Life in a Polish Environment.

The most significant factor to impact Lemko cultural development was going from an environment where they were surrounded by other Lemko villages and were essentially "the majority", to one devoid of Lemko cultural institutions (churches, schools) and where there were few other Lemkos around them, in a sea of Poles. Many Lemkos in the Polish environment of western or northern Poland have either come to accept the official "Ukrainian" identity, or have found it easier to be a Lemko only "at home" and have assimilated either partially (in public) or completely with Polish culture. Nevertheless, Ukrainians in Poland, along with a few Lemkos in 1956 organized the Ukrainian Socio-Cultural Society (UKST).123 The society's newspaper Nashe slovo (Warsaw, 1956-present) has included material dealing with the Lemkos and a supplement (Lemkivske slovo, 1957-64) or a page (Lemkivska storinka, Lemkivska besida) in Lemko dialect. UKST also has a "Lemko section" for two years, but it was dissolved because it failed to adequately serve the Lemkos' cultural need.124

The following is an excerpt of an account of Lemko life in western Poland as experienced by a young Lemko born and raised there:

I do not remember at all when I learned that I was a Lemko. We lived in the country, somehow off the beaten track. I was three, perhaps four years old when we, my sister and I, came into contact with a neighborhood boy by the name of Leszek. We were surprised and amazed that he used different names than we did for some objects. In spite of this, we understood each other fairly well, and those differences did not hinder us at all when we played. This idyll was short-lived, however, for when I was already five we moved to a small town, and it was only then that I became aware, rather quickly, of my "otherness". I remember how the children laughed when I called my father njanju [Lemko for daddy] from the yard.

I began to feel ashamed...Then I learned to be afraid.

We were all alone in the town. Father forbade us from using njanju and introduced tato [ Ukrainian for daddy]. The latter has remained with us to this day. And today it is precisely the one that I am ashamed of!

For a very long time I knew nothing about ourselves. At home they said that we were Lemkos simply in the ethnic sense, yet at the same time there prevailed a strange sort of attraction to Rus' ( as a whole) which automatically spread to us, the children. Father sometimes said that he used to give his nationality as Rusyn.

Meanwhile, I had to learn Russian in basically the same way as my fellow pupils [ in Polish schools]. I thought at the time, like all Poles probably, that a Rusyn (or Rusnak, as father said) was the same a s a Russian.

......Meanwhile, the children of my parents were growing up. I began "frequenting" dances, parties and discotheques. At home I was never told outright "Don't associate with a Polish girl." Yet on such occasions I always saw a hidden tension and disquiet in my mother's eyes. Father kept silent and did not even look at me, and yet I knew!

Don't go there, don't go DON'T GO!! Those words hung, almost sounded in the air. But I did go, laughing --I won't marry a Polish girl after all -- that's obvious. They should trust me.

It was perhaps a year ago that the following people were sitting around and chatting. There was Nina, whom the authorities did not want to register by that name (since it was not on the Polish calendar) and who therefore had a different identity on her card; Olja (with the same name on her card); Kasia (her name was in the calendar); a few Janeks, Wlodeks and others. I don't remember all of them. They were students and graduates of higher learning institutes of learning. Some could not speak Lemko at all. Also, they knew rather little about themselves. But today these same people form a strong group with a Lemko national consciousness. In consultation with Polish cultural and educational activist, the group wants to form a Lemko folklore ensemble in Wroclaw, to publish a Lemko song-book, and it dreams of producing a dictionary of the Lemko language. This is a true mark of the rate of change occurring in the national consciousness of Lemko youth.

.....[In response to Polish and Ukrainian fears about Lemko 'separatism' and reclaiming the Lemko Region:] Lemkos have already put down roots in their new places of habitation, and they are not even thinking on returning to the Beskyd Mountains. This is because for the most part younger Lemkos are neither shepherds nor farmers. What would they do there?

....It is sad to look at those Lemkos who choose the "undignified but convenient" way out. They are afraid of their own shadows! They change their first and last names (like one man who had changed his name twice to Bazyli and Waclaw, although the Poles still called him Vasyl').. They no longer speak Lemko even at home. They are teaching their children only Polish, for which, however, they achieve the exact opposite of what they wish. In the end, Poles despise them instead of respecting them (always mindful of their own several million strong Polish diaspora abroad which similarly should preserve its national identity within a foreign environment). At the same time, fellow Lemkos look down with pity on those who are so desperately trying to become Polish. Couples who are in such mixed Polish-Lemko marriages are isolated from both groups; hence they are attempting to create social groups of "mixed people," who seem to think they are being "assimilated." Yet, at times the Lemko speech of their parents is heard and it grates unpleasantly. It could be at a baptism party, where hearing a Lemko song will gnaw at one's insides. At the same time, the pain of guilt from trying to run from one's own culture will arise and then be soothed by drowning in alcohol. 125

Lemko cultural activists have lamented the undeniable effect of "foreign" cultures on Lemkos in Poland, especially the younger ones:

Speaking of foreign cultures which have been imposed on Lemko Rusyns, I have in mind Polish culture -- understandable considering where the Lemkos live -- and Ukrainian culture, which does not fit organically into the picture. Contrary to common opinion, the bigger threat, especially for the contemporary young intelligentsia, is the influence of Ukrainian culture, because with it, as with any close fellow minority culture, comes a natural but not always concious solidarity. This is especially true in big university towns. Lemkos and Ukrainians go to the same churches and meet in the same clubs -- Ukrainian clubs, because there have been no Lemko clubs and at present only one city has one. We are told that it is impossible to organize Lemko clubs because of the housing problem. The Ukrainians have clearly flourished for a long time according to the tenets of the "good" socialist times. Coming into Poland more often than before are professional Ukrainian song ensembles and theaters. Among our youth more and more Ukrainian music and video recordings circulate. And young people cannot live without these.126

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