|Several million (of which about 0.9 million official declared Silesian nationality in national census in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia).|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Poland: 2 million, of which 847,000 officially declared Silesian nationality
Czech Republic: no data, 21,556 declared Silesian nationality
Germany: unknown (historical data: 3.6 million in 1950; 2.4 million Silesians in West Germany in 1970).
|Silesian, Polish, German, Czech.|
|Roman Catholicism, Lutheran Protestantism, Non-religious|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Poles, Czechs, Sorbs, Other West Slavs, Germans, Austrians|
Silesians (Silesian: Ślůnzoki; Silesian German: Schläsinger; Polish: Ślązacy; Czech: Slezané; German: Schlesier) are the inhabitants of Silesia, a region divided by the current boundaries of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. It is also considered that Silesians belong to a Polish ethnographic group, and speak a dialect of Polish. They are of Slavic extraction; but because Silesia for a long time belonged to Germany, they have been deeply influenced by German culture.
There have been some debates on whether or not a group of Silesians (historically Upper Silesians) constitute a distinct nation. In modern history, they have been often pressured to declare themselves to be German or Polish or Czech and embrace the language of the current governing nation. Nevertheless, 847,000 people declared Silesian nationality in the Polish national census in 2011 (including 376,000 who declared it as their only nationality, 436,000 who declared it as their first nationality, 411,000 who declared it as the second one, and 431,000 who declared it jointly with Polish nationality (173,153 in Poland in 2002), maintaining its position as the largest minority group. About 126,000 people declared themselves as members of the German minority (58,000 declared it jointly with Polish nationality), making it the third largest minority group in the country (93% of Germans in Poland live in the Polish part of Silesia). 12,231 people declared Silesian nationality in the Czech national census in 2011 (44,446 in Czechoslovakia in 1991) and 6,361 people declared Silesian and Moravian nationality in the Slovak national census.
During the German occupation of Poland in 1940, Nazi authorities conducted a census in the East Upper Silesia. 157,057 people declared Silesian nationality (Slonzaken Volk), whereas the Silesian language was declared by 288,445 people. However, the "Silesian nationality" (Slonzaken Volk) could only be declared in the Cieszyn part of region (before World War I part of Austria-Hungary), while approximately 400,000–500,000 respondents from the other areas of East Upper Silesia, that before World War I were parts of Prussia, who declared "Upper Silesian nationality" (Oberschlesier), were assigned to the German nationality category. After World War II in Poland, the 1945 census of the population showed a sizeable group of people in Upper Silesia that declared Silesian nationality. For instance, according to police reports, in Zabrze around 22% and in Strzelce County (both in the Recovered Territories) around 50% of the population considered themselves Silesian.
Words to create an organization – the League of Silesia, whose members were encouraged Silesian nationality – were first publicly put forward on the wave of the Spring of Nations. Its author was painter and poet Jan Gajda, who published his "Appeal to the people of Upper Silesia" (Odezwa do ludu górnośląskiego) on 7 April 1849 in the Journal of Upper Silesia. Later, the term Silesian nationality appeared both in the Prussian Upper Silesia, as well as Austrian Silesia, but until 1908 none of them was not clear. Emergence of the Silesian People's Party in 1908 initiated the struggle for national and countries identity of Silesians. At the international talks on the future of Silesia, Józef Kożdoń (leader of Silesian People's Party) stipulated the creation of an independent state of Silesia. The idea attracted the International Commission, but have fallen due to protest the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and the representative of France - Grenard. Silesian People's Party cooperated with the Union of Upper Silesians, who also support as a national identity Upper Silesians, advocated the creation of an independent, neutral Republic of Upper Silesia on the model of Switzerland and Belgium, reaching in 1921 the number of about half a million members (half the adult population). In 1918 secret Committee of the Upper Silesian, distributed unsigned underground leaflets calling for the establishment of an independent Republic of the Upper Silesia. In 1925–1934, the Association of Upper Silesians Defense (Związek Obrony Górnoślązaków) demanded recognition of Silesian nationality, as a national minority in Poland.
Archaeological findings of the 20th century in Silesia confirm an early settlement by Celtic tribes.
Before the 5th century, Silesia was probably inhabited by the Germanic Silingi. Tacitus in his description of Magna Germania mentions Suevi: Marsigni, Osi, Gothini, Burii in what later became Silesia and Burgundiones and Lygii at the Vistula.
