Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Among Polish minorities, there is one western Slavic ethnic group that derives directly from Pomeranian tribe, that used to inhabit Gdansk and eastern coast. Pomeranians were one of Slavic groups that afterwards were incorporated into Polish kingdom and founded Polish nation (as well as Polans, Vistulans etc.). While others lost their unique identity, Kashubians still kept their uniqueness and even speak their own language.
Kashubians may be divided into couple of subgroups that culturally differ between each other (depending on the terrains that they lived in). The name Kashubains was already used in Middle Ages to describe the inhabitants of Western Baltic coast – of Slavic as well as of German origin. During WW II there were attempts to Germanize the Kashubian ethnic group. They were forced to sign Volkslist that would be equivalent of statement that that one has German roots and supports the politics of Reich.
Kashubians are typical inhabitants of borderline what means that they have been influenced by rapid changes of the borders, accepting cultures of countries that they lived in. Most of them were Germanized or naturally assimilated with Polish neighbors. Although many German and Prussian military leaders had Kashubian roots, it would hard to refer to it as the families would very often abandon their culture and language in third or fourth generation. However, there is still a great number of people that keep their Kashubian identity.
Today’s scholars would describe the inhabitants of Kashubia are Polish ethnic group. However, many of them – due to very strong feeling distinction – have double nationality (that is Polish and Kashubian). In 2002 census over 5 thousand people declared to have Kashubian nationality (and it is only 1% of people that can boast of Kashubian origin).
Although Kashubians are not officially on the list of Polish minorities – and their language is perceived to be one of 5 main dialects of Polish speech – Kashubian as the only language got the status of regional one. The pupils living in that region can choose to pass their school final exams in it.
It is believed that about 50 thousand of people use Kashubian language on a daily basis. It is the only remain of Slavic Pomeranian dialects. Although it is very close to standard Polish, one can feel there influence of Polabian speech (used by extinct West Slavic tribes), south-German and old-Prussian languages.
The status of the language – whether to call it separate speech or just one of Polish dialects – is still controversial. In the past Kashubians were also accused of separatism (because of keeping their unique customs and culture). Nowadays there have been many active organizations working on keeping the culture alive between the inhabitants of the region. There are schools were children can learn their language, radio and television programs in Kashubian as well as festivals that popularize the knowledge about Kashubia’s history.