Carpatho-Russyn Studies Group
Political Science Department
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven CT 06515 USA

The problem of nationalism, nationality and national identity is a constant in modern politics. That people make political (and other) decisions based upon identification with certain large groups of people according to, in its simplest, "a common remembered historical tradition" need not be demonstrated here since this phenomenon is too well known. The national question, that is-what should be the role of a people who are living within the political boundaries of a particular state but who are not members of the predominant ethnic group-is a vital question. Proposed solutions to this problem may be grouped for convenience sake into six general categories:
1. assimilation
2. extermination
3. autonomy
4. joint or co-nationality
5. multi-ethnic or pluralistic supra-nationalism
6. the Marxist-Leninist approach

Each of these categories comes with a large number of variations. Assimilation may be similar to the American "Melting Pot" idea where all groups save perhaps those identifiable by skin color eventually will blend together to form a single people within a single state without overt pressure. This is, of course, possible in cases of voluntary migration for economic and political reasons and in conditions of a relatively empty land. Another way is to ignore differences and form a unitary system based upon a predominant culture without suppressing a minority, such as in France. Assimilation can also be forced by removing national cultural elements from a people and/or substituting alien values. The notion of cultural genocide might fit into this category. Certainly the Russification program pursued in Imperial Russia is a good example of this.

Extermination is a frequently used and popular method and has the advantage of finality. Russian expansion across Siberia and American expansion across the North American continent resulted in the near removal of native elements. Nazi Germany exemplifies, of course, the use of the ultimate solution of this type. Extermination need not be physical, however, since a non-conforming element may be simply driven out or dispersed, such as in 16th century Spain.

Autonomous solutions refer to various sorts of separate communities that could be established either in the form of separate units without clear political boundaries-Ghettos for example-or in definite provinces or districts within a given state. This could even be without much legal attachment to the parent state such as the autonomous legal situation of some American Indians in the USA where Indians were not even citizens until 1928, and then tribes or groups of tribes and reservations were supposed to represent nations". Joint or co-national solutions can be found in Canada where bi-lingualism is being institutionalized or in Great Britain where the Scotch, Welsh, and English combine-although the English element is clearly predominant. Multi-ethnic, pluralistic methods encourage a multiplicity of national identifications while fostering either overtly or subliminally a supra-national identification which may not have even existed before. Such solutions may be seen, for example in the USA with the development of an American nationality, in Canada with a Canadian nationality, or in the USSR with a Soviet one. Although, to be sure, in each case a certain culture predominates.

We need not go into a long sociological discussion about nationality since there are a goodly number of thick scholarly tomes dealing with this. However some general remarks must he inserted here before discussing the Marxist-Leninist point of view concerning the national question. Nationality, as we know it in a general way, is a product of modern times. It developed when national languages began to come into literary use under the influence of the Renaissance and Reformation. Clashes between religions, political entities, interpretations of history, cultures, languages created the necessary conditions for a people to start defining who it was in terms of race, color, religion, language, history, customs, culture and territory. To be sure national feeling, and identification with a particular group, slowly developed and was not everywhere equal. The modern history of Europe is to a great extent concerned with a bloody sorting out of national interests until states based on national principles were established-France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Greece, etc. However since a national area has yet to be coterminous with any given state the problem leads constantly to disruption (e.g. Basques in Spain, Slovenes in Austria, Hungarians in Yugoslavia and Romania, former Germans in Czechoslovakia, Irish in Northern Ireland). Western historians, sociologists, and political scientists recognize nationality as a modern world-wide phenomenon greatly advanced in some countries and only now developing in others. That this phenomenon is not totally explainable is accepted although many theories have been advanced. It certain that national feeling exists today as a major stimulus to action and that it is not disappearing anywhere. In fact some political scientists have felt that this is the most important single factor in the 20th century. Followers of a particular political philosophy, however, claim to have understood the roots of nationalism, explained its progress, and to have pointed out its inevitable decline.

