Political Orientation among the Lemkos in the Inter-War Period: 1918 - 1939
written by Jaroslav Moklak
printed in volume 1 of Carpatho-Rusyn Studies, Paul J. Best - editor
Carpatho-Russyn Studies Group
Political Science Department
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven CT 06515 USA
During the inter-war period there were four rival political orientations to be found in the Lemko
population: Ukrainian, Moscophil, Old Rus, and government (pro-Polish regime).The Ukrainian Orientation
As a result of World War I, specifically because of Austrian terror in the years 1914-1917, the
Moscophil movement fell in popularity and the Ukrainian one gained. After the collapse of the
Western-Ukrainian People's Republic a number of Eastern Galicians resettled onto Lemko
territory and the Greek Catholic Church strengthened its position. Vacant parishes were taken
over by a new generation of young priests who politically were directly influenced by
Ukrainians and the national-liberation war of 1917-1921. Also rural schoolhouses began to be
run by teachers of Ukrainian national identity.
On the other side a counter-movement started. Lemkos returning from the war were decidedly
Moscophil activists. These returnees came with the Thalerhof Internment camp legend and a
strong feeling for the orthodox religion and viewed Thalerhof and Orthodoxy as symbols of
Lemkovyna for which they had suffered. Their view was decidedly anti-Ukrainian because they
had blamed their sufferings on the Ukrainian movement. A large part of these people identified
themselves with the Russian political emigration in Poland. Others because of an evolution in
Moscophilism [caused by the Bolshevik revolution] were to become loyal to the new Polish
In the inter-war period the Polish state administrative apparatus attempted to slow down the
development of a Ukrainian movement in Lemkovyna. As far as possible, the Polish state tried to
remove Ukrainian intellectuals from the Lemko territory. In the 1930s, the consistory of the
Catholic Apostolic Administration for Lemkovyna, based on a close cooperation with state
authorities, carried out the removal of pro-Ukrainian priests from Lemko parishes and the state
closed Ukrainian cultural-education institutions, especially the "Prosvita" reading rooms. Also,
the development of "Ridna Szkola" and "Silsko-Hospodar" was hindered.
Despite these difficulties there was a step by step development of Ukrainian national life in
Lemkovyna. In 1932 a special Ukrainian "Commission for Lemkovyna" was established in Lvov.
Literature in Ukrainian was sent to the Lesko territory-mainly the booklet series "The Lemko
Library" and periodicals, especially the weekly newspaper Our Lemko (Nasz Lemko) whose
first editor was Petro Smerekanycz from the Lemko village of Swierzowa Ruska. This
commission also assisted selected school pupils in obtaining a secondary and a higher
education. To encourage economic development, "a Union of Ukrainian Cooperatives" was also
The Ukrainian National Democratic Union
(UNDO in Ukrainian Initials)
Among Ukrainian political parties UNDO had the strongest influence on Lemkovyna. This did
not mean that the UNDO party itself had units in the Lemko land but rather that its influence was
felt through Greek Catholic priests and Ukrainian-oriented teachers. The best organization was
in Sanok county (the priests
P. Andrejczyk, B. Belawackiy and S. Wanczynskiy). In the county of Krosno UNDO influence
was found in the so-called Lemko enclaves in the northern part of the country. In the western
Lemko territory Ukrainophilism was fostered by the priests I. Kaczmar, J. Pleszkiewycz, S.
Dmytryszyn and others. An organization with great symbolic meaning was "Building the
Ukraine," founded by the priest Julian Pleskiewicz from Malastow, which functioned in the
1930s. The most active teachers were H. Kostiuk from Kunkowa, W. Ewiryk from Swiatkowa
Wielka, and A. Niszczota from Snietnica.
The UNDO program in regard to Lemkovyna was outlined in the resolutions voted by a
general-Lemko meeting in Sanok on May 14, 1936. One hundred and eighty four delegates from
the whole of Lemkovyna and Ukrainian representatives in the Polish parliament met to resolve
1.) The General Lemko meeting in Sanok declares that Lemkovyna is an undivided part of the
Ukrainian territory and no attempts to separate her from the Ukraine can be countenanced.
2.) . . . this meeting recognizes that the Ukrainian Parliamentary Representative Organization is
the only legitimate representative of Lemkovyna to the [Polish] state.
