The origins of the term "£emko/Lemko"

In a Polish language newspaper "Tygodnik Legnica" (25/1405) issue of August 5 1999 one reads under " £emkowski gazda i polski kupiec/Lemko farmer and a Polish merchant":

How did the name "£emko" (£emkini/a female Lemko, £emkowie/Lemkos in plural) originate? It originated most likely in the early 19th century along the lemko-boiko border. At first it applied to a Rusin who did not speak clearly " po rusku/Ukrainian". With time this label became neutral, and started to be used in scholarly and popular literature. Since we mentioned literature, it's worth mentioning that the term was used for the first time by O. Lewickij in " Gramatik der ruthenischen oder kleinrussischen Sprache in Galizien" (Grammar of Ruthenians or Little Russians Spoken in Galicia) in 1834, then by P.J. Szafarzyk in "S³owianskie Staro¿ytnoœci" (Slavic Antiquities) in 1844, and finally by Wincenty Pol in a Slavic description of the Carpathians in 1851.

To Lemkos themselves, who described themselves by the term "Rusnak" or "Rusin", "£emko" was almost unknown until the days of WW I. Only during the interwar period (1918-1939) it started to be commonly used by the Lemko activists, which is demonstrated by the titles of Lemko periodicals/newspapers: "£emko" and "Nasz £emko/Our Lemko". After WW II the term "£emko" started to dominate and pushed out use of "Rusnak".



The Lemkos (£emkowie), also referred to as Rusyns, Rusnakys or sometimes even Ukrainians (as it depended on their own awareness of national identity), belong to the eastern Slavs, who have been inhabiting for ages the northern sides of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland.
The territory recognized by the Lemkos as their local motherland, referred to as Lemkovyna by the Lemkos themselves, reaches to the Pieniny Mountains in the west (the villages of Sztachtowa, Jaworki, Bia³a Woda, Czarna Woda), and to the place where the Os³awa River joins the San River in the east.

Before the World War II, the Lemkos in Poland constituted dense population in over 300 villages. They are the believers of Eastern Christianity, and many of them take pride in adopting the Christian faith from Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 9th c.

The winding roads of history made them divided into the Orthodox and Greek Catholics. What remained common, however, is the fact that Orthodox churches, eastern rites, the Julian calendar, chants, liturgical books written in the Cyrillic alphabet are the most lasting traits of their individuality.

After the World War II - pursuant to the idea of transforming Poland from a multi- into a mono-national state - the Lemko minority was sentenced to extinction, and, as the first stage, the decision was made, in concert with the Soviet authorities, to displace them to Ukraine (1945-1946). In spring 1947, the remaining Lemkos (app. 40 thousand) were ruthlessly deported to the Regained Territories in the west, and scattered around to avoid the settlement of any larger groups. Those who tried to resist were imprisoned at the Jaworzno camp ("the Vistula River" Operation). After 1956, some short lasting opportunities emerged to return to the mother lands, unfortunately known to very few. Not many Lemkos returned. Their houses and farms did not exist or were occupied by Polish settlers. Orthodox churches were either devastated or demolished. Some villages disappeared from the map...

For many years, the Lemko activists were making endeavors to save the devastated culture and tradition, however, it was not earlier than in the 80s when evident animation in this respect was observed. The Folk Ensemble "Lemkovyna" was set up, two language - Lemko-Polish volumes of poems by Peter Murianko, W³adys³aw Graban, Stefania Trochanowska, Pawe³ Stefanowski were released.

The first "Lemkovska Vatra" (the highlanders' watch-fire) - the feast-day of the Lemko culture and the reunion of the Lemkos from all over the world - was organized in 1983.

The Lemkos are well organized today. Such organizations are operating as the Lemkos Association representing the Ruthenian orientation, i.e. the one recognizing them as a separate national minority, and the Lemkos Federation which identifies the Lemkos with the Ukrainians. The "Ruska Bursa" Association, focused on cultural and educational goals, has been reactivated. New folk ensembles emerge, cultural events are organized periodically, the Lemko language is being taught...

Despite of religious and political divisions among the Lemkos, for the majority of them it is of the utmost importance to have "the Vistula River" Operation - the ethical purge from the mid 40s - unlived by the Polish authorities, to have the forests taken away from the Lemkos returned, to save their Orthodox churches and cemeteries, to save the literature and the language, that is to save the culture and tradition in the broadest meaning of these words.

Above borrowed from The RUTENIKA Foundation


Local Links:

Icon Return to Lemko Home Page

Document Information Document URL:

Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich

Copyright © LV Productions, Ltd.

© LV Productions, Ltd.  Originally Composed: August 21st, 1999
Date last modified: October 27th, 2004