Elisabeth Haid-Lener, May 1st, 2022
Educational issues in Eastern Galicia[i]
In the aftermath of World War I, schools and education figured prominently in local newspapers and sparked political debates in former Eastern Galicia which was just becoming part of the newly founded Polish Republic at this time. In view of the competing efforts to form a Ukrainian or Polish nation-state in the region, the authors usually agreed that schools were of extraordinary importance for the future of society. The ideals of education expressed certainly diverged, as did visions of a future society which was usually understood through national lenses. Common slogans were “national education” and “democratization”. The debates, however, were not limited to theoretical considerations, but often crystallized around local educational institutions.
This can be exemplified by the city of Kolomyja/Kołomyja/Kolomea, a city of about 40,000 inhabitants and a regional centre in the southeast of Galicia. Kolomyja’s demographic structure was typical of the region. While the majority of the city’s population were Jews and Poles, the rural surroundings were mostly inhabited by Ukrainian speakers (or Ruthenian speakers as they were traditionally called). In the post-war years, the local Ukrainian (in official Polish usage still “Ruthenian”) boys’ gymnasium received a lot of attention and became a symbol of national antagonism in the multi-ethnic region. If it was seen by Ukrainian activists as an essential instrument of social advancement, it came under criticism from Polish activists as an anti-state institution in the early 1920s. These conflicts dated back to the nineteenth century but intensified after 1918 in the face of competing efforts to form a Ukrainian or Polish nation-state in the region.
Kolomyja. K.k. I. Gymnasium [=Polish gymnasium], postcard 1909.
In Habsburg Galicia, despite the equality that was guaranteed to different national groups by the Basic Law on the Rights of Citizens in 1867 (which was part of the Constitution of the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy), there was a great imbalance between Polish and Ukrainian educational institutions. This imbalance was especially pronounced in the field of secondary schools, the establishment of which had to be approved by the Polish-dominated Galician diet. In 1911/12, there were 135 gymnasia(which was the most prestigious form of secondary education) in Galicia, of which only 12 had Ukrainian as the language of instruction. In addition to seeking better representation in political bodies, a major goal of Ukrainian activists was therefore the expansion of Ukrainian-language secondary education and the establishment of a Ukrainian-language university.
In Kolomyja, the efforts of Ukrainian activists succeeded in 1892, when a Ukrainian-speaking boys’ gymnasium was founded in addition to the existing Polish-speaking one. The newly founded school in Kolomyja was the third Ukrainian gymnasium in Galicia and strengthened Kolomyja’s position as an educational centre in southeastern Galicia. The school attracted not only the children of the relatively small Ukrainian-speaking intelligentsia of the city but above all peasants’ sons from the region. It developed successfully and the number of its students eventually exceeded that of the Polish gymnasium.
The Ukrainian gymnasium not only contributed significantly to the development of local Ukrainian intelligentsia, but also became a hotbed of political activism. During the Ukrainian takeover in Eastern Galicia in November 1918 and the rule of the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic, the director of the Ukrainian gymnasium in Kolomyja, Prokop Mostovyč, played a prominent role in local politics, and several professors held positions in the new Ukrainian administration. When the competing nationalist claims on Eastern Galicia as the nucleus of a Ukrainian nation state or part of a Polish nation-state led to a Polish-Ukrainian war in 1918/19, numerous professors and students of the gymnasium joined the Ukrainian army.
After the Polish victory and the de facto integration of Eastern Galicia into the Polish Republic in the summer of 1919, the Ukrainian gymnasium in Kolomyjaremained a centre of resistance to Polish rule in the region and repeatedly made the headlines of the local press. In 1922, the local Polish newspaper Gazeta Kołomyjska complained of “outrageous anti-state conduct by both teachers and students,” as members of the Ukrainian gymnasium played active roles in the boycott of Polish state institutions. In 1919, the Allies had authorized Poland to occupy Eastern Galicia and temporarily assigned the region to the Polish Republic but did not make a final decision on the status of the region until March 1923. Nevertheless, the Polish authorities treated the territory like an integral part of the Polish state from the beginning, while Ukrainian activists continued to claim an independent Ukrainian state and did not recognize Polish state institutions. As the Gazeta Kołomyjska reported, the majority of teachers in the Ukrainian gymnasium resisted conscription into the Polish army.
