The first unofficial contacts between Carpatho-Rusyns and the resurrected Polish state took
place at the Paris Peace Conference. The Polish delegation noticed the activities of American
Rusyns who were attempting to assure a place for their homeland in a post-war Europe. To a
certain extent these activities were suspicious since the Rusyns were concerned with some
territory to which the Poles also had aspirations.(1)
During the so-called plebiscite in December 1918 among Rusyns in the USA, which dealt with the future of CarpathoRus, there appeared a few voices which called for the establishment of an independent "Verchovina Republic" to be made up of the former Hungarian Rus and Lemkovyna.(2) At the same time there appeared in Presov a "Carpatho-Rus National Council" which also had Lemko representatives. Also, among the demands of the so-called Lemko Republic in Florynka one could find a call for union with Czechoslovakia.(3) The Polish local press noted, too, with unease, the trip of Antony Beskid (one of the most well known Carpatho-Rus political activists) to Spisz, which was understood to mean an interest in the southern border regions of Poland.(4) Polish politicians took steps to lessen the threat of an independent Lemkovyna or one attached to Czechoslovakia (or under Prague influence) by suggesting, for example, that the Rusyns of the Spisz district wished to be attached to Poland.(5) One should note, however, that certain Czech politicians, especially Edward Benes, were approached in July 1918 in order to determine the extent of Czech ambitions to that part of the Carpathians.(6) In any case, Antony Beskid, articulating the desires of Lemkos involved with the Presov Council, and supported by the Czech premier Kramarz, sent a memorial to the Paris Peace Conference about attachment of Lemkovyna to Czechoslovakia (20 April 1919). Manes strongly supported this action. The Presov Council also sent a protest on the 1st of May to President Wilson against "the Polish occupation of Lemkovyna." An identical line was followed by the Central Rus Council in Uzhorod even though its leaders, the priest August Woloszyn and Grzegorz Zatkowicz, realized that the attachment of Lemkovyna to a Subcarpathian Rus was not yet possible. The results of ml this were zero and there remained only a brochure about the Lemkos, authored by Beskid and Sobina. However, for the first time the Lemko question was put on the European stage.(7)
Polish authorities turned their attention to the tendencies toward a unity of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic and the Central Ukrainian Council (RADA) in Chuscia. These activities had no direct effect on CarpathoRus, however the pro-Hungarian sympathies of Poland did appear in the press, in the unofficial reception in Poland of a Hungarian military mission which was to prepare an uprising in Subcarpathian Rus and in the giving of asylum to a pro-Hungarian Rusyn activist, Agostoni Stefanow.(8)
At the end of 1919 one of the members of the American-Rusyn delegation to Paris, Victor Hladick, armed with a list of Rusyn charitable organizations in the USA, came to Poland. The official reason was to visit his family in the village of Kuszkowa and to distribute clothing from America. Mladnick also made contact with Lemko political leaders. One of them, Dr. Jaroslaw Kaczmarczyk, accompanied him, on February 20, 1920, to Warsaw. They attempted to convince Colonel Rybak of the Ministry of Military Affairs to stop the draft of Lemko youth into the Polish army. They thought they had received a positive reply, which they communicated to those interested in the village of Florynka. In the presence of the American emissary a meeting in Florynka established, according to the words of Hladick himself, an "Organization of Carpatho-Rusyns in Poland" headed by a president, H. Gromosiak and a secretary, Kopystianaki. Two days later Hladick left for Czechoslovakia and the USA. This episode had its consequences. As we know, Florynka was the center of political activity, the so-called Lemko Republic, which was ended by the arrest and trial of its leaders. Bladick only heard of this in the USA and wishing to assist those accused of, among other things, attempting to organize a boycott of the Polish army draft, visited the Polish representative in Washington, DC, Prince Kazimierz Lubomirski, and presented him with a letter declaring that the accused acted in good faith, based upon the declaration of Polish military authorities and that "Carpatho-Rusyns do not wish a struggle with Poland and they stand for respect for the law."(9)
