An Eastern Approaches blog post, “Ukraine’s faded gem” , takes a brief glance at the Ukrainian city of Lviv, once the Polish-Jewish city of L’wow until the Second World War.
SUMMER is in full swing in Lviv, a city that is a faded gem in western Ukraine. Some locals have retreated from the city to their dachas. Old men play chess on the shaded promenade while couples stroll along. The Mitteleuropa coffeehouses overflow with tourists. (One café is inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who hails from Habsburg Lviv.) Just two hours’ drive from the Polish border, the city is far from the politics of Kyiv. It is the self-proclaimed cultural capital of Ukraine.
Lviv is still coming to terms with life after Euro 2012, the football championship co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland in June. The new airport terminal is spookily empty. Polish tourists have long come to Lviv in search of prewar Lwów (on Polish territory) and a night at the magnificent opera house. Now new budget flights might make Lviv another Kraków or Riga, beloved by Brits on stag nights.
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Ukraine’s language law, which was rushed through parliament earlier this month was not popular in this “most Ukrainian city”. The bill would make Russian an official regional language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the industrialised east and southern regions such as Crimea where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. In Lviv Russian would not qualify for the status of official regional language (it needs to be spoken by 10% of the local population) but Lviv’s citizens opposed it anyway. In the city centre, the mouths of six statues of famous Ukrainians were taped over in symbolic protest. Yaroslav Hrytsak, a well-known historian from Lviv, says the law encourages Yugoslavia-style confrontation. Politicians’ manipulation of regional differences has brought Ukraine to the “brink of civil war”.
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On July 30th, the election campaign kicks off. In recent years, Western commentators have raised their eyebrows at the emergence of an extreme-right, nationalist party called Svoboda (Freedom), which has its stronghold in western Ukraine. It has held a majority in Lviv city council since 2010. Yet it is unlikely to cross the 5% parliamentary threshold, and may indeed be part of the ruling party’s “divide and rule” tactics. The big question is whether the October elections will be democratic. But whatever the outcome, Lvivians will continue to play chess outside, serve black coffee, and speak Ukrainian anyway.
At Strange Maps, meanwhile, Frank Jacobs’ post “Baltic Ifs and Polish Buts” posts a map showing the very fluid nature of Poland’s boundaries in 1920, before the 1921 Peace of Riga that stabilized the Polish-Soviet and Polish-Lithuanian frontiers for 18 years and similar phenomena with Germany and Czechoslovakia to the east.
We’re used to there being three Baltic states – or none, when they were gobbled up by the Russian/Soviet empire – but on this map, there are two. Or four, depending on how you count. The northern Baltic entity is divided in three: Esthonia (only covering the northern part of present-day Estonia), Livonia (spanning the south of present-day Estonia and a large part of Latvia) and Kurland (the southern part of today’s Latvia).
The other (or fourth) Baltic state is Lithuania, but remarkably smaller than it is today. The state is denied sea access by the territory of Memel, detached from Germany after the war by the League of Nations. On the other side, it misses a great chunk of its present eastern territory.
In turn, East Prussia is cut off from the German ‘mainland’ by the Polish Corridor, and by the Free City of Danzig. East Prussia itself is divided in two, with the southern half still an ‘area for plebiscite’ (which would have to determine whether the territory wanted to remain German or not).
A similar area is detached from eastern Silesia (note just east of that area’s border the small town of Auschwitz). Another, smaller area to the south is also detached, although it is not immediately apparent from which entity (Poland, Czechoslovakia or Silesia) and for what purpose.
Interestingly, the map also appears to show a Lithuanian enclave in Kurlandish territory, somewhere between Jakobstadt and Dvinsk (not to be confused with Minsk or Pinsk). Unfortunately, the enclave’s name is illegible.
The map still shows Vilnius (Wilno in Polish, Vilna on the map) as Lithuania’s capital; although it was the spiritual centre of Lithuanian nationalism, Lithuanian was heavily minoritary, the majority being Polish. After a Polish invasion and a period of detachment as the Central Lithuanian Republic (1920-1922), Vilnius and the surrounding areas were annexed by Poland. Kaunas – on this map rendered as Kovno, slightly to the west of Vilnius – was thereafter proclaimed Lithuania’s ‘provisional capital’.