This review was originally published in Carpatska Rus', No. 4, 5, 6/1997

"With diverse nations at present (as well as in the past millennium) controlling parts of old Galicia (Lemkovina), coupled with religious differences. Lemkos have been divided with each nation or religion wanting, of course, to assimilate Lemkos. The few of us here at our newspaper often marvel at our popularity, everyone wants us!! Prof. Paul J. Best, Political Science Dep't. of Southern Connecticut State University and a member of Lemko Association., has written an analysis of a recent book on our people." KR.

Book cover

Beyond the Western border - "Ukrainians" from the Lemko Region in Post World War II Poland: A Review of Ewa Michna, Lemkowie Grupa Etniczna czy Narod? [The Lemkos: An Ethnic Group or a Nation?]1

The question of Ukrainians living beyond the state frontiers is a vexing one for newly independent Ukraine. The major press sources in the West have concentrated on the Russian Federation's "Near Abroad" problem with upwards of 25 million Russians living in nearby Soviet successor states. Ukraine, too, has a problem with people living outside of Ukrainian territory who could claim to be Ukrainians. The Russian problem tends to be less territorially extensive in that there was no great ethnic Russian immigration to the New World or Australia. Ukrainians, in contradistinction to Russians, massively emigrated in the last part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century and after World War II many hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians found themselves unable to return to a Soviet Ukraine. The upshot of large scale movement of was large colonies of Ukrainians in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Western Europe.
However, closer to the homeland and similar to the Russian near-abroad problem, is the question of Ukrainians living in states contiguous to Ukraine. Certainly, a very large group of Ukrainians, but of unknown specific size, resides in the Russian Federation. A number of Ukrainians also live in Moldova, Romania and Slovakia. Beyond Russia, however, perhaps the largest group of nearby Ukrainians lives in Poland, with estimates of 500,000-- 800,000 being used. The Ukrainians in Poland came from the Chelm, San, Boiko and Lemko regions (that is, within the post World War II borders of Poland) and were scattered about that country mostly in the Northern and Western territories "regained" from the Germans, in the Spring of 1947. The military and police activity "Akcja Wisla" (Vistula Action) of that Spring depopulated the South west border zone of Poland in a Soviet-style "Ethnic Cleansing." To be sure, the idea of establishing an ethnically pure border strip (that is, inhabited by Polish nationalists only) on the eastern side of Poland had been put forward by the National Democrats of Roman Dmowski early on in the second republic. Of course, the borders of the Polish People's Republic (PRL) were established according to Soviet, not Dmowski's wishes.

Since space does not permit an extensive discussion of either the whole of Poland's inter-war East Slavic problem (Ukrainians and Belarusians) or the PRL's attempts to resolve that problem after World War II, we will concentrate on the Lemkos of the Lemko Region (Polish: Lemkowszczyzna, Ukrainian: Lemkivshchyna, local: Lemkovina).

In the inter-war period both Polish and Ukrainian nationalists started to pay attention to a subset of East Slavs variously referred to as Rusini, Rutheni, Rusyny or, as most widely used in the twentieth century, the Lemki (Lemkos). The problem for both Ukrainians and Poles was in getting the Lemkos to self-identifly with either the Polish or the Ukrainian cause. To be sure, there had been a third possibility before World War I, that of identifying with Moscow - the Russian orientation. While many Lemkos suffered greatly for their pro-Russian feelings In World War I, many being shut-up in Internment (concentration camps) by the Austro-Hungarians or worse (an unknown number having been shot outright in the early years of the war), that option dropped out when the Bolsheviks seized power. A different third orientation appeared after 1989 see below.
In any case, and in short, Ukrainians working out of Lviv attempted to influence the Lemkos via developing a pro-Ukrainian popular press and through the Greek Catholic Church by preparing and sending shaved, celibate Ukrainian nationalist priests into the Lemko area. These two activities were rather unsuccessful since the local language spoken was not literary Ukrainian and thus the press was somewhat alien to the indigenous population and the new, priests actually precipitated a "religious war" whereby tens of thousands of Lemkos went over to Orthodoxy in order to preserve their old ways.2

The Poles also tried their hand at conversion. There were several unsuccessful attempts at a Roman alphabet press and also a Cyrillic paper "Lemko" was subsidized by the government with the long range. goal of Polonizing the population. It should be noted, though, that the editors of this press did not share this goal -- but money was needed to put out the paper. The Polish state "Committee for the Lemko Region", a secret group of military officers and scholars, replaced pro--Ukrainian teachers in the Lemko Region with Polish nationalist ones and, in 1939, actually came up with the notion that the Lemkos were mainly a "forgotten tribe" of Poles who had, by mistake, been convened to the Byzantine rite.

