3. Historical background
have always constituted an important element of Polands ethnolinguistic landscape.
It has to be mentioned, that from 1385 to 1795, the lands of Lithuania, Byelorussia, most
of the present Ukraine and Poland were a part of one state organism based on free state
union (the so called Republic of many nations) rather than on territorial conquests.
During that time religious tolerance favoured the influx of "infidels". Hence
the presence of Czechs descendants of Husits , Russians Old believers, Jews
and German Protestants. Minority communities constituted more than one third of the Polish
population even after regaining independence in 1918. About 30 % of its population of 36
million people were representatives of ethnic minorities during the interwar period
(1918-1939). The population of Poland consisted of 14 % of Ukrainians and Russians,
8.5 % of Jews, 3.1 % of Byelorussians, 2.3 % of Germans, and 3.1 % of
other minorities according to a census from 1931 (Kersten, 1989, p. 443).
Second World War the Allies signed treaties that made Poland fall back on its
ethnic borders, which meant the loss of most of its eastern
territory. In consequence, minorities shrank to about 5 % of the entire population,
basically as a result of the extermination of Jews, territorial changes and postwar
displacements migrations. In the Polish People's Republic the government used a
policy against the language and the culture of minorities that was very typical of the
whole of Eastern Europe policy. It was one element of a very restrictive and
discriminatory Stalinist practice. The political thaw after 1956 made it possible for
minority groups (mostly in their socio-Cultural societies) to cultivate some elements of
ethnic and language identity in a strictly limited way, controlled by the organs of
security. The government favored first of all the cultivation of folklore (Majewicz,
The year 1989
brought changes in the status and in the situation of ethnic minorities in Poland.
Communist propaganda had claimed that the Polish state was a homogenous country in terms
of the national structure. Representatives of other nationalities, inhabitants of Polish
territories for several generations, were perceived in terms of ethnic relics. The
problems of minorities in Poland were invisible till 1989 .
It was not
possible to raise ethnic issues in research on a large scale because membership of a
nationality was not included in census questions. Reliable and complete data was provided
only in censuses, conducted once per 10 years. Since 1921 only 9 censuses have been
carried out in Poland. During the inter-war period data on the nationality and the
religion of citizens was collected in two censuses (1921 and 1931). In the 1931 census,
nationality was deduced on the basis of religion and native language. In the postwar years
the nationality issue was included for the first time only in the last census in 2002,
where questions about nationality and language used at home were included.
4. Demographic aspects
the public census from May, 2002, Poland has 38.2 million inhabitants. The overall
composition of the Republic of Poland is highly homogeneous, since those of Polish
ethnicity constitute nearly the total of its population (96.7%) and minorities are
relatively small and dispersed. Non Polish national identity is declared by 444.6
thousands (1.2 %) Polish citizens. Moreover 2.0 % citizens did not declare any national
At the same
time the results of the census point to numerous ethnic communities which still live in
Poland (see table 2).
Table 2. Population by declared
minority language and nationality
in Poland according to the 2002 census
Source: Authors own table
based on the 2002 census.
Minority and regional languages
by declared language (in 1000)
language (in %)
by stated nationality (in 1000)
nationlity (in %)
|Hebrew & Yiddish
groups Silesians and Germans are the largest minorities 172.6 thousand of Polish
citizens declare Silesian national identity and 147.1 thousand, German. The third and the
fourth linguistic minorities are, respectively, Byelorussians, 47.6 thousand, and
Ukrainians, 27.2 thousand. The Gypsies appear in fifth position with 12.7 thousand. They
are followed by the historical minorities which number from 5 to 10 thousand people:
Ruthenians/Lemkos- 5.8 thousand, Lithuanians 5.6 thousand, and Kashbus 5.1
thousand. Next there are minor communities like Russians 3.2 thousand, Slovaks (1.7
thousand), Jews (1.1 thousand), Tartars (0.5 thousand), Czechs (0.4 thousand), Armenians
(0.3 thousand) and in last place the Karaims (0.05 thousand). It should be remarked that
in 2002, a significant portion of the total population declared themselves as Silesian. It
was the first time in the history of Poland that Silesian, Lemkos and Kashubs were
accounted as national identities, although the Polish legislation on minority rights does
not consider them as such.