Marxists, or more particularly, Marxist-Leninists, maintain that modern nationalism has its roots in the capitalist stage of history. In Europe, the results of Feudal decline, the collapse of the universal church, the rise of vernacular languages prepared the ground for the bourgeois to move into power. In order to control the new working class and to ensure a certain territorially defined market the capitalists encouraged and supported the identification of the masses with a particular language, history, religion, and political entity (state) . The establishment of these vertical non-class national relations ensured the capitalists a given mass and market to exploit. These national relations also served the purpose of dividing the working masses, and particularly the proletariat, into discrete manageable units which could be more easily controlled. The core of the laboring people, the proletariat, had, in the course of developing class consciousness, to realize that the horizontal class relations between proletarians of whatever country had more meaning then any others (proletarian class consciousness and proletarian internationalism). When the laboring masses through the leadership of the proletariat and its vanguard, the Communist Party, seized power, nationalism would 110 longer have its old meaning; it would no longer be important politically. In the transition to communism the divisive elements of nationalism would gradually disappear as each understood the truths of scientific Marxism. Language and culture might remain but the negative elements of national exclusiveness and chauvinism would disappear along with other bourgeois hangovers. To be sure during an undefined transitional period some accommodation with national feeling would have to be made. Lenin and Stalin proposed to allow all national groups to have the right to self-determination exercised in the interests of the working class as part of the Communist program for Russia. The result was the formation of a union of national republics which theoretically allowed the fullest development of a nationality while maintaining proletarian solidarity. The formula, "National in Form, Socialist in Content" was to be applied. Eventually the necessity for having such a nationally organized state would disappear. Nikita Khrushchev reportedly, in opening discussions for a new Soviet constitution, felt that this stage had been reached in the USSR and called for a total revision of the state structure.

In any case it remains to examine exactly how Marxist-Leninists would apply their theoretical ideas in the real world, in concrete application. Much has been written about how that paradigm of communism, the USSR, applies these notions to the solution of the national question. Certainly its large population and multiplicity of national groups create 30 ideal situation for a gigantic social experiment to prove the truth of Marxism-Leninism in this realm. At this point in history the answer is not yet in, but certainly one can state that the results so far are mixed. But let us not use a country where the predominant nationality has recently slipped from majority status and where historical and social problems may unduly influence the application of principles, where the main element may feel somewhat under pressure. Let us look at a socialist state which claims 94%-97& homogeneity and whose treatment of national minorities could not he influenced by fear.

National groups that have existed or exist in post-war Poland are the following, enumerated in order of number at the end of World War II on the present territory of Poland:
1. Germans
2. Ukrainians
3. Lemki
4. Jews
5. Byelorussians
6. Lithuanians
7. Czechs
8. Slovaks
9. Russians

The last four are insignificant in terms of numbers, I do riot consider the Kashubians or Silesians as having a separate national consciousness although their languages are quite different from Polish.

The third largest group, the Lemko, is virtually unknown in the West and since WW II scarcely mentioned in Poland. The Lemki are also known as Rusniaki, Lemkowie on the northern slope of the Carpathian mountains and Lemaki or Rusini on the southern slope. The Lemki formerly inhabited the mountains in what is now the southeastern part of Poland, stretching from Stary Sacz in the Beskid Sadecki to somewhat east of Komancza in the Bieszczady, including the whole of the Beskid Niski. The word "Lemko" most certainly derives from the word "Lem," a word peculiar to the Lemki, which means "only" or "but" -used frequently in the spoken language of this group. The existence of this ethnic group can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries when a pastoral nomadic population pushing along the Carpathians mountains began 10 appear with its sheep in the uninhabited or thinly populated valleys of the southern mountain region of Poland. These people were a mixed group of eastern Slaves and Vlachs (Romanians) - They brought a primitive pastoral mode of life, certain Balkan and Slavic customs, and Byzantine Christianity with them. Over the centuries Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, and German influences were felt with the first predominating on the northern slope of the Carpathians and the second on the southern slope. These people were virtually ignored for centuries after they settled in the inaccessible mountains. During the period of serfdom they were formally under the control of Polish lords, the Roman Catholic Church, or certain cities but they managed to maintain a certain autonomy. When pressure became too great, the Lemki resorted to a sort of Robin-Hood banditry. Major trade routes lay through the mountain passes of the Lemko area (Lemkovshchizna) connecting the Hungarian cities with Poland. During the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries a relative prosperity existed in these mountains due to sheep raising, light agriculture, bee cultivation, and primitive handicrafts.

