Family, Neighborhood and Village

The family is practically the only organized social group to which the peasant primarily belongs as an active member

William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki (1918-20, p.140)

It has been shown in previous chapters that the peasants of Wislok share a common predicament in the politico-administrative setting, that they remain overwhelmingly loyal to their traditional religion and have failed to acquire a new socialist/secular consciousness. To the extent that any overriding principle of unity can be identified at all, this is provided by the established church and is in opposition to the established state authorities. However, it should not be assumed from this that the village is in any way a homogenous entity, and I wish now to look in more detail at its sociological diversity. Much of this can be related to the economic diversity described in earlier chapters. We can begin by considering the demographic factors which influence the composition of the family and household, and then proceed to consider social relations at neighborhood and village levels.

Households consist mainly of nuclear families, which vary considerably in their reproductive capacity

The importance of the family as an economic unit and in socialization has already been pointed out. To understand its role in the rural social structure it is necessary first to look in more detail at the demographic background. The Polish case is again unusual in Europe. High rates of fertility in Galicia before the socialist period generated severe pressures, only partially relieved by emigration. After the Second World War a high birth rate was required to make good heavy demographic losses. This was nowhere more obviously desirable than in a village such as Wislok, where the population never reached more than a small fraction of its pre-war level. The birth rate reached its post-war peak (over 30 births per 1000 population) in the mid-1950s, after which there was a sharp decline. It ............/skipped/................

The Ukrainian minority group is slowly going the same way as Polish regional groups

The conflicts which the presence of a large Ukrainian minority helped to create in inter-war Poland were noted in Chapter Two. Events during the war, and the population transfers effected immediately after it, embittered relations further. Only after 1956 was a more conciliatory line adopted by the authorities. The Ukrainians no longer formed a compact territorial mass but they were still the country's largest minority group, with a total population of about 300,000. A Ukrainian Socio-Cultural Society was founded in 1956; its weekly newspaper and other publications are widely circulated. The official position, which is formally expressed in the Constitution of the People's Republic, is that citizens who belong to minority nationalities have the same rights and obligations as ethnic Poles. It is claimed that all minorities 'have every opportunity to develop their own cultural life', and that although 'a process of gradual assimilation is inevitably occurring, owing to the relatively small and dispersed nature of these minorities, it is one which is following an absolutely natural course, every citizen having complete freedom of choice as regards nationality, without any pressure or even encouragement on the part of the state'.6

The situation of the Ukrainian minority in practice is somewhat different. To begin with, those who are old enough to remember the events of the 1940s cannot forget the injustices done to them. No-one supposes that the former Rus homeland can be recreated, but at least a reappraisal of Operation Vistula might put an end to the more absurd misrepresentations of the struggle against Ukrainian terrorist groups still perpetrated by Polish authors. Those Ukrainians who did return to their homelands when the political climate improved in the 1950s encountered the deepest hostility, both from the new administration and from the Polish immigrants who had occupied their farms. Some were forced to return to the north and succeeded in settling only at the second or third time of trying. Unlike Polish settlers at this time, they were not given any assistance or credits to help them reestablish farms. On the contrary they usually had to pay twice over to acquire what had been forcibly wrested from them a decade or so earlier: first of all a bribe to persuade the Polish occupant to depart, and, secondly, an official payment in order that the administration ratify their presence. Until residence permission was granted, usually many months after their surreptitious arrival, the returning Ukrainians lived in dread of eviction. Long after their return they were hampered in the expansion of their farms because, not being officially classified as 'settlers', there was a range of economic benefits for which they were not considered eligible. This was despite the fact that they demonstrably cared about their farms, knew the conditions so much better than other settlers, and even without official assistance were easily capable of outstripping them in performance.

Discrimination against the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church was discussed in Chapter Five (pp.83-4). It remains extremely important to the Ukrainians that this church should be allowed to function openly, like all other religious groups in Poland. Some Ukrainians have accepted the Orthodox Church, on the grounds that this was their original church, and adherence to this distinguishes them clearly from Poles, who also call themselves Catholics. The survival of the Greek Catholic parish in nearby Koman'cza has restricted the number of conversions to Orthodoxy in this area. Some peasants deeply attached to this church declare their ethnic identity in religious terms: they do not say that they are Ukrainians (although they do not deny this, nor the terms 'Rusnak' and 'Lemko'), but they confess themselves first of all to be 'Greeks'.

