in the twentieth century afforded easy access to the southern slopes of the mountains inhabited by fellow Carpatho-Rusyns.

According to present-day political divisions, the Lemko Region is located within the far southeastern corner of Poland, divided between two administrative units known as the Nowy Sacz and Krosno palatinates (wojewodztwa). However, it is the old administrative districts (povity) that are best remembered when describing the various parts of the Lemko Region. These are named after the district centers and from west to east they include: Nowy Targ (Rusyn: Novyj Targ), Nowy Sacz (Novyj Sanc), Grybow (Grybov), Gorlice (Gorlyci), Jaslo, Krosno, Sanok (Sjanok), and Lesko (Lisko). On the eve of World War II, there were 178,000 Carpatho-Rusyns living in 303 villages located in the southern sectors of the above-named eight districts.

Actually, most scholars consider that on linguistic and ethnographic grounds the Lemko Rusyns extend only as far as the Oslawa and Solinka River valleys, excluding therefore most of Lisko county, but Lemko writers and publicists both in Europe and in the United States consider their homeland to extend as far as the San River. Moreover, the Lemko Region, together with the Presov Region (now in Slovakia) and Subcarpathian Rus' (now in Ukraine). forms the historic land of Carpathian Rus`.

Early History

The Lemko Region seems to have been inhabited by the earliest Slavic tribes known as the White Croats, who came to the area in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. For a long time, however, the mountains remained a sparsely settled frontier region between three medieval states that were formed during the tenth century - Kievan Rus' in the east, Poland in the west, and Hungary in the south. The Lemko Region was actually divided between the Polish Kingdom and the Galician principality of Kievan Rus' roughly along a line above the Dukla Pass which was to remain the midpoint between the western and eastern portion of the Lemko-inhabited lands. The most important event during these early centuries was the coming of Christianity in its eastern or Byzantine form, which reached the Carpathians via the west (the Cyril and Methodian mission in the late ninth century) and the east (Kievan Rus' after 988). This meant that the Lemko Region was to remain within the sphere of the Eastern Christian or Orthodox world.

With the fall of an independent Galicia in the mid-fourteenth century, the whole Lemko Region came definitively under Poland. The Polish kings encouraged settlement of the area, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the newcomers began to reach the mountainous areas. Most of these settlers were Rusyns from the east as well as the so-called Vlachs from the south (actually Rusyns and perhaps some Romanians designated as Vlachs because of their work as shepherds). To attract settlers to the generally infertile mountainous area, the Polish kings and landlords provided tax-free incentives, so that the small-scale Rusyn farmers in the valleys and the shepherds in the mountains were generally left alone by governmental authorities.

In the seventeenth century, Polish landlords tried to extend actual control over the Lemko Region, but their attempt to introduce serfdom and to increase taxes and other duties among the peasants and shepherds basically failed. This was due to the general inaccessibility of the highland region and, in part, to armed bands of mountaineers led by Robin Hood-type leaders, the most famous in the Lemko Region being Vasyl' Bajus from Leszczyny (Liscyny) and Andrij Savka from Dukla.

The seventeenth century also witnessed another kind of attempt to impose Polish or western influence on the Orthodox Rusyns. Already in 1596, several Orthodox Rus' bishops in Poland agreed to the provisions of the Union of Brest, which united them with Rome and brought into being the Uniate Church. It was not until the very end of the century (1692) that the bishop of Przemysl, who was responsible for the Lemko Region, finally accepted the Union. But even this did not really effect the Rusyn masses, since they continued to practice the Byzantine rite (with its liturgy in Church Slavonic) and to use the Julian calendar (at that time 14 days ""behind" the western Gregorian calendar). Moreover, these cultural characteristics, together with their East Slavic language, was what distinguished Rusyns from the Poles living in the lowland villages.

