Institute of History of the Jagiellonian University
The St. Vladimir Foundation in Cracow
Ukrainian Political Thought in the Twentieth Century
May 28-30, 1990
Paper: Moscophilism Amongst the Lemko Population...
Political Science Department
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, Connecticut 06515
Moscophilism Amongst the Lemko Population in the Twentieth Century
The present writer is a Political Scientist who specializes in Soviet and East European politics,
with a focus on Polish-Ukrainian relations in general and, in particular, the shifting herder area
in "East" Central Europe where Ukrainian-Orthodox-Byzantine and East European culture
clashes with Polish-Catholic-Roman and "West" European civilization. One point of especially strong contention is that triangle of land which has its base on the Oslawa River in South-East Poland and its western apex at a point in the Dunajec River Valley, south-east of Cracow. This
territory, which includes the Beskid Sadecki and Beskid Niski mountains, is variously known as
Lemkowszczyzna (Polish) Lemivshchyna (Ukrainian) or Lemkovyna (local). At the beginning of
the twentieth century it was inhabited by a little-known micro-ethnic group of East Slavs called
These Lemkos, living north of the Hungarian border in the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, spoke an east-Slavic language which was heavily influenced by Polish and Slovak.
These people were Greek Catholics, that is, members of a Byzantine-Slavonic Rite church which
recognizes the Roman Pope as its religious leader. Living in remote mountain valleys, their
pastoral and agricultural ways of life were relatively little affected by changes going on in the
outside world. However, as the twentieth century progressed, pressures to change and to
conform to the requirements of one or another larger national community forced these people to
political and nationality choices they were little prepared to make. Religious conflicts
(Orthodoxy versus Greek Catholicism), linguistic struggles (selection of a literary language,
which would determine political orientation -- Russian, Ukrainian, Rusyn, Slovak, Polish) and
World War I created mutually-opposed camps supporting the various alternatives.
A certain historical drama was played out amongst these Carpathian slavs in the twentieth
century. They began to develop feelings as Russians, as the Lesko part of a Carpatho-Rusyn
people, or, perhaps, as part of the Ukrainian nation. Prof. Paul Magocsi of Toronto University
has already written an extensive monograph about this process in the sub-Carpathian (south
slope) region. The pre-Carpathian Lemkos were under different influences from those of the
sub-Carpathian Rusyns in that they lived in the Austrian part of Austria-Hungary and had not
experienced the 1,000 years of Magyar domination found south of the Carpathian crest.
In seeking a larger national identity and an answer to the question "who are we?" -- beyond the
obvious "we're from here" ("tutejszy," in Polish) response -- some Lemkos decided for the
"Russian" solution. In simple terms this meant that the Lemkos were part and parcel of the Great
Russian Nation whose territory stretched from the Carpathians to Kamchatka. This
united/undivided people had several attributes: all spoke some version of Russian, all were
orthodox christians dependent on Moscow and the Holy Synod and all recognized one great and
holy leader, the Appointee of God, the Tsar of All Russia. As reality did not conform with this
great "Russian idea" (Rusakaya Idea), Lemkos were Greek Catholics, in the Austria-Hungarian
Empire (with an Emperor in Vienna) and the Lesko language was not comprehensible to a
Moscovite and vice versa -- reality had to he changed.
In the 19th century, the so-called "Starorusin idea" slowly evolved from vague Pan-East Slavism
into a strong Pro-Moscow tendency. In the Lemko territory (where ideas arrived with a rather
considerable delay), by the 20th century, the intelligentsia and the active peasantry were in good
part engaged in the Russophile movement.