Ukrainians in Poland experienced crude discrimination in the 1970s. It was an unfortunate time of cultural vandalism in the Bieszczady region, when some of the finest wooden churches were pulled down and scores of place names of Ukrainian origin were replaced by purer Polish forms. Entirely different names were dreamed up for several hamlets near Wislok, but even Polish immigrants for the most part carried on using the old ones. The traditional names were officially restored during 1981, in response to pressure from Polish intellectuals as well as Ukrainian groups. There were other signs at this time, notably in the Solidarity newspaper, that a fuller understanding of Ukrainian grievances might lead to a long-term improvement in their position. Students were particularly active, and a Ukrainian Students' Union was officially registered a few months before the imposition of martial law. Although nothing may come of it for the time being - even if Solidarity could be revived as a workers' trade-union it seems unlikely that independent student groupings will be allowed to flourish as they did in 1981- its appearance on the scene provided confirmation that some young Ukrainians in Poland were conscious of their separate identity.

More difficult to isolate than the Gierek cultural policies, but of greater significance, is the way in which a highly negative stereotype of the Ukrainian has been constructed in the past and is actively propagated today. The literature on the anti-terrorist struggle was referred to in the preceding chapter. The prejudice is not new, and it was particularly strong amongst repatriates from regions such as Eastern Galicia, where Poles had been outnumbered by the Ukrainian population. The old prejudices have in some ways been strengthened under socialism by indiscriminate application of the 'Nazi allies' smear; feelings towards Ukrainians remain unambiguously negative, i.e. there is not the mixture of antipathy and (at some deeper level) respect which many Poles feel towards their Western neighbors.7

The Ukrainian minority in Wislok is heavily outnumbered by the Polish immigrants and much more self-conscious ethnically (though the Poles who settled in the 1 940s may have been more conscious of their Polish identity than the Rusnaks whom they replaced were at that time of their Ukrainian identity). Many of its members have experienced discrimination in its practical forms, and had to fight hard in order to return to their native village. One man is still deprived of various rights as a citizen, including the right to vote, because of offenses for which he was convicted in the 1940s. Blanket prejudice against Ukrainians is rare in the two neighborhoods of the upper hamlet where the eight purely Ukrainian households are to be found. Their Polish neighbors find some better company than others, and are aware that relations between these eight families are far from harmonious. Those who get to know the individuals may well be on good terms with a man whose connection with the terrorist movement was proven in court, whilst Poles in other neighborhoods continue to revile him as a public enemy. It is the Polish population in hamlets where no Ukrainians reside who are most prone to curse a Ukrainian conspiracy whenever they fail to obtain the item they require in Koman'cza. The attitude of local Ukrainians towards Poles can be described as tolerant and resigned. They frequently comment upon the economic incompetence of those who have usurped their lands, and have a habit of pointing up negative characteristics in their neighbors as national traits (this applies particularly to current drinking patterns). Ukrainians were vociferous in their condemnation of the regime when the full extent of the country's economic crisis became apparent in 1981. It must also be said that one or two families entertained illusions at this time of changes more far-reaching than those to which a Solidarity inspired democratization of the country might have led. Their regard for German efficiency is high (several experienced it at first hand as forced laborers during the war), whilst their respect for Soviet power is mingled with an awareness that this is where many of their kin reside (deportees of 1944-5) and that ethnically they stand closer to Russians than they do to Poles. I was seriously told on occasion that an intervention from either or both of these parties would be the best way to ensure a permanent improvement in the status of Ukrainians within Poland.

