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Easter by the Quiet Stream

The villagers of Tichy Potok welcome the opportunity to celebrate Easter in a free, independent Slovakia.

text and photographs by Jacqueline Ruyak

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It is Good Friday and my interpreter Blanka Sperkova and I are standing with Mayor Lubica Dzuganova outside her office in Tichy Potok, a Ruthenian village in eastern Slovakia. A band of young boys runs by, twirling the wooden ratchet noisemakers used instead of church bells on this day. I ask the mayor about the crest on the wall of the village hall, which shows a pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young.

“The people of Tichy Potok are said to be like this pelican: they will sacrifice of themselves, yet give you everything,” explains Ms. Dzuganova, an open-faced woman in her early thirties.

“People here have always been known for their generosity. This has been the village crest for centuries, even though pelicans are not found in the region.”

Tichy Potok is located on the upper reaches of the Torysa River, in the foothills of the scenic Levoca Mountains. The first written mention of the village, colonized by Germans then settled by Ruthenians from what is now Ukraine, dates to 1427. The village was originally named Stillbach (Quiet Stream), which was later Slavicized to Stelbach. Early settlers made their living as shepherds, but by the 16th century most residents were farmers and cattle breeders who relied on lumber from the surrounding forests to supplement their livelihoods.

In 1890, the population of Tichy Potok peaked at almost 800 inhabitants. That number declined sharply after 1954, when the Czechoslovak government announced plans to build a dam just upriver from the village, renamed Tichy Potok in 1948. Village development was in effect blighted for the next 40 years while the government vacillated over the proposal, which called for the forced evacuation of Tichy Potok and five other villages in the area.

With the arrival of a democratic and independent Slovakia in the 1990’s, however, locals dared to organize a highly visible grassroots opposition campaign, led by a dedicated nongovernmental organization, People and Water. This, their first-ever exercise in community action and democratic policy-making, was successful and in 1996 the Slovak government dropped the dam project. By then, however, population in the region had dwindled from about 6,000 to 1,500.

Today Tichy Potok has a population of 397; of those, 120 are 60 or older and 117 are 18 or younger. During the decades in limbo, new housing was not permitted and most young people left for security elsewhere. Forestry remains the main source of income. More than 70 percent of the village is Greek Catholic; most are Ruthenian.

Mayor Dzuganova has arranged for us to have lunch with Anna Kiktava, a village elder and weaver. Anna’s daughter, who is home for the holidays, joins us and we are served by Anna’s visiting granddaughter, who studies hotel service. Anna sits at the table with an empty plate. Following Greek Catholic custom, she eats only bread and water. For the rest of us, the delicious vegetarian lunch includes onion soup with potatoes and chives, potato pancakes flavored with garlic and marjoram, walnut kiffles, poppyseed and jam crescents and mint tea.

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Tags: Village life Easter Slovakia Carpatho-Rusyn Central Europe