The religion of the Lemki remained without persecution since Byzantine Christianity was legitimate according to the provisions of the Union of Brest. The partitions of Poland found the Lemki district in the Austrian part. Due to the decline of sheep herding and a general rise in population, Lemkovshchizna fell on hard times. The 19th century was a period of poverty and decline. In the latter half of the century a national awaking occurred in the remote villages, the ending of serfdom, the Austrian policy of setting Ukrainian against Pole and vice versa affected the Lemki. Also there is reason to believe that pro-Russian agitators visited the villages to arouse "Moscophilism" among the native population Massive emigration began out of the over-populated valley pockets of poverty, to the industrializing Cities of Austria-Hungary, to Germany, and to North America. World War I had a profound influence in the Lemko area because major battles were fought over the Carpathian passes, especially in the Beskid Niski region. The Lemki were subject to heavy pressure from both sides, the Austrians demanding loyalty to the state while the Russians sought support based on Slavic brotherhood and common religion. The Austrians arrested large numbers of accused Moscophils and placed them in the Talerhof concentration camp. Many other Lemki fled to Russia when the Imperial army was forced to retreat from the Carpathians.

The defeat of both combatants created conditions for the resurrection of Poland leaving the Lemki in an ambivalent situation. Were they to be Poles? Or should they be Ukrainians, possibly they could claim to be Byzantine Slovaks. Or perhaps they might be considered a group of their own. The church could not answer that question since it was "Greek" Catholic and hence not definable in national terms. Interestingly enough there was a short-lived Lemko National Republic declared in 1919 which was put down by the Polish authorities. Others identified with the Ukrainian cause and fought with the Rada while yet other Lemki proposed to join Lemkovshchizna to Slovakia. There was very little pro-Russian sentiment.

During the inter-war years the Lemki were assaulted by several tendencies and influences-first there was a pro-Ukrainian pro-orthodox movement which split the Lemki into warring camps; actual pitched battles were fought with clubs and fists over church property. Part of this was imported from North America where a church schism had occurred owing to jurisdictional clashes between the Roman and Byzantine clergy. In the pre-W.W. I years this schism was assisted by the Imperial Russian state. However in the inter-war years the general population kept aloof from either Ukrainian or Polish politics. The Greek Catholic Church held its ground in the main and the basically conservative and (now) dairy farming peasants caused no particular trouble to the Polish authorities. They were rewarded with schools with instruction in both Polish and Lemko (an Eastern Slavic dialect) akin to Western Ukrainian with a heavy admixture of Western Slavic-Polish and Slovak syntax and vocabulary; also Hungarian and German loan words appear frequently. Lemki served in the Polish army but were otherwise benignly neglected.

World War II brought great woe on Lemkovshchizna. The Carpathians being ideal guerrilla territory were used during the war years as bases for a large resistance movement, the largest single group being that of the Polish Home Army (AK). The Germans did not gain support among the Lemki for their program of establishing a separate "mountaineer" nationality-i.e. non-Polish pro-German. Nor did both the German supported Ukrainian movement or independent Ukrainians gain a foothold. Few communists, even according to their own claims, existed in the mountains. However, due to German anti-guerrilla campaigns and the guerrilla strikes much of Lemkovshchizna was fought over. Despite this the Lemko district came through the war in relatively good condition-with the exception of the Dukla Pass area which was the scene of a major Soviet-German battle in 1941.

While it is true that in North America the North Slope Lemki immigrants changed the names of their churches from Greek Catholic to Ukrainian Catholic, the inhabitants of the homeland did not. In fact to this day controversy rages in the South Slope Lemki communities as to whether they are Byzantine Rite Slovaks or Ukrainians. The North Slope Lemko neither identified themselves as Poles, nor did they adhere to the Ukrainian cause. While battles raged between Soviet and Polish forces on the one side and Ukrainian resistance and freedom fighters on the other (the UPA) and while the eastern border Lemki were being slaughtered in the cross fire in the Bieszczady, the Beskid Niski and Beskid Sadecki regions were relatively quiet-although from time to time a unit of the UPA did pass through the area.

