From Brigandry to Guerrilla Warfare
This chapter is concerned with the history of the Rus settlement in Wislok. It is not an exhaustive local history, but a brief outline intended to point up major developments before the socialist period; since the Rus community did not survive long under socialism, the chapter may be omitted by readers interested exclusively in the formation of the present community.
The Eastern Slav, Orthodox community with basically pastoral economy resists incorporation into feudal Poland.
In the later Middle Ages, after the schism of 1054 between Rome and Byzantium which definitively established the Orthodox Church, it was religion rather than language or any other criterion which served as the principal distinguishing feature within the Slavic populations to the north and east of the Carpathian Mountains. In the westerly parts a Polish state was consolidated in the tenth century, after Mieszko's conversion to Christianity by the Latin church. The Eastern Slavs were converted from Byzantium. Temporarily unified in the Kievan Rus Federation, they eventually evolved into three distinct cultural and political entities: Muscovy (Great Russia), the Ukraine (Little Russia), and White Russia. Political, economic and religious differences between the two fundamental ethnolinguistic communities of Eastern and Western Slavs deepened over several centuries, but demarcation of the precise border at different periods has presented modern historians with an awkward problem. According to earliest written records, Wislok was part of an administrative unit centered on Sanok and known as the Sanok Lands (Ziemia Sanocka). Very sparsely populated until late in the Middle Ages, it could not be assigned unambiguously to either ethnolinguistic community at this period. Between 1030 and 1340 the Sanok Lands formed the south-western corner of the Eastern Slav principality of Halicz within the Kievan Rus federation, and later the independent kingdom of Halicz-Volhynia. Polish sources claim, however, that this region belonged to the Polish state at an even earlier date.1
The Sanok Lands were definitively incorporated into Poland by the last monarch of the Piast dynasty, King Casimir the Great, in 1341. Thanks to the survival of written records, from this time onwards it is possible to trace the process of colonization, which in this area proceeded from the more fertile lowlands in a southwards direction up the river valleys to the less hospitable parts of the Carpathians. This process was encouraged by the Polish crown, and expansion also took place in more easterly regions where the East Slav (Rus or `Ruthenian'2) population was already substantial. Some of the beneficiaries were powerful magnates, others were members of the lesser gentry, a class so numerous in Poland that many of its members were almost indistinguishable from the mass of the peasantry. Those who were granted title to land then did their best to recruit more settlers from wherever they could be found. Immigrants from Germany were very numerous in the early period, and so too from the fourteenth century were their co-religionists, the Western Slavs or Poles. To the Sanok Lands, however, the largest numbers came from the east, particularly in the later phases of colonization when the richer lowlands were already quite densely settled. They were Eastern Slavs and their religion was Orthodox. To complicate matters further it is also necessary to take account of a fourth ethnic contingent, the Vlachs. The Vlachs were pastoral nomads who originated in the Balkans and migrated in several waves from Transylvania to the northern reaches of the Carpathians; they were eventually assimilated by other groups in this region, but left indelible marks upon its pastoral economy and its folk culture.3
Apart from this diversity (but to some extent corresponding to the differences between ethnic groups) there was also significant variation within the Sanok Lands in the social and legal conditions of colonization and in the means by which the new settlers obtained their livelihood. Broadly speaking settlement in lowland areas suitable for agriculture took place according to the standard terms of `Magdeburg Law'. Such a settlement charter stipulated feudal dues and services similar to those enforced in towns and villages throughout the country. The rules applied in the colonization of upland areas were of necessity quite different and typically expressed in the form of a `Vlach' charter (ius Valachium). The terms were adjusted to the
contrasting mode of subsistence, and dues were expressed not in terms of field crops or money but in terms of animals, their skins and their cheeses. Moreover, there was recognition of the great difficulties encountered by those breaking new ground in isolated mountain territory. The size of the `fiefs' granted was larger than elsewhere, the headman (kniaz' or soltys) had far-reaching power locally, and for a lengthy initial period no dues of any kind were extracted. The more generous terms were doubtless necessary to persuade peasants to settle in such remote parts. Thus, although the colonization was initiated and guided by the feudal state, feudal norms in force elsewhere were not strictly applied in this region. The early population was made up of volunteer peasants enjoying considerable independence, rather than of captive serfs.
