Many, many years ago in a land of wild forests and lonely hills there lived a race of evil creatures called the Bies. These creatures looked like humans but were somewhat stockier, had horns and large black wings sprouting from their shoulders. They were, by all accounts, a thoroughly evil bunch and above all hated humankind. In order to make life harder for the farmers, rangers and simple folk living in this land, the Bies created the Czad, a mischievous little folk whose goal it was to pester, irritate and annoy humans. Everyday experience became story, story turned into legend and legend grew into fable. And the land of the Bies and Czad became known as the Bieszczady.
After travelling to the Bieszczady in the south of Poland, I was once again struck by the diversity that was once part and parcel of Poland’s cultural makeup. Alas, much of this wonderful cultural diversity is no longer with us or is slowly eroding away so that in a few decades’ time we will have forgotten that such diversity once existed in this corner of Europe. The Bieszczady mountains and the surrounding area are a truly enchanting part of the world. Sparsely populated with the odd village springing up every now and again, you get the feeling that nature, not humankind, is king here.
Summit of Nations
The Bieszczady is an area with a unique history, a real cultural melting pot with Hungarian, Ukrainian, Boyko, Slovakian, Lemko, Romanian and Polish influences to be seen everywhere. A wonderful metaphor for this cultural confluence is Krzemieniec mountain – the point at which Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge. Travelling around the Polish part of the Bieszczady one notices odd words and phrases popping into the names of places, restaurants, companies and the suchlike. The Hungarian name of Krzemieniec, Kremenaros, seems to be quite a common linguistic tag, for example.
Demise of Diversity
One of the greatest surprises here is the inordinately large number of abandoned villages, cemeteries and churches, or rather Ukrainian/Lemko/Boyko villages and orthodox churches. Due to the now infamous forced deportation of Ukrainians, Lemkos and Boykos from Poland as part of the ridiculously patriotically-named Operation Wisła, the cultural map of the Bieszczady has been changed forever becoming tainted with a pallid homogeneity that still hangs over the area like the kiss of death. The Bieszczady was once a thriving region of many faiths, languages and cultures. It is now one of the most sparsely populated and poorest regions of Poland. All in the name of purity and reserving Poland for the Poles.