Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Poland is thought to be mono-cultural countries. Indeed, in the streets of most of Polish cities you will not meet people of different color or race (unless they are tourists). But that changes. Bigger cities (such as Warsaw - the capital or Krakow) get inhabited by newcomers who want to try out life in Poland. More and more foreigners get hired by international companies based also in Poland. However, most of the members of minorities are descendants of those who arrived to Poland years before (sometimes hundreds of years ago), when the country was even more multi-cultural than now, or stayed within Poland when the borders changed.
In the article I intend to present only some of the minorities - those that have their strong place in Polish history, developed specific culture in Poland, are characteristic for the country or its regions, or those that are much different from average Poles and bring a little bit of exotic to Polish society.
This is the largest ethnic group (about 2 million of people), and the most disputable, of Poland. People who call themselves Silesians inhabit Silesian region. Their culture (as well as language) is a mixture of Polish, German and Czech. Although Silesians are not recognized in Poland as distinct ethnic group, during census 2002 about 200 thousand of people declared Silesian as their nationality.
There are almost 13 thousand of Roma spread all around Poland, however, in some parts of the country there are concentrations (like in south or in surroundings of the city of Lodz). They are ethnic group or even nation with no territory. They inhabit most of the countries but they differ much with the standard (and way) of life and language.
This is East Slavic (or Ruthenian) ethnic group that inhabits historical Galicia region, Carpathian Ruthenia or North Slovakia. There are about 60 thousand of Lemkos in Poland. They have their own culture and language. Most probably their ancestors - Vlach shepherds - arrived to Poland from terrains of today Romania, getting mixed on the way with Ruthenian people. Most probably they are descendants of White Croats.
Although it is estimated that there are almost 50 thousand of Kashubians in Poland, few of them declare their non-Polish nationality or claim Kashubian to be their native language. They live in Pomeranian Voivodeship (north of Poland) and belong to West Slavic ethnic group. They are direct off springs of Pomeranians - one of tribes that used to inhabit today lands of the country (especially west coast of the Baltic Sea and the surroundings of Gdansk).
They used to be the biggest minority - in some places of Poland they were actually majority - of Polish nation. Shortly before the World War II, Poland was inhabited by about 3 million of Jews (this was one of the biggest community in the world). Their history in Polish land goes back to 1000 years ago. This flourishing culture was ceased by Holocaust and the communist regime, as both took the rights of Jews, that they were granted during the period of great tolerance in Poland. Their number is now estimated for 12 thousand but since 1990' Jewish communities in Poland do their best to rebirth.
About 8 thousand of them living in Poland are descendants of 50 thousand Armenians that settled in Poland in 14th century, while the rest (30 to 70 thousand) arrived to Poland after WW II and the collapse of Soviet Union. They are members of Armenian Catholic Church.
They might be small ethnic group but their culture seems in Poland oriental and exotic. This population reached Poland in 13th century (when the Mongol tribes of Tatars would invade the country). Some of groups of Polish Tatars - known also as Lipka Tatars - still practice Islam. In northeastern Poland the community has its mosques. Although less than 500 declared this nationality, there are believed to be much more people of Tatar origin in Poland.