THE LEMKO RUSYNS: THEIR PAST AND PRESENT (part 2)
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
The Final Tragedy
The clash of national orientations at the local level meant nothing, however, in the face of international politics. In the closing months of World War II, the Germans were driven out of the Carpathian region and for that matter out of all of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army. Poland was to be restored, but its borders were changed radically: all its pre-war eastern territories beyond the San River were annexed to the Soviet Union, while in the west and north, lands formerly belonging to Germany (Silesia. Pomerania, Danzig, part of East Prussia) became Polish. More ominous was the fact that Poland and the Soviet Union-like many other countries at the time felt that the problem of national minorities was a primary cause of the war, and that to avoid future international conflict these minorities should be moved, or "repatriated." in order to make lands within new boundaries ethnically homogeneous.
Thus, on September 9. 1944, Poland and the Soviet Union signed an agreement on population transfers. According to this agreement. "people of Ukrainian, Belorussian, Russian, and Rusyn nationality" living in postwar-Poland should be "evacuated"' to the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belorussia; in return, Poles and Jews in the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belorussia should be repatriated to Poland. Although this movement was to be voluntary, many people were strongly pressured and even forced to move eastward by local Polish officials and armed vigilante groups still active in the immediate postwar period.
As a result, between the spring of 1945 and early summer of 1946, an estimated 130.000 inhabitants from the Lemko Region were settled in the Soviet Ukraine. The highest percentage of these were from the eastern Sanok and Lisko districts, where the population had generally come to identity itself as Ukrainian, and from the Jaslo and Krosno districts (near the Dukla Pass) which had suffered much destruction in the closing months of the war. This meant that about 35.000 Lemkos-generally those who rejected identification as Ukrainians-remained in their native villages, most especially in the western Lemko Region.
However, even those remaining Lemkos were not left in peace for long, and they got caught up in the ongoing Ukrainian problem. As the Soviet Red Army had advanced westward across the Soviet Ukraine in late 1943 and 1944, Ukrainians who opposed both German and Soviet rule organized a Ukrainian Revolutionary Army (UPA). Against overwhelming odds, the anti-Communist UPA persisted even after the end of World War II, fighting a guerrilla war against Soviet and Communist Polish forces and hiding out in the Carpathian Mountain border region. The UPA also tried-in vain-to stop the exodus of Lemkos and Ukrainians eastward to the Soviet Union During one of their battles with Polish forces, the UPA killed in March 1947 General Karol Swierczewski. This act prompted the Polish Communist government, in full cooperation with the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, to rid the mountainous region not only of the UPA but of the remaining population as well.
The plan was called the Vistula Operation (Acja Wisla), and it called for the forced deportation of all Ukrainians from the eastern regions of Poland to its new or "Recovered Lands" (Ziemie Odzyskane) in the western and northern part of the country that were recently acquired from Germany. Thus, from late April to July 1947, Lemkos were simply told to pack up their belongings and to leave the homes that they and their ancestors had inhabited for centuries. They were identified as Ukrainians and accused of helping the UPA "bandits." even though the vast majority of Lemkos who had survived the "voluntary" deportation of 1945-1946 actively rejected a Ukrainian identity and gave no aid (nor in most cases were they even near) to the UPA.
But there was no choice. Sometimes given only a few hours to collect what they could carry, the Lemkos were put on transports and resettled in the "Recovered Lands" of western and northern Poland, that is in lowland areas that were completely foreign to their mountainous ways. As for what they left behind. some Lemko villages just died.
Houses and churches were left to decay, and after a decade they crumbled. Others were resettled by Poles brought in by the government from other parts of Poland or from among Poles who were repatriated from the Soviet Union, There were even some Greeks and Macedonians who came as part of the program of aid given by Poland to pro-Communist refugees fleeing the civil war in Greece.
Whatever their origin, these newcomers had no sense of pride or respect for the Lemko villages they were given. They chose the best houses and land, leaving the rest to decay. Moreover, during the long winters, it was easier to gather firewood by tearing down a nearby house, barn, or church than by felling trees in the forest. Thus, during the early 1950s, the material and cultural vestiges of the Rus' past in the Lemko Region were (with the exception of cemeteries) largely obliterated.
The Lemkos Since Their Dispersal
Without their Carpathian homeland, Lemkos were forced to survive as best they could in the emigration. They are found in large numbers in three countries: the United States. the Soviet Union, and ironically. Poland.
