Poles in Bukovina – Historic Background
Romanian 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.
The history of the Poles in Romania is surely connected to the history of Bukovina, the northern part of the medieval state Moldova, annexed and named in 1775 by the Austrian Empire. At the time, Bukovina was 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 Bukovina, 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 Bukovina.
In 1918, the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy collapsed. Alongside other Bessarabia and Transylvania, Bukovina united with Romania, the Motherland. This represented a new stage for the Poles in Bukovina: the community 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 Bukovina 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.
During World War II, Poland witnessed first hand the worst of the two evil empires, Nazy Germany and the Soviet Union. Following the invasion of Poland by Nazy and Soviet armies in 1939, over 60,000 Poles took refuge in Bukovina and other regions of Romania. After the war, Poland and Romania agreed to repatriate thousands of Polish families, both refugees and descendants of the old settlers. This process was a large-scale one, but didn’t entirely destroy the communities of Poles in Bukovina and Romania.
During the communist years, the Polish in Bukovina and other parts of Romania became targets for the process of rapid assimilation.
Cacica, Sample Image of Poles in Bukovina
Cacica (Polish Kaczyka) is a village developed around a salt mine. Archaeological works show that salt exploitation has been practiced in the area since the late neolithic, but the industrial exploitation started at the end of the 18th century. In 1798 a salt mine started operating here, with workers from all around the Austrian Empire, but especially Galicia. Experienced miners from the areas of Bochnia, Kałusz and Wieliczka were the most important of all the new settlers.
Thus, the vast majority of the miners were Catholics. Following the tradition, in 1803 they started excavating and arranging a chapel dedicated to St. Barbara, the miners’ patron, 25 m deep inside the mine. The chapel was set up by a Roman Catholic priest named Jakob Bogdanowicz. Even nowadays, it can be reached by descending some 200 steps carved into the rock salt, and it looks just like a proper church. Initially, the walls of the chapel were covered in wood, but in 1904 the wooden panels were removed and the chapel came to look the way it does up to this day.
In 1890, 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 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 results of the 2011 census show that more than 20% of the people of Cacica are now of Polish nationality – the largest percent of Poles in Bukovina and Romania. Together with the Romanians, Ukrainians and representatives in smaller number of other nationalities, they are proud to present the village to any visitor. Their pride is not in vain, as they do have beautiful tourist attractions: the salt mine with magnificent open spaces, indoor salty pool, the Catholic chapel and a small Orthodox one; the Catholic church, the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian church and the Romanian Orthodox church. Aside from that, the visitor would be welcomed by warm and receiving people and the beautiful landscapes of Bukovina.