During the 1922 elections to the Polish Parliament, Ukrainian activists in Eastern Galicia called for a boycott of the elections, as participation in the election could be interpreted as a recognition of Polish rule in the region. In Kolomyja, several students of the Ukrainian gymnasium were charged with spreading Ukrainian propaganda, acts of violence, and sabotage. Overall, the Gazeta Kołomyjska argued, it was especially the students who caused unrest in the countryside. The Polish newspaper did not consider these incidents as individual acts but blamed the spirit of education in the Ukrainian gymnasium. As a commentator warning of Ukrainian nationalist incitement of the youth wrote: “as the school goes, so goes the younger generation.”
“Disturbances in the Ruthenian gymnasium.”, Gazeta Kołomyjska, 27.10.1923.
What is denounced here as an anti-state education from a Polish nationalist perspective could also be interpreted positively as “national education” from a Ukrainian nationalist perspective. In Galicia, Ukrainian as well as Polish activists had demanded “national education” since the late Habsburg period. Of course, the situation of the two nationalities differed. While for Ukrainian activists the main problem was an insufficient number of Ukrainian-language schools, Polish activists claimed that the Polish language of instruction was not sufficient for a Polish national education. Looking at the neighbouring Russian and German empires, they argued that even a foreign-language school could be more national than a Polish-language school, provided that the teachers were steeped in national zeal. Nevertheless, there were several parallels between Ukrainian and Polish criticism of the Galician school system. Nationalists considered Polish or Ukrainian history and geography as essential elements of the “nationalization of the school.” Both sides criticized textbooks for the lack of Polish or Ukrainian national spirit, and harangued school directors for preventing students’ nationalist activities. In their view, “national education” had to appeal to the intellect and emotions.
In the context of Ukrainian and Polish nation-state formation, reform discourses experienced an upswing. There were also calls for a far-reaching transformation and democratization of the school system. During the period of Ukrainian rule in Kolomyja, for example, several articles in the local Ukrainian newspaper Pokuts’kyj Vistnyk criticized the elitist and “reactionary” nature of the Austrian system of gymnasia and called for democratization and the creation of an independent Ukrainian school system. The reforms of the short-lived Ukrainian authorities in Eastern Galicia, however, dealt mainly with the language of instruction and the content of history and geography lessons. Gymnasia continued to be the backbone of the emergence of a Ukrainian national elite. Hence, Ukrainian gymnasia were to be established in those cities in which they so far did not exist.
However, this project was soon interrupted by the integration of Eastern Galicia into the Polish Republic. In the new curriculum, the Polish authorities introduced Polish history, geography, and literature as compulsory subjects. Thus, the nation-state would meet long-standing demands for the “nationalization of the school.”Ukrainian-speaking schools continued to exist within the framework of the Polish Republic. However, they came under increasing pressure.
In Kolomyja, the accusations of anti-state activities by students and teachers in 1922/23provideda pretext to question the Ukrainian gymnasium’s right to exist. A series of articles in the Gazeta Kołomyjskacast doubt on whether the teaching content taught in the Ukrainian high school corresponded to the Polish curriculum and criticized the local Polish school authorities for their leniency towards the Ukrainian educational institution. The Polish newspaper thus took up the accusation, often made against the Galician school authorities before the war, that they neglected Polish national interests.
It was not until October 1923 that the local school authorities (due to an intervention by the Ministry of Education in Warsaw) finally intervened when students of the Ukrainian gymnasium systematically destroyed the Polish state coat of arms in the classrooms. Several classes were dissolved and several teachers suspended. Director Mostovyč, however, remained in his post. The Gazeta Kołomyjska therefore called for strongeraction.It demanded that authorities should not allow an institution financed (as a state school) with the money of Polish citizens to educate the youth in a spirit hostile to the Polish state and with“blind hatred” towards everything Polish.