World War II, however, brought great destruction to the area and the importation into the Lemko Region of pro-German Ukrainian speakers as administrators did not help to develop a Ukrainian orientation among the Lemkos. At the very end of the War the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) sent elements to fight in the Lemko Region. At the best, some Lemkos from the eastern part of the Region took part in UPA activities while there seems to be few, if any, central or western Lemkos who had any interest in the UPA.

The PRL forces who eventually carried out the Vistula Action had little or no knowledge of the Lemkos and did not care to know. Nearly all east-Slavs in Southeast Poland, whether of Ukrainian orientation or not, were deported out of the area. With the exception of a Social-Cultural Society of Ukrainians in Poland, which the communists allowed to come into existence after 1956, quiet reigned until the 1980's. Even the Greek Catholic Church was said to be non-existent in so far as the Soviets had liquidated it in 1946 in Lviv, or, more correctly, Incorporated a remnant into the Russian Orthodox Church. With the exception of the Lemko page in the weekly newspaper "Nashe Slovo" (Our Word) published by the Ukrainian Society in Warsaw, very little was publicly heard about the Lemko situation until 1989.

In the years between 1947 and 1956, the Lemko question was totally dead. From 1956 to 1960, however, and in the Solidarity period of the early 1980's, there were stirring of Lemko activity. Essentially, an extensive under the surface, and apparently, permanent bifurcation of Lemkos occurred based mainly upon religious decisions.

Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Catholic revival slowly occurred within the fold and under the aegis of the Roman Catholic church. Bi-ritual and Byzantine rite priests were quietly trained in Roman Catholic seminaries, especially Lublin, and they were quietly placed in parishes where Ukrainians existed -- to be sure not without opposition from the Roman Rite clergy. In the long run, a revived Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church reappeared to service Ukrainians in Poland. On the other hand, the Polish Autocephalic Orthodox Church was also active. It appears that many Lemkos were attracted to Orthodoxy not only because of the interwar period, but also because that church appeared to represent a non-Ukrainian orientation.3

The post 1989 results of these developments is the rebirth of a Przemysl/Peremyshl Greek Catholic diocese, with a Ukrainian Catholic bishop, at first part of the (Roman) Catholic Bishops council of Poland, to a new independent Archbishopric for all Poland. This new church structure, under Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop Jan Martyniak, appears to subsume all nationally self--identified Ukrainians in Poland who attend religious services.4 This church has attracted many young Lemkos.

The Orthodox Church, too, has been active among East Slavs in Poland. To be sure, the autocephaly of this church came from Moscow and the church still looks to Moscow for assistance, but It is made up mostly of Byelorussians today. Publication of church papers is in Polish, Byelorussian and some Russian. A number of Lemkos, who rejected a Ukrainian orientation, belong to this church and a diocese for them, Przemysl--Nowy Sacz, was erected for them with its seat in Sanok, under Bishop Adam. While accepting the religious peculiarities of the Lemkos, the Przemysl--Nowy Sacz diocese, as other Orthodox. dioceses in Poland, is heavily served by clergy from the Bialystok Region.5

1.        Ewa Michna, Lemkowie. Grupa Etniczna czy Narod?
(Lemkos: An Ethnic Group or a Nation?) Krakow: Zaklad Wydawniczy Nomos", 1995), pp. 147 (includes a Bibliography
of 7 pages).

2.        See Jaroslaw Moklak, "The Phenomenon of Orthodox in the
Greek Catholic Diocese of Przemysl" and Anna Krochmal, "The
Greek Catholic Church and Religious 'Sects' in the Lemko
Region" in Carpatho-Slavic Studies. vol. 2 (1993), pp. 71-110.

3.        Jaroslaw Moklak, "Political Orientation among the Lemkos in Interwar Poland: 1918-1939. - Carpatho-Slavic Studies. vol. I (1990), pp. 9-22.

4.        "Peremyshl seat to be upgraded to Archdiocese" The Ukrainian Weekly, July 28, 1996, p. 3.

5.        Leszek Watrobski, "Polskie Prawoslawie" (Polish Orthodoxy), Nowy Dziennik (New York City), August 13, 1996, p. 3.

Thus, as far as Lemkos are concerned, in the 1990's the situation is this:

1.        Many of Lemko descent are assimilated to the overarching[?] Polish culture.

2.        Many Lemkos who are self-identified Ukrainians adhere to the revived Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and, if politically and socially active, to the newly independent Union of Ukrainians in Poland and/or Ukrainian-Lemko organizations.

