The Lusatians are descended from the Slavic Wends, and part of the population, particularly in the Spree Forest, still speaks Wendish and has preserved traditional dress and customs. The region was colonized by the Germans beginning in the 10th cent. and was constituted into the margraviates of Upper and Lower Lusatia. Both margraviates changed hands frequently among Saxony, Bohemia, and Brandenburg. In 1346 several towns of the region formed the Lusatian League and preserved considerable independence. Under the Treaty of Prague (1635) all of Lusatia passed to Saxony. The Congress of Vienna awarded (1815) Lower Lusatia and a large part of Upper Lusatia to Prussia. After World War II the Lusatian Wends (or Sorbs, as they are also called) sought unsuccessfully to obtain national recognition.
Lusatia (Lausitz, , , Łużyce, Lužice) is a historical region between the Bóbr and Kwisa rivers and the Elbe river in the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg, south-western Poland (Lower Silesian Voivodeship) and the northern Czech Republic.
The name derives from a Sorbian word meaning "swamps" or "water-hole".
Upper Lusatia is characterised by fertile soil and undulating hills as well as by historic towns and cities such as Bautzen, Görlitz, Zittau, Löbau, Kamenz, Lubań, Bischofswerda, Herrnhut, Hoyerswerda, Bad Muskau. Many villages in the very south of Upper Lusatia contain a typical attraction of the region, the so-called Umgebindehäuser, half-timbered-houses representing a combination of Franconian and Slavic style. Among those villages are Niedercunnersdorf, Obercunnersdorf, Wehrsdorf, Jonsdorf, Sohland an der Spree, Taubenheim, Oppach, Varnsdorf or Ebersbach.
Most of the area belonging to the German state of Brandenburg today is called Lower Lusatia (Niederlausitz or Dolna Łužyca) and is characterised by forests and meadows. In the course of much of the 19th and the entire 20th century, it was shaped by the lignite industry and extensive open-pit mining. Important towns include Cottbus, Lübben, Lübbenau, Spremberg, Finsterwalde, and Senftenberg - Zły Komorow.
Between Upper and Lower Lusatia is a region called Grenzwall, meaning 'border-wall'. In the Middle Ages this area had dense forests, so it represented a major obstacle to civilian and military traffic. Some of the region's villages were damaged or destroyed by the open-pit lignite mining industry managed by Communist East Germany. Some, now exhausted, former open-pit mines are now being converted into artificial lakes, with much hope to attract vacationers, and the area is now being referred to as Lausitzer Seenland ('Lusatian Lakeland').
More than 60,000 of the Sorbian Slavic minority continue to live in the region. Historically their ancestors are the Milceni and the Lusitzer, and not the Sorbs, that settled in the region between Elbe and Saale. Many still speak their language (though numbers are dwindling and Lower Sorbian especially is considered endangered), and road signs are usually bilingual. However, note that the number of all the inhabitants of this part of eastern Saxony is fast declining, 20% in the last 10 to 15 years. Sorbians try to protect their typical culture shown in traditional clothes and styles of villages houses. The coal industry in the region, needing vast areas of land, destroyed dozens of Lusatian villages in the past and threatens some of them even now. The Sorbian language is taught in many primary and some secondary schools and at two universities (Leipzig and Prague). Project "Witaj" ("welcome!") is a project of eight preschools where Sorbian is currently the main language for a few hundred Lusatian children.