The reason for national antagonism, a commentator argued in the Gazeta Kołomyjska, lay above all in the existence of two separate gymnasia. When he attended the local gymnasium, the author wrote, the Ukrainian gymnasium in Kolomyja did not yet exist and there were no conflicts between Polish and Ukrainian students, “no trace of the hatred that today mainly fills the Ruthenian youth.” Thus, he pleaded for a common, “utraquist” school and argued that the separation might have been favorable for Austrian rule in the sense of divide et impera, but it would be crazy to maintain nationally separated schools in an independent Polish state, especially if the school inflamed hatred of the other nationality among the youth. Although the author argued that Polish and Ukrainian should be treated equally in the “utraquist” school, Ukrainian activists would have every reason to doubt the equality in his concept. The author called for Polish literature, history, and geography to be taught by Polish teachers in all “Ruthenian schools” in order to arouse among the “Ruthenian youth” at least respect, if not love, for Polish culture and its merits in the region. Only Poles should be appointed as directors of these educational institutions. Thus, local debates about the Ukrainian gymnasium in Kolomyjadelved into, amongst others, a concept that was to cause uproar in Eastern Galicia a year later, when it was implemented in a new school law.
In 1924, a new law favored the introduction of “utraquist”(that is, bilingual) primary schools. While Polish-speaking schools were hardly affected, a large part of the existing Ukrainian-speaking primary schools were converted into bilingual schools.In fact, as Ukrainian activists argued, these bilingual schools were Polish-speaking schools. Instead of a better understanding between Poles and Ukrainians, the new law further fueled the struggle for Ukrainian schools and intensified nationalist agitation in the countryside. The Ukrainian school association RidnaŠkola (“native school”), for example, labeled the struggle for Ukrainian schools as a “struggle for the souls of the younger generation.” The association campaigned to fight for Ukrainian schools with Ukrainian teachers. For “in whose hands the school is, in those is also the key to the future of the nation.”
Three years later, the Polish government ordered the introduction of Ukrainian as a compulsory subject in Polish gymnasia in areas inhabited by Ukrainians. While Polish nationalists considered this to be a concession to the Ukrainians and strongly protested this measure, Ukrainian activists feared a similar development to that of primary schools. In Kolomyja, the local Ukrainian newspaper Kolomyjs’kiVistyargued that the intention behind the introduction of Ukrainian in the Polish gymnasium was to gradually dismantle the Ukrainian gymnasium. The school association RidnaŠkolafinally considered Ukrainian private schools to be the best means of ensuring an independent Ukrainian education.
Even though efforts for an independent Ukrainian state lapsed after the final integration of East Galicia into the Polish Republic in 1923, minority rights within the Polish Republic remained a contentious issue. The demand for “national education” through schools continued to play a prominent role. This was true not only for Ukrainians, but also for other minorities in the Polish Republic. In Jewish circles, too, “national education” became an increasingly important topic in the interwar period.
We should therefore also take a look at the third (and largest) demographic group in the city of Kolomyja – people who identified primarily as Jews. Kolomyja had become a stronghold of Zionism in Galicia already before the war, and the Zionist movement became even stronger in interwar Poland. Experiences with anti-Semitism in the course of the formation of the Polish state contributed to the distancing of large sections of the Jewish population from assimilation into Polish culture. Interestingly, the Ukrainian gymnasium played a role in this process in Kolomyja. While at the turn of the century Jewish students in Kolomyja, as in other Galician cities, still attended the Polish gymnasium and only sporadically the Ukrainian one, the number of Jewish students at the Ukrainian gymnasium increased significantly around World War I. In 1920, two-thirds of the students of Jewish religion in Kolomyja attended the Ukrainian gymnasium.