Wislok is mentioned for the first time in 1361 when, as a loca deserta, it was allocated by Casimir the Great to two brothers, `Peter and Paul from Hungary'. This does not necessarily mean that Peter and Paul were ethnic Hungarians, only that they probably came to Poland from the south, from territories belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary. Nor does the reference to an `empty place' imply that no previous settlement had existed in Wislok: on the contrary, the way in which Wislok is named in this document suggests the possibility of some short-lived earlier settlement.4 Peter's descendants remained the owners of the new village during the Fifteenth century and though they themselves preferred to reside elsewhere, in more congenial surrounds, they did much to develop it. By the sixteenth century more detailed information is available. In 1552 the village contained altogether 48 farms, 2 mills and an Orthodox Priest, and it would seem that the area of land exploited more than doubled in the period l526-89. The names of the inhabitants in these early centuries confirm their East Slav origins. There is no surviving indication of a Vlach charter before 1561. However, it seems likely that such dues as were exacted in these earlier centuries cut into the surplus of an extensive pastoral economy (the presence of the mills is an indication that already some fields were cultivated, but this was a subordinate element).
The sixteenth century, which probably saw substantial increases in the population as well as in the land area exploited, also witnessed a more general closing of the frontier in the Sanok Lands. With all attractive sites now occupied, colonization ceased in the early seventeenth century. Even the continued expansion of existing settlements was now impeded, partly because of a decline in Poland's international position and a lack of political cohesion. The monarchy was no longer the strong and unifying force it had been under Casimir the Great. The sixteenth century had registered many outstanding scientific and cultural achievements, whilst economic prosperity was founded upon the export of grain to the west. It was the gentry and especially the larger magnates who benefited from this trade, and who now sought to increase the efficiency of their manorial economy by stepping up feudal appropriations. The full impact of this `Second Serfdom'5 was experienced when this trade began to decline and the peasantry had to be further squeezed so that profits could be maintained. At the political level, the magnates succeeded in establishing an elective monarchy, to mask the reality of an anarchical aristocratic republic in stark contrast with the absolutist states taking shape elsewhere in early modern Europe. These developments affected all regions of the country, including those regions in the mountains not previously subjected to the feudal yoke. The weakness of the state left the peasants less secure against foreign invaders, and Wislok was one of many villages plundered by Tartar invasion in 1624. At the same time it was considerably easier to resist magnate oppression in the mountain environment, and in the southern parts of the Sanok Lands the Second Serfdom was scarcely more fully implemented that the First.
Legally, Wislok was still privately held, but eventually it passed out of the hands of the original proprietors. Most neighboring villages belonged directly to the crown and were administered by its agents. Here feudal controls were weakest of all and the peasantry largely independent. The inhabitants of some nearby villages to the east of Wislok retained great pride in having once belonged to the Royal Demesne, even after the Monarchy collapsed and this ceased to have any practical meaning. The ethnographer Roman Reinfuss found this tradition alive in Wislok itself as late as the 1930s, despite the fact that in pre-partition Poland this village had always been privately owned.6 This would suggest that the legal details of ownership did not matter much at all in mountain conditions; and such an interpretation is strengthened when one examines the record of peasant resistance in Wislok in the course of the seventeenth century.
Resistance could take many forms. A mass struggle against the forces of exploitation was one possibility, illustrated notably by the Polish highlanders of Podhale (Tatra Mountains region) in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, but not imitated on any large scale in the Sanok Lands. Very common, however, in the more easterly sections of the Carpathians, was individual or collective flight from the oppressors. This was easy and effective: the feudal system could not work, because an oppressive Lord found himself left without a labor force. The third and most colorful strategy of self-defense was organized brigandry, which became endemic in the Sanok Lands in the seventeenth century, and which invites comparison with patterns of rural protest and banditry in other countries. The prominence of Wislok men in the criminal records of the period derives in part from the village's location on the state border; it was relatively easy to accomplish a daring exploit on one side and retreat to a temporary refuge on the other. But apart from a catalogue of common crimes (particularly cattle stealing) there are also records of coordinated, mass attacks upon the manor houses of the gentry of the region, which was ethnically Polish. That these violent protests were on occasion organized and led by the Orthodox priest suggests that feelings were running high, and that ethnic and class barriers were closely related. It has been argued that the Orthodox clergy in the East Slav villages seldom lived at a much higher level than their congregations, whilst in the Polish villages of the lowlands the Catholic presbytery was more likely to be perceived on occasion as yet another oppressive feudal institution .7
It is possible that the seeds of much later bitterness were sown during the troubled years of the seventeenth century. In spite of the weakness of the Polish state, in the Sanok Lands some continuity of settlement (if not in every village) and of population was maintained. Despite the class conflicts engendered by feudal exploitation there was as yet no hint of ethnic antagonism between Eastern Slavs (or Rusnaks, as they presumably already described themselves) and Polish villagers with whom their contacts began to increase. Polish peasants did not identify themselves with the Polish aristocratic republic, any more than the Rusnaks could have considered themselves to be members of any national community. Despite the intolerance induced by the Counter Reformation, at the local level there was little religious antagonism. Many of the Polish Commonwealth's Orthodox subjects were formally brought into communion with Rome at the synods of Brest-Litovsk in 1595-6, which called into being the Greek Catholic or Uniate Church." Some Orthodox Bishops, including the Bishop of Przemys'l, to whose diocese Wislok belonged, refused to ratify this Union. When a successor finally did so in 1692 it made no difference to the Rus masses in the mountains.
