Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Quick Trip to Lviv

I'm just back from a two day trip to Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine to give workshops there to museum colleagues (or museum workers, as they're always referred to here). It's a beautiful city with an unusual history. Lviv has been a part of many nations and has had many names. It was established in the early 1200s by the Ruthenian King Danylo; subsequently it became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, Nazi Germany and then, with the relocation of Poland's borders after World War II, a part of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became a part of a newly independent Ukraine. So it's been called Lviv, Lwow, Lemburg, Lvov...

But what's fascinating about Lviv is several different things. First, the architecture. It's a gem of a city, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Buildings were not damaged during World War II and the presence of Soviet-era buildings in the center is almost non-existent.

After I returned, I found a great site to learn more about Lviv. The Center for the Urban History of East Central Europe has interactive maps, digital photos and film about Lviv and other communities. I was particularly impressed by their mission:

In all its activities, be they academic or cultural, the Center strives to adhere to principles of openness (toward what is new), tolerance (with regard to difference and diversity) and responsibility (for the future).

As an institute of historical scholarship, we seek to offer fresh intellectual impulses and help abandon dated questions and preconceived answers. By information and open discussion, we try to help prevent history from being abused for political ends. Through conferences, seminars and exhibitions we hope to promote scholarly and cultural exchange.

We offer young researchers additional opportunities to do advanced, internationally recognized work in their own country, seeking to reduce the "brain drain" emigration of qualified scholars.

We strive to be a part of contemporary Lviv's urban society and public, open to diverse communities and in productive cooperation with public and cultural institutions.
As an institute that not only researches the city of the past, but also lives and works in the city of the present, we want to go beyond academic activity and support cultural and other public initiatives, which we see as both valuable and seminal.

We want to contribute to Lviv becoming a central site for intellectual, academic and cultural life not only in Ukraine but in Europe.

This sort of community-focused, future-oriented mission statement is a rare thing-- in any country! So it was particularly nice to read it here and to see so many results of their work on their website.

The other interesting thing about Lviv? Despite its connection with many nations, it is a center of both Ukrainian nationalism and language. Russian is rarely spoken here, and other Ukrainians mentioned that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are often reprimanded by Lviv residents for not speaking Ukrainian.

It was great to learn more about a different part of Ukraine, and I look forward to returning to Lviv to learn more.

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