The Gazeta Kołomyjskahad a simple explanation for the increasing attractiveness of the Ukrainian gymnasium: in an effort to “artificially” increase the Ukrainian intelligentsia, the Ukrainian gymnasium had lowered performance requirements. While in the local Polish gymnasium only half of the candidates passed the entrance examination, 96 percent allegedly did so in the Ukrainian one. Thus, the Polish newspaper argued, the Ukrainian school owed the growing number of students not least to a mass admission of Jews who had difficulties in the Polish gymnasium. However, this explanation is not entirely convincing as it contradicts another article in the same newspaper. A few months earlier, the Gazeta Kołomyjska lamented the poor results of the students at the local Polish gymnasium and considered Jewish students, who “always finished their studies with the endurance typical of their race,” as serious competitors for the Polish educated middle class. The explanation that Jews attended the Ukrainian grammar school solely because of the lower performance requirements seems to fall short.The argument was obviously primarily aimed at depreciating the Ukrainian gymnasium and underpinning the superiority of Polish culture and education. And it was a desperate attempt to explain why Jewish students chose the Ukrainian school instead of the Polish one. Even though Polish nationalists often accused Jews of “treason” or collaboration with the Ukrainians in the Polish-Ukrainian war, it seemed to them natural that Jews attended Polish schools, as they had done for decades.
Given the political success of Zionists in Kolomyja, we can assume that political preferences played a role in the choice of school. One possible explanation for a decision to attend the Ukrainian gymnasium would be that national-Jewish minded parents feared Polish assimilation of their children in the Polish school. The readiness of Ukrainian activists to recognize Jews as a distinct and equal nationality, as signalled by the Ukrainian authorities in 1918, could also be a factor. This is also suggested by the nationality statistics of the two gymnasia in Kolomyja at the beginning of the 1920s. While in the Polish school students of Jewish religion identified or were identified with the Polish nationality, in the Ukrainian one, most Jewish students did not profess to be of Ukrainian, Polish, or German nationality, but rather of an “other” nationality, which was obviously the Jewish nationality.
Report of the state gymnasium with Ukrainian language of instruction in Kolomyja for the year 1920/21: Statistics on students’ religion and nationality.
The national aspirations of local Jewish activists are also evident in their efforts to found a Jewish gymnasium in Kolomyja. In the mid-1920s, a private Jewish girls gymnasium was finally established in Kolomyja. Nevertheless, the local Zionist newspaper NaszGłosrepeatedly expressed concern for the “national education” of Jewish youth. For the Jewish people, the newspaper argued, national education was even more important than for other peoples: the Jewish people had no state of their own and were scattered across many countries. As traditional Jewish life gradually disappeared, national education for the youth was decisive for the future of the Jewish people. The school was therefore an issue of existential significance. Unfortunately, the school was not fulfilling its national mission. Only a small percentage of Jewish children attended Hebrew or Yiddish schools.
Nasz Głos highlighted the lack of Jewish primary schools: “The huge majority of our children are educated in primary schools without the slightest opportunity to learn the language and culture of their own people.” But it was not much better in secondary school. The Zionist newspaper cited the local Jewish girls’ gymnasium as a drastic example and argued that, unlike other Jewish schools, its curriculum did not include any Hebrew lessons and did not differ from non-Jewish schools. Moreover, in Kolomyja’s Jewish gymnasium, Sunday rather than Saturday was the day off from school. Nasz Głos considered this to be unique for a Jewish school in Poland, and probably for the whole world. However, even though the local Zionist newspaper denounced the situation in Kolomyja in particular, it saw it as part of a broader problem. Overall, the Zionist newspaper blamed not only directors and teachers for the lack of national education, but the entire Jewish society. Jewish society and politicians – at the local level as well as at the state level – would pay far too little attention to the school: “Like society, like school.” Nasz Głos considered this indifference to issues of education to be a serious threat to the future of the Jewish nation: “Like school, like society.”
Overall, local political activists shared the conviction that school was crucial to the development of society. It should not only serve as a means of social mobility and educate young people to be good citizens, but above all promote the formation of nations. In multiethnic Eastern Galicia, conflicts on educational issues dated back to the late Habsburg period, but intensified in the interwar period. On the one hand, the integration of Eastern Galicia into a Polish nation-state reinforced Polish claims of cultural hegemony in the region. On the other hand, these claims were increasingly challenged— not only by Ukrainians, but also by Jews.