Austrian Rule

The rather lax and ineffective aspects of Polish rule came to an end after 1772. In that year, the first partition of Poland took place (the whole country was to disappear from the map by 1795), whereby the Lemko Region was annexed by the Habsburg-ruled Austrian Empire. Now part of the Austrian province of Galicia, the Lemko Region became subject to Habsburg decrees issued from the imperial capital in Vienna. While it is true that the peasants were liberated from serfdom in 1848, before then they had never been greatly burdened by feudal obligations to faraway landlords generally uninterested in unproductive mountainous lands. But the Austrian government prohibited free use of the forest and it carefully registered all land holdings in order to have a better control for assessing and collecting taxes.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the pastoral lands in the Lemko Region had been taken over by farmers, although their plots were continually subdivided and unable to support a growing population. In the absence of any industry in nearby cities, the Lemko Rusyns began to seek extra income by crossing the mountains each summer to do harvest work on the Hungarian plain. Then, beginning in the 1870s, a few Rusyns from the Lemko Region began to go to the United States, where they would work for a few years and then return home to buy land - incidentally pushing up prices and driving fellow villagers into even deeper poverty.

While it is true that extreme poverty seemed to be characteristic of the Lemko Region in the decades before World War I, there were some benefits under the benign rule of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph (reigned 1848-1916). Austria had a constitutional system governed by the rule of law, so that Lemko Rusyns were not discriminated against because of their religion or ethnic identity. In that regard, the second half of the nineteenth century also allowed for the beginning of cultural activity.

Some Lemko Rusyns were even able to make distinguished careers, especially in the ranks of the Uniate, or as it was renamed by the Austrians, the Greek Catholic Church. Among these were two metropolitans: Josyf Sembratovyc: (consecrated 1870) and Sylvester Sembratovyc (consecrated 1885): and three bishops: Toma Poljans'kyj (consecrated 1864), Julijan Peles (consecrated 1885), and Josafat Kocylovs'ky) (consecrated 1916).

With regard to the population as a whole, elementary schools were set up in nearly two-thirds of the Lemko villages and gymnasia (high schools) were opened in the nearby towns of Nowy Sacz, Gorlice, and Sanok. The region was also exposed to the nationality question that faced all of Galician society; namely, were the inhabitants who called themselves Rusyns part of the Russian nationality or Ukrainian nationality, or perhaps did they form a distinct Slavic group? In the Lemko Region, it was clear that the pro Russian (Russophile) orientation was the strongest, and it was promoted by the 109 reading rooms established by the Kackovs'kyj Cultural Society.

It was also at this time that the name Lemko was first introduced. Until then, the inhabitants had always called themselves Rusyns or Rusnaks, and although the common folk continued to use their ancient name, local leaders preferred to designate those Rusyns who lived north of the Carpathians and west of the San River as Lemkos. (The term derives from the preposition "lem", meaning "only", which is actually used in all Carpatho-Rusyn dialects). The use of the new ethnic name was particularly evident in the first newspaper published for the group and aptly called Lemko (1911-16). Along with this cultural activity appeared the first modern Lemko writers like Vladimir Chyljak (pseudonym leronym Anonym), Kljavdija Aleksovyc, and Dimitryj Vysloc'kyj (pseudonym Van'o Hunjanka).

World War I

The stability and order in Lemko life that prevailed under Austrian rule began to break down on the eve of World War I. Austria-Hungary was especially suspicious of the Russian Empire and of the Orthodox movement that had begun to take hold in Galicia, in particular in the Carpathian region. Former Greek Catholic immigrants to the United States had returned home as Orthodox converts and they frequently encouraged the establishment of Orthodox churches in their native villages. For its part, the Austrian government suspected Orthodox priests and parishioners to be supporters of Russia (indeed, some Orthodox believers did see the Russian tsar as their earthly saviour), and Habsburg authorities even brought some clergy and peasants to trial on charges of treason.

This situation only worsened with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Within one month, tsarist Russia's armies had rolled into Galicia and controlled the province as far as the San River. Then, by March 1915, they moved farther west. bringing all of the Lemko Region under their control. For many months during the winter of 1914-1915, the western Lemko Region in particular was in the war zone and the scene of many bloody battles, the fiercest being near Gorlice in May 1915.

