The Polish Voice

Marcin Mierzejewski

No 11, October, 2001

Celebrating minorities

The other nations of Poland

While demographically speaking Poland is overwhelmingly homogeneous, the country does have several vibrant minority communities making their voices heard at home and abroad.

Nearly 150 cultural events organized by national minorities take place in Poland every year. Periodicals and books also appear in Ukrainian, German and Belarussian. All this would be impossible without financing from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The ministry's National Minority Culture Department will allocate zl.6 million for publications and festivals this year.

The largest minority communities living in Poland include 300,000-500,000 Germans, 250,000-300,000 Ukrainians and 200,000-250,000 Belarussians. The Romany community is estimated at 20,000-30,000, there are around 20,000-25,000 Lithuanians and 20,000 Slovaks. The Armenian, Jewish, Tartar and Czech minorities all number several thousand.

The largest official minority organization is the Union of Ukrainians in Poland, comprising 30 social clubs scattered all over the country, with about 7,000 members. Other active organizations include the Belarussian Social-Cultural Society in Białystok, the Association of Lithuanians in Poland, based in Sejny, the Social-Cultural Society of Germans in Opole Silesia, the Society of Slovaks in Poland, based in Cracow, and the Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland, based in Warsaw.

The three largest minorities publish news weeklies: the German Schlesisches Wochenblatt, Nashe Slovo in Ukrainian, and Niva in Belarussian. There are also bi-weeklies, including the Yiddish-language Dos Jidishe Wort and the Lithuanian Ausra, as well as the Slovak monthly Zivot and Romany monthly Rrom po Drom.

With the financial help of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, about 10 books also appear every year, including poetry, historical studies on Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Belarussian relations, and the Jewish Fairy Tale Anthology. The impressive Polish Tartar Yearbook, has been published for several years by the Union of Tartars in Poland. It's devoted mainly to documenting the rich but unfamiliar history of the Tartar community in Poland, which has existed here for centuries. The Armenian Cultural Society also publishes a bulletin focusing mainly on history.

Minority organizations have no established cultural institutions, and their cultural activity is largely based on amateur initiatives. An exception here is the Jewish community, served for years by the professional Jewish Theater in Warsaw, which is supported by the city; it is the only stage of its kind in Europe. There is also the Jewish Historical Institute, an institution conducting research into the rich history of the Jewish diaspora in Poland.

Other minorities are just getting started. Construction on Lithuanian Cultural Centers in Sejny and in Puńsk is well advanced, funded by both the Polish and Lithuanian governments. The local German minority in the Opole area have financed centers themselves, as have the Slovaks with their Cultural Center in Krempachy. The Association of Romanies in Poland wants to establish the Center of Romany Documentation in Oświęcim (Auschwitz). The center was involved in the exhibition, opened Aug. 2, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum on the annihilation of Romanies during World War II.

The most colorful expressions of minority culture occur at more than 100 festivals, reviews and competitions organized every year throughout Poland. One of the largest events is the rock music festival Basovishcha, organized by the Belarussian Students Association in Gródek. Other leading events are the Ukrainian Culture Festival, taking place every second year-last year's festival in Sopot was the 16th edition of the event; the Romane Dyvesa International Meetings of Gypsy Ensembles, with a 13-year-long tradition; the Belarussian Song Festival in Białystok; and the Lemko Vatra Bonfire Festival. The Saskydris rally of amateur art ensembles is organized every year in Burbiszki by the Association of Lithuanians in Poland, while a review of German ensembles takes place during the harvest celebrations on St. Ann's Mountain.

Minority groups have been gradually emerging from their cultural ghettoes over the last decade. The Pod Kyczerą International Meetings of National and Ethnic Minorities have been held for four years in Legnica. Participants include not only representatives of Polish minorities, but also guests from abroad. Of similar character is the Europe without Borders Festival of Nations, organized for the first time this year on St. Ann's Mountain.

Marcin Mierzejewski