3.) . . . this meeting sends greetings to the Bishop of Przemysl, and declares that the Greek
Catholic clergy have a special duty in the national and religious resurrection of Lemkovyna.
4.) . . . the meeting demands the dissolution of the Apostolic Administration for Lemkovyna and
if this is not possible the
placement of a Greek Catholic priest of Ukrainian national identity at its head.
5.) . . . the meeting demands the teaching of the Ukrainian language in schools, the use of
Ukrainian text books, and the employment of Ukrainian teachers.
6.) . . . the meeting underlines that the Lemkos have the right of first refusal in the purchase of
the reorganization of land holdings and that Ukrainian workers be employed in local factories.
7.) . . . the meeting encourages all Lemkos to take part in the Ukrainian cultural-educational
institutions, in the struggle for national honor, under the leadership of UNDO and asks the Ukrainian nation for an
intensification of assistance for Lemkovyna.
A marked influence on the development of Ukrainian national identity among the Lemko was that
the Ukrainian press which was the distributed to the intellectuals. These publications were:
TITLE WHERE PUBLISHED DATES NOTES
1 Our Lemko (Nasz Lemko) Lvov 1934-1939 connected with the Lemko commission
2 New Dawn (Nowa Zoria) Lvov/Stanislawow, 1926-1938/1938-1939 organ of the Ukrainian Christian
3 Action (Dilo) Lvov 1918-1939 connected with UNDO
4 Mountain (Beskyd) Przemysl 1931-1933 connected with U.Ch.O.
5 Ukrainian Mountain (Ukrajinsky Beskyd) Przemysl 1933-1939 connected with U.Ch.O.
6 Harvest (Nywa) Lvov 1918-1939 a Greek Catholic social religious periodical
7 Goal (Meta) Lvov 1931-1939 a Greek Catholic social religious periodical
The Moscophil Orientation
The Moscophil movement in Lemkovyna in the inter-war period was S continuation of the
pre-war Galician movement. In the second half of the 1920s it divided into two rivalry factions,
one pro-Russian and the other pro-Polish.
The Russian Peasant Organization
(Russka Selanska Organizacija--RSO)
RSO was founded in June 1926 and was later attached to the "Russian National Union in
Poland" as an autonomous unit. RSO was the best organized political party in Lemkovyna. Its
main administrative organ was the Central Council on which sat Russian activists from the
Lemko land, T. Wojtowych from Uscie Ruske, I. Basalyga from Kunkowa, W. Dube from
Florynka and the priest K. Czajkowski from Mszana. On the county level there were regional
councils and on the local level village committees.
The ideology of RSO was weakly understood by the ordinary Lemkos but the organization had a
strong influence in Lemkovyna. The ideology stated that there was only one Russian nation
divided into three peoples--Russian, Ukrainian and Bielorussian-and there was only one
language of the nation--Russian. Accordingly Ukrainian was a regional version of Russian for
that part of Russia and the Ukraine could have local self-rule but sovereignty lay in the Russian
RSO controlled the "Kaczkowski Society," which was a cultural-educational organization
existing since 1874 and the "Union of Russian Cooperatives." RSO ran the lowest level units
of these two organizations, that is: the Kaczkowski reading rooms and the trade cooperatives
plus the volunteer fire departments called "zaporozec."
The political goals of RSO were articulated at two general meetings (Gorlice -- Oct. 15, 1932;
Sanok -- Feb. 18, 1933). RSO activists at these meetings established two separate East
Lemkovyna and West Lemkovyna subcommittees and a general coordinating committee for the
whole region. The subcommittee had financial, cooperative and cultural-educational sections
while in Gorlice a separate school section which was directed by M. Trochanowaki and I.
RSO fought against the Ukrainian national movement as an enemy of the Russian nation and
demanded the Polish State satisfy RSO requirements in regard to the culture and education, for
example the development of Russian schools. Any Lemko organization not agreeing with this
was accused of separatism.
RSO had two periodicals. The official one was The Russian Voice (Russkij Golos) published in
Lvov (1928-1939) in the Russian language. This periodical was also the voice of the "Russian
National Union in Poland." The other was the popular Land and Freedom (Zemlia i Wolja)
published in Lvov 1928-1939 and printed in Ukrainian. A periodical with much less popularity
was Science (Nauka) published by the Kaczkowski Society in Lvov, from 1927-1939.
