Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2013/36 posted by hidden europe on

The winter snows have come to higher parts of the Carpathians, and already the beech woods and forests of fir are clad in white. Kroscienko, a little village in the Polish hills, is very quiet this time of year. Were it not for the fact that the road through Kroscienko leads to a border crossing with neighbouring Ukraine, there would be scarcely anyone passing through Kroscienko.

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Dear fellow travellers

The winter snows have come to higher parts of the Carpathians, and already the beech woods and forests of fir are clad in white. Kroscienko, a little village in the Polish hills, is very quiet this time of year. Were it not for the fact that the road through Kroscienko leads to a border crossing with neighbouring Ukraine, there would be scarcely anyone passing through Kroscienko.

European Union funding was used to upgrade the road across the border and in 2002 a new crossing point was created for road traffic between Poland and Ukraine.

At the same time the railway, which runs parallel to the road, was much improved. There had always been a rail link, and for many years direct local trains ran from Kroscienko through the Soviet Union and back into Poland. It was a chance to gaze out of the train window at Ukrainian villages without any obligation to obtain a Soviet visa. The rail service fell victim to cuts. It was eventually axed completely in 2010 and since then no trains at all have served Kroscienko.

With no trains and little by way of local employment, folk are drifting away from Kroscienko and the population of the community is now less than six hundred. When we last visited the village, there were still a handful of Greek speakers in Kroscienko. But if you want to catch a little Hellenic spirit in this remote part of Poland, don't leave it too long.

By the village hall, a monument recalls Kroscienko's curious link with southern Europe. After the Greek Civil War, when the Communist Party of Greece found itself on the losing side, thousands of Greek and Macedonian socialists resettled in Poland. That was in the years from 1949 to 1952.

Some settled in Zgorzelec in south-west Poland - very close to the border with the then German Democratic Republic. Indeed, the Greek Orthodox church in Zgorzelec is a modern reminder of how migrants from Greece have influenced the development of the town.

Others moved to the Bieszczadzki region of south-east Poland, where there had recently been some border adjustments between Poland and the Soviet Union. Land newly ceded to Poland was ideal for new settlers. And the migrants from the southern Balkans received a warm welcome from the authorities who feted them as heroes for supporting the socialist cause in the Greek Civil War.

Being a socialist hero does not help pay the grocery bills. The Greek families who moved to Kroscienko and nearby Liskowate secured work in forestry and on farms. Several families arrived with children and, more than half a century later, a handful of those original migrants still live in these remote valleys. It happens that most Poles in this region follow the Uniate tradition, using Orthodox-style liturgies for their services yet remaining in full communion with Rome.

The Greeks and Macedonians who settled in and around Kroscienko slipped into the local religious routines. Their story shows how adaptable migrants have been in this part of Europe - as indeed so often across the continent we call home. And this otherwise nondescript village in the hills, last stop on the road to the border, is a reminder of just how fabulously complicated and endlessly interesting is the fabric of European society.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.