After World War II, there were a few thousand Lemkos who reached the United States and to a lesser degree Canada. The vast majority of these were pro-Ukrainian activists who fled in the face of the advancing Red Army, who remained for a while in camps in Germany, and who then emigrated as "displaced persons" (DPs) to North America. As anti-Communists and nationally-conscious Ukrainians. these Lemkos were unable to interact with the older established Carpatho-Russian and often pro-Soviet organizations like the Lemko Association. Instead, they reactivated the Organization for the Defense of the Lemko Region and founded new organizations like the World Lemko Federation (1973] and Ukrainian-language publications like Lemkivs'ki visti (Lemko News, 1958-present). Lemkivscyna (The Lemko Land, 1979-present), and the scholarly journal, Annals/Annaly(l 974-present). Among the more active leaders of the Ukrainian Lemko orientation have been Mychajlo Dudra. Stepan Zenec'kyj, Ivan Hvozda, and in Canada Julijan Tarnovyc (pseud. Julijan Beskyd).
Meanwhile, the older Lemko Association which had taken an active role in sending financial aid as part of the American War Relief program to the Soviet Union during World War II. continued to publish its weekly newspaper Karpatska Rus in Lemko dialect and to adopt a pro-Soviet and anti-Ukrainian stance. They also were able to expand their social activity by opening up in 1958 a resort. Lemko Park, in Monroe, New York. Some of these older Lemko immigrants led by Bridgeport. Connecticut industrialist. Peter S. Hardy, also established in 1946 a Lemko Relief Organization to aid the deported Lemkos in Poland. That group even reached an agreement in 1957 with the Polish government to allow the continuance of the American Lemko aid program to their brethren in Poland.
However, the vast majority of the post-World War II Lemko emigration (about 130.000) went eastward to the Soviet Ukraine, where they were settled in historic eastern Galicia, especially in the Ternopil', Sambir, and L'viv regions. But life in the war-devastated and Soviet-regimented Ukraine was not easy for anyone, let alone Lemko newcomers from Poland, who were often looked on with suspicion by the local Ukrainian inhabitants. A few thousand Lemkos were even permitted to return to Poland in the late 1950s.
As for the majority who remained in the Soviet Ukraine, most have become assimilated to the larger Ukrainian society. However, it is ironic that even after four decades of experience and education in Ukrainian society and schools, some Soviet Lemkos still retain a sense of distance from the culture surrounding them. Their only outlet for such feelings is to emphasize a regional identity, and this is part of the reason for the enormous popularity of the choral ensemble, Lemkovyna, founded in 1969, and the Bajko sisters vocal trio who specialize in Lemko songs. Also, Lemko folk culture and architecture is well represented at the outdoor ethnographic museum in L'viv The director of the Lemko display there. Ivan Krasovs'kyj, is also the author of a multivolume Lemko encyclopedia (unfortunately published only in serial form in Poland) and the most prolific writer on Lemkos anywhere today.
Finally, there are the Lemkos who were resettled on the "Recovered Lands" of western and northern Poland. By 1947, when the Lemkos arrived there, they were given the less attractive homes and lands abandoned by the Germans (themselves forcibly deported to what remained of Germany). In terms of cultural identity, the Lemkos were officially designated as Ukrainians, and many among the younger generations born far from the Lemko homeland of their ancestors accepted this new identity. On the other hand, being a Ukrainian in Poland was never an enviable thing (considering centuries of Polish-Ukrainian antagonism), so many young Lemkos found it easier and certainly more socially functional to remain at best crypto-Lemkos or simply to assimilate with Polish culture.
Nonetheless, despite their deportation and the official pro-Ukrainian policy regarding their national identity, older Lemkos raised and educated before World War II continued to retain a distinct Lemko-Rusyn identity, and some of them have passed on such attitudes to their children. Several attempts were even made to set up Lemko cultural organizations in the areas where they were resettled. But the Polish authorities did not permit this, arguing that Lemkos like other Ukrainians should express their needs through the official Ukrainian Social-Cultural Society (USKT), established in 1956. For a while there was a Lemko section of that society and a Lemko-language supplement (Lemkivs'ke slovo, 1957-64) in the society's Ukrainian weekly newspaper Nase slovo, published since 1956 in Warsaw.
Of course, Lemkos really wanted only one thing: to be able to return to their homeland. Several requests submitted to the Polish government for permission to return were rejected. Nonetheless, some Lemkos could not be deterred, and by the late 1950s about 3.000 managed to return to their beloved Carpathian Mountains, a process that has continued slowly, so that today about 10.000 (out of an estimated 60,000 throughout Poland) live again in their native villages.
The return has hardly been easy The Polish government has to this day never denied the validity of the Vistula Operation that led to the forced deportations in 1947, and since then it has placed numerous legal and administrative hindrances to block Lemkos from returning. Nor could the Poles who took over Lemko villages be enamored with the return of the real owners. The ultimate irony for those Lemkos who did manage to return was that they had to buy back from Poles the very homesteads they or their parents had built.