According to the earliest records, the area was settled by Celtic tribes. Later, around 100 BC, the Germanic tribe of the Semnones settled in that area. Around AD 600 a Slavic people known as the Milceni settled permanently in the region. As part of the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne, the territory was administered as Gaus. With the first Poles in about 928, Germans and Poles began struggling for administration of the region. Lusatia changed hands repeatedly, belonging in turn to Samo's Empire, Great Moravia, and Czech Kingdom of Bohemia. Margrave of Lausitz Gero II, lost Lusatia in 1002, the year the Emperor Otto III died, and the Polish Duke Boleslaw I took the region in his conquests. Lusatia became part of his territory in 1018 until it was regained by the Saxon German rulers and the principalities of Meissen and Brandenburg less than twenty years later. In 1076 Emperor Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire awarded Lusatia as a fief to the Bohemian duke Vratislav II. Around 1200 large numbers of German settlers came to Lusatia, settling in the forested areas yet not settled by the Slavs. Upper Lusatia remained under Bohemian rule until the Thirty Years' War when it became part of Saxony. In 1815 Upper Lusatia was divided, with the eastern part around Görlitz now belonging to Prussia. Following the Lutheran Reformation, Lusatia became Protestant but especially the Sorbs stayed mainly Catholic till today. Herrnhut, between Löbau and Zittau, founded in 1722 by religious refugees from Moravia on the estate of Count von Zinzendorf became the starting point of the organized Protestant missionary movement in 1732 and missionaries went out from the Moravian Church in Herrnhut to all corners of the world to share the Gospel.
In 1945 the eastern part of Lusatia rejoined Saxony and in 1952, when the state of Saxony was divided into three administrative areas, Upper Lusatia became part of the Dresden administrative region. 1990 the state of Saxony was reestablished.
In 1635 most of Lusatia became a province of Saxony, except for a region around Cottbus possessed since 1462 by Brandenburg. After the Elector of Saxony was elected king of Poland in 1697, Lusatia became strategically important as the electors-kings sought to create a land connection between their Polish and Saxon realms.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815, awarded most of Lusatia the Kingdom of Prussia, except for the southern part that included Löbau, Kamenz, Bautzen and Zittau, all of which remained part of Saxony. The Lusatians in Prussia demanded that their land become a distinct administrative unit (province or region/Bezirk), but it was divided between several Prussian provinces instead.
The 19th and early 20th centuries, under Prussian rule, witnessed an era of cultural revival for Slavic Lusatians. The modern languages of Upper and Lower Lusatian (or Sorbian) emerged, national literature flourished, and many national organizations like Maćica Serbska and Domowina were founded.
This era came to an end during the Nazi regime in Germany, when all Sorbian-Lusatian organizations were abolished and forbidden, the newspapers and magazines closed, and any use of the Sorbian-Lusatian languages was prohibited. During World War II, most Lusatian activists were arrested, executed, exiled or sent as political prisoners to concentration camps where most of them died. From 1942 to 1944 the underground Lusatian National Committee was formed and was active in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. After World War II, however, Lusatia was divided between East Germany and Poland along the Neisse River. Poland's communist government expelled all Germans and Sorbs from the area east of the Neisse River during 1945 and 1946.
There have been endeavours by Sorbs to create a Lusatian Free State in the past -- particularly after World War II, when the Sorbian National Committee demanded the attachment of Lusatia to Czechoslovakia and the Expulsion of the German majority. The Domowina however opposed this idea and favoured a future inside Germany. In 1950 the Sorbs obtained language and cultural autonomy within the then East German state of Saxony. Lusatian schools and magazines were launched and the Domowina association was revived, although under increasing political control of the ruling Communist Party. The local institutions supported the revival of regional Sorbian-Lusatian arts and culture. At the same time, the large German-speaking majority of the Upper Lusatian population kept up a considerable degree of local, 'Upper Lusatian' patriotism of its own. An attempt to establish a Upper Lusatian land within the Federal Republic of Germany failed after the German reunification in 1990. The constitutions of Saxony and Brandenburg guarantee cultural autonomy to the Slavic speaking communities. In 2005 Sorbian activists founded the Sorbian People's Party (Serbska Ludowa Strona - SLS).
Total number: 93,032
The number of Sorbs in Lusatia has substantially decreased since then, due to intermarriage, cultural assimilation due to industrialization and urbanization, Nazi suppression and discrimination and after World War II the settlement of expelled Germans mainly from Lower Silesia and Northern Bohemia.