The Polish Community In Romania - Durability And Continuity

"We are very aware that there is a continuity in history from past to future, through the present."Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981), Primate of the Millennium BackgroundRomanian history from the 14th century until the 18th century displays the significant influence of Polish history, as far as political, military, administrative, social and cultural life are concerned. After the Polish state was dissolved in 1795, the people of Poland stopped any bilateral relations with Romania until the end of WWI. The newly reborn independent Polish state was acknowledged in November 11, 1918. The history of the Poles living in Romania is surely connected to the history of Bucovina, a buffer region between the Eastern and Western civilisation, lying in an area where the Ottoman, Russian and Austrian empires exerted their influences, as well as the Slavic, Byzantine and Central European ones. Polish communities started to develop during the 18th century in Bucovina, with the Polish immigrants coming from Galicia. The communities attracted common people, drawn by the better living conditions found here, as well as clerks, priests, teachers, and a few noblemen. Let us not forget the so called "mountain people" from the region of Czadec, now belonging to Slovakia. These people populated all towns in Bucovina. The demographics in Bucovina saw an increase in population with the Polish people coming there, followed by a period of stabilization. During WWI and WWII, 50,000 Polish people were reported to live in Romania. In spite of the relative small number of Polish inhabitants of Bucovina, those people made a tremendous contribution to enriching the ethno-cultural treasure of "Eastern Switzerland". In 1918, the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy collapsed and Bucovina and Romania united their territories. This represented a new stage for the Polish community that appointed their representative (Stanislaw Kwiatkowski) for the delegation that presented to King Ferdinand the act of unification of the two regions, on the 28th of November 1918. It is important to realise that the representatives of the Polish community in Bucovina had been the only people of a different nationality who unconditionally voted in favour of the unification. Stanislaw Kwiatkowski was elected as a member of the first Parliament of Great Romania.  Organization The Polish Society for Community Help was founded in 1869, in Cernăuţi. The Polish Society for Readership joined it the same year, marking the beginning of a prosperous emerging of societies, carrying on their activities in Polish Houses (Dom Polski). On the 21st of May 1903, The Polish Society for Community Help and Readership was founded in Suceava, as a subsidiary of the Cernăuţi society. Engineer Aloiz Friedel started building the Dom Polski the same year, with the financial help of some institutions, and private donors in Galicia (Lwow, Krakow), and also from the Polish community in Suceava. During the Austrian occupation, Bucovina was called "Eastern Switzerland" due to the calm, peaceful living together of several nationalities: Romanians, Ukrainians, Germans, Polish, Jews, Armenians, Russians etc. Many try to map this region as an embryonic model for a united Europe. Unfortunately, history did not give this mixed community any chance for further development, as WWI ended it abruptly. After the war, several large Polish organisations were active inside Great Romania (the Polish Union in Romania). The Polish community struggled to maintain the schools operating under the pressure of the political regime, seeking to turn the educational system into an exclusively Romanian driven one. Yet, the Polish people proved their organisational skills and at the end of the 20s, there were 34 Polish language schools, as well as and Dom Polski in 24 towns and villages. By the end of 1939, Romania hosted over 60,000 Polish refugees, on political, military and civilian grounds, among whom were the Polish President and Prime Minister. In spite of German pressure, the Romanian authorities supported the Polish refugees, offering them the chance to learn Romanian. In 1940, when Bessarabia and Bucovina had been invaded by the Red Army, a new wave of Polish refugees hit Romania. With the end of the war, many Polish people, both refugees and descendants of the old settlers, faced the prospect of returning to their motherland. The repatriation of Polish people living in Bucovina was undertaken at the request of Poland, whose population had suffered massive losses during the war. Romania and Poland signed an Agreement document on the 9th of January 1947 and a Repatriation Convention on the 15th of January 1947. Based on these two documents, the repatriation of thousands of Polish families took place between 1947-1948, mainly from Southern Bucovina and the Jiu Valley. This process was a large-scale one, but didn't entirely destroy the Polish communities in