The meeting of Hladick with Lubomirski was certainly the first official Contact of a Polish diplomat with the idea of an independent Carpatho-Rus and of the separate nationality of its inhabitants. It was not, of course, a confrontation with Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in North America. A different event occurred in Canada where the president of the Carpatho-Russian League, a Mr. Samilo, sent letters to Lloyd George, the Ottawa authorities and Washington, DC attacking Poland as well as condemning the visit to Canada of the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lvov, Andrzej Szeptycki. Samilo, as a representative of Moscophilism could stand neither Poles nor Ukrainians. Canadian Polonia counter-attacked and the Polish language Winnipeg paper, Czas, insinuated that Samilo "the great president of an even greater Carpatho-Russian League, living in the back of a local Orthodox Church" was connected with Trotsky." "We wouldn't even touch this great man if he weren't spreading around the stupidity, in the English language press, of Polish repression of the Carpatho-Rus people."(10) Samilo tried again to start anti-Polish action the day before a Canadian delegation was to leave for a conference in Geneva. Received by Premier MacKenzie King he gave him a copy of the demands of his organization. This was an empty gesture from the side of King who also heard the protests of Canadian Polonia. The Polish Consul in Winnipeg judged Samilo to be a "young fellow without political meaning," which probably was the case.(11)
Even though the controversy died out in Europe, it remained a subject of discussion among Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in North America. In the Canadian-Ukrainian paper Ukrainian Workers News (Ukrainski Robitniczi Wisti) we find information that in the second half of August 1922 one of the Carpatho-Rusyn organizations in the USA, the "Carpatho-Rusyn Soviet," had asked the League of Nations about the status of the former Austrian Galician lands. Concretely they were interested in the Curzon Line and the relationship of the League to the division of Galicia which would be caused by use of such a proposed border line.(12) Probably such a question dealt with the fate of Lemkovyna [which is West of that famous line].
It was not by chance, too, that remarks were written about Polish and Carpatho-Rusyn relations. North America, especially the USA, was the place in which Poland played out part of its political games against its southern neighbor. These games were played on two fields--political and religious. By the end of the inter-war period the Polish diplomat in Pittsburgh, Helidor Sztark, stated that based on his observations on the life of Carpatho-Rusyns in the USA, "he carried away the impression of complete chaos which would not allow for any notion of a unified national idea, much less a single concern about the fate of the motherland in Europe."(13) However, Polish diplomats were far from writing off these groups and they worked to block anti-Polish activity in the USA and in the Carpathians. The peculiar characteristics of American Carpatho-Rusyns--wide geographic distribution, the Americanization of the younger generation, a small intelligentsia, religious fractures, and lack of a tradition of one's own country -- created an ideal terrain for behind the scenes manipulations. The Hungarians followed this tradition, their man was Aleksy Gerowski. The Czechs were also active in this field. Polish diplomats, first of all at the Consulate in Pittsburgh, kept the Carpatho-Rusyns under observation and after 1937 the New York consulate specialized in this.(14) Partners were sought mainly among the Greek Catholic clergy who from one side represented a strong influence and on the other were joined with Poles in a common Catholic faith as opposed to the orthodoxy Clergy.(15) Polish contacts were based on the Hungarophil (Madiaron) priests who agreed with Poland's Carpathian Politics (see below). The goal of this activity was to find out as much as possible about the political and religious feelings of Rusyns and also to start a kind of pro-Polish lobby which would counter the anti-Polish Ukrainian campaign.