The Slavs entered Silesia in the first half of the 7th century. The territories were mostly abandoned because the Celtic and Germanic tribes that dwelt there before had earlier moved west. Chronologically, the first group of Slavs were those that earlier dwelt by the Dnieper River, the second one was the Sukov-Dzidzice type Slavs, and the last were groups of Avaro-Slavic peoples from the Danube river areas. In the early 9th century, the settlement stabilized. Local Slavs started to erect defence systems such as Silesian Przesieka and the Silesia Walls to guard them from the peoples of the West. The north-eastern border with Slavic Polans was not defended due to their common culture and language.
The 9th-century Bavarian Geographer records the tribal names of the Opolanie, Dadosesani, Golenzizi, Lupiglaa and the Ślężanie. The 1086 Prague Document, that is believed to show the 10th-century settlement situation, mentions also the Bobrzanie and Trzebowianie tribes. Later sources classified those tribes as Silesian tribes which were also jointly classified as part of Polish tribes. The reason for this classification was the "fundamentally common culture and language" of Silesian, Polan, Masovian, Vistulan and Pomeranian tribes that "were considerably more closely related to one another than were the Germanic tribes."
According to anthropologist V. I. Kozlov in Perspectives on Ethnicity edited by R. Holloman, the Silesian tribes, together with other Polish tribes, formed what is now Polish ethnicity and culture. This process is called ethnic consolidation, in which several ethnic communities, of kindred origin and cognate languages, merge into a single one.
The territory they lived on became part of the Great Moravia in 875 and later, in 990, first Polish state created by duke Mieszko I and then expanded by king Boleslaw I at the beginning of the 11th century, who in the year 1000 established the Bishopric of Wrocław. In those days, the eastern border of Silesian tribes settlement was situated to the west of the gród Bytom, and east from Racibórz and Cieszyn. East from this line dwelled other closely related Slavic tribes – Wiślanie.
In the Middle Ages, Slavic tribal confederacies and then Slavic states dominated, Silesia was part of Moravia, then Bohemia and finally the Piast monarchy of Poland. The tribal differences started to disappear after the unification of Poland in the 10th and 11th centuries. The main factors of these process were the establishment of a single monarchy that ruled over all Polish tribes as well as creation of a separate ecclesiastical organization within the boundaries of the newly established Polish state. In the course of the 12th century the remaining tribal differences within regions were almost entirely gone. The names of the smaller tribes disappear from the annals of history as well as the names of some prominent tribes (Vistulans, Polans). However, in some places, names of the most important tribes transform into names of the whole regions (Mazovians for Mazovia, Silesians for Silesia). As a result of the fragmentation of Poland some of those regions were again divided into smaller entities (e.g. Silesia into Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia), however the tribal era was already over and these divisions reflected only political subdivisions of the Polish realm. Within Poland, from 1177 onward, Silesia was divided into many smaller duchies. In 1178, parts of the Duchy of Kraków around Bytom, Oświęcim, Chrzanów and Siewierz were transferred to the Silesian Piasts, yet their population was of Vistulan and not of Silesian descent. Parts of those territories were bought by the Polish kings in the second half of the 15th century but the Bytom area remained in the possession of the Silesian Piasts, even though it remained a part of the Diocese of Kraków. Between 1327 and 1348 duchies of Silesia came under suzerainty of the Crown of Bohemia, and passed with that crown to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526.
Beginning in the 13th century, Slavic Silesia began to be settled by Germans. This led to changes in the ethnic structure of the province. Already in the Middle Ages, various German dialects of the new-come settlers became widely used throughout Lower Silesia and some Upper Silesian cities. However, after the era of German colonization, the Polish language was still predominant in Upper Silesia and parts of Lower and Middle Silesia north of the Odra river. Germans usually dominated in large cities and Poles lived mostly in rural areas. This required the Prussian authorities to issue some official documents in Polish or both in German and Polish. The Polish-speaking territories of Lower and Middle Silesia, commonly described until the end of the 19th century as the Polish side, were mostly Germanized in the 18th and 19th centuries, except for some areas along the northeastern frontier.