These are the sentiments of a few Ukrainians who recall the experience of war and deportation. What disturbs the older generation most is not that the small Ukrainian community in the hamlets of Wislok is divided by various personal conflicts as well as by political disagreements, but that a process of assimilation (whether following a 'natural course' or not) is threatening their group with extinction. Signs of this can be detected even in villages such as Komancza, where the Ukrainian minority is large and has a church as its focal point. As was pointed out in Chapter Six, inter-ethnic marriages are common and the children of these marriages tend to grow up speaking only Polish and attending Roman Catholic services. Relatively few children receive instruction in the Ukrainian language at the village school in Koman'cza (which would be much more popular if it were an alternative to compulsory Russian and not an extra burden for the pupil). In Wislok there is no Ukrainian teaching and there are now very few Ukrainian children. Several sons have emigrated to North America after finishing school, other sons and daughters have gone to live in nearby villages where Ukrainians are more numerous. Some new houses have been built, but no farms have so far been inherited and one has already reverted to the state, for the want of an heir. A recent marriage, between the son of a Polish immigrant and a daughter of the Ukrainian viewed with the most suspicion by many Poles in the village because of his activities in the 1940s, highlights the problems faced by the minority. They are the only such young couple in the village (other mixed couples are much older, the partners did not grow up together in the same village), and both families have constructed modern homes. Since the only son in the Ukrainian family was permanently domiciled in the USA and there were other potential heirs in the Polish household, the new couple took up residence with the Ukrainian parents. It was rumored that the head of this household had initially opposed the marriage, but I never saw any sign of this. Two children were born within a few years, and they have brought the two households even closer together. Both sides declare that the infants will be brought up to speak both languages, but it is difficult to see how this can happen - the parents speak Polish most of the time, Polish will be the only language the children will use in the Wislok school, and there will be no other children speaking Ukrainian dialects in the village. The only other Ukrainian family with young children is committed to a move to Rzepedz; and in this family, though both parents know the local dialect, they do not use it; their children, too, are acquiring only Polish.

Thus, it seems probable that the Ukrainian ethnic identity finally assumed by the indigenous inhabitants of Wislok will die out within a single generation in the village to which a few of them succeeded, against considerable odds, in returning. If present trends continue it might not survive much longer even in settlements such as Koman'cza, where the size of the group is much larger and considerably greater interest is taken in its cultural traditions. As this happens ethnicity will gradually lose its importance as a criterion for group identity. I have mentioned that conflicts have emerged within the present small autochthonous group (leaders of the Ukrainian community elsewhere informed me that such patterns are very common and are often deliberately manipulated by the Polish authorities). Yet any observer at the present time is also impressed by the tight links which exist between them. They do look to each other for economic assistance, even when Polish neighbors might be closer. They observe their own religious holidays when Polish neighbors may be working (but, not wishing to cause offense, they also observe the Polish holidays). They feel more comfortable in each others' houses than they do in a Polish milieu, and visit frequently. Curiously, the successful farmer and current village headman introduced at the end of the previous section, whose prosperity was tending to isolate him from his kin and neighbors further down the valley, has sought instead to develop closer ties with the Ukrainians. He is the child of a pre-war inter-ethnic marriage, whose command of the local dialect is imperfect, and he has no economic motivation for seeking Ukrainian company in another neighborhood. Yet this is where he sometimes chooses to go at holiday periods, eschewing the company of his kin, his neighbors, and others in the village of comparable standing as farmers. His children know nothing of the language, and very little about the history of their family and their village. All traces of the Rus community will pass eventually: but at present the identification lingers, a source of pride still to some, and of irritation to numerous Poles.

No comparable sentiment exists within the Polish majority, although the presence of the Ukrainians may focus their own ethnic pride in ways unfamiliar in homogeneous Polish villages elsewhere. When the first waves of Polish immigrants arrived in Wislok they brought with them conflicting regional identities, some of them as strongly felt as their national identification. The highlanders from the Tatra Mountains region were particularly proud of their traditions and frequently dominated the new areas they settled. In Wislok they were greatly outnumbered by poor smallholders from the lowlands and also by former manorial workers, who retained their own group traditions and regional loyalties in the new village. With high turnover of the immigrant population and considerable intermarriage these distinctions have lost their practical significance. As we shall see, there is no evidence that they have been replaced by any strong attachments to the new region.

