East Slavonic Language of Carpatho-Rusyn Lemko resurfaces on streets of Bieszczady

Although seemingly homogenous, Poland fosters ethnic minorities that have inhabited Poland’s territory for centuries. One of these ethnic groups is the Lemko minority. The minority is currently seeking to have all official administrative and street signs displayed in the Gorlice region in both the Polish and the Lemko languages.

The Lemko Youth Organization, led by the Lemko poet Helena Duc in Krakow, filed a motion with the regional councils in the area to have these changes passed. Situated in the villages and towns of the south-eastern corner of Poland, the Lemko minority speaks an East Slavic language using a version of the Cyrillic alphabet. Belonging to the eastern branch of Orthodox Christianity, the Lemko minority group practices their religion according to the Byzantine Rite. Neither Ukrainian nor Polish, the Lemkos have fostered their own traditions and language that are still in existence today.

The territory inhabited by this minority is closed in a triangle which includes the Beskid Sadecki, the Beskid Niski and the western edge of the Bieszczady Mountains. Onion-domed wooden churches mark the landscape of the area. The term “Lemko” originated in the 19th Century. Other terms for the minority used are Carpatho-Rusyns.

This ethnic minority appeared in the mountainous region of Poland in the 15th Century. As a sheep-herding nomadic society, the Lemkos settled in what was an uninhabited and rugged area. A mix of eastern Slavs and Vlachs (Romanians) they fostered Balkan, Slavic and Byzantine Christianity customs. At the end of World War II, the official displacement of the Lemko minority commenced. Until then almost 100 percent of the population in the area was Lemko.

Today as an official minority of Poland they are able to practice their religion, language and customs freely.Statutes passed allowing for the reinstatement of minority languages alongside the Polish language is a recent thing. According to the statute, the existence of dual languages is only possible if the majority agrees to such changes. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, this general acceptance is evident in the region

The Polish majority has agreed to the implementation of Lemko signs as have the local governments. Local Poles in the area have accepted the changes wholeheartedly with no formal voices against the idea being heard. The signs will be written in Cyrillic and situated in various villages in the Lemko area.

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