lemko, lemkos

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Lemko - one of four major groups of Ruthenian (Ukrainian) montagnards of the northwest Carpathian mountain chain, having a unique dialect and culture. Until 1945 their settlements were scattered from the Poprad River on the east to the valley of Oslawa River on the west.

Lemkivshchyna - The land of the Lemkos (Lemki), sometimes called "Lemkovyna," "Lemkivshchyna," or "Łemkowszczyzna," includes the higher elevations of the Carpathians of present-day Poland, extending to around the Poprad River to the west, and extending to the east as far as the region around Sanok, where it meets the Boyko region. The corresponding latitudes of the adjacent highlands of modern-day Slovakia are also included by some in the description of Lemko-land.

History- Valachian and Ruthenian settlers who arrived to the area later inhabited by the Lemkos in 14th century. Following linguistic assimilation of Valachians their Romanian dialect was replaced by Ruthenian. However, Romanian dialects strongly influenced Slavic dialect of Lemkos. Also the material culture of Lemkos bears clear resemblance to the culture of the Romanian countryside.

The area, part of Austria-Hungary until 1918, was the place where the Lemko Republic seceded from Austria-Hungary. It was renamed Lemko-Rusyn Republic (Ruska Lemkivska) later that year. After a transition period it was incorporated into Poland in 1920.

In 1939 about 130,000-140,000 Lemkos were living in the Polish part of Lemkivshchyna. Mass emigration from Lemko-land to the Western hemisphere began in the late 1800s, diminishing the cultural uniqueness of the homeland areas. Cultural assimilation, most especially among the Slovaks to the south, has also diminished the number of Lemkos in their ancient mountainous homeland.

In Poland, perhaps most of the Lemkos were removed by forced resettlement, first to the Soviet Union (about 90,000 persons) and later to Poland's newly-acquired western lands in the Wisla Action campaign of the late 1940s (about 35,000). A minority have since returned. Today in the Polish part of the traditional Lemko region, the Lemki number some 10,000-15,000. About 50,000 live in the western and northern parts of Poland. Amongst them, 5,863 people declared Lemko nationality during the census in 2002.

The word Lemko is known to all Poles. In 1946 the entire minority was deported to the north and west of the country in an ethnic cleansing operation. This was the communist government's solution to the struggle waged by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA, in south-eastern Poland. It was not until 1956 that some of them were allowed to return to the region bordering Slovakia. But many of those hoping to return found that their villages had been burnt down. Also, the Lemkos were deported to former German villages in areas Stalin had given to Poland. Many chose to stay because of the higher living standards in the former German villages. Many were afraid to reveal they were Lemkos until the fall of communism, and even beyond that, so they stayed.

Christianity in the region is thought to date to the efforts of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the 800s. The religion of most Lemkos is Greek Catholic: they belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Poland; and, to the Ruthenian Catholic Church (see also Slovak Catholic Church) in Slovakia. A substantial minority belong to the Orthodox Church. The distinctive wooden architectural style of the Lemko churches is to place the highest cupola of the church building at the entrance to the church, with the roof sloping downward toward the sanctuary.


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