Polarization of public and private occupational fields determines the new class divisions

When a successful farmer of local, but mixed Polish-Ukrainian ancestry, makes a deliberate attempt to cultivate Ukrainian company outside his own neighborhood, it is worth examining more closely the factors causing this degree of estrangement from the kin and neighbors with whom he interacted previously. The present headman became, in less than a decade, the most prosperous peasant in his predominantly Polish neighborhood. He was proud of the medals awarded for his achievements, and was respected throughout the village; at the same time he resented the suggestion that he might ever behave other than according to traditional peasant norms. Like most other heads of households in the private sector he would describe himself as a rolnik, meaning farmer, but he would also affirm that he was a chlop, a peasant like everyone else, and attribute his own success to traditional peasant virtues, above all to hard work and thrift. Notwithstanding his personal disclaimers, we must now consider what types of social differentiation are appearing at the level of the village, and whether in any sense they can be said to generate new class divisions.

On this issue, as in the case of ethnicity, one may derive something like an official line from the works of Polish sociologists.8 It is commonly held that class divisions are present to a minimal extent if at all in the village. It is implied that social relations are no less completely socialist in Poland than in other socialist states which have acted more decisively to collectivize agriculture. The argument put forward is that legal relationship to the means of production is no longer an appropriate criterion by which to identify class relations. Although smallholders may technically be the owners of their means of production, in practice, the determining factor is the socialist context in which such farms operate. Rather than attempt to apply Leninist criteria and identify rich, middle and poor classes within the peasantry, it is considered that the peasantry as a whole can be seen as a relatively unified 'stratum', and that various status groups, based primarily upon occupation, can be distinguished within the aggregate rural population. The most important distinction is taken to be that between families which continue to devote themselves entirely to individual farming and those which combine farming with socialist wage-labor, the peasant-workers.

In earlier chapters it was quite easy to locate such occupational groups in Wislok. In a village that is relatively isolated from industrial centers of employment the proportion of commuter peasant workers is quite small, and most households are firmly committed either to peasant farming or to one or other field of the socialized sector. Within the latter several groups may be identified. The loggers are clearly a low-status occupational group, whose members spend a lot of time together during their leisure hours (especially when drinking wine outside the village shop). Less clearly defined is the group composed of State Farm employees. Some of these belong to households which maintain their own farms and their primary allegiance is still to the peasantry. Others, who do not farm and live on the separate housing estate, see each other more frequently outside work and obviously have different attitudes. In the eyes of the local peasantry they merge with the group formed by the prison warders, for the latter share the same housing estate and are often seen on the State Farm (since this is where the convicts work). Even if the two groups could be disentangled it would be difficult to say that one carried higher prestige. One occupation which does command greater prestige (though it has fallen in the socialist period) is that of teaching. However, the Wislok teachers display little esprit de corps and play no active role in the community, either as a group or individually.

The general approach followed by Polish sociologists may seem perfectly sensible in the light of what has previously been said about the private sector. It was shown in Chapter Three that the conditions in which Wislok was repopulated were highly egalitarian, and that until the later 1970s there was very little differentiation in the size of land holding, the type of machinery owned, and indeed in the pattern of final output. By the end of the 1 970s differentiation was more apparent, and the scale of farming was doubtless affected also by the extent to which the household was attracted by increasing opportunities in the socialist sector. Yet observable income differentials could not be explained adequately in traditional Marxist-Leninist terms, i.e. by the relationship of the household to the means of production. As we saw in Table 3, some owners of tractors had quite low levels of commodity output, whilst some of the largest producers did not own tractors at all. In many cases the size of land holding was a very poor guide to a farm's productive performance. It was noted that all peasants, whatever their incomes, were greatly circumscribed by the socialist administrative framework. Whatever they might formally own, they remain dependent upon the administration for numerous essential inputs, for mechanical services, and an outlet for their final product. Yet, granted that the socialist authorities have built up an arsenal of discretionary powers, which they use in determining which farmers will be allowed to expand their holdings and to take possession of new equipment, it is still possible to detect the seeds of a new type of class differentiation in the policies pursued by Edward Gierek in the 1970s and revived in their broad essentials in the 1980s. A minority of specialists did emerge as a privileged elite, and might be a more clearly defined post-peasant group in the village today, were it not for the general economic crisis and the leveling that has been induced by chronic shortage. When the situation improves, one might suggest that the fate of the intermediate group of producers identified in Table 6, whose production was averaging between 100,000 and 200,000 zloty in the early 1 980s, will be crucial. Either the household must commit itself to a future in individual farming and invest resources in land and machinery as well as modern housing (all three will be necessary to persuade the next generation to remain on the land), or its commodity production will decline and its members gravitate towards the socialist sector. With other households (those producing at higher levels at present) also looking for more land and machinery, the competition may be fierce. It goes without saying that it will not be pure competition', arbitrated solely by the forces of the market. The greatest influence will be exercised by the authorities. For example, if a Rus dwelling or stable is disintegrating a family may be denied the credits to replace them if it is felt that their farm enterprise has no viable future; in this way the weaker farms will fade away and some peasants will drift into the socialist sector.