The origins of this movement were several. First a very strong influence came directly or
indirectly from Moscow -- or more precisely from St. Petersburg. After the defeat in the
Crimean War, Russian foreign policy focused, in part, on punishing Austria for lack of
assistance. Here was a country (Austria) which the Russians had saved as an Empire in 1849
when Tsarist troops selflessly defeated the Hungarian rebels on behalf of the Habsburgs. Six
years later, in the Crimean Crisis, the Austrians stood aside as neutrals and Russians could not
forgive this ingratitude. Beyond that, in Russian Political-Religious circles there developed the
idea of pan-Slavism which in its lesser phase included the East Slavic people of the
Austro-Hungarian State, in its middle-sized form all the Orthodox Slavs and in its grandest phase
all Slavs whether Orthodox, Catholic or even Moslem.
Beginning in the 1870s, the Tsarist regime began to take action. The first group to feel the
pan-slavic pressures was the East-Slavic people of Austria-Hungary (we will not discuss here
the other grander ideas of Pan-Slavism). At the same time in the self-same area the Ukrainian
idea was taking root. While in the main Ukrainianism succeeded in Galicia, the same cannot be
said to be true in Lemkovyna.
In direct action the Tsarist regime funded newspapers and agitators and positions for Lesko
youth in Russian Orthodox seminaries. The attempt was made to develop a base amongst the
intellectuals and the general peasant population for the reception of Orthodox propaganda and,
more importantly, for the reception of a trained (Russian) orthodox clergy that just started to
emerge from orthodox schools at the beginning of the 20th century. Let us note clearly here, that
-- whatever one's personal religious feelings (or lack thereof) -- to join the Orthodox Church
meant, for all practical purposes, that one declared oneself as a "Russian" and thus it was a
strong "political" declaration. The magnetic pull of Russophilism was felt also among the Greek
Catholic clergy, so much so that some priests entered orthodox service when the chance for such
action arose during the Russian invasion of W.W.I.
A very powerful indirect influence on Lemkovyna came from North America where the Holy
Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries. While it is true Russian Orthodoxy had
old religious roots in Alaska and along the Pacific coast, the new missionaries came not to those
areas but rather to the immigrant communities from Galicia and the Carpathians. These people
felt themselves under attack from the hostile Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches (the local
Roman Catholic bishops were particularly adverse to the Byzantine-Slavonic rite and a married
clergy, perceiving such things as not being true "Catholic") The Russian church, on the other
hand, accepted these long-lost brothers, priests and laymen alike, with open arms. The Tsarist
regime was pleased and happy to fund clerical stipends and church buildings. This feeling of
having found a home was reflected in correspondence with the old country and in attitudes of the
re-immigrants in their old communities. Beyond that, money and publications supporting
orthodoxy and Russophilism began to flow in from North America.
These Russian efforts began to bear fruit just before W.W.I when Orthodox quasi-parishes began
to crop up in Lemkovyna and a pro-orthodox (Russian) newspaper, Lemko, began publication in
Gorlice. However, all came to naught with the outbreak of the Great War. The Austrian
Gendarmerie knew exactly who was a Russophil and who was not and, acting on orders issued
under martial law conditions, the Austrian police and military security arrested, beat (killed),
and shipped off to an internment camp in the village of Thalerhof near Graz in Stelrmark, all
Russophils that could be caught. This is not the place to discuss the horrors of Thalerhof, but
suffice to say that thousands died amongst the internees (who were aged from newborns to 90
years old) and that for the rest treatment was brutal. While there were a sprinkling of Ukrainians,
Jews, Russophil Poles and even prostitutes the vast majority of internees were of the Russophil
After the devastation caused by acts of war and the interments Lemkovyna slowly returned to
some semblance of normality. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the Russophile Orthodox
movement returned in full force.
The feelings of wrong done to the Lemko people during W.W.I, the aforementioned Tsarist
preparations in the area and two previously occurring but now more strongly felt feelings,
anti-Greek Catholic and anti-Ukrainian, caused a strong resurgence of the pro-Russian
(orthodox) movement. Starting in 1926, 40 villages went over officially to orthodoxy and
perhaps upwards of half the Lemko population, at least informally, joined this flow.