In 1742, most of Silesia was seized in the War of the Austrian Succession by King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who in his first declaration to the Silesians named himself a 'Piast prince' (he was in fact a remote descendant). The remainder of Silesia or Cieszyn Silesia stayed within the Austrian Empire. The Prussian part of Silesia constituted the Province of Silesia (later the Prussian provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia) until 1918. Owing to the development of education, a rebirth of Polish culture took place in the second half of the nineteenth century in Silesia, connected with the emergence of a Polish national movement of clearly Catholic character. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the fact that Silesians were part of Polish nation was not questioned. The language and culture of the self-declared Polish Silesians were put under the pressure of the Prussian state's Kulturkampf policies, attempting to make Germans out of them in culture as well as in language. The process of Germanisation was never completely successful. The cultural distance of Upper Silesians from the German population favoured the development, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of Polish national awareness, culminating in the pro-Polish movements at the end of World War I.
After the Silesian Uprisings, the eastern minor, but richer part of Upper Silesia became part of newly restored Poland, the most of the part that had remained under the rule of Habsburgs following the 1742 war came to Czechoslovakia, while Lower Silesia and most of Upper Silesia remained within Germany. The ethnic situation of the region became more complex as the division of Upper Silesia into Polish and German parts led to ethnic polarization. The people that lived in the western part of Upper Silesia were subject to a strong German cultural influence, whereas those living in eastern part of Silesia started to identify with the Polish culture and statehood.
World War II and its aftermath amplified this polarization. Three groups took shape within the Silesian population: The Polish tendency was the strongest; the German tendency, which appeared primarily in central Silesia, was clearly less numerous. A third group espoused separatism and an independent Silesian nation-state. The separatists were of marginal importance, finding little support among native Silesians.
The reasons for those transitions were boundary shifts and population changes that followed World War II. In its result, the vast majority of formerly German Silesia was incorporated into Poland, with smaller regions remaining in the German Democratic Republic (later in unified Germany), and Czechoslovakia (most of Cieszyn Silesia). Millions of Silesians (mostly of German ethnicity) were subsequently expelled, but those Silesians classified by the Polish communist authorities as "autochthons", in fact also the expelled Silesians were autochthons of Silesia, or "ethnic Poles insufficiently aware of their Polishness" were allowed to remain (and intensely polonized), after being sifted out from the ethnic Germans by a process of "national verification".
Under the care of the Red Cross between 1955 and 1959, some of the remaining Silesians had the possibility to emigrate to West and East Germany for a family reunification with their families in Germany. But some had to wait for years. Until 1989, nearly 600,000 Silesians emigrated to Germany.
In 1945–49, millions of ethnic Poles from former (pre-1939) eastern Poland (especially Lviv, Volhynia, Podolia, Vilnius, etc.) and central Poland moved into Silesia, especially Lower Silesia. Since the end of Communist rule in Poland, there have been calls for greater political representation for the Silesian ethnic minority. In 1997, a Katowice law court registered the Union of People of Silesian Nationality (ZLNS) as the political representative organization of the Silesian ethnic minority, but after two months the registration was revoked by a regional court.
The Slavic Silesian language (or often Upper Silesian) is spoken by the Silesian ethnic group or nationality inside Polish Upper Silesia. According to the last census in Poland (2011), some 509,000 people declared Silesian as their native language; however, as many as 817,000 people declared to be of Silesian nationality, not necessarily speaking Silesian, even though such nationality has not been recognized by Polish governments since its creation in 1945.
There is some contention over whether Silesian is a dialect or a language in its own right. Most Polish linguists consider Silesian to be a prominent regional dialect of Polish. However, many Silesians regard it as a separate language belonging to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages, together with Polish and other Lechitic languages, as well as Upper and Lower Sorbian, Czech and Slovak. In July 2007, the Silesian language was officially recognized by the Library of Congress and SIL International. The language was attributed an ISO code: SZL. The first official dictation contest of the Silesian language took place in August 2007.
Although the German language is still spoken in Silesia, as it has a sizable minority of speakers in the Opole Voivodship in Poland, the vast majority of native speakers were expelled during or after 1945. Therefore, the number of speakers of German in the region was radically and significantly decreased after centuries of settlement after the Second World War. The Silesian German dialect is a distinct variety of East Central German, with some West Slavic influence likely caused by centuries of contact between Germans and Slavs in the region and related in some ways to contemporary Saxon. The Silesian German dialect is often referred to as Lower Silesian in the German language. The usage of this dialect appears to be decreasing, as most German Silesians prefer either Standard German or Polish.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Silesians.|
- Tomasz Kamusella. The Szlonzoks and their Language: Between Germany, Poland and Szlonzokian Nationalism