During its presence in the area, the Russian military and civil administration were friendly to the Orthodox and Russophile Lemkos, although they persecuted pro-Ukrainian activists. On the other hand, many Lemkos suffered at the hands of the Austrian administration both before the Russian military advance that began in August 1914 and its retreat from Galicia in June 1915. During those months, the retreating and then returning Austro-Hungarian forces summarily shot, hanged, or arrested priests and peasants simply because they called themselves Rusyns, said they spoke Rusyn (rus'kyj, or because they were Orthodox and suspected of being pro-Russian. This led to the first forced deportation of Lemkos in 1914-1915, which brought several thousand innocent peasants to Austrian concentration camps in the western part of the empire, the most infamous of which was at Talerhof near Graz, where they remained for the duration of the war. It is also from this time that the Ukrainian problem became an issue for many Lemkos. Some had fought with Ukrainian units in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, and as a result became conscious Ukrainian patriots. On the other hand, many who experienced the Talerhof internment blamed pro-Ukrainians in Galicia for having cooperated with the Austrian regime in "uncovering" Russian sympathizers or simply Rus' patriots among the Lemkos.

The Interwar Years

With the end of World War I and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the closing months of 1918, Carpatho-Rusyns in the Lemko Region like their brethren south of the mountains formed several national councils to decide the political fate of their homeland. On December 5, 1918, hundreds of Lemkos met in the village of Florynka (Grybow district) where they formed a Rusyn Council of the Lemko Region. Initial proposals to unite with Russia were rebuffed, and spokesmen like Andrej Gagatko and Dmitrij Visloc'kyj proposed instead to negotiate with fellow Rusyns south of the mountains who had just set up their own national council in Presov. The goal was to have Lemko Rusyns join with their brethren in the Presov Region to form a single Carpathian Rus' autonomous state within the new republic of Czechoslovakia. To achieve this, a joint Lemko and Presov Region Carpatho-Rusyn National Council was formed on December 21 , 1918, which prepared several memoranda proposing a unified Carpathian Rus' "state" within Czechoslovakia. These were submitted to the new Czechoslovak Government and to the Paris Peace Conference which in early 1919 was redrawing the boundaries of Europe.

While leaders in the western part of the Lemko Region were speaking of Rusyn national unity and seeking to unite with Czechoslovakia, some other Lemkos farther east under the leadership of the Greek Catholic priest Pantelejmon Spil'ka, gathered at Komancza (Sanok district) to declare their loyalty to the West Ukrainian People's Republic, which since November 1918 had been engaged in a fierce battle with the Poles in an effort to establish an independent Ukrainian state. However, the pro-Ukrainian Komancza initiative lasted only a few weeks in February 1919, and four months later the Galician Ukrainian Army and government were driven entirely out of Galicia which henceforth was administered by the Poles.

The Poles were also able to block any efforts to have the Lemko Region unite with Czechoslovakia. Left for a while on its own, the Rusyn National Council in Florynka set up an administration headed by a local lawyer, Dr. Jaroslav Kacmarcyk. Popularly known as the Lemko Republic, it administered the western Lemko Region [Nowy Sacz, Grybow, and Gorlice districts) for nearly sixteen months. But by March 1920, the Polish government brought an end to Lemko "independence." Kacmarcyk was arrested (and later put on trial and acquitted), while other Lemko Republic Leaders fled to Czechoslovakia. In Poland, there was to be no question of a distinct Lemko political entity.

The interwar years in Poland were marked by a heightened political, national, and religious struggle for the allegiance of the Lemko Rusyns. In the political sphere, the Polish government tried its best to undermine Ukrainian influence by supporting the idea of Lemko distinctiveness, allowing the Lemko Rusyn dialect to be taught in schools, and sometimes arguing that Lemkos were no more than an ethnographic branch of the Polish people. While it is true that during the interwar years many Polish publications began to overemphasize the affinity of Lemko to Polish culture, some of the best scholarly research ever done on the Lemko Region was begun in the 1930s by the Polish ethnographer Roman Reinfuss and Polish linguist Zdislaw Stieber.

Ukrainian activists, on the other hand, argued that Lemkos were Ukrainians, and they were particularly successful in having a Ukrainian identity accepted by many inhabitants in the eastern Lemko Region (Sanok and Lisko districts). They made few inroads, however, in the western Lemko Region, and to counter the growing sense of Lemko distinctiveness there, pro-Ukrainian Lemkos established during the 1930s a Lemko Museum in Sanok and a Lemko Commission farther east in L'viv, which published a biweekly Ukrainian newspaper, Nas Lemko (1934-39) and helped to promote the belletristic and cultural writings of Franc Kokovs'kyj, Hryhorij Hanul~ak, and Julijan Tarnovyc (pseud. Julijan Beskyd).