The Old Rus Orientation
The Old Rus movement, during the inter-war period, was based on the notion of a universal
slavic identity. They did not accept either a Russian or a Ukrainian identity. A condition for this
movement's existence was a close cooperation with polish national interests.
The Rus Agrarian Organization
(Ruska Agrarna Organizacja--RAO)
The RAO was established in 1927 as the Rus Agrarian Party and from the beginning was a
puppet in the hands of polish government officials, playing a narrowly limited role in polish
nationality politics in relation to Ukrainians. The main activists of this party were M. Baczynski
and the priest J. Jaworskyj, both parliamentary representatives elected on the slate of the
"Non-Party Bloc for Cooperation with the Government"
(BBWR). RAO was active in economic, cultural and educational affairs but not on a large scale.
It controlled the "Central cooperative Union" and the Lvov "National Home" (which was in
existence since 1848). Because of the elite nature of this party its influence on the masses was
minimal. The Ukrainian press, in fact, called the whole operation a fiction. The periodical of
RAO, Voice of the People (Holos Naroda), published in Lvov (1925-1931) attacked both the
Ukrainians and the RSO.
The Lemko Union (Lemko Soyuz--LS)
In the 1930s Lemkovyna was the last bastion of the Old Rus Movement in Poland The Lemkos
recognized a Rus national feeling while other territories which were inhabited by Ukrainians
were rapidly Ukrainianized. In this situation Lemkovyna was the territorial base for RAO and
for moscophilism. On the other hand Lemkovyna was the farthest Western extension of Ukrainian
territory, a narrow wedge bordered by Polish settlements and it was identified by polish
authorities for polonization. According to Polish nationality policy it was necessary to cut-off
Lemkovyna from all Ukrainians and Russian influences and the next step was to establish a
Lemko organization loyal to the Polish state.
The Lemko Soyuz was founded in 1933 at a meeting in Sanok. The initiator was M. Baczynski,
the RAO leader, who acted in agreement with state authorities. The program of LS was to be the
1. the immediate establishment of a separate Lemko Bishopric
2. the removal of Ukrainian priests and teachers who carried on nationalistic agitation in
churches and schools.
3. loyalty to the Polish State and to the President of the Polish Republic and to Marshall
4. approbation for the activities of parliamentary representatives Baczynski and Jaworski.
LS also established a weekly, Lemko, which was first published in Nowy Sacz (1934), later in
Krynica (1934-1936) and still later in Lvov (1936-1939) [based on substantial government
The Board of Directors of the Lemko Union was made up of, among others, Jaroslaw Siokalo
and Orest Hnatyszak, activists in RSO, which was to show LS' independence politically. These
people hoped for a chance to run an independent Lemko program.
These hopes received a theoretical foundation in a study prepared by Wladyslaw Wiehorski, a
government official. In his report to the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of Poland in
1933, he wrote, however, that "from the point of view of geography the Lemkos must come to
terms with the existence of the Polish State."
The realization of an independent Lemko policy was not in the cards, however. First of all
because the Polish government wished to conduct a pro-Polish propaganda campaign among the
Lemkos and saw LS only as a tool to that end. LS, obviously, soon became an object of
Ukrainian and Russian attacks. RSO thus appeared to be a government instrument and lost
credibility with the Lemkos. The Lemko Soyuz was left without a popular base and its
leadership, under polonizing pressures from the government, attempted to maneuver between
RSO and the state.
The outbreak of World War II fundamentally changed the nature of politics in Lemkovyna. RSO
which existed only structurally (it's hard to conceive of a Russian State structure for Lemkos)
disappeared, the Old Rus remained loyal and the Ukrainian movement took advantage of the
development of the Ukrainian Central Committee. The resettlement of the Lemkos
(1945-47) dispersed them [to Western and Northern Poland and the Soviet Ukraine] and this
opened a whole new chapter in Lemko history.
This essay was based on source materials found in the following archives:
1. Archiwum Akt Nowych (Warsaw)
2. Wojewodzkie Archiwum Panstwowe (Cracow)
3. Wojewodzkie Archiwum Panstwowe (Przemysl)
4. Wojewodzkie Archiwum Panstwowe (Rzeszow)
5. Centralnyj Derzawnyj Istorycznyj Achiw (Lvov)
6. Derzawnyj Archiw Oblasti (Lvov)
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