Saturday, 5 March 2011

With Love to Lvov

[I've hesitated in doing this post. I think I might get in trouble. Don't shout at me, please.]

We've got coach tickets to Lvov later in the year - Lviv in Ukrainian. Although it's not in Poland, it holds a special place in the heart of many Poles as a Polish city just as much as Warszawa (Warsaw), Kraków, Gdansk, etc. Unlike the otherwise equivalent Vilnius in Lithuania in the north, it never had any formal status as part of a separate partnership country within the historic lands of the Polish people.

It's a place I've particularly wanted to go to since I first heard it described as "the most Polish of cities". Although I can't imagine any Poles really wanting to mess around with the borders and they rally do have sympathy for the Ukrainian people. However, many people still find the loss of Lvov difficult to understand.

As an introduction to the visit, I have been given some facts about the Ukraine. These originate from a very knowledgeable Polish historian (in English, someone who has a history degree). I am told that he is completely reliable and is not a Polish ultra-nationalist.
  • Lvov has typical Polish buildings.
  • The name 'Ukraine' comes from the Polish language.
  • The current border is completely arbitrary. If you look at a map, you will see there is a natural borderline defined by the landscape, by which Lvov would be in Poland.
  • Stalin wanted Lvov to be in Poland, but a Polish communist leader of the area thought that the Poles were too much trouble. It therefore became part of the Ukraine [Soviet Socialist Republic]. She (the Polish communist) decided to stay in the USSR rather than return to Poland.
  • Poland was not established as a stand-alone country after the Second World War because Churchill didn't care at Potsdam, reneging on his legal and moral obligations to Poland. The re-establishment of Poland was not even on the agenda. (Roosevelt was a useless cripple who had no influence). Although this fact was not specifically related to Lvov, presumably Churchill could have ensured it returned to Poland if he had wanted.

Actually, I'm starting to wonder whether its worth going abroad to see buildings the same as they are here, but just going to the Ukraine should be fun anyway. Anyway, its a sort of Mecca that we have to visit: see Graham on the Road for his trip. He has a number of other facts, although I'm not sure if they are as reliable as those above: I only knew one of them.

Its amazing how other sources try to tell you that various related forms of 'Ukraine' are common to most Slavic languages. Polish Wikipedia even manages to suggest that the word had the same meaning in Old Rus, the language of the area before the Polish invasions. Even the Polish etymology bible, Bruckner's is misleading here.

I've looked at several maps, but haven't found the natural geographic border. I have found a 1980-85 population density map, but the data there must be too recent - eg after border clearances in mountainous land, or, just as likely, manipulated by the Polish communist publishers, to show that the border is roughly rightly placed.

I must try and find out the name of this Polish woman who had such control over Stalin and, presumably Krushchev, leader of the Ukraine in this period. I don't even know what year it was. Presumably, however, it was before the 1939 inclusion of Lvov into the Ukrainian SSR when Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR. Maybe, however, Stalin revisited this issue for the 1944 recreation of Poland. Indeed, I have found some support for this possibility in (unreliable, of course) English Wikipedia, which claims that at the 1945 Yalta conference, Stalin concluded that "Poland must be strong" and that "the Soviet Union is interested in the creation of a mighty, free and independent Poland". It seems that Stalin may have had a soft spot for the country.

Actually, I'm incredibly pleased that I now have the real truth about the decision makers at Yalta at last. I'd heard several times from Polish commentators that neither Roosevelt nor Churchill cared about Poland and, once before, that Churchill was virtually incapacitated and powerless, with Roosevelt not caring. I can now be absolutely certain that it was the fault of the Brits. It's so good to find out that none of those rumours about the war leaving Britain a failing, bankrupt country were true: amazing and thanks ... and the USA thought it won the war. John Wayne go home.


Paddy said...

Steve, have you read 'Rising 44'?

Michael Dembinski said...

There's a street in Lwów where rain landing on the roofs on one side of the row of buildings runs down gutters and away into water courses that drain into the Baltic, whilst rain landing on the other side of the roofs will drain off into the Black Sea. Very symbolic.

Tefl Secretagent said...

@Michael Dembinski: Could you name the street? I'd love to visit there for real on a rainy day.

@Steve - I hope you'll love Lviv, it's my favourite city in the world. It's difficult to describe but it really does carry some kind of magic.

Two tips: You must ride on one of the little yellow city buses, it's a real nerve racking experience.

secondly, the border, if you're travelling through it on a coach will be tedium. Better to cross the border on foot.

I plan on spending the entire summer in Lviv teaching, maybe we'll be there at the same time?

Tefl Secretagent said...

oh and excellent post :)

Pan Steeva said...

I have only read Norman Davies' "White Eagle, Red Star. The Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920", which gave me the immediate impression of being the most openly biased history book I have read: his conclusion seemed to be completely undermined by the facts he presented (even though he clearly left out any of the wider context that would be inconvenient for this conclusion). Last year's celebration of the war (Armed Forces/Army Day) added more local facts on French involvement, that he managed to be ignorant of. I intend to read it again sometime to see if I maintain this opinion. I read the Warsaw Post review of Rising 44 after that, which gave the same impression, so I haven't even looked for it.

I wondered if someone would use 'Lviv' as the English name, which I saw used in Wikipedia. All my English reference books are a bit old - 1992 being the latest - and they call it Lvov. The 2002 Wiki version states "The long accepted traditional English spelling 'Lwow' is from the Polish language form of the name. 'L'vov', [was] used in many 20th century publications . Although I quite like the idea that Wiki writers want to change the English language, I don't trust them that much.

I don't know if the passport control system will let us temporarily walk away from the coach past the border. However, the idea of waiting at the border brings back fond recollections of waiting at the Polish border on the trips back from London. Half awake early in the morning, people got off the coach, lit their cigarettes and started talking to each other, excited to be home (in Poland) once more.