They continued to practice the Byzantine rite and to use the Julian calendar, and this was more than enough to distinguish them from the ethnically Polish communities which came to predominate in the lowland areas.
Thus, the two main ethnic groups in the Sanok lands under the Polish Commonwealth were the Poles and the Rusnaks. The differences between them were clearly defined, in language, in economy (because the Rusnaks were concentrated in the upland areas and much more dependent upon their animals), and in religion. In Wislok the Rus community was again consolidating its position at the end of the seventeenth century. It had successfully resisted full implementation of feudal controls under Polish Lords, maintained a mixed pastoral-agricultural economy in which the former (influenced by Vlach shepherds) was probably still the more important, and clung tenaciously to the practical essence of the traditional religion, despite the diocese's departure from Orthodoxy and acceptance of papal authority in 1692. The influence of the Polish Commonwealth, though it lingered on until 1772, was always slight in these peripheral lands. Yet in a sense the very instability of Wislok during the seventeenth century renders it a faithful microcosm of the state to which it belonged; although most lowland villages were more stable and more effectively exploited by the manors, the aggregate of these exploitative relations was a highly unstable, unmanageable Polish state.
The Rus, Greek Catholic community expands and Austrian policies in Galicia transform both its economy and its political aspirations
After the turbulence of the seventeenth century the period up to the First World War was more tranquil. In it great changes occurred in Wislok, for under Austrian rule economic progress was more rapid and a new sense of group identity emerged, thanks largely to a combination of Austrian policy and the designs of the Greek Catholic Church. The gradual disintegration of the Polish Commonwealth, caused by the refusal of the nobility to permit the central authorities to wield effective power, reached its predictable climax in 1772. As a result of the `first partition' agreed in that year between Russia, Austria and Prussia, most of Poland's southern territories passed to Austria. Henceforth they were known as the Province of Galicia, a name derived from Halicz, center of the East Slav Princedom which had controlled most of this territory before its annexation by Poland in the fourteenth century. After the `third partition', agreed by the same great powers in 1795, even the rump Polish state disappeared. It was not to reappear on the map of Europe until 1919. During this period the Sanok Lands formed part of Eastern Galicia. The provincial capital at Lemberg was the north-eastern outpost of what became known in the second half of the nineteenth century as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or simply `the Monarchy'
Despite high mortality figures (indicated in the church registers, which date from 1784 and employ Latin and Polish languages) the population of Wislok seems to have grown steadily during the eighteenth century. This could not continue throughout the nineteenth century, as the figures given in Table 1 confirm. The population exceeded 2,000 by the 1 860s, and this imposed severe pressure upon limited land resources. Areas formerly used as pasture were increasingly brought under cultivation, and by the beginning of the twentieth century the traditional extensive pastoral base of the economy had been almost completely destroyed.
Austrian administration probably had little immediate impact at village level, and therefore the first detailed agricultural census they took, which dates from 1787, sheds interesting light upon the farming system as it was before the developments of the nineteenth century. By now there were altogether 324 peasant farms in Wislok covering an area of nearly 6,000 acres, more than double the forest area tinder `manorial' control. The dues these farmers had to pay were no longer expressed in animal products but in crops and money, as elsewhere. It is interesting to observe that in Wislok, in contrast to most lowland villages, they were extracted not from single families but from groups of families which sometimes contained as many as 8 separate households. Almost all arable fields and gardens were jointly held by at least two households. It has been suggested that in this mountain village, unlike most of Galicia, production was still organized on a large, collective base and not devolved to individual households; if this was also true of other Rus villages it would imply significant differences between their social structure and that of Polish villages on the plains.9
Austrian administrators sought to regulate access to land carefully and were more successful in constraining the freedom of the local population than their predecessors had been. Since the peasants of Wislok had never been greatly burdened by feudal obligations they attained no great benefits when these were finally abolished in 1848. But they were affected by the process of land registration, which took place at about the same time; the meticulous cadastral survey conducted in 1851 shows that many plots were already highly fragmented, although evidence of the original division, in blocks of land on either side of the river, could still be seen. Peasants were prohibited from making free use of the forests by an Austrian regulation of 1782. Although this was quite impossible to implement, it gradually became more difficult to exploit the still vast areas of forest in casual fashion.
In the course of the nineteenth century, the absentee owners of forest estates parceled large areas out to local buyers, and also to outsiders interested in commercial exploitation. There was a growing demand for timber from across the Hungarian border, which occasionally meant cash and short-term employment for local peasants. Cash could also be obtained through farming, mainly by selling animals at district markets, which were attended by buyers from as far afield as Vienna. The more important sources of money lay well outside the region. Seasonal migration at harvest time, to work on the rich estates of northern Hungary or in lowland Galicia, was one possibility which numerous peasants took up from the late eighteenth century onwards. This was considerably facilitated in 1872 when the Austrians opened a railway line through the mountains, passing very close to Wislok. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century horizons widened further. In common with many Poles from the equally overcrowded villages of the plains, thousands of Rusnaks sought work in the United States. Many were young men who had no intention of settling permanently in North America. They would return to their village after a few years, marry, and invest all their savings in farming (i.e. in the purchase of land), conforming in all respects to the norms of their native community.10
Land was the crucial scarce resource and the influx of dollars drove its price to very high levels (a foretaste of things to come in the socialist period when the dollar again became the effective measure of value). This was the most conspicuous aspect of the penetration of a cash economy. Money was also needed to buy other goods, made available by the first immigrant group to challenge the ethnic homogeneity of the Rus community. The Jews had for centuries been more welcome in Poland than almost anywhere else in Europe, and their penetration of even the most remote villages in the mountains was in tune with the new economic order.11 They opened shops or taverns, usually a simple combination of the two, which obtained most of their income by dispensing alcohol. Sometimes they invested their profits in farming; they became the major source of credit in the community; and they maintained their ethnic and religious identity absolutely, for although they never numbered more than a few dozen in Wislok, they associated themselves with larger Jewish communities elsewhere (the nearest to Wislok being the small market town of Bukowsko, 12 km through the mountains).
The character of the economic `development' experienced by Wislok and by Galicia as a whole (for Wislok exemplifies the general tendencies of this period) must be studied in relation to the expansion of Western Europe and the role of the imperial hinterlands of Austria-Hungary in the new capitalist system. It is plausible to maintain that Eastern Europe was condemned to a subordinate role and to `underdevelopment' from the sixteenth century onwards. Certainly the Monarchy which actually governed East-Central Europe during the era when capitalist relations of production reached even the most isolated rural communities lacked the ambition and the means to develop all its sprawling territories. It obtained a surplus in agricultural products (from Wislok it extracted little more than timber and migrant labor), and it used it to maintain an elaborate bureaucratic machine. It built many railways, but it could do little to develop industry or to alleviate agrarian conditions, the distress brought about by population expansion in the face of a chronic shortage of land. Migration was the sole hope of many peasants, Poles and Rusnaks alike.12
