When, after the war, the Poles from all three previous partitions of the country were reunited into a single entity and a free and independent Polish state was declared, the Lemkos accepted this development with enthusiasm, because they had hopes that life would be easier in a Slavic state than it had been under the former Austro-Germanic rule. However, they were soon disappointed. Poland became a fascist state, antagonistically inclined toward all other Slavic peoples. It tried in every way possible to denationalize the Lemkos. As in the old days of aristocratic Poland, so now too the Polish prefects and their gendarmes persecuted the Lemkos and denigrated their faith, their nationality, and their mother tongue. The fascist authorities acted to remove all Lemko born teachers and other intellectuals from educational work among Lemkos, forcing them completely out of their profession or transferring them far away, to somewhere in Pomerania among Germans and Poles.
School officials set up purely Polish schools in purely Lemko villages, and chose the most chauvinistic teachers for these schools. There were incidents where a Polish teacher who knew no Russian did not want to go to a Lemko village, explaining to the inspector that he could not communicate with the children since he did not know their language. 'They would not understand him and he could not understand them. The inspector replied: "In time, you wilt learn this language from the children, and that will be good enough." And so the unversed teacher went off to the Lemko village.
Well known at the time was the case of a teacher in Skwirtne, Nikolai Yurkovsky, an admired Lemko activist, whom the authorities sent far out to Kielce province to do his teaching. When Yurkovsky was leaving the village to go to his new position, a crowd gathered from neighboring villages and tearfully escorted their beloved teacher to the village limits, where police with carbines dispersed them. The Skwirtne villagers stopped sending their children to school, which resulted In more terror, arrests, and heavy fines.
Polish teachers tormented Lemko children. It often happened that a teacher would beat a child to insensibility merely for using a Lemko word. All kinds of protests and complaints were ignored. And if such complaints became frequent, then police would be sent to the village, or even troops for pacification. The police or soldiers would beat the most prominent villagers unmercifully and even plunder their property. There were even some Polish pseudo-scholars who maintained that Lemkos are not a Russian people but just "some lost Polish tribe". Even birth and death certificates had to be made out in Polish. To make it impossible for Lemko students to get into Polish universities, a so-called "numerous clausus" was put into effect, limiting the number of university admissions. Only Poles could be admitted to universities. This explains why there are so few Lemkos who completed university studies in restoration Poland.
Our people could get into administrative work only by signing a declaration to convert to the Roman Catholic faith. This lactic was gradually applied to physical laborers also. Only Roman Catholics could eat bread in restoration Poland. Military promotion for Lemkos was limited. Only a Pole, and Roman Catholic at that, could become an officer. Russian professors at universities were relieved of their posts, which meant that they were fired. One of these was a Lemko, Dr. Tim Myshkovsky, born in Peregrimka, who was among the first rank of scholars at the University of Lviv.
Restoration Poland tried by every means to destroy Lemko Rus', which was salt in its eyes. Noteworthy is the procedure followed in voting for Parliament and Sejm, as well as that in taking a census. All kinds of laws and rights were violated here. The local polling site was the school. The election was certified by the chairman of the elections commission or his deputy. The ballot urnlay on a table, guarded by two policemen. The chairman had the key to this urn. Voters made their selections on cards, which they then put into the urn. The voting took place before noon. At noon there was a lunch break, and the chairman went out to lunch, leaving his deputy and the policemen to watch the urn. While the chairman was gone, the policemen sent the deputy out for cigarettes, opened the urn with a duplicate key, and dumped out alt the cards, replacing them with their own prepared cards and relocking the urn. All of their replacement cards had the name of the government's candidate or the government number. At 9 o'clock in the evening the votes were counted. The urn was unlocked, the cards were pulled out, and counting began. All the votes turned out to be for the government candidate, despite the fact that not a single person there had actually voted for him. Also surprising was the fact that more cards were taken out of the urn than there were voters. Nobody protested or raised any objections. The prefect commended the chairman of the elections commission "for properly conducting the election". A similar honor was accorded the author of this farcical tale, despite a strong protest against such illegality and a demand to invalidate the election.
In census taking, the entry on the "religion" line of the form was always "Roman Catholic", regardless of whether the person was Greek Catholic or Orthodox. The "nationality" line said "Polish", even if the individual was Russian. By such means, solidly Lemko villages appeared in census reports as Polish and Latinate. Data from these reports were used for various computations and statistics. It is thus no surprise that on the basis of such data the number of Lemkos did not increase but decreased. The officials and functionaries of restoration Poland were good at lying and deception.
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Date Posted: August 27th, 1998
Last Revision: May 29th, 1999
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