Song and dance group revive traditions of Lemko ethnic minority in Poland
A group formed three decades ago to promote its minority ethnic culture is this year celebrating its 30th anniversary.
The group called ‘Kyczera’ came together to keep the Lemko culture of their parents and grandparents alive in Poland.
Historically from the Beskid and Pieniny highlands around Beskid Sądecki, Beskid Niski and parts of the Pienin mountains, the Lemkos were displaced from their native lands in 1947 and resettled in Western Poland as part of ‘Operation Vistula’, the Communist authority’s forced resettlement of several ethnic minorities from the south-east of post-war Poland to the reclaimed territories in the west of the country.
Based on the 2005 Law on national and ethnic minorities and regional language, Lemkos are one of four ethnic minorities in Poland, without their own nation. Their status as an ethnic minority distinct from Poland, was the reason they were targeted by Operation Vistula, whilst Podhale or Żywiec highlanders, who were considered ethnically Polish, weren’t.
In the last Polish census in 2011, 9,641 citizens of Poland declared themselves as ethnic Lemkos, with the majority today living in Lower Silesia and only a minority still inhabiting the terrain historically called ‘Lemko country’ in Lesser Poland.
‘Kyczera’, which means ‘mountain’ in the Lemko language is the foremost institution of authentic Lemko culture in Poland and has appeared at over 1,200 concerts in Poland and internationally, showcasing Lemko traditions in places as far away as Peru, Mexico and Indonesia.
Since 1996, it has also been the organiser of one of Poland’s biggest annual international folk festivals, ‘World under Kyczera’, which encompasses several dozen locations across Poland including towns in Lower Silesia, Lesser Poland, Pokarpacie and the Slovakian town of Kurov.
“Living in an ethnic minority demands it of us that we double down on our efforts to protect our traditions”, said Olga Starzyńska, who together with her brothers, promotes her native culture through performances in Kyczera under the guidance of her father Jerzy Starzyński, the group’s original founder.
“When I put on a traditional Lemko outfit, I feel great pride, but also feel it is my duty to and I consider it a point of honour”, added Olga’s brother Daniel.
Lemko culture is characterised by a close emotional connection with the highland region or ‘Lemko country’, a distinct language, colourful and embroidered women’s and men’s traditional dress, distinct from other Polish traditional dress, and a passion for song and dance as well as Orthodox or Greek-Catholic religion.
In 2018, Kyczera reconstructed a set of eye-catching traditional Lemko outfits from archival photographs and is currently fundraising for the reconstruction of further outfits as well as historical books for their library catalogue.
Though starting out as a dance group, ‘Kyczera’ has evolved into much more, today forming a cultural organisation bringing together over 400 young Lemkos engaged in the local community and their own cultural centre, the only Lemko Centre of Culture in Poland, which organises workshops, exhibitions, lectures and possesses the world’s largest collection of books devoted to Lemko culture.
The organisation serves an important educational purpose, and young people part of ‘Kyczera’, don’t only dance, “it is a place where young people learn the Lemko language and they discover the traditions, culture and history of their ancestors”, said Jerzy Starzyński.
“We also organise workshops in the historic Lemko lands, taking children to the place where their parents and grandparents came from”
“We are driven solely by crazy enthusiasts like me who give their whole lives to trying to preserve what we have left of Lemko culture”.
“Poland has been our homeland for hundreds of years and I’d like it for Lemkos to survive in Poland for as long as possible.”