The first contacts of Polish diplomats were not the best. In 1920 the first recruit was a Greek Catholic priest Konstantyn Auroroff who afterwards cooperated with the consulate in Chicago and who was foreseen as an editor of a Polonophil newspaper. But nothing came of this because
Warsaw never sent the necessary funds despite Lubomirski's intervention. Auroroff afterwards carried on anti-Szeptycki propaganda during Szeptycki's visit to the USA but later he came into conflict with his bishop and converted to orthodoxy. There are no traces of him in the 1930s records of Polish consulates.(16)
In 1935 a new person of that type appeared. He was the priest Jerzy Berzinec who appeared at the Consulate in New York with a view to signing a declaration of loyalty. The Consul characterized him 55 an intelligent man who wished to play an important role in Carpatho-Rusyn life in America but who was an opportunist without permanent convictions. Berziniec first of all wanted to eliminate Gerowski because Gerowski took money from the Hungarians. Berziniec wanted under-the-table payments from Poland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorized discrete use of his services.(17)
The other of the two main areas of Polish policy towards the Rusyns was that of religious faith. In the 1920s one could observe a strengthening of activities of the clergy from Eastern Galicia, especially the Bazylian monks. The consuls in Uzhorod thought that their aim was to Ukrainianize Subcarpathian-Rus and that this would injure Polish interests. Because of the existence of the Ukrainian emigration in Czechoslovakia and the support they received from that government, there was concern about influence from that quarter on Ukrainians in Poland. The Consul in Uzhorod, Zygmunt Zawadowski, proposed that no exchange of theological students be allowed between Lvov and Subcarpathian Rus and passports and visas be refused. Also exchange of ordained clergy would not be allowed. The Vatican should be notified so that the Bazylians would be recalled. People involved, however, were able to circumvent these restrictions by use of other routes.(18)
Equally unprofitable for Poland were the conversions to Orthodoxy from Greek Catholicism which occurred after World War I. In Ladomirow, on the Czechoslovak side of the Czech-Polish frontier, a center for the Orthodox faith was established by the Archimandrite Witaljusz, once a monk in Poczajow, who was expelled from Poland for pro-Russian propaganda. This mission carried on wide-scale smuggling of literature into Poland and maintained close contacts with Polish Orthodox organizations and especially influenced the religious situation in Lemkovyna. Witaljusz was an enemy of Poland but the Polish authorities did not resist his activities but on the opposite eased in certain ways the many pilgrimages from Lemkovyna to Czechoslovakia and vice versa.(19) This came from the desire to weaken the Greek Catholic Church which Polish authorities found too much under the influence of Ukrainian Lvov. The Orthodox in Carpatho-Rus were viewed as possible allies. Consul Swierzbinski wrote in 1932:
We more easily find a feeling of slavic brotherhood for the Polish nation among the Orthodox than among the Greek Catholics who are infected to the worst degree by the ideology of UWO and depraved additionally by President Rozsypal and his regime.(20)
But already at the moment of the writing of those words Polish policy was changing. The influence for this was the acquisition of the cooperation of the leader of the Carpatho-Rusyn party, the Greek Catholic priest Stefan Fencik. Fencik made several visits to the local Polish Consul in 1931 in order to get Polish assistance in Fencik's planned visit to the Vatican and these were sufficient to change Polish policy. "The main reason for the failure of the "Unia" in Subcarpathian Rus," wrote the consul, "was bad church policy based on an ignorance of the spirit of the Carpatho-Rusyn people. They did not respect that holy national treasure-national feelings, traditions and customs, on the opposite, they attacked them as occurrence of schism."
Further the report stated that "Poland's interests do not lie with the Moscophil uniates of Carpatho-Rum because the Greek Catholic Church stands as a protective wall against the Russian spirit and Eurasian civilization, and this is proved by the fact that the large Russian emigration does not maintain contacts with Carpatho-Rusyn institutions. On the other hand the Orthodox not only are united with the emigration but also stand for the idea of a Greater Russia. An Orthodox majority in Carpatho-Rus would not be, from every point of view, a good neighbor for Poland."(21)
The notion of setting up a diversionary action in the Orthodox camp by establishing a branch of the Poczajow Monastery in Uzhorod was looked into in 1935. A certain Iwan Fedorow, a Polish immigrant from Kiev, came up with just such an idea. His offer was not used mainly because the idea of extending the activities of the Warsaw Orthodox metropolitan beyond the borders of Poland was seen as counterproductive. (22)
A more ambitious plan for interference in Orthodox affairs came in 1934-1936 when, without result, there were attempts to place a former Polish military chaplain, Hilary Brendzan, as an orthodox bishop for the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Rusyns in the USA. Prague also supported his candidacy. It was not brought-off despite pressure in the USA and Constantinople. Both the Phanar and Archbishop Athenogoras who controlled the Orthodox diocese of North and South America were against the proposition.(23) In 1936, taking advantage of the occasion of the transfer of the remains of some Thalerhof victims to Lvov, several visits of the Orthodox bishop, Adam Filopowski, of the Carpatho-Russian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church of America to the Polish Embassy in Washington DC took place. The bishop indicated his unease about the situation of his co-believers under Polish control. The Polish side explained the Polish point of view in contradistinction to information that Archimandrite Witaljusz had furnished during his earlier visit to the USA. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered that such type of counter propaganda be energetically put forth. (24)
However accusations against Poland became stronger and stronger. In 1937-1938 there were demonstrations by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants against the destruction of churches in the Chelm lend, the Ukrainization of the orthodox in Wolynia, the repossessing of former Uniate property, and other questions, which were seen by the immigrants as religious persecution in Poland.(25) The practical possibilities of counter-propaganda were little. The publication Viestnik edited by Berziniec had little influence among the Rusyns. The problem of Subcarpathian Rus also had its echoes in the USA. Poland carried on anti-Czech activities with the help of the priest Fencik. From the beginning of the 1930s Fencik received money from Poland to support his party apparatus and press. In fear of exposure by the Czechs the money for Fencik came via Polish representatives in the USA The irregular arrival of these funds caused a "nervous crisis" for Fencik who was always in debt and constantly suing his political rivals. The Warsaw Ministry of Foreign Affairs constantly reminded the polish representatives to pay the indicated amount to Fencik, which amount was initially promised at 20,000 crowns a month but which ended up at 15,000.
