Ukrainians and Belarusians
Before World War II, the Ukrainian population, concentrated in the far southeast along the Carpathian Mountains, constituted 13.8 percent of interwar Poland's total, making the Ukrainians by far the largest ethnic minority. Postwar border changes and resettlement removed most of that ethnic group, whose persistent demands for autonomy in the 1930s had become a serious worry for the postwar communist government. In 1947 most remaining Ukrainians were resettled from their traditional centers in Rzeszˇw and Lublin districts in southeastern Poland to northern territory gained from Germany in the peace settlement. State propaganda designed to further isolate the Ukrainians reminded Poles of wartime atrocities committed by Ukrainians. In 1991 some 130,000 Ukrainians remained in the resettlement regions, while the rest of the Ukrainian population was widely dispersed and assimilated.
Beginning in 1989, Ukrainians in Poland sought redress for the abuses they had endured under communist regimes. The Union of Ukrainians in Poland demanded that the postcommunist government condemn the postwar deportation policy and compensate Ukrainians and their churches for state confiscation of property in the resettlement period. In 1992 all such claims awaited approval by parliament. Property claims by the Greek Catholic Church aroused controversy for two reasons. First, the Polish Catholic Church had occupied many former Greek Catholic churches and refused to return or share them. Second, conflicting claims between Greek Catholic Ukrainians and the Ukrainians of the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church threatened the minority with a major rift along religious lines.
In 1992 estimates of the Ukrainian population in Poland ranged from 200,000 to 700,000. Of that number, roughly one-third belonged to the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, a branch of the Greek Orthodox Church. The remainder belonged to the Greek Catholic Church, which recognizes the authority of the Vatican. Orthodox Ukrainians are especially visible in Poland because they compose nearly the entire population of the Polish Orthodox Church. Because of the importance of religion in Polish society, the relations of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland with the two major minority religions influence the status of Ukrainian communities in areas other than religion. In the communist era, the government attempted to minimize the danger of Ukrainian nationalism by shifting its support as the two Ukrainian churches sought recognition. The Ukrainian Social and Cultural Society, founded in 1956, published a weekly newspaper in Ukrainian and supported several schools in Warsaw, with the purpose of preventing the assimilation of Ukrainians into Polish society.
The size of the Belarusian population also was disputed in the early 1990s. In 1991 the official figure was 250,000, but minority spokesmen claimed as many as 500,000 people. Although concentrated in a smaller area (nearly all live in the Bialystok District adjoining the Belarusian border), the Belarusianminority has been less assertive of its national identity than have been the Ukrainians. Bialystok is one of Poland's least prosperous and most sparsely populated regions. Mainly composed of peasants, the minority includes few educated citizens, and the group has received little support from Belarus itself. Therefore, low national self-awareness has led to easy assimilation into Polish society. The Belarusian Social and Cultural Society, founded in 1956 as the minority's official mouthpiece in Poland, remained under the control of former communists in 1991 because of Belarusian distrust of Solidarity's ties with the Polish Catholic Church. Since 1989, however, some new ethnic organizations have appeared. A weekly newspaper is published in Belarusian, and a few new student, political, and social organizations have brought a modest revival of Belarusian ethnic community in the early postcommunist years.
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