DAIFO [State Archives of Ivano-Frankivsk Region]
- 537 [State gymnasium with Ukrainian language of instruction in the city of Kolomyja]
- 571 [State gymnasium “King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk” in the city of Kolomyja]
Gazeta Kołomyjska, 1922–1923
Kolomyjs’ki Visty, 1927
Pokuts’ke Slovo, 1927
Pokuts’kyj Vistnyk, 1919
Nasz Głos, 1927–1930
Sprawozdanie Dyrekcyic.k. I. wyższego gimnazyum w Kołomyi za rokszkolny 1903/4 (Kołomyja 1904)
Zvit Dyrekcyjic.k. II. gimazyji v Kolomyji za rikškil’nyj 1903/1904 (Kolomyja 1904)
Janowski, Maciej. „Polnische Sprache, österreichischer Geist? Der Streit um nationale Erziehung in Galizien (1891-1941).“ In Místo národních jazyků ve výchově, školství a vědě v habsburgské monarchii 1867–1918: sborník z konference (Praha, 18.–19. listopadu 2002), editedby Harald Binder, Barbora Křivohlavá and LubošVelek, 103–117 (Praha 2003).
Kočeržuk, Myroslava V. Ukraïnsʹka deržavna himnazija v Kolomiï: 1892–1944 (Kolomyja 2011).
Świeboda, Józef. “SzkolnictwoUkaińskie w Galicji (1772–1918). Stan badań i potzreby.” In Myśledukacyjna w Galicji 1772–1918: ciągłość i zmiana, edited by Czesław Majorek and Andrzej Meissner, 271-291 (Rzeszów 1996).
[i]A special thanks to Kathryn Cianciaand Christopher Wendt for useful remarks on previous versions of this text.
In the late 19th century, when the Ukrainian national movement became more and more popular in Galicia, the traditional self-designation Rusyn (“Ruthenian”) was gradually replaced by the self-designation “Ukrainian”. From World War I, the term “Ukrainians” also prevailed in the German- and Polish-speaking public. However, the official name remained “Ruthenians”– both in the Habsburg Monarchy and in the Polish Republic.
See Świeboda,“SzkolnictwoUkaińskie,“ p. 290f.
 State gymnasia were generally boys‘ schools in Galicia. Girls were only admitted as private or guest students. However, there were some private girls‘ gymnasia, including the Polish-speaking girl’s gymnasium of the Order of Saint Ursula in Kolomyja. A Ukrainian-speaking private girls‘ gymnasium was founded in the interwar period in Kolomyja.
 Ukrainian state building in the former Habsburg and in the former Russian territories were largely separate processes. In January 1919, the West Ukrainian People’s Republic officially united with the Ukrainian People’s Republic (which was built in – former Russian – eastern Ukraine). This was mostly a symbolic act, however.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, October 27, 1923, p. 3.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, November 10, 1923, p. 2.
 See Janowski, „Polnische Sprache, österreichischer Geist?,“p. 105f.
Pokuts’kyj Vistnyk, January 2, 1919,p. 1f.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, November 3, 1923, p. 1f; cf. Gazeta Kołomyjska, October 27, 1923, p. 3.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, November 10, 1923, p. 2.
Kolomyjs’ki Visty, November 30, 1927, p. 1.
Kolomyjs’ki Visty, October 15, 1927, p. 3, and October 29, 1927, p. 2.
Cf. the annual reports of the Ukrainian and the Polish gymnasium in 1920/21 and 1921/22, DAIFO, f. 537 and f. 571.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, November 3, 1923, p. 1f.
Gazeta Kołomyjska, February 10, 1923, p. 2.
Kočeržuk, Ukraïnsʹkaderžavnahimnazija, p. 96, provides another explanation for the increase of Jewish students at the Ukrainian gymnasium in Kolomyja: During the West Ukrainian People’s Republic the Polish gymnasium in Kolomyja was closed for a few months. Therefore, many students changed from the Polish to the Ukrainian gymnasium and remained there even after the end of Ukrainian rule. However, this cannot fully explain the phenomenon. On the one hand, a gradual increase of Jewish students had begun even before the war. On the other hand, the number of Jewish students who entered the Ukrainian gymnasium in 1919/1920– that is after the end of Ukrainian rule– was still relatively high.
Nasz Głos, November 11, 1927, 1.
Nasz Głos, May 30, 1930, 2f.
Nasz Głos, November 11, 1927, 1.