3. Some Lemkos, not identifying themselves as Ukrainian, frequent the Orthodox Church if religious, and, if political and socially active, belong to one or another Rusyn oriented Lemko organizations.

The term, Rusyn, as just used here refers to the old nineteenth and early twentieth century pro-Russian orientation resurrected as a independence movement of East Slavs from the Carpathian region of old Austria--Hungary. This movement sees the Carpatho-Rusyn Slavs as a fourth East Slavic people and the Lemkos of Poland as one element of that nation. Without delving into the details of this argument let us finally look at Ewa Michna's book "The Lemkos: An Ethnic Group or a Nation"?

This book is really a 140 page essay since, while it has an extensive bibliography, the text is not supported by footnotes. The publication of the book is identified as having been supported by a grant from the Polonia Institute of the Jagiellonian University and two well known and respected Polish sociologists, professors Andrzej Kwilecki and Zdzislaw Mach are identified as the pre-publication reviewers. The publisher, "Nomos" by name, indicates that the essay is part of a "Religiologica Juventa" (Young Religious--Logic [?] series. While the author does not clearly identify why she did the research she did, that is, whether the essay In question is part of a masters or doctoral dissertation, she is identified as someone who "finished sociology at the Jagellonian University" presumably she thus has at least a Masters degree. Otherwise the hack cover indicated that Ms. Michna works In the Polonia Institute and studies nationality and ethnic problems and does research on national minorities.

This book under review here deals with the post--1989 situation in Poland as it specifically touches the Lemko group which numbered around 150,000 in 1947, but is of an unknown quantity today.

The structure of the book is as follows:
after a short introduction the author proceeds, in chapter one, to a necessary discussion of the question of ethnicity and national identity [about which there is today an enormous literature]. Weaving a general discussion in with the specifics of the Lemko situation Ms. Michna indicates in detail how the general applies to this small people. The next chapter deals with the historical roots of the Lemko question and especially of the role of the Greek-Catholic Church [which didn't really become "Ukrainian" until the 1920's in the Lemko region] in the development of national identity. She mentions little about the Orthodox Church (see p. 59).

Chapter 4 goes on to deal about the interrelationship between religion and national identity. The fourth chapter (pp. 105-133) also contains the only really new information where the author deals with the current two track identification among Lemkos. Certainly, Lemkos know they are Lemkos, but such a small people of necessity would week a larger support group for itself. Thus, some Lemkos see themselves as Lemko--Ukrainian while others as Lemko--Rusyns. Very, very few stop at a Lemko identity alone. After details about the machinations within the pre-1989 Ukrainskie Towarzystwo Spoleczno-Kulturalne (UTSK) (Ukrainian Social and Cultural Society) in regard to establishment of a separate Lemko society, she moves to the post-1989 situation where such organizations were formed. The Stowarzyszenie Lemkow (Lemko Association), a non-Ukrainian Organization, was formed in April 1989. In February 1990, Ukrainian Lemkos set up a Zjednoczenie Lemkow (Union of Lemkos). A few other smaller groups were also established. How the group works with other Ukrainian organizations and, how the other with the international Rusyn movement, is given some attention.
As the present writer can attest, the Lemko problem is not resolved and is not resolvable in the near time. The author of the book under review reached the same conclusion. There is no doubt that non-assimilated Lemkos are split into two opposing camps; the Ukrainian one and the Rusyn one. This is not to say that individuals do not switch sides, but in general, the sides are solidified.

The present writer must add that this is the same situation for Lemkos in North America. A few of the old pro-Russian types yet hang on while the rest of self-identified Lemkos either are part of some branch of the Orthodox Church or the Byzantine Catholic Church (a church which does not stem from the Lemko Region in Poland and which is another issue, for which there is no space here) or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. For example, there exists the Lemko-Soyuz which still celebrates Thalerhof Day in August, with prayers for the deceased of that WW I Austro-Hungarian internment camp, and the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna as part of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York City.

To sum up, one part of East Slavic people living in Poland, the Lemko, is divided in two. One section has a Ukrainian orientation, while the other is Rusyn. The book under review gives a good 140 page summary of the issue with new information in the last chapter. The bibliography is an excellent compilation of Polish language sources on the Lemko question.

The book is not tendentious nor does it represent an official "Polish" point of view although the heavy dependence on Polish sources Or necessity, tilts in one direction. This essay of Ms. Michna can be recommended to both the specialist and generalists who reads Polish and is interested in nationality issues.

Prof. Paul J. Best welcomes questions and comments. Please send them to:Prof. Paul J. Best.

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Originally Composed: May 4th, 1997
Date last modified: February 19th, 2008