This may be of some interest to those with Lwow connections
UKRAINIAN CITY LVIV WANTS TO RECLAIM ITS PAST
Was once as European as the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Became just another battered and tragic city in the Soviet Union.
EUROPA: By Richard Bernstein, International Herald Tribune (IHT)
Neuilly Cedex, France, Thursday, November 17, 2005
LVIV - Ukraine Beautiful but poor is a common shorthand description of
this city of 800,000 people in western Ukraine, and it takes only a
few hours here to sense the accuracy of the phrase.Lviv, which was
once as European as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and wishes to be part
of Europe again, is not in Europe, at least not as defined by the
border of the European Union, though it is a mere 70 kilometers
This is the periphery. Here is where Europe officially ends, even if
the end has an arbitrary, technical quality to it.The plain fact is
that there seems no particular coherence to the reality that the
Polish city of Chelm, just on the other side of the Bug River from
here, is part of Europe, while Lviv is not. Both, after all, were
cities in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, Lviv bigger and
vastly more important than Chelm.
Both were part of Poland for something on the order of 500 years,
including at least a few decades of the 20th century, before the
Nazis invaded and then Stalin moved the territory of Ukraine to the
West, and Lviv became just another battered and tragic city in the
Soviet Union.But Lviv also reflects how borders become, as they say
in the Middle East,"facts," and facts are reality, and Lviv's
European aspiration takes place in defiance of some of the most
important elements of that reality.
It is a city in a different time zone from the EU, literally and
figuratively, one hour later than Chelm, Krakow and, for that matter
Madrid,a quarter-century or so behind in other measures.In this
sense, there isn't much news to report from Lviv, news in the
conventional meaning of events, changes, upheavals, investments. To
visit here, at least for me, was more to be reminded of the weight of
recent history. Lviv belongs in Europe, and, as the acting mayor of
the town,Zinovyj Siryk, confidently predicted of Ukraine in
general, "After Poland,we are next."
But at the same time, there is so much heavy residue of the basic
fact of Lviv's recent past: that it was ripped in an untimelyway from
the European womb, and many things about it - from the Stalinist
Greek temple airport with its columns and cupola to the generalized
dilapidation - are emblems of that rupture.
"It's a real border, not just a line," Andrij Yurash, a scholar of
religion at the university here said, referring to the nearby border
with Poland."There's a real difference economically," he continued,
and he provided a striking statistic.According to Yurash, Lviv's city
budget is about one-tenth that of Krakow,the other big formerly
Galician city about 300 kilometers, nearly 200 miles,to the west of
here in Poland.
"It's the heritage of the Soviet period," he said, "because the whole
network of economic relations was destroyed here." To walk the
streets of Lviv, a year after Ukraine's Orange Revolution gave
national expression to the country's preference for the European zone
of civilization over the Russian, produces something akin to a time-
capsule sensation. The airport, with its eerily near empty tarmac,
reminded me a bitof China in the early 1980s, when that country was
just emerging from its Stalinist-Maoist isolation.
The hotel I stayed in, the George, built around the turn of the 20th
century to be the epitome of elegance and modernity, is spacious and
grand. You could almost hear the Belle Époque music and the clinking
of glasses when the Galician capital of Lviv was a major boom town of
the Austro-Hungarian Empire.Now the place, like Lviv itself, is clean
and adequate, but threadbare,melancholy, eerily empty like the
tarmac, practically calling out for an investor.
"We also think that Lviv was ripped away from Europe," Halyna
Tershchuk,a reporter for Radio Liberty, the U. S.-sponsored radio
network, said. "We would like Kiev to understand that the
headquarters of European institutions have to be in Lviv. It must be
a bridge between Europe and Ukraine. We need branches of banks here,
diplomatic missions, trade organizations, hotel
She said that in places like Poland, foreign investment in newspapers
and broadcasting stations helped create independence in the news
media, while in Ukraine in general, most of the press is too attached
to particular political parties to be seen as genuinely independent.
A local historian, Vasyl Rasevych, gave a demographic dimension to the
rupture with the past. "You have to remember that after World War II,
90 percent of the population of Lviv changed," he said. "The Jews were
eliminated. The Poles went to Poland. And before World War II, 50
percent of the population was Polish, 30 percent was Jewish."
When Stalin grabbed Western Ukraine for the Soviet empire, Red Army
officers helped themselves to the homes and apartments of the city's
better- off people. Factories were moved here with their personnel
from farther east to replenish the depleted population. "Up until the
1960s," Rasevych said,"Lviv was a Russian-speaking city."
Well, Lviv speaks Ukrainian now, which is an element of revival. I
found it very moving in this city where some 200,000 Jews were
annihilated to visit the kindergarten at Hesed Arje, the recently
created Jewish community center, simply to see Jewish children
playing, blissfully ignorant of course of the inconceivable starkness
of the past.
Here and there in Lviv are other signs of renewal: the restoration of
one of the city's many exquisite Italianate buildings, a new coffee
shop,reminiscent of Vienna, even the McDonald's around the corner
from the George Hotel.Still, there is nothing like the wholesale
sandblasting and renewal that took place in, say, Prague after the
communist dictators were thrown out there.
Lviv hasn't had a Soviet dictator for 15 years and, like the rest of
Ukraine, it got rid of its pro-Russian autocrat, Leonid Kuchma, last
year.Its many churches, including several world- class gems, are
emblems of its European spirit, as is the big statue of the Polish
poet Adam Mickiewicz right in the middle of the old city.If the heavy
hand of the Soviet dictatorship hadn't left such a powerful imprint
on Lviv, where Joseph Roth went to university and where Sholom
Aleichem, the originator of "Fiddler on the Roof," wrote some of his
stories, this city would almost automatically belong to the European
Maybe, as Acting Mayor Siryk predicted, Ukraine will be next. If that
is the case, for Lviv, history will have been set right.