With regard to religion, the movement to "return to Orthodoxy" that had begun before World War I, now increased rapidly. This was, in part, because Lemko villagers resented the Ukrainian orientation of the Greek Catholic Church, and instead associated Orthodoxy with their own Rus' identity. Concerned that the Greek Catholic Church was tied too closely to the Ukrainian movement and afraid, therefore, that this would alienate further the Lemkos, the Vatican decided in 1934 to establish a separate Greek Catholic Lemko Apostolic Administration with a pro-Rusyn, even Russophile oriented hierarchy under the Reverends Vasylij Mascjuch and Jakov Medvec'kij.

As for the majority of Lemkos, they were struggling to survive economically. Interwar Poland remained an underdeveloped agrarian society and was unable to improve the economic situation. Not surprisingly, the poverty-stricken Lemkos were attracted to left-wing and pro-Soviet political parties that called for the establishment of a Communist society.

Lemkos also continued to emigrate abroad, to the United States and most especially to Canada. This increase in the number of Lemkos abroad, including national leaders like Dmitrij Visloc'kyj and Simeon Pysh, led to the establishment of the first Lemko-American newspapers (Lemko, 1928-39, Karpatska Rus: 1938-present) and permanent organizations, such as the Lemko Association (Lemko Sojuz) in 1929 and the Carpatho-Russian American Center in 1939. Pro-Ukrainian Lemko immigrants founded their own Organization for the Defense of the Lemko Region in 1934. Besides trying to fulfill the social and cultural needs of Lemko immigrants, these organizations also sent moral and financial help to the European homeland.

In the homeland, the question of national identity -whether Lemko Rusyn, Russian, Ukrainian, or Polish - was still being fought over among the intelligentsia. For its part. the populace in general, whether Greek Catholic or Orthodox, was content to have its own language taught in schools (after 1933) and its own Greek Catholic administration (after 1934). Therefore, with the exception of the far eastern districts [Sanok and Lisko) where a Ukrainian orientation predominated, the majority of villagers in the Lemko Region continued to identify as Lemkos or Rusyns and to have reinforced a sense of national affinity with their Rusyn brethren south of the mountains in Czechoslovakia. The Lemko ideology was best represented at the time by Metodij Trochanovs'kyj, the author of Lemko language elementary school texts (a primer and two readers) and editor of the weekly newspaper Lemko (1934-39); Dr. Orest Hnatysak. the head of the Lemko Association (Lemko Sojuz) in Krynica (Nowy Sacz district); and the lyric poet Ivan Rusenko.

World War II

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 changed the situation radically. Under the combined attack of Hitler's Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, Poland was wiped off the map and the San River became an international border between the two countries. As for the Lemko Region, it fell into Nazi hands as part of the so-called Generalgouvernement, a colony of "Greater Germany." The new German regime welcomed Ukrainians from east of the San who were fleeing Soviet rule. A Ukrainian Central Committee was set up in Cracow to coordinate cultural and educational activity.

The German rulers accepted the view that Lemkos were Ukrainians, so that Ukrainian technical schools (in Sanok and Krynica), a teacher's college (Krynica), and cooperatives were set up throughout the Lemko Region. The Lemko Apostolic Administration of the Greek Catholic Church also received a new administrator, the Reverend Oleksander Malynovs`kyj, who in contrast to his predecessors was sympathetic to the Ukrainian orientation. Besides their serious cultural work, Ukrainians from east of the San also were given jobs as policemen and as local officials in the German regime. These elements were less sympathetic to the peculiarities of the Lemko Region, especially the continuing Rusyn or pro-Russian national orientation of the population, the strength of pro-Russian Orthodoxy, and the pro-Soviet sympathies (by 1940 as many as 4,000 Lemkos voluntarily emigrated to the Soviet-controlled territory east of the San River).

The potential for friction increased after Hitler's Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. In the Lemko Region, many Orthodox priests and other suspected pro-Russian individuals were arrested as well as the families of Lemko partisans (organized in a Subcarpathian Formation headed by Ivan and Michal Dons'kyj), who in cooperation with Polish Communists were fighting against the German regime and the local Ukrainian-dominated administration. Some Lemko writers have subsequently blamed their suffering during World War II on the excesses of Ukrainian "nationalists" working under the Germans.

Continue on to Part 2