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Gorals of Żywiec (2008)

The Gorale ( ; ; Cieszyn Silesian: Gorole; literally "highlanders") are a group of indigenous people found along southern Polandmarker, northern Slovakiamarker, and in the region of Cieszyn Silesia in the Czech Republicmarker. There is also a significant Goral diaspora in the area of Bukovina in what is today Western Ukraine and northern Romaniamarker, as well as Chicagomarker, the seat of the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America.


In Polandmarker they live in the region of Podhale of the Tatra Mountainsmarker and parts of the Beskidsmarker (Cieszyn Silesia, Silesian Beskids, Żywiec Beskidsmarker). In present-day Slovakiamarker they live in 4 separate groups: in northern Spiš (34 villages subdivided in two groups), Orava and Kysuce (2 villages) and smaller groups in 7 other enclave villages in northern Slovakia.

Origin and language, dialect

Gorals share similarities with other Slavic highlander groups, including Hutsuls, Lemkos, and Boykos. The various dialects spoken by the Gorals descend from Proto-Slavic from the Eastern Lechitic, Old Polish area, superimposed by Slovak. In other words, the language is of Polish origin, but has been influenced by Slovak in recent centuries. In addition to Polish, the language contains some vocabulary of other origins, including Slovak, Vlach, and words of uncertain origin that have cognates in other languages of the Carpathian region. It has been proposed that some Goral words such as magura ("mountain/hill") and vatra ("fireplace") may have an Illyrian or Dacian origin, however, little is known about these now-extinct languages. Mazurzenie may occur.

Substratum words of Vlach origin suggest that Gorals have been in contact with Balkan peoples, through trade or cultural interactions. Some Vlachs may even have settled in this area of the Carpathian Mountainsmarker between the 14th to 17th centuries, and then merged with the Goral population.

National identity

For most Gorals today, the decisive factor in their self-identification with a nationality is not ethnic but territorial. For example, those living in areas under a long tradition of belonging to the Polish state identify themselves as Polish, while those living in Slovakia have identified themselves as Slovaks, with notable exceptions to this rule on both sides of the border. While the origin of the Goral dialect is Polish, the language of Gorals in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic is gradually shifting and increasingly becoming more similar to the literary standard in their respective countries. Gorals of the Czech Republic identify themselves on the nationality level as Poles and are members of the Polish minority in Zaolzie, which is proved by their communal activity - annual Gorolski Święto festival held in Jablunkovmarker (Jabłonków) is a showcase of a local Polish Gorol traditions and is organized by the PZKO (Polish Cultural and Educational Union). This Gorol festival preserves the traditions of the Polish nationality group in Zaolzie. It is the largest cultural and folklore festival in Zaolzie area gathering thousands of spectators each day of festivities.

However, in none of the towns and villages of the area the Poles form a majority and some local Gorals identify themselves on the nationality level as Czechs. In this respect the village of Hrčavamarker (the second easternmost village in the Czech Republic), with vast majority of citizens declaring Czech nationality, can be mentioned. In this village the Poles form only a 2% minority.

Local Gorals formed (as indigenous people) a majority in the past. They speak the regional dialect in everyday communication.

Historically, the issue of their ethnic identity has been controversial and resulted in claims and counterclaims by both Polandmarker and Czechoslovakiamarker. Gorals, like many other peasant communities in Central Europe, determined their own ethnic identities within the nation state system during the 19th and early 20th century . Although nationalist propaganda was generated by both Poles and Slovaks, this process of the Gorals' identification with a nationality was still not complete when the border was finalized in 1924. A notable example were Ferdynand Machay, a priest born in Jabłonka, Orava, Piotr Borowy from Rabčamarker, Orava and Wojciech Halczyn from Lendakmarker, Spiš, who went to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 and, during a personal audience, lobbied president Thomas Woodrow Wilson to sign these lands over to Polandmarker. After the world wars, some of the Gorals who had opted for a different national identity to the state they found themselves in emigrated to their chosen side of the border. On the other hand, in the present day, some Gorals opt for the ethnic identity of the neighbouring state, rather than the one they live in .

Gorals in a wider sense

In a wider sense Gorals refers to an ethnographic (or even ethnic) group comprising certain highlanders in the northern Carpathiansmarker, more precisely these ethnic groups:
  • Hutsuls (in Ukraine and Romania)
  • Lemkos (in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine)
  • Boykos (in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia)

Notable Gorals

See also


  1. For a better idea of the issue see either Kevin Hannan's work Borders of Language and Identity in Teschen Silesia or works by the Slovak linguist Katarína Kriššákova.
  2. History of Gorolski Święto for foreign visitors
  3. Czech Statistical Office (2001 census)
  4. Hannan, Kevin (1996). Borders of Language and Identity in Teschen Silesia. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-3365-9

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