In the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, for reasons intimately related to this pattern of under-development, village populations in East-Central Europe came gradually to be drawn into new patterns of political involvement with the wider societies to which they belonged. Previously, the main factor in such wider identification had been religion; but now new criteria for unity were discovered. One notable illustration was the formation of new political parties to represent the interests of the peasant masses. The Polish Peasants' Party, founded in 1895 in the East Galician town of Rzeszow, was the very first of many similar populist' parties which went on to wage a Fifty-year struggle on behalf of the East European peasantry, until silenced (at least temporarily) by socialist governments after the Second World War.13
But the type of movement which had the greatest impact upon the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in its later years was the expression, not of class or interest-group solidarity, but of growing nationalist sentiment amongst the many subject peoples. In Galicia, perhaps because of the recent memory of a Polish state, this happened earlier in Polish areas than it did amongst the Eastern Slav population. Polish leaders in Galicia succeeded in gaining a large measure of autonomy for the Province in 1860. This enabled Poles to dominate political and cultural life, as they had done traditionally, even in those eastern parts where they formed only a small minority of the population. Whether simply as a response to this assertion of Polish influence (which far exceeded anything that Poles were allowed to achieve in the Prussian or Russian sectors of their divided country), whether perhaps encouraged by Austria in order to counter this Polish influence, or whether due ultimately to cultural and economic forces similar to those which stimulated the national `awakening' amongst Poles, there developed in the Eastern Slav territories in the later nineteenth century a movement proclaiming a Ukrainian national identity. Because no Ukrainian state had existed previously, at least not in the same sense that a Polish political formation had survived until 1795, the tasks facing this movement were formidable. In the absence of an appropriate political culture and the symbols of nation', it was First of all necessary for an intelligentsia to come forward and create them. Then the new Ukrainian consciousness had to be transmitted to the masses, and this took time, especially in the more remote mountain regions. Amongst the most westerly Rusnaks, long associated with Poles, success was not finally achieved until after the Second World War; in Wislok it came a little sooner.
In the Sanok Lands in the nineteenth century religion remained the principal factor differentiating the population, together with language and other cultural features, and these differences were still not perceived in terms of national communities. Most villages were either Greek Catholic parishes or Roman Catholic parishes, but they were not strictly endogamous. A Polish speaker from a Roman Catholic village who married into a Rus village would adopt the dialect and the religion of his new community (and vice versa for in-marrying Rusnaks). The boundary between the Rus zone in the mountains and the Polish villages which penetrated the foothills remained firm. There were only a few islands of Polish settlement within the Rus zone, and equally few isolated Greek Catholic parishes on the lowlands. `This pattern changed slightly under Austrian rule, as a result of new economic developments. Thus, a number of Polish families moved at this time to Komancza, 10 km from Wislok, in order to work on the newly constructed railway, and sufficient of them remained for them to be able to preserve their separate identity in a village that had previously known only Greek Catholics and a few Jews. However, because economic development was so limited, few villages were affected by such immigration. Wislok in this respect seems to be typical. At the end of the First World War (during which it suffered considerable damage and human losses as Russian and Austrian armies struggled to control the nearby mountain passes), the handful of Jewish families was still the only non-Rus element in a population of more than 2,000.
There are few accounts of how the ethnic consciousness of these Rusnaks was evolving in the last decades of Austrian rule. The two main orientations which emerged can only be understood in the context of prevailing political alliances. Firstly, there was a current termed the `Old Ruthenian', the adherents of which looked generally to Great Russia (Moscow) as the only existing East Slav state which might serve to focus the pristine unity of all Eastern Slavs. This orientation was viewed with deep suspicion by Austria, inveterate opponent of Czarist Russia. It was viewed with more enthusiasm by some Poles, content to endorse a vague pan-Slavic sentiment which did not threaten their own more pragmatic objectives of gaining full power in Eastern Galicia. But it was the Ukrainian orientation which gained popularity amongst the mountain Rusnaks. This was a serious threat to Polish aspirations, and suited the `divide and rule' tactics of the Austrians rather well. Those who espoused the new Ukrainian identity also believed themselves to be descendants of the true, original Eastern Slavs. They looked not to Moscow, nor to the creation of an autonomous Rus political formation in the mountain region, as did some amongst the Old-Ruthenians, but instead they proclaimed a new Ukrainian nation as the successor to the old Kievan unity. They were given considerable freedom to propagate their views by the Austrian authorities, and in most areas of Rus settlement they eventually triumphed over the Old-Ruthenians. They owed their success most of all to the committed support of the Greek Catholic clergy, the only intellectual elite available to transmit the new ideology to the mountain peasantry. The Greek Catholic Bishops of Przemys'l were particularly active in the Ukrainian cause, to the fury of Polish political leaders in Eastern Galicia.14