Contacts were also maintained with Gerowski who a few times offered memorials to the Polish Consulate regarding the situation in Subcarpathian Rum and urged the promotion of Fencik while also asking for help for his activities in the USA. Poland did not want, however, to resign from its trump card in place in Subcarpathian-Rus. Nevertheless a trip for Fencik to the USA was prepared which was to serve
both to propagandize the Rusyn immigration and as a form of help for Fencik who was on the verge of being deprived of his parliamentary immunity in Czechoslovakia. There was even the notion to find a bishopric for Fencik if he could not return home. At the end of 1938 the anti-Polish mood among the Ukrainian and Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants got worse because of the Polish-Hungarian informal alliance. In October demonstrations against Poland occurred, organized by a "Committee for the Defense of the Carpathian Ukraine."
Ukrainian activists also organized a petition drive to the governments of Britain and France. In such a situation Berziniec and his brother-in-law the priest Jozef Olas represented very weak support. In November Polish diplomats in the USA paid for telegrams to the Polish Foreign Minister Beck sent by the Carpatho-Rusyn activists asking for assistance against persecution by the Ukrainian government of Father Woloszyn, but in the next year the Carpatho-Rusyn Congress in Pittsburgh condemned Polish imperialism in regard to Subcarpathian Rus.
Future actions of Poland in Subcarpathian Rus or among immigrants became limited due to cooperation with the Hungarians. Thus the services of Berziniec were dispensed with because of his aversion to the Hungarophil Gerowski. In Subcarpatho Rus Fencik, on advice from Poland, united his party with the pro-Hungarian one led by Brodyja with a view to a common front against the pro-Ukrainian forces of Woloszyn. However, the international play of forces took place entirely above the head of these people and decisions were made without them.
The above discussion indicates the sad state of the political life of Rus -- dependent as it was on external forces. Orientations, plans, and concepts of Carpatho-Rusyn activists based on the best patriotic motives were objects of political games of foreign powers -- Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and Germany. The two main reasons for this were the general economic and cultural weakness of the Carpatho-Rus area and, of course, the geopolitical situation of that territory.
Polish actions in regard to the Rusyns were accidents of Polish policy toward Hungary and Czechoslovakia and were related to the Ukrainian question. During the whole of Poland's "political realism" the Carpatho-Rusyns were taken advantage of especially in regard to their murky religious and political life. There were a few Polish diplomats who occasionally showed some sympathy to the people who were the objects of their political maneuvers.
Today when history shows the failure of those "realistic" calculations we can cite the conclusion of one of the most active persons in the Carpatho-Rus question, the Polish Consul in Uzhorod, Michal Swerzbinski, who wrote in October 1933 that:
If we take under consideration that that nation, despite terrible conditions of 1,000 years of captivity, in the last 14 years has shown a strange ability for progress in all areas of life, a pessimistic judgment about its future is seen as incorrect and not proved . . . Presently it is
in the stage of national development and it battles with Ukrainianization and Czechization. In every case the Carpatho-Rusyn nation has struggled for independence and by that action shows that it has the right to independence and that in the end it will obtain it.(26)
Was that a judgment of idealism of cold calculation, a measured judgment or simply a wish. Even in the perspective of the last half century it is difficult to answer that question.
Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich
Copyright © 2000 LV Productions
© LV Productions Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: February 21st, 2000