In the early period of the new community in Wislok there was considerable movement from the socialist sector into peasant farming, as men with a background on the land and an aptitude for independent operations grasped the opportunities available. Nowadays, this is outweighed by the general movement in the opposite direction and the children of the more populous but less successful peasant households have come to form the mainstay of the local socialist sector. One should beware of exaggerating the speed with which such a polarization of the two sectors could be completed. But it is possible to imagine a private sector in Wislok under the dominance of small number of households - specialized, highly self-reliant and owning most of the important means of production, residing in large modern houses, not wasting their time in the forest and not encouraging their children to seek employment locally in the State Farm or the sawmill. The concomitant public sector would be manned by the tenants of state-owned flats concentrated at the lower end of the village, comprising a small directorate and a work-force that might appropriately be classified as a rural proletariat. At present the directorate in the various fields of the socialist sector has few contacts with successful individual farmers. An example of the power exercised by the directors was given in Chapter Five (pp.97-8). If these projections are not altogether fanciful one might in twenty or thirty years see the post-peasant village more clearly divided into public and private sectors, and internal class divisions, at present faintly observable within the private sector, would by that time be more conspicuous within the public sector. The surviving farmers of the private sector, no longer pleased to be described as peasants, would present a more homogeneous picture than they do today.

They might or might not build the closer bridges with directors of the socialist sector which are absent in the community today.

Let us close this section in a less speculative manner by illustrating the developments already demonstrably under way in the private sector. A young student of the Agricultural College in Rzeszow was sent to Wislok in the summer of 1981 to collect some data from farmers in the private sector as part of a large-scale investigation of the region conducted by staff at his College. Using the questionnaire techniques which I eschewed he found that most farmers in Wislok considered the new headman, mentioned several times already in this chapter, to possess more autorytet (authority, prestige) than any other individual in the village. He represents the ideal to which other peasants aspire. Unlike others who have prospered, he is not only admired, he is positively liked by the vast majority. They come to him from all parts of the village and ask him to assist them with his tractor. If he can afford the time he will do so, and in payment, though he may grumble when he returns home and feel that he has been exploited, he often accepts some symbolic vodka or wine when the task is performed. Other farmers understand his position well, and many now have misgivings about approaching him. They cannot reciprocate the services he provides in the same direct way that inter-household aid could be reciprocated in the past. A few families, including relatives, have paid him in the form of labor services (e.g. sending their children to help him during hay making); but such solutions are awkward and have not been welcomed by either party. Increasingly, private tractor owners demand payment in cash for the help which they give to others; but they charge considerably less than the SKR, the public sector alternative, and certainly this headman's relations with other households are not regulated by profit maximizing. But nor can they be regulated by charity or altruism, and so in the long run the economic ties between the successful manager of a mechanized enterprise and peasants who do not modernize at all must crumble. As this happens, so their social links will also weaken. This does not yet lead the successful farmer to seek instead to strengthen economic or social links with others like himself. On the contrary the households which are the most dynamic producers of agricultural commodities are extremely self reliant and maintain few close contacts of any kind with any other households. They may not yet constitute a new class, but in a sense they are already detached from the community. These farmers are admired for the advances they have made. Yet the reproach of traditional peasant

egalitarianism is an embarrassment which keeps some of them (and especially the only one of local origin) continually on the defensive about their achievements. Their wives are more likely to feel the sting. Several of the most hard-working women in the village (whose contribution to the running of the successful family farms is so vital that one hesitates to say that these have fully lost their peasant character) are distinctly unpopular. Although the student's questionnaire did not ask about them, I often heard them described as chytre, meaning crafty and keen on material gain. It is they who are more isolated, who must pay the penalty for breaking with traditional values, while their husbands may gain in prestige.

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© LV Productions  Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: May 30th, 1999.