At the end of the First World War the Monarchy collapsed, and before the resulting power vacuum in Eastern Galicia was filled by the newly established Polish republic, many areas were shaken by revolutionary upheavals. The Rus mountain areas, the most westerly parts of ethnic territory claimed by Ukrainian insurgents, were no exception. The Old-Ruthenians, many of whom suffered severe persecution by Austria during the war, managed to establish an autonomous republic. Some of their leaders sought desperately to affiliate the areas they represented with the new Czechoslovak state, but this proposal was rejected at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. In Wislok, the Ukrainian orientation asserted itself more strongly In November 1918 the local priest, Panko Shpilka, was instrumental in establishing a National Council in sympathy with the independent Western Ukrainian Republic, which had its capital in Lemberg. Delegates came to Wislok from a wide area, representing most Rus parts of the Sanok Lands, and the priest worked assiduously to foster contacts with the centers of the revolution during the winter months 1918-19. He was eventually arrested and the national movement suppressed by the Polish army. The short-lived Ukrainian administration in Wislok and the environs was followed by twenty years of Polish administration.15
The Greek Catholic, Ukrainian community survives the trials of capitalist Poland and fascist Germany before succumbing to socialism
Poland's treatment of the ethnic minority groups within her new borders in the inter-war period left much to be desired.16 Altogether they made up about one-third of her population. The Ukrainians were the largest single minority group, and they formed a majority in most of the regions which had formerly comprised Eastern Galicia. The Rus zone in the mountains was the most isolated part of the territories claimed by Ukrainian nationalist groups; but here, as we have noted, the Ukrainian orientation was not universally adopted by the Rusnaks themselves. For this reason Rusnaks were singled out for a less antagonistic approach than that adopted towards the more self-conscious Ukrainians of other regions. It was considered that the Rusnaks of Wislok and hundreds of other villages in the moun tains could at least be won over to an `Old-Ruthenian' consciousness, if not fully assimilated into the Polish nation and state. Efforts were made to achieve these goals through control of the education system, through suppression of the main sources of pro-Ukrainian propaganda, particularly the Greek Catholic Church, and finally by the fabrication of new regional identities for the Rusnaks, in which the regime was aided by historians and ethnographers.17
Virtually no detailed academic studies of Rus territory were carried out before the inter-war period, and the bulk of research was conducted in the 1930s. Much care was taken in defining the boundaries of Rus sub-groups - not where they met Polish villages, for this was obvious to all, but where one Rus `ethnographic group' shaded into another. According to the linguistic and cultural criteria inconsistently applied by different writers, Wislok fell into the most westerly of these groups, the `Lemkians', who inhabited a territory roughly corresponding to the boundaries of the Lower Beskids. Some writers held that the Lemkians had more in common with Poles than with the Ukrainians, since, despite their mixed East Slav and Vlach ancestry, they had always been part of Poland politically and had benefited from their contacts with Polish culture over many centuries. It was even suggested that the Lemkians were really the product of interaction between Vlachs and Poles, with Eastern Slav elements absent altogether; according to this view, it was merely as a result of some later cultural diffusion from the east that their language and religion came to differ from those of the Poles. The Polish academic invention of `Lemkovina' had considerable influence on the Rus masses, and, combined with the `Old-Ruthenian' legacy, the amalgam of blatant propaganda and serious ethnographic studies of differentiation within the Rus zone did help to ensure that peasants moving beyond a purely local group identification for the first time would move no further than to the `Lemkian' or `Old Ruthenian' orientation. Thus, some who had previously identified themselves only as Rusnaks and offered this as a statement of their religion and their culture, not about their `national' allegiance, now proudly assumed a `Lemkian' identity. However skeptical they were when told about their intimate cultural ties with Poles, there were many who came to accept the line of the Polish authorities, that their own regional identity might as well be developed within the Polish state as in an independent Ukraine. Despite Polish pressure, the inhabitants of Wislok were not dis posed to accept this view, and the eastern section of Lemkovina, which had supported the Ukrainian insurgents in 1918-19, remained overwhelmingly loyal to the Ukrainian cause. The pressure was most evident in education and in religion. After 1930, Ukrainian language materials were prohibited in the schools and teaching thereafter took place in the Lemkian dialect (a more archaic form of essentially the same language, written in a slightly different script). The Polish authorities were also determined to prevent the Greek Catholic Church from emerging as the national church of the Ukrainians. One important instrument used to achieve this objective was support for the Orthodox Church, not only in the eastern territories taken from Russia but also within Lemkovina, where `Old-Ruthenian' sympathizers were encouraged to abandon the Greek Catholic Church in favor of Orthodoxy, the original church of all the Eastern Slavs. Many parishes did so, whilst in other villages, where only a part of the population wished to make this move, there was considerable sectarian acrimony. The Greek Catholic Bishop of Przemys'l was unable to counter these trends after 1934, for the Polish government succeeded in persuading the Vatican to create a separate `Apostolic Administration for Lemkovina' with an amenable, pro-Polish Bishop at its head.