Before the war the Soviet Union had already determined to settle its border and national questions with Poland. In 1989 in concert with Nazi Germany the USSR incorporated the so-called Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine into the Soviet State. The compact wedge of Lemkovshchizna was not, however, touched. Even though espousing the Ukrainian cause in the prewar, war, and post-war years with the establishment by Fiat of frontiers with Czechoslovakia and Poland, again the Lemko region was left outside the Soviet state even though, on the ground of its being part of Eastern Slavdom, both sides of the Carpathians in Czechoslovakia and Poland, as far west as south of Cracow, could have been claimed. For reasons best known to the Soviets the river San was selected as the South East border of Poland with the USSR.

The Soviets did not necessarily mean to leave these people in Poland, however. Along with the general transfer of populations between the USSR and Poland the Lemki -were encouraged to leave for the motherland-the Ukraine. Uniformed Soviet agitators visited the Lemko villages for the purpose of arranging the transfer. It has been estimated that about 25% of the population took advantage of this offer and departed with their belongings in 1945 and 1946. This did not satisfy the new People's authorities because soon the entire area of Lemkovshchizna was to be de-populated.

In 1947 the Soviet and Polish armies were waging mop-up operations against UPA elements in concert with the not-yet totally communist Czechoslovak army. The Polish chief of operations General Karol Swierczewski "Walter" was assassinated in the Bieszczady. To this day it is not fully clear how this death occurred. The official version is that Swierczewski was hit by a UPA sniper while inspecting troops on a mountain road. Others believe that he was eliminated either because of intra-party struggle in the Polish Workers Party or it was the NKVD settling an old score from Walter's participation in the Spanish Civil War. Whatever the real reason for his death, it was used as an excuse for a drastic settlement of the national question in the Polish Carpathians.

In 1947 the entire non-Polish population of the southeast Carpathians was forcibly removed and sent into exile. Under provisions of the so called "Vistula Action" military campaign, and in agreement with the Soviet and Czechoslovak forces operating in the general area, the UPA forces were to be deprived of their infrastructure by the mass removal of populations. This removal only took place in the Polish portions of the Lemko lands. The resettlement of the Lemki began in April 1947 and was completed by the end of July of the same year. Those forcibly resettled could only take personal effects with them and some food and some farm animals. The population was required to walk Out of the mountains or, in some cases, was carried out by horse cart. They were taken to the nearest railhead and loaded on cattle cars for transportation to the newly acquired Western and Northern lands of Poland.

Polish data mention 50,000 people as being resettled from Lemkovshchizna; it seems unlikely that an exact-figure will ever be known. In the village by village action the people normally were given three hours to prepare for transport and after they left the village was given over to pillage by the army and others, after which the cottages were burned, the remains razed. No one was allowed to live in the dc-populated districts. From the railhead the Lemki were sent in three to seven day journeys to designated dispersal points-Olsztyn, Szczecinek, Poznan, and Wroclaw. They were then scattered throughout the regained territories with no more than several families being allowed per village. Since they were the last to arrive in these lands, they found slim pickings indeed. Also their previous form of life did not help much in adapting to new climatic and agricultural conditions. The farm animals died due to the changed fodder, and crops that would grow in the mountains failed on the plains. Beyond that many of the Lemki met with hostility from the Polish population, especially from those repatriated from the USSR since they tended to blame Ukrainian elements for their situation and it seemed to them that the Lemki were a type of Ukrainian. It was many many years before the Lemki were able to overcome climatic, agricultural and psychological difficulties and to acclimate to the new situation.

