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The ethnic minorities trail – the Lemkos

Up to 1947, they lived in large numbers on the northern slopes of the Carpathians, between the Osława and the Poprad Rivers. They called themselves the Rusnaks, just as their kinsmen from the other mountainside. The term 'Lemko', as adopted by scholars of culture somewhere at the turn of the 20th Century, initially served as a nickname given to the Rusnaks by the Boykos, who found the word Łem, often used by their neighbours, and originating in the Slovak language, amusing. With time, the name stuck among the Ruthenians themselves, who lived in the northern Carpathians. read more

The origins of the Lemkos, their national identity and tongue, are disputable. Did they arrive in the Carpathians in the 15th and 16th Centuries, along with the wave of Italian and Ruthenian settlement? Or maybe they were here all along from mediaeval times, even before the Poles? Are they part of the Ukrainian peoples and the Lemko language is just an Ukrainian subdialect? Or possibly they constitute an ethnically, culturally and linguistically autonomous group? These are the key issues among the Lemkos themselves.

For Centuries they lived in the Carpathians as a group with a language, culture and national affiliation that were distinct from those of the Polish people. They maintained economic, cultural, familial and friendly relations with the Ruthenians from the southern Carpathians until the establishment of the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Following deportations (1945) and Operation Vistula (1947), they vanished from the Beskid Mountains, leaving behind their picturesque villages nestling in the valleys. Their farmsteads and Orthodox churches were taken over by the Poles. After 1958 some Lemkos came back to their homeland. Today, those places are rich in Lemko organisations, folk bands and ensembles, and halls of memory, private museums. Newspapers are being published in their mother tongue, new Lemko artists appear, and the whole minority is becoming ever more active, both in social and political terms.

The route: Biała Woda Valley (Szlachtowa, Jaworki, Czarna Woda) – Zvir Mountain – Jawor Mountain (Wysowa, Hańczowa) – Łosie & Bielanka – Nowica – Kuńkowa – Kwiatoń – Zdynia – Bartne (Przegonina)

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