It should be
also noted that the results of the 2002 census are very recent and they still need to be
completely evaluated; in fact, as in the case of previous estimations, representatives of
ethnic minorities presume that the figures for their groups are underestimated. This is
due to the fact that, given their exclusion in the communist period, the minority groups
prefer not to state their real ethnicity. The main historical minorities
Byelorussians (White Russians), Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Germans, Gypsies, Slovaks,
Russians are gradually decreasing and being assimilated.
diversity meant the presence of the diverse speech communities (Gumperz, 1968).
However, the increasing assimilation of indigenous ethnic groups into the Polish identity
may be due to the similarity of their languages, and therefore the number of people who
use minority language in every-day life is different from the number of particular groups.
The minority language that emerged as definitely the most often used, is German used
by 196.8 thousand of people with Polish citizenship.
worth stating that significantly more people declare using the German language than having
German nationality. The knowledge of the ethnic situation in Silesia leads us to assume
that some members of the German national minority who have inhabited the Silesia region
for numerous generations might define their nationality as Silesian. Nevertheless the next
most often mentioned language was Silesian 56.4 thousand, followed by the second
regional language Kashubian 52.6 thousand of people. A relatively substantial
number of users to have also Byelorussian 42.2 thousand, and Ukrainian -21.1
territorial point of view,Polish citizens with non-Polish identity are concentrated mainly
in three provinces (Figure 2): Silesia 182.9 thousand (41.1 %), Opole province
130.4 thousand (29.3 %) and Podlasie 54.3 thousand (12.2 %). The majority of
ethnic groups are concentrated in one or no more than two provinces (Figure 3).
Byelorussians are compactly settled in Podlasian province 96.6 per cent, as well as
Lithuanians 90.3 per cent. Like Byelorussian and Lithuanians, Russians and Tatars
live in Polasian province and in the capital of Poland (Warsaw), but Russian Old
believers community inhabited Varmia-Masuria region. Kashubs are settled in Pomerania
96.7 per cent and Slovaks in the southern part of Little Poland province
91.1 %. Germans inhabit mainly the Opole province (70.1 %) and Upper Silesia (20.1%);
however in the case of Silesians the situation is reversed because 85.8 per cent of people
who declared Silesian identity reside in the Silesia province and the rest of the
population (14 %) is concentrated in the Opole province. Ukrainians and Lemkos belong to
the most dispersed minority, for historical and political reasons and yet these groups are
also localized in some regional clusters: Lemkos inhabit Lower Silasia (over 50 % of the
population), followed by Little Poland (27 %) and Lubush province (13.4%).Ukrainians, on
the other hand, reside firstly in Varmia-Mazuria (43.7 %), then more than 10 per cent in
Pomerania and Lower Carpathia province. The Gypsy population, on the other hand, are
dispersed throughout the entire Republic of Poland; they are present in almost every
province. The smaller minorities like Armenians, Karaims and Jews live in the large
cities: Warsaw, Cracow, Wroclaw, Gdansk.
declarations on language use are to be considered, the most numerous group of bilingual
people is concentrated in the Silesian and Opole provinces. An interesting situation of
diglossia (4) occurs in Pomerania, where every
user of Kashub is bilingual in home relationships. Another situation however is in the
Podlasian region where users of Byelorussian and Lithuanian are more monolingual than
bilingual (in home relationships).
3. Indigenous ethnic minority in the provinces of Poland
Author's own map based on the 2002 census and on the other researches.
emblems that represent respective minorities mark their presence in administrative
provinces. The size of symbol characterizes approximate numbers and importance of
minorities in their regions.