These policies differed from the blunter instruments used to repress this minority in other parts of inter-war Poland. Not surprisingly the Ukrainian nationalists accused the government of attempting to `Polonize' the so-called `Lemkians', by detaching them from their church and from their larger cultural group. The Poles enjoyed a measure of success only in the westerly parts of Rus territory, where the Ukrainian cause had not gained a strong hold in the days of the Monarchy. In Wislok and most other easterly districts the challenge to the Ukrainian identification and to the Greek Catholic Church was unsuccessful. In Koman'cza inroads could be made with ease because there was an immigrant Polish population. Thus, a Roman Catholic Church and also a monastery were founded here in the 1920s, the first time a Latin rite parish had existed in this part of the mountains. In Wislok a Pole who had married into the village was instrumental in mustering some support in the 1930s for a small evangelical church. However, this was more a product of the distressed economic circumstances of the period than a sign of any serious weakening of Ukrainian sympathies.
It can be seen from Table 1 that the population of Wislok rose sharply in the inter-war years. This was partly because there were now fewer opportunities to emigrate. It was also more difficult to supplement incomes by seasonal migration, since the new state borders of Czechoslovakia had to be crossed twice to reach potential employment on the plains of Hungary. With the forests already depleted there was little the Rus population could do except try to intensify agriculture and to make more land available for cultivation by terracing even the most unfavorable stretches of hillside. There was little inclination to innovate, the diet was deplorable and mortality figures remained high. Yet Reinfuss, the outstanding ethnographer who visited the village in the 1930s, found that material poverty did not preclude great cultural vitality.18
In spite of the changes which followed the restitution of the Polish state in 1919 and the worsening of ethnic relations within it, particularly after 1930, there was still little or no antagonism at the local level between Rusnaks and Poles in the Sanok Lands. The zone as a whole may be seen as one of the few successes of Marshal Pilsudski's early `federalist' designs for his country (policies which underestimated the strength of national feeling amongst minority groups, or at any rate overestimated the capacity of the Poles to control them). For a time it even seemed that class solidarity might overcome ethnic differences, notably when Polish and Rus peasants combined in massive protests at the height of the Depression in 1931-2.19 Wislok remained an isolated village, bounded on all sides by smaller, equally homogeneous, Rus villages; yet marriages with Poles were still quite common (Poles were outnumbered only by Jews at the market center of Bukowsko). The rules applied were the same as in Austrian times both partners adhered to the language and religion of the community in which they resided, and their children were raised accordingly. The presence of a police station, manned by Poles who were strangers to the community, was the major sign that much had changed in the outside world; but not until the end of the Second World War was the gravity of these changes brought home to the peasants of Wislok.