Romania. During the communist years, the Polish people living in cities were assimilated rapidly. In the 1950s, any Polish activity was banned (along with other minorities') and their houses were confiscated. Over the next 40 years, the Polish community in Romania possessed only their memories, vague contacts with their mother country, and Polish was spoken only within the family. National identity was preserved only inside Bucovina's villages, and that was due to distance and isolation. In 1989, when the Communist regime collapsed, the Polish community was faced with the opportunity of coming back to life. In the spring of 1990, the first Polish organisation was established in Bucharest, followed by others in the country (15), which finally formed the Polish Union in Romania. The headquarters are located in Suceava. This rebirth is a clear proof of continuity, as the new formations value the traditions of their predecessors from before the war. In 1996, after an exhausting trial, the Dom Polski in Suceava was given back to the community. The building stands for the community's identity. Starting in 1990, a rejuvenation of ethnical identity permeated the community. This stood for the grand process of rediscovering national identity. Pride flew under the wings of the Polish community and that was due in part to Romanian legislation, which made efforts for "diversity integration", at the level required by European standards.  The spiritual life The Polish Union in Romania truly continues the traditions from before the war, characterised by the existence of many cultural institutions: Dom Polski in Suceava and Cernăuţi, The Polish Youth's Association, The Polish Ladies' Association, The Polska Macierza Szkolna w Rumunii Society, The Teachers' Society etc. Polish students from the University of Cernăuţi set up Ognisko (1875-1938) and Lechia (1910-1938). Their activity ceased with the change of political context, and only started again after 1990. The distinctive sign of national identity is the language. The right of minorities to learn their own maternal language is guaranteed by the Constitution of Romania. 10 schools in Bucovina, and Dom Polski in Bucharest and Iaşi, hold 500 students, taught by 15 teachers, 6 of them coming directly from Poland. 2005-2006 brought the educational initiative of studying Polish even in kindergartens. Starting 2003, a new project is on-going. Called „Children of Bucovina", the project aims at improving the study conditions in schools and providing access to better quality education. Both children from the Polish community and from other ethnical communities from 9 locations and 10 schools in Bucovina are the beneficiaries of this project. The largest event for the Polish Union in Romania are the Days of Polish Culture, which in 2006 reaches its 8th edition. Polonus is the bilingual periodical issued once a month, representing another successful attempt at preserving, and continuing, traditions performed by the Polish Union in Romania. Its 1st edition was printed in Bucharest, in 1990. The Roman-Catholic churches in Bucovina usually had priests that had been trained at the Archdiocesan Seminary in Lwow. They would come back to spiritually guide the community that had sent them to study. The entire community contributed to building beautiful churches in the places they live: Soloneţu Nou, Cacica or Bulai. Polish people went to the city church together with German inhabitants in Rădăuţi and Suceava. Later on, the Polish inhabitants of Bucovina built their own churches. Many of them are pure art such as the church in Cacica. It is a replica of the cathedral in Krakow. The church holds a copy of the Dark Madonna from Czestochowa, Poland's spiritual heart. In 1990, Iosif Weber, the bishop of Lwow, born in Fürstenthal (Voievodeasa, Suceava district), brought missionaries to Cacica from Krakow, giving orders for the building of a new church. The construction of this gothic church followed the plan of architect Talowski, and was built by the Lazarite priests (the Congregation of the Priests of the Mission of Saint Vincenzo da Paoli), who settled in Krakow in 1903. The church holds a replica of the famous grotto in Lourdes which gives this sanctuary a special aura. On the 15th of August 1997, the Bishopric of Jassy, in the presence of Bishop Petru Gherghel, and of the Vatican's papal nuncio in Romania, Janusz Bolonek, declared the church of Cacica a national sanctuary. It is now ranked as basilica minor by Pope John Paul II. The Roman-Catholic church in Suceava came to life in 1768. The construction of the present cathedral in Suceava began in 1820, was finalised in 1822, and has Saint John Nepomuk as a patron. The cathedral was renovated in 1871, 1935 and 1980. Florin PINTESCU, PhD, is Associate Professor at Ştefan cel Mare University, Suceava, History and Geography Faculty, History DepartmentStanislava IACHIMOVSCHI is a Romanian teacher and President of the Polish Association in Suceava  

by Florin Pintescu; Stanislava Iachimovschi