That some of the movement was not exactly pro-Russian or even in an exact sense pro-orthodox
should be expanded on here. The aforementioned anti-Ukrainianism and anti-clericalism
(anti-Greek Catholic Clergy) was based upon perceptions that the "Ukrainians" helped the
Austrians in pointing out "Russophils" during W.W.I and that Ukrainians treated the Lemkos as a
lower cultured Ukrainian "tribe" with a "spoiled" language (with "foreign" influences and a
constant accent, not a movable one like literary Ukrainian). With joining or being part of a Great
Russian culture, some Lemkos could reject Ukrainian accusations of Lemko separatism by
Lemko-Russian accusations of Ukrainian separatism. Further, the exactions of the Greek
Catholic clergy for religious services were quite high (and in some few cases, rapacious) for a
basically farming population living on the edge of poverty. The local Greek-Catholic priest also
frequently administered a large piece of land, and perhaps a mill, which belonged to the
parish but from which the priest derived income. This caused, no doubt, feelings of jealousy
further enhancing anti-clericalism. Orthodox priests accepted little or no money for services.
In 1924 the newly formed Polish Autocephalic Orthodox Church began a mission in Lemkovyna
which yielded the previously mentioned results. This church and its clergy was initially made up
of Russians, strictly speaking, and the church was under very heavy pressure to conform to
Polish reasons of state and in areas, other than Lemkovyna, it found itself in sharp conflict with
the ruling authorities. However, in the Lemko lands, Polish Government and Orthodox goals
coincided. In payback to the Catholic church for propagating the Neo-Unia amongst orthodox
believers in Bielorus regions, the Orthodox church counterattacked in Lemkovyna bringing into
the orthodox church probably as many souls as it lost to the Neo-Unia. On the other hand, the
Polish government using all the means at its disposal to break the Ukrainian movement, was
pleased to support Orthodoxy in the Lemko territory, viewing it, rightly so, at that time, as an
World War II completely changed the issue, however. The destruction of the war, the
"evacuations" of 1940 and 1944-1946 to the Soviet Ukraine and finally the resettlement/exile of
the surviving Lemko population to the Northern and Western lands of post-W.W. II Poland,
shattered the Lemko people. What there is left of a pro-Russian movement, cannot be detected.
Among Lemkos today, we may detect two general national directions, a Lemko Carpatho-Rusyn
one and a Ukrainian one. The religious issue, as far as Ukrainians are concerned, is more or less
resolved, the Orthodox church (at least in the Przemysl-Nowy Sacz diocese), despite having a
predominance of Bielorus clergy, accepts the Lemkos as Ukrainians, while the Greek Catholic
church now calls itself the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The only echo of the Russophil movement
is found among descendants of Lemko immigrants. It is estimated that 75% of the adherents of the
Russian Orthodox Church in North America can trace their roots to the Carpathians (both sides)
SELECTED SHORT BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Moklak Jarosław. "Aspekty polityczne życia religijnego Ukrainców w Galicji (Prawosławie
Rosyjskie)" Typescript, 12 pages.
2. Duds, Tadeusz. "Stosunki wyznaniowe Lemków Greckokatolickich zamieszkałych na
terenie obecnej diecezji Tarnowskiej w XIX i XX Wieku" Tarnowskie Studia Teologiczne X,
Part 1, 1986.
3. Hunka, Jarosław. "The Lemkos Today" Carpatho-Rusyn American. Vol. X No. 4, Winter 1987,
4. Papierzynska-Turek. Między Tradycią a Rzeczywistoscią : Państwo wobec prawosławia
1918-1939 (Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1989). 484 p.
5. Torzecki, Ryszard. Kwestia Ukrainska w Polsce w Latach 1923-1929 (Krakow:
Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1989)
6. Bendza Marian. Prawosławie, Diecezia Przemyska w Latach 1596-1681 (Warszawa: Chrzescijańska Akademia Teologiczna, 1981).
7. Best, Paul. "The Lemkos as a Micro-ethnic Group," Typescript, 15 pages.
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Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
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