In 1939, Wislok was occupied by German forces (the Soviet-German demarcation line followed the line of the River San a short distance to the east). A short time later many of her able-bodied men were transferred to Germany as slave labor. The Poles at the police station were replaced by a Ukrainian staff. Throughout the war the Germans were astute in exploiting the accumulated grievances and aspirations of the nationally conscious Ukrainians, though they never showed themselves to be genuinely interested in satisfying the desire for independence. In the course of the war the Rusnaks were more exposed to Ukrainian influence than ever before; even the priests sent to Wislok were from lowland regions of the Ukraine proper, with no knowledge of the `Lemkian' dialect. Fresh conflicts developed in the Rus zone after the Nazis were driven back in 1944. A Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla organization based in the mountains, possibly with some German connivance, was able to continue the struggle for an independent Ukraine until 1947. The Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA), as it was called, committed innumerable atrocities against the civil population (mainly against Poles, but also against some Rusnaks who were considered to be half-hearted in their Ukrainian commitment). Guerrillas were also involved in many military skirmishes with forces of the Red Army and of the newly formed People's Army of Poland. Originally based in regions that were incorporated into the USSR in 1945, UPA was able to survive in the Rus zones that were left under Polish control because it could attract men and supplies from villages such as Wislok. Most of the fighting in fact took place outside the Lemkian region, in the `Boykian' section of the Bieszczady Mountains. These Rusnaks had not been subjected to the same Polonizing policies in the inter-war period and were firmer in their support for guerrilla fighters, most of whom were not Rusnak natives of the mountains. The movement was liquidated by the Polish Army in 1947 in the course of a massive military operation (Operation `Vistula'), during which all Rus zones in Poland, including Lemkovina, were evacuated and devastated.20
It may seem strange that such a recent invention of one set of Polish authorities could be dismantled so easily by another set, but Soviet power had transformed the situation. The new Polish state, far from possessing some of the most numerous minority groups in Europe, was ethnically one of the most homogeneous. As with other Rus groups in the Carpathians, Soviet policy was to submerge regional identities in the cause of consolidating a Ukrainian national identity.21 When the new Polish-Soviet borders were agreed in 1945, it was decided to repatriate not only some millions of Poles who would otherwise have been left in the Ukraine and White Russia, but also several hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from Polish territory, including Lemkians who had previously been encouraged by Poles not to consider themselves Ukrainian at all. The bulk of these transfers were concluded by the end of 1945, several hundred inhabitants of Wislok being amongst those who were moved to various locations in the Ukraine. According to those who remember these events, a few went voluntarily - communist sympathizers and some of those most fervently loyal to the Ukrainian cause; but most
went reluctantly, under considerable pressure from the police and the military. Terrorist activity continued to affect the village in 1946, when both UPA and the Polish Army were active in Wislok. The population was still high, because many Rusnaks abandoned smaller villages and sought refuge here in houses left empty after the migrations to the USSR. It is difficult to gauge how many gave voluntary support to UPA, but at least some younger men were willing recruits. The Polish Army acted on the assumption that the entire village was collaborating with terrorists. Polish soldiers were responsible for the deaths of several civilians in at least one operation, which was speedily avenged by UPA. Overall there was little military activity in the Lemkian region, partly because the Lower Beskids did not offer adequate protection to guerrilla bands. The decision to evacuate this region in its entirety was taken early in 1947 and cannot be justified on purely military grounds. It was implemented crudely and quickly. By the early summer of 1947 the entire Rus zone was empty, apart from a few pockets of Polish settlement. Some UPA leaders succeeded in escaping through Czechoslovakia to the West. The Rusnaks themselves were deported to the northern and western territories which Poland had acquired from Germany. In this new setting, where the better farms had already been occupied, often by virulently anti-Ukrainian Poles repatriated from the east, all Rusnaks finally had to take cognizance of the status they have officially retained to the present day: that of being the major component of the Ukrainian minority group in the People's Republic of Poland. The designation `Lemkian', if it survived at all, was superseded as the prime level of ethnic identification. Those who went back to their native lands (as some of them were allowed to from the late 1950s) returned as Ukrainians, whatever orientation they had supported before the war; and it is as a Ukrainian minority in the new community in Wislok that we shall have occasion to refer to them in later chapters.
We have traced the history of the Rus community in Wislok from its earliest records down to its dissolution in 1947. For most of this period it was politically part of the Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Poland. Later it came under Austrian rule, before in the twentieth century it reverted to Poland. The inhabitants were once Orthodox, but became Catholic in 1692 without abandoning the Byzantine rite. The Greek Catholic Church maintained its position until 1946, when it was proscribed at national level by the new socialist authorities. The economy of Wislok was initially that of mountain pastoralism, but this gradually yielded to one based on agriculture as the population expanded. Emigration was the major systemic regulator in the underdeveloped Galician economy, but this did not prevent the fragmentation of agricultural land being carried to extreme lengths. Economic conditions were probably most severe in the inter-war period, when there were fewer opportunities to emigrate. Relations between the Rusnaks and the Polish peasantry outside the mountain zone were good through many centuries, until they were influenced by the growth of nationalist sentiment and finally poisoned during and immediately following the Second World War. It was the misfortune of the Rusnaks that they attained full national awareness as Ukrainians only when their communities were destroyed and they themselves forcibly dispersed by the Polish Army.
Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich
Copyright © 1999 LV Productions
© LV Productions Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: May 30th, 1999.