It is clear that in concert with the Soviets the Lemki were to be dispersed so no compact non-Polish population would remain within Poland's new postwar borders. At the time of the resettlement the Ukrainians were. not a popular group with Soviet leaders, and Stalin's attitude is well known. It is interesting to note that the Lemki on the south slope in Slovakia were not transported although the Greek-Catholic Church was forcibly dissolved in 1948 and all members, clergy, and buildings were placed tinder Orthodox control. According to Slovak observers steps were taken to convince the Lemki that they were Ukrainian and that native Ukrainian priests from the Soviet Ukraine were placed in the churches. Only in 1968 was the Greek Catholic Church allowed to reestablish itself, and nearly every parish voted to return to this church. Many Lemki leaders assert that they were Byzantine rite Slovaks.

Returning to the situation of the Lemki in Poland-until 1958 the resettlers were under tight supervision. They were not allowed to leave their villages without permission and were not allowed overt displays of nationality. Since that time theoretically the Lemki are free to return to their mountain homeland but it is practically impossible for them to do so. Firstly, administrative blocks prevent easy sale of land and transfer of families. Secondly, the old land has been given over to new settlers and occupied; therefore ancient family land must be purchased. Others resettled on state farms find it difficult to withdraw, children born in the west and north have no memory of the old land. Also, practically speaking, life in the new territories became easier than mountain life, which was poverty-stricken. It can not be discounted too that positive administrative restraints are in force preventing a new majority of Lemki developing in the old district. Despite all this there has been a gradual return of Lemki to the mountains so that today some villages have a Lemko majority.

What is the situation of the Lemki in the 1970s? Culturally speaking they are served by the ''Ukrainian Social-Cultural Society'', which was established in 1958. This organization, with its headquarters in Warsaw publishes a newspaper, Nashe Slovo, and it has been said to supply some Ukrainian language instruction in its local cltils hotises~ This organization is not strong among these Lemki, many of whom do not identify with the Ukrainians in Poland. Lemko language instruction is nowhere available in schools in Poland. The only particularly Lemko cultural activity is found in the "Lemko page" (Lemkiv'ska Storinka) of Nashe Slovo. Religiously speaking, the Greek Catholic Church continues to exist. Leaders of this church claim a membership of some 300,000 in Poland but are unable to say how many are Lemki. However it is considered a sub-division and thus does not have a life of its own. There isn't even a Greek-Catholic bishop and priests of the Eastern Rite, subordinate to local Roman Catholic ordinaries, must, in 90% of the cases, use a Latin Rite chords for services. That these activities are impeded by the Latins is common knowledge. The Orthodox Church is in a somewhat better condition since it is autocephalic, although it serves more Byelorussians and Ukrainians, then Lemki.

The situation of the Lemki is thus one of dispersion and gradual disappearance. The language can not be effectively cultivated. Lemko culture is also difficult to continue in conditions of dispersal. The Eastern Rite whether of the Greek or Orthodox variety is under pressure from the Roman church and beyond that is suspect by administrative authorities. According to the well known Polish sociologist Andzej Kwilecki,1) the first generation born in the diaspora in the Western and Northern lands already ceased to identify exclusively with the Lemko group but considers itself something in the nature of a Lemko-Pole. And despite parental objections mixed marriages are frequent due to the lack of an eligible Lemko mate, among other reasons. The author foresees the gradual assimilation of this element into the predominant Polish population. Only a few isolated communities in the mountains maintain themselves today.

Returning now to the previously stated Marxist-Leninist view of the national question, the reader will easily discern the total lack of connection between theory and practice. The Lemko nation has fallen victim to a number of practices contemned as capitalist and/or fascist. It has seen forcibly dissolved, administratively dispersed and deprived of its culture and language, and is undergoing heavy Polonization pressure. That such a dichotomy should exist between theory and practice is nor unexpected for a Student of Soviet type States, but that the application of Stalinist principles should have been so harsh in regard to a relatively unoffending people in the cause of national unity by a people and a country which itself has so heavily suffered from Russian and German chauvinism and oppression is a sad commentary on the general state of man's relations with his fellow man.

1 Andrzej Kwilecki, Lemkowie: Zagadnienie Migracji i Asymilacji, ( Lemki: Problems of Migration and Assimilation, Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1974)

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© LV Productions  Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: February 21st, 2000