We have seen the remarkable resiliency with which the Lemko people have clung to their native culture and the spirit of their native land. Many of their traditional means of expression (poetry, folk songs) have become outlets for expressing the tremendous loss they suffered at the end of World War II and the enormous difficulty they have had in reestablishing their Lemko identity. The circumstances of modern life dictate that many older ways of life be abandoned: certain elements of material culture -- farming implements, woodcraft, pottery -- have been superseded by factory-produced items and the tremendous technological advances of the twentieth century. Many old customs and rituals, especially those tied to farming and the harvest, for most Lemkos are no longer relevant today.

Some formerly common occurrences, such as the elaborate wedding celebrations, do today retain some of their traditional elements (though significantly reduced in scope); the "full" weddings of days gone by are the preserve today of folklore ensembles and are usually only done for special reasons (e.g., filmed for movies or television shows). Traditional dress is generally worn only by the folk ensembles, or on special occasions. Still, the primary institution driving the Lemko culture has been and is the church. It is the culture surrounding the church which has changed the least. Holy days are still observed with excitement and hosts of customs, songs and foods comparable to days gone by. With the re-establishment of Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches in Lemko-inhabited communities, the Lemkos have again a base for the balance of their cultural development: strengthening of ethno-national identity, preservation of the native language, and establishment of native schools.

An important issue which has impeded their cultural development in the 1990's and hindered the attainment of group unity, only touch upon in this paper, is the conflict between those Lemkos who believe they are part of the Ukrainian nation and those who feel that they form a separate east Slavic nationality called Rusyn. The Vatra festival, that great manifestation of Lemko culture and the source of great happiness for so many, has also been the scene of conflict between Ukrainian and Rusyn oriented Lemkos. Such conflicts have taken the form of displaying (and subsequent removal) of the Ukrainian national symbol (tryzub or trident), polemic speeches extolling or attacking one viewpoint or the other, and even fistfights among the more passionately nationally-conscious. Other intragroup conflicts have been waged over whether the Byzantine Catholic or Orthodox church is the more suitable spiritual affiliation for Lemko believers. Nevertheless, when the community does unite in such positive ways as the Lemko Vatra, it instills great hope in those present that the Lemkos will survive.

Everywhere one looked Lemko youth could be seen. What a joy it was to see all those young Lemko faces -- many of whom visited the Carpathians for the first time in their life.

My heart was filled with happiness. The Vatra is our Lemko youth, and youth is our life. There is hope that our people in Poland will not perish. If we return to our villages and begin to live together again, the life of our people will flourish.186

In many ways, the cultural development of the Lemkos during the past four decades is analogous to the path taken by many ethnic groups in the western hemisphere, particularly in the United States. They have formed organizations whose specific purpose is the maintenance of the group's identity, to promote group cohesiveness, and to preserve their native language. These organizations sponsor festivals, seminars, scholarly research, and other activities in an attempt to achieve these goals. Likewise, with their organizations as advocates for the establishment of Lemko-language schools, another critical tool of cultural development is being obtained. These parallels are likely due to the Lemkos being in a situation in Poland and Ukraine similar to that of many ethnic groups in America, widely dispersed in rather small local communities. There are no "Lemko ghettos" in either Poland or Ukraine, and the Lemko Region itself is still largely Polish or uninhabited.

Whereas the breadth of Lemko culture was once a way of life, today much of that culture is relegated to holiday, when Lemkos who may otherwise be completely incorporated into modern Polish or Ukrainian society can "be ethnic" for a while. This is the same way of life observed by most "hyphenated Americans," whose "ethnic ways" are irrevocably bound to the past. Whether the Lemko culture that has been preserved to this day can evolve along with the Lemko way of life remains to be seen. For now, it is enough for the Lemkos to regain whatever they can of all that was taken away.

....I remember how my parents cried when they watched the Lemkovyna Song and Dance Ensemble on television. "Dear God, after the war we though that everything was finished, that we would no longer hear the Lemko tongue, that we would disappear completely in five or ten years."

However, with a most admirable stubbornness and a desperate hopelessness that flies in the face of all logic, these people taught their children the Lemko language. They transmitted to us all that they knew and remembered whenever they had a moment of rest.


Your hearts will forever shine for me like road signs on the road from which I will never stray!187

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