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).

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 state.

The Ukrainian Orientation

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 established.

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 that:

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 land during

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:

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 Organization (U.Ch.O.)

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 "Gosudarstvo."

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. Rusenko.

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 following:

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 Pilsudski

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 subsidy]

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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