The Lemko Region Today
Against seemingly all odds, the Lemkos have persevered and present-day Poland is witnessing a Lemko revival. In the early 1970s, the Lemkovyna Song and Dance Ensemble was established to propagate Lemko folk music in towns and villages where Lemkos live. The Lemko section of the regional outdoor Ethnographic Museum in Nowy Sacz has drawn much attention to traditional Lemko culture, and be- sides this state-supported institution Lemkos themselves have taken the initiative in preserving their heritage. Two specifically Lemko museums have been set up at private initiative in Bielanka (Gorlice district) by the Lemko poet Pavel Stefanovs'kyj and in Zyndranowa (Krosno district) by Fedir Goc. The best known Lemko activist today. Goc was also instrumental in building the first Eastern Rite church (Orthodox) in the Lemko Region since World War II, Since the completion of the Zyndranowa church in 1985, others have been rebuilt (Rozdiele and Komancza) or are under construction (Krynica).
Most recently, annual Lemko folk and cultural festivals called Vatra (The Hearth) have been held for two and three days each summer since 1983 in a different Carpathian village to where Lemkos have returned in large numbers (Krynica. Hanczowa, Bartne) The festivals have even prompted the appearance of the first Lemko-language newspaper (if only an annual) to appear since the interwar years-Holos Vatry(l 984-present). As many as 4,000 people have come from various parts of Poland to attend the -Lemko Vatras. The majority are young Lemkos living in western and northern Poland who are curious to see firsthand "their"' Carpathian homeland and to learn about (through cultural "quiz" shows") their ancestral heritage. Also among the Vatra audiences are Poles, who find these displays of Lemko culture exotic or quaint, and Ukrainians who wish to be assured that the Lemkos remain or become Ukrainian.
What is most remarkable is that all these aspects of the Lemko "revival's have been carried out beyond official channels and often with great difficulty. There are several reasons for this. The Polish government argues that Lemkos are Ukrainians and should therefore not have their own organizations but seek assistance from the government-supported Ukrainian Social-Cultural Society (USKT). Lemko activists respond that they are discriminated against by the official Ukrainian organization and are not allowed to preserve their distinct cultural traditions.
For their part, the Ukrainians and pro-Ukrainian Lemkos are concerned with a revival of what they call Lemko-Rusyn "separatism"' which they seem to blame on Polish writers and cultural activists (Jerzy Harasymowicz. Antoni Kroh. Andrzej Kwilecki, Tadeusz Olszanski), These Poles, the Ukrainians argue, may pretend to be concerned with Lemkos but, in fact, they really wish to separate them from Ukrainians and eventually to polonize them. (It is true that in recent decades icons removed from Lemko churches and displayed in museums and publications are generally called Polish art, as is the work of the popular Lemko-born painter Nikifor Drovnjak of Krynica). To stop such efforts at "Lemko separatism," Ukrainian publicists like Professor Volodymyr Mokryj of Jagiellonian University have since the mid-1980s filled the pages of Polish newspapers (especially in Cracow) with articles on the Ukrainianess of all Rusyns and Lemkos.
Finally, the Roman Catholic Church has its own agenda. It accepted the liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church between 1946 and 1950 throughout the Carpathian Rus` homeland, and while it has permitted Greek Catholic priests to serve liturgies in Roman Catholic churches, this "right" is dependent on the cooperation of the local parish priest. In the Lemko Region, Polish Roman Catholic priests have generally refused such permission to Greek Catholics and they Orthodox parishes in those villages where Lemkos have returned.
So once again, the Lemkos are caught between conflicting political, religious, and national struggles. For their part, the Lemkos who are active in or are effected by the recent cultural revival and interest in them have no desire to change the centuries-long reality of living in Poland. They do, however, wish to be recognized neither as Polish nor Ukrainian. but simply as Lemko Rusyns with the right to return to their native Carpathian homeland (mainly of concern to the older generation), to set up their own distinct Lemko cultural organizations, to build (or reacquire from Roman Catholics) Eastern Rite churches, and eventually to have their own language taught in local schools.
It is among a younger generation of Lemko activists like Petro Murianka-Trochanovs'kyj. Jaroslav Trochanovs'kyj, Volodyslav Hraban, Olena Duc, and Semen Madzelan that such efforts are being undertaken. These and other educated Lemkos-all born after World War II-have begun to publish once again poetry in their native tongue, to collect and perform folk and church music, to complete a major anthology of Lemko literature (including writers as well from the Presov Region), and even to begin work on a Lemko dictionary in order to standardize the literary language that they use.
All things considered, these are remarkable achievements for a group of Rusyns who forty years ago were thrown out of their homes and dispersed hundreds of miles from their Carpathian homeland. Now, four decades later, the tide has begun to turn and the Lemkos are once again beginning to reclaim that which is rightfully theirs. Will all who wish to do so be able to return to their Carpathian villages? Will Eastern-rite churches (whether Orthodox or Greek Catholic) be built or reopened? Will the people at large continue to identify themselves and their culture as distinctly Lemko Rusyn, will they adopt a Ukrainian identity. or will they simply become assimilated Poles? These remain unanswered questions and problems that only the future will resolve.
Paul Robert Magocsi Toronto, Canada
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