"Lemko Tragedy"

(from the address given by Andryj Kopcha (representing Stovarishynia Lemkiv/Union of Lemkos, Legnica, Poland) at the First World Congress of Rusyns which was held on 23-24 March, 1991, in Medzilaborce, Czechoslovakia as published in 2/91 issue of RUSYN)

When one talks about Lemkos, one can not forget about the tragedy, a tragedy that very likely was never experienced by any other people. It started in 1914, but in 1947 it took place on a much larger scale.

Lemkos lived here, not far from you , the Rusyns of Slovakia. After 1945 they departed farther - to the Soviet Ukraine, and then the western and northern territories of Poland. For very long they were torn away from their native Lemko Region. In 1947 they were scattered, hauled and chased away, and for 10 years were not permitted to return back to where they were all once born. Polish authorities considered them to be Ukrainians, and the term "Ukrainian" was synonymous with "nationalist" as understood by Poles, Ukrainians who were conducting a war with the Polish authorities. So the Poles placed us in the same basket with the Ukrainians, and scattered us. They wished to Polonize us, therefore we were scattered over villages, where no village could contain more than 10% of Lemkos. Subsequent moving into another village required permission from the local authorities. We were placed together with the "Banderovtsy" (former members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Authorities did their best not to disclose any distinction between these two groups to the Polish population. It was not possible to organize ourselves. Ukrainians could, we were not allowed. If we wished, then only together with the Ukrainians. Lemkos wished to create their own Lemko organization, but were never successful.

There were people, who already in the 50's started talking about creating of a Lemko organization, for example Yaroslav Zvolinskiy, Pavlo Stefanivskiy, Fedir Goch, and a bit later - Volodislav Hraban, Petro Trokhanovskiy. But this was simple not possible at that time. Polish authorities made sure that these wishes would never get realized. In this they were helped by others - not only Poles. The year 1989 brought changes. It seemed that now we will be able to peacefully pursue our work - to develop our culture. But there still, as it turned out, are forces, this time clearly not the Poles, who had a large stake in making sure that our dreams were not fulfilled. The argument mainly boiled down to, as we have heard many times before: Lemkos are Ukrainians. What's most tragic about this situation, is that that is an argument used by certain Lemkos, who wish not only to be considered as Lemkos, but also as Ukrainians. There are times when it's easier to reach an understanding with Ukrainians themselves, than with our own people. Some of them try to be more Ukrainian, than Ukrainians themselves. It is sad to talk about it, but it needs to be said. Various charges are being leveled at us: that were are being directed by the Poles, that we are destroying unity among ourselves. But before one can destroy something, one must create it first. They claim that the unity existed, but that "this Stovarishinya of Lemkos is destroying it".

We are the only organization among the ethnic minorities within Poland, who have not received any [government] subsidy for our organization. Whatever we create, gets done from our own funds. And we do create, whatever we can - we publish "Besida", at a very large expense, but it is necessary. Also dictionaries, primers. In addition we organize "Lemko Watra", an amateur theater also functions.

What about the future? We will continue to do our thing. We must make sure that our language, and the Lemko - Rusyn culture continues to survive.


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Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich