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Taras Wozniak

Galicia today

What usually comes to mind, for Ukrainians, as well as Poles and Jews, when Galicia is mentioned, is the old “Austrian” myth of Galicia: Maria Theresa, Franz Josef, the Spring of Nations, Lviv’s belle époque: the rise of the University, the Technical University, the opera, the Main Railway Station, the Church of St Elizabeth, and so forth. Although each of these nations makes its own amendments to that myth.

Poles, as justifiably as somewhat over-emphatically, emphasise the role of Kraków – the cradle of Polishness. And they consider Lviv a royal city, making reference to Casimir III.

Ukrainians, as much justifiably as along the lines of “a replica”, shift the focus to the “princely city of the lion”. Admittedly, to this day they confuse the titles of the Galician rulers – the same figures may once be called dukes, only to be referred to as kings a moment later. And that without even mentioning the young Hungarian heirs apparent who sat on the throne while it was still in Halych. Ordinary people can’t keep track of all those Daniels, Leos, Kolomans, and Casimirs.

Jews, in turn, tend to build their Galician identity on the famous tzadiks and a plethora of magnificent writers working in various languages, beginning with Sholem Aleichem (שלום עליכם, Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, 1859–1916), who wrote in Yiddish, via Joseph Roth (Moses Joseph Roth, 1894–1939), who worked in German, and Bruno Schulz (1892–1942), who employed the Polish language, to the King of Hebrew, Shai Agnon (שמואל יוסף עגנון‎‎, Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes, 1888–1970). And of course also, via the origin of their families, to Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and even Karl (Heinrich) Marx (1818–1883).

In a word, there comes a point when the old “Austrian” myth of Galicia splits into three independent, mythological narratives. They clearly form grand national myths: the 20th century, the century of nationalisms, is approaching.

Nations awake. And this awakening often results in hecatombs and national tragedies.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that overlapping with nationalisms are the great social utopias: socialist, communist, and national socialist.

The winds of these utopias carry entire sections of the Galician community away into oblivion.

Nazism almost entirely destroyed the specific Jewish world of Galicia. Literally only individuals were left: on both the Soviet and Polish sides of the border. Even if a certain number of Jews come to the “Soviet Galicia” – that is, four, and later three Soviet districts (Lviv, Drohobych, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil), they are entirely different people, from different regions. And, generally, they are “Soviet” people.

The Polish-Ukrainian ethnic conflict, and in fact the war of 1943–1945 and the “exchange of population” between the USSR and the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL), left hardly anything of what used to be a blossoming Polish life in the eastern parts of “the good old” Galicia.

The Habsburg myth evaporates. For a long time – practically almost the entire “Soviet” period.

Many completely new people arrive in Galicia in the Soviet days: Russians from central Russia, Eastern Ukrainians. Early in the 1950s, Russians are the ethnic majority in Lviv. And it is only early in the 1960s that Western Ukrainians return to the cities of Galicia, and the cities clearly begin to Ukrainianise: people return from Stalinist camps, from transportation, resettlement, exile; the forms of deportations had been plenty.

Late in the 1970s, the Ukrainian Galicia finally assumes its contemporary shape. Even the break-up of the USSR did not result in mass changes in its population structure.

Yet nothing of what has been written above describes what the Ukrainian part of Galicia was and what it remains to this day. Obviously, what is meant here is the Ukrainian narrative of Galicia; and it is on purpose that I do not refer to the territory, as it has less distinct borders than the Polish narrative that encompasses the same territory. As does the Jewish. Thus, in this text, I shall rather speak of a narrative: the Ukrainian narrative.

Obviously, the Ukrainian narrative seeks its “foundations” in the virtual past: princely, royal, Cossack. But the contemporary Ukrainian Galician narrative begins to take shape with the Ukrainian national awakening: with Markiyan Shashkevych, with Ivan Franko.

Due to the lack of wherewithal to organise Ukrainian cultural life in Ukraine remaining under Russian rule, in the Russian Empire, Eastern Galicia, functioning as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, developed the first myth of the Ukrainian Galician Piedmont, from which the Ukrainian national revival began. And to a certain degree, it became the truth. Yet it did not crystallise until the early 20th century. Intertwined into it were the myths of the Ukrainian struggle for the independence of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1919–1923, of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, of the uprising in Lviv on 1st November 1918 (when the Ukrainian units of the Austrian army took power). Then the Ukrainian Galician narrative was invaded by force, whether anyone likes it or not, by the myth of Ukrainian nationalism and its struggle for the independence of Ukraine. The blue-and-yellow national flag was resolutely joined by the revolutionary black-and-red. Beyond doubt, this was the Ukrainian Galician narrative, which originated from conflict with the Polish one. It would be difficult to say that the Polish narrative was “Galician” or had a clear “Galician” undertone. But what took shape in Ukraine was the “Galician” variety of the Ukrainian narrative, with very clear and very precise contours. It was this that shaped today’s Galicia: the Galicia that for 23 years has been part of independent Ukraine.

External observers frequently fail to see this Galician specificity; nevertheless, it was in its clash with both interwar Poland and the Stalinist regime of the USSR that today’s Ukrainian Galicia (possibly to some extent also with neighbouring Volhynia and Bukovina) developed its clear perception of Ukraine, and of Galicia as one of the cornerstones of a future independent Ukraine. Partially, this clear perception borders on myth. Yet to a great extent it is founded on solid, almost rock-hard, foundation.

The awareness and mentality of the Galician Ukrainians were noticeably crystallised in the 20th century. What occurred was not only a gentle national awakening of the Galician Ruthenians, but the crystallisation of the national identity. Certainly, a contribution to this was the failure of the Ukrainian fight for freedom in the 1920s, which the Galician Ukrainians initially accepted as a national tragedy, but later transformed into a mobilising stimulus. To some degree, the Ukrainian Galician narrative was a mirror image of the same Polish narrative from between the two world wars. To a great extent, the Galician Ukrainians followed in the footsteps of the Poles and the Czechs, starting with institutions and ending with rhetoric. For the two decades between the wars, a Polish-Ukrainian fracas, both invisible and open, raged in Galicia. Though we should not dramatise everything; there was also a shared life.

This process of mobilisation and eventual reconstitution of the Galician Ruthenians into Ukrainians ended in a powerful mobilisation within the the nationalistic and national liberation movements of the 1940s and 1950s. There were plenty of errors, and even crimes, in that movement, yet this by no means alters the fact that it was responsible for the shape of the extremely acute Galician form of the Ukrainian identity. This was not broken even by the Stalinist repressions, which is no metaphor but a fact.

This is how the myth of the second Ukrainian Galician Piedmont originated.

Much in the same way, today in now independent Ukraine, it is the people from Galicia and Volhynia who have been and still remain the main source of mobilisation in the national “reconquista” and the orange revolution of 2004, and the Euromaidan of 2013/2014.

Without this venture into the 20th-century Galician past, it is impossible to understand what today’s Galicia is, for both Ukraine and itself. I believe it necessary to repeat here with due emphasis that the history of 20th-century Galicia seen by Ukrainians may or may not be to our liking; after all, what we are discussing here is not “facts” but a narrative. This is not what it is all about. Much like it is not about “who was right in all that fuss” either. It is about the origin of the Ukrainian Galician narrative, which programmed plenty of events that were to happen for many decades after its origin. There is no doubt: today’s Galician narrative will continue to define the development of today’s Galicia, and will even have a significant impact on the development of Ukraine, for more than a decade. And again, whether or not it is to my liking or anybody else’s.

The attainment of independence came to a highly diversified Ukraine. In certain aspects, it was reminiscent of interwar Poland: possibly only the national minorities in Ukraine are smaller. Poland, on the other hand, did not have the experience of a large share of non-Polish-speaking, though ethnically Polish, population.

Galicia was one of the centres that sent the impulses that finally upset and destroyed the USSR. Naturally, its significance should not be overestimated. The USSR collapsed for more important reasons: economic insufficiency, lack of competitive edge, etc. Yet there were only a handful of regions that “upset” the USSR: Moscow itself (now it sounds strange), the Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Galicia, and the Caucasus. The major part of Ukraine was asleep. To a drum beaten by Galicia, and partially Volhynia, Kyiv followed, and heated the atmosphere up. Later, Kyiv was the epicentre of events, yet with clear participation of none other but the Galicians.

That was the time when the backbone of today’s independent Ukraine, based on the alliance of Kyiv and Galicia, originated. Obviously, it does not make sense here to fall into not-too-well justified Galiciomania, as other regions significantly contributed to the development of the Ukrainianness of independent Ukraine too, though it was long a post-Soviet territorial creation. Nevertheless, the tandem of Kyiv and Lviv was strengthening from year to year and becoming ever more obvious.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Galicia was gripped by mass national democratic enthusiasm. And it is the democratic constituent of these mass movements that needs emphasising here. Even before the disintegration of the USSR, the people of Galicia were the first to elect the organs of power anew: district, municipal, and regional councils, and executive committees at various levels. Later, the democratically elected district councils of three Galician districts – Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil – set up the Galician Diet, being something akin to a regional parliament. To a certain degree, this echoed the establishment of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. The district councils of other, non-Galician western districts were also ready to join this union. This was a major scare both for the marionette government in Kyiv, and for the central authorities of the USSR.

This is how, on the eve of gaining independence, Galicia created the third myth of the Galician Ukrainian Piedmont.

Nevertheless, after Ukraine gained independence, the centre of political life and decision-making suddenly shifted to Kyiv. To a great extent, Galicia began to grow provincial. During the presidencies of Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, major takeovers of former state property took place, and the first incredible fortunes were established. Galicia was remaining somewhat on the margins of this process due to both the structure of its economy and its mentality. Similarly, it did not participate very actively in the political life of the country: 6 million people out of the 48 million living in Ukraine were, after all, a minority. As a result, an oligarchic state had developed in Ukraine by 2000, governed by a number of oligarchic families, with Leonid Kravchuk at the helm.

Nevertheless, that was when the middle class began to develop in Ukraine. Its main bases were – again – Galicia, Volhynia, Bukovina, and Kyiv. The clash of the middle class with the oligarchs ended in fireworks during the Orange Revolution of 2004. Galicia played a visible role in those events. And not only in Kyiv, but also “at the rear”: in Lviv, in Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil – this is where the Orange Maidan of 2004 had its base.

Yet the Orange Maidan ended the way it did, dissatisfaction led to counterrevolution, which set Ukraine back for four years. To a degree, this recalled the beginning of the 1920s, when Galicians felt shattered. Frustration reigned for four years, and much like in the 1930s, it helped the transformation to stalwart opposition against the regime. From the spring to the autumn of 2013, local, semi-clandestine associations sprang up in Lviv at nearly every step, with continuing heated discussions about “What is to be done?”. Protest was in the air again. Quite obviously, the same Galician narrative made itself known.

Besides the good fruit, the mythological structure of that narrative brought plenty of deviations: for example, attempts to revive nationalistic practices from the 1930s in today’s Galicia. And there were moments that this awarded the demagogues, who styled themselves to the 1930s, tangible consequences at the polls.

But the very discourse of the processes was fruitful. And it brought about the outbreak of a revolt late in November 2013, when President Yanukovych refused to sign the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement.

Initially it was a student protest with the participation of many students from Galicia, although they were not a majority. This was already Euromaidan.

When they were brutally dispersed, a large part of the country rose up, and it began in Kyiv, and Galicia and Volhynia. The backbone of independent Ukraine revolted against the regime. What began was the Maidan of honour, which transformed into the Ukrainian national revolution of 2014. And again, Galicia, became the base for the revolution at its most difficult moments.

The Orange Maidan of 2004 and the Maidan of 2014 developed the fourth myth of the Galician Ukrainian Piedmont – the strong powerbase of Ukrainian statehood.

Are all these myths only myths? No, not really. Yes, there is much exaggeration in them, and not everything is consistent with the facts, and many elements are judgmental, if not downright emotional. Sometimes there is too much Galician snobbery and glorification. At times there is even borderline demonisation of the Galicians and Galicianness: the sly political manipulators from Moscow fall back upon this to scare the residents of south-eastern Ukraine. And the stratagem frequently succeeds: the Galicians are presented not only as “awful”, “pro-American”, and “pro-European” but also as unbelievably strong, virtually superheroes who “will come and do something incredible, so save yourselves from them”. This was the demagogic rhetoric of Putin when he annexed Crimea. Even in his throne speech in the Kremlin’s Hall of St George to mark the “annexation” of Crimea to the Russian Federation, he could not fail to mention the Galicians: he reduced them to “awful Banderists”, to whom he was not going to return Crimea. This may well have been the apotheosis of Galician fame: in a last-ditch effort, “the tsar of All Russia” saved the Crimea from them.

One may wax ironic over this coincidence or sneer of history, yet independently of all Putin’s conscious manipulations, it seems that the Ukrainian Galician narrative proved not a cabinet construct, not a figment of the mind of dwarfish Galician snobs, but an unexpectedly efficient weapon that works effectively in living history.

The modern Ukrainian Galician narrative does not boil down to 19th-century peopleism (narodnichestvo), although it grew out of it.

The modern Ukrainian Galician narrative does not boil down to 20th-century nationalism, although this contributed greatly to its establishment.

The modern Ukrainian Galician narrative is highly vital today. It has found itself new democratic and neo-cosmopolitan forms. Yes, there are still political profiteers who exploit old nationalistic trends that have already gathered their moss. Yet the most attractive feature of contemporary Galicia is the fact that developing within it – as in a melting pot – is the latest (post-modernist, if you like) Ukrainian Galician identity.

We say “Ukrainian Galician”, as in fact it is both Ukrainian and Galician. And in its “Galician quality” it certainly differs from that of other regions. These – Transcarpathian Ruthenia and Bukovina, for instance, are developing their own, interesting identities.

To some degree these identities compete with each other, and to some degree they complement each other. In this paper we pay attention to the most general trends. They can be expanded, with reference to more than just political or social factors, as we do below.

The cultural and spiritual factors are very interesting.

As far as confession is concerned, Galicia is a unique region of Ukraine. The great majority of the faithful belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The level of religiousness of Galicians, both real and ritual, is a number of orders of magnitude higher than in other regions of Ukraine. The level of spiritual and religious openness to the world, the world of religion included, is also a number of orders of magnitude higher. This openness has roots both traditional and institutional – in the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, for one.

As far as the cultural factor is concerned, in the last decade the Galician quality has certainly been a stylistic trend. In Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil, everything Galician is cultivated. Even Chernivtsi, which in the fairy-tale Habsburg days were also a part of Galicia, may at times have Galician sentiments, at least in the styling of its cafés.

Nevertheless, besides the formal and café Galicianness, a more serious tendency has emerged. It hinges on the re-construction of the same “fairy-tale Austrian Galicia” (Lviv, Kolomyia, Drohobych, and even Bolekhiv may be substituted for Galicia).

When Galicia was “gutted like a fish”, it could not but perish. I use that brutal comparison on purpose, as what was done to this poly-ethnic, poly-cultural, and poly-confessional land in the cruel 20th century can hardly be described by any other term. In fact, Galicia was robbed of its essence: all its charm and originality. It was a terrible trauma for the land, whatever the patriots of this or that hue considered it. Seventy years later, it is no longer as painful. The people who experienced it have passed away; all that remains are testimonies to the shock in the works of Stanisław Lem (1921–2006), Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998), Paul Celan (Paul Antschel, 1920–1970), and Rose Ausländer (Rosalie Beatrice Scherzer, 1901–1988). But also of Yuri Andrukhovych and Yuriy Vynnychuk.

And thus it began to dawn on the people of contemporary Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Drohobych that the architectural spaces where they were born and where they had lived their whole lives contain certain empty spots, niches, syncopes. That there is someone missing from alongside them. The contours of that “someone” gradually began to fade away from being passed over, from a simple lack of knowledge. At a more peaceful moment, once the pain of deportation, repression, and persecution has long passed, there is more time and eagerness to just take a piece of chalk and draw the outline of that “unmentioned figure” who has always been near us, on the wall or the floor.

But enough of this poetic digression. At the time of independence the “problem of re-construction” of the whole cultural Galician landscape, without exception, was born and blossomed in Ukrainian Galician society – in its local varieties, of course.

Yes, it is impossible to return the Polish, German, Jewish, or Czech populations. But someone must be the guardian of the Galician cultural heritage. Yet who? There is no one in today’s Galicia save for today’s people of Lviv, Ternopil, and Kolomyia. That is why the answer is clear: it is we who are primarily responsible for the Jewish, Polish, and Austrian cultural heritage of Galicia. Yes, there are small national communities and associations. But it is beyond their strength. On the other hand, this heritage is very much needed by today’s Galicians. And that is why in Galicia in recent decades we have been able to observe certain processes of the Galician majority becoming aware of their responsibility not only for Ukrainian Galicia, but also for Jewish and Polish Galicia.

Obviously, such behaviour may be expected only from people who no longer have to be afraid for what is “theirs”, i.e. free people. In this sense, today’s Galicia has vast potential. And more than only retrospectively: the “re-constructed Galicia” speaks out in the new Galician culture; it is worth mentioning here once again Taras Prokhasko, and Yuri Andrukhovych, and Yuriy Vynnychuk, and Ostap Slivinski, but also a bevy of fantastic translators, for example Andriy Pavlyshyn and Yurko Prokhasko; the list may be very long. They are all building the contemporary culture of Galicia in the context of its “re-construction”. And we ourselves have tried to contribute to that in our independent culturological journal Yi.

In fact, since the turmoil around Schultz, they all have been rebuilding the old Galician home.


From the Polish translation by Katarzyna Kotyńska