Russinian/Ruthenian [rusyn’skyj jazyk] or Lemkish [lemkivskyj jazyk] (denomination used in Poland) is an East Slavonic language along with Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian. Today, it can be considered as a Ukrainian dialect; however, on an ethnic-cultural level the Lemks are particularly independent. The Polish Ruthenians lived in the Łemkowszczyzna [Lemkowyna] region of the Lower Beskid belonging to the Beskid Sądecki mountains. Nowadays, they live scattered over the voivodships Dolnośląskie, Małopolska, Lubuskie, Podkarpackie and Zachodniopomorskie.
The Ruthenians are a population group living mostly in Sub-Carpathian Ukraine who have preserved their own dialect – Lemkish – in the mountainous regions. Since 1989 the Polish authorities have acknowledged Ruthenians (or Lemks) as an ethnic minority.
Russinians (also: Sub-Carpathian Ukrainians, Rusniaks, Rusinians, historical: Ruthenians. In Rusinian: Uhrorus'kij; Ukrainian: Rusyny; Hungarian: Magyarorosz) are the fourth modern East Slavonic nation after the Russians, Ukranians and Belarusians. They developed their own literature and standard language in the 19th and 20th century.
The settlement of the north-eastern Carpathian area started in the early Middle Ages, i.e. in the late 6th century. From the 10th century until 1919, today’s Sub-Carpathian Ukraine was part of the historic kingdom of Hungary. The governing and settlement of the mountainous areas in this region by Hungarians, Germans and Ruthenians coming in small groups from the Kievan Rus started during the 12th century and reached its peak in the 14th/15th century. The Lemkish ethnogenesis reaches back to the late Middle Ages, which mark the starting point for the independent development of the Lemkish. Following the annexation of the Rus-principality Halych-Volhynia to Poland after 1340, a settlement and colonisation movement to the West Carpathian low mountain range set in. This movement was initiated by Polish aristocrats and it absorbed and channelled a migration wave of Wallachian (“Romanian”) and Ruthenian herdsmen in the late 14th/early 15th century. This migration had far-reaching consequences: whereas in the valleys an assimilation of the Polish culture and language took place, the mixed Wallachian-Ruthenian culture was preserved in remote mountain regions.
With national movements emerging in Central and Eastern Europe, the Lemks were also increasingly forced to define themselves in national terms. However, this process did not result in them taking Ruthenian/Ukrainian or Polish nationality, which was refused, but instead they adopted the Russian nationality.
This was based on two reasons: on the one hand a considerable number of Lemks belonged to the Orthodox Church, on the other hand the Lemks already sympathised with Russian troops in 1848 when the latter passed Lemkish territories in order to defeat the revolution in Budapest. Since the Lemks also felt that they should not be involved in the Ukrainian national movement, they tried to break away from it.
Until 1918 there was no Russinian regional authority or administrative area as there was no elite. At the beginning of the Russinian national movement Adol'f Dobrjans'kyj (1817–1901) and Oleksandr Duchnowitsch (1803–1865) had a massive influence and, similar to contemporary Russian circles – e.g. during the intervention of Tsar troops to defeat the 1848/49 revolution – were of a national Russian conviction. After World War II Ruthenians, as well as Ukrainians, were deported during the Vistula Operation. Until the late 20th century there was no sense of community between the different Russinian settlement areas and communities. This sentiment continues to some extent even today (see country report ).
According to the last census in 2002 there were 5,863 persons of Lemkish nationality. Estimates from different sources indicate approx. 50,000 Lemks (Association for Civic Cedia 2003; Handbook on Contact Linguistics 1996).
Article 35 of the Polish Constitution grants Polish citizens of national or ethnic minorities the freedom to preserve and develop their own language, customs, traditions and culture (see country report ). However, due to the ambiguous status of the Lemkish ethnicity no clear steps were taken to support them.
The use of Ukrainian (including Ruthenian/Lemkish) at school is based on the 2002 decree of the Minister for National Education and Sports (see country report). As it was acknowledged only lately, a Ruthenian ‘education’ has only existed for a couple of years. During the school year 2002/2003 there were 14 primary schools, six grammar schools and one secondary school where Lemkish was taught. In addition, Ruthenian philology is taught at Krakow University.
People who do not speak Polish are allowed to call a Lemkish-speaking interpreter (see country report ).
Since Polish is the official language, Lemkish does not play any significant role in public authorities. The same is true at a local level where it is only spoken in unofficial contacts (see country report ).
There are no daily newspapers in Lemkish. However, there are several print media issued quarterly: Besida (Talk) with a print run of 1,000 copies, Zahoroda and Watra. Lemkiwska Storinka is an insert in the Ukrainian weekly Nasche Slowo. Lemkish issues are only dealt with on a weekly basis by the Polish radio in Krakow. In addition the Krakow TV station broadcasts a programme for all acknowledged minorities.
Twenty books were published between 1997 and 2002. In 2002 three were written in Lemkish and in 2003 one was written in this language. Most of the books are textbooks, children’s books and short novels. Typical cultural events of the Lemks are: Watra in Zdynia, Watrana Obczyźnie in Michałów, Kiermesz in Olcowiec, Spotkanie z Łemkowszczyzną [Meeting the land of the Lemks] and Od Rusal do Jana in Zyndranowa. The Lemkish Campfire [watra] is organised annually both by the pro-Ukrainian Lemks in Lower Beskid and the independent Ruthenian Lemks in Lower Silesia. Moreover, there are various private initiatives documenting and supporting the Lemkish culture and tradition.
Lemks mostly live in rural areas. There is no precise information available since the Lemks live scattered over a large area.
In the 2002 census 5,627 persons declared using Lemkish as home language. Unlike other minorities, this is nearly exactly the same as the number of people also declaring Lemkish nationality. Lemks mainly belong to the Orthodox Church. The Polish Lemks do not have a distinct organisational structure. There are however several private initiatives operating through the internet from Anglo-Saxon countries which act as a central body for the Lemks. The most important organisation in Poland is the Association of Lemks [Stowarzyszenie Łemków] founded in 1989, which organises all activities of the Lemkish minority including the coordination of the corpus and status planning. There are two more organisations, one Polish and one Lemkish: Foundation for the support of Lemkish [Fundacja Wspierania Mniejszości Łemkowskiej] and the institution Zjednoczenie Łemków.
The Polish Lithuanians keep close contacts with Lithuania. During Soviet times they had contacts with Lithuanians from the West and tried to send information and publications to Lithuania. During the national “Revival” the Polish Lithuanians joined the movement for an independent Lithuania.
The Lemks were already economically and structurally underdeveloped in the 17th century. In 1989 the economic and political situation was still very unfavourable in Ruthenian settlement areas in Eastern Europe. Even today, this seems to cause further migration to congested areas or western countries accompanied by an increased acculturation. In the long run, the subsistence of a Russinian nation in Eastern Europe existing independently of the Ukrainian nation is not secured.