[Aaus-list] H-Net Review [H-Nationalism]: Mick on Amar, 'The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists'

Walter Iwaskiw wrichc at gmail.com
Thu May 4 10:35:50 EDT 2017

FYI, from H-Net:

Tarik Youssef Cyril Amar.  The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City
between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists.  Ithaca Cornell University
Press, 2015.  368 pp. Illustrations.  $35.00 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Christoph Mick (University of Warwick) Published on
H-Nationalism (May, 2017) Commissioned by Cristian Cercel

The history of the modern Ukrainian state is inextricably linked to the
history of the Soviet Union. Its borders are the result of the Soviet
victory in the Second World War and of decisions made in Moscow. For
centuries, central and eastern Ukraine had been part of the Russian Empire
before it became the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic and part of the
Soviet Union. The western Ukrainian lands, however, had been dominated by
other states or empires and had experienced Hungarian and Polish, Austrian
and Romanian rule.

Tarik Amar, assistant professor at Columbia University, focuses in this
book on the transformation of the urban center of western Ukraine,
multiethnic but Polish-dominated Lwów, into Ukrainian, or rather Soviet
Ukrainian, Lviv. In the first of eight chapters Amar gives a short overview
of the history of the city before the Second World War. The second chapter
deals with the first Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941. In this
period, Lviv experienced large-scale deportations and numerous executions
but the Soviet authorities did not fundamentally change the ethnic
composition of the city. They did, however, destroy civil society and
turned the traditional social, ethnic, and political hierarchies upside
down. This first occupation marked the beginning of a traumatic period in
the history of the city, which reached its low point under Nazi rule. The
third chapter covers the period of German occupation. Nazi Germany murdered
Lviv's Jewish population (more than a hundred thousand people) and imposed
a brutal occupation regime on the city's Polish and Ukrainian inhabitants.

Amar does not offer a comprehensive history of the city but concentrates on
how regime changes and occupation policies affected ethnic relations. In
his war chapters he also discusses the participation of local Ukrainians in
anti-Jewish violence and refers to the strong anti-Semitic views and
actions of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The second and third
chapters are partly based on primary sources but Amar's account does not go
beyond the existing literature on the history of wartime Lviv.

The most innovative parts of the book are chapters 4-8, which look at the
Sovietization of Lviv after 1944. Amar contends that Soviet rule shaped
Lviv's Ukrainian or rather western Ukrainian identity. In 1950, more than
80 percent of the Lviv population were newcomers, many of them
Russian-speakers who joined the few remaining tens of thousands of prewar
Ukrainian and Polish residents. Other Ukrainians came from the west and had
been resettled following the population exchange between Poland and the
Soviet Union. The industrialization of Lviv also brought tens of thousands
of Ukrainian peasants from the region to the city. Soviet social
engineering aimed to transform these new city-dwellers into new Soviet
Ukrainian men and women.

The book does not offer a full account of Sovietization. Amar offers many
insights into postwar Lviv but also ignores some key events. The most
important omission is the forced unification of the Greek Catholic Church
with the Russian Orthodox Church. Amar covers the period until 1962 but
follows some threads up until the most recent past. He tells the story of
the closing of the last synagogue in Lviv, and shows how the party drew on
anti-Semitic stereotypes by linking the synagogue to speculation and
private trade. The new authorities tried to create their own narrative of
Lviv's past, presenting Sovietization as the high point of its history and
emphasizing the modernizing effect of Soviet rule. The party was, however,
less successful in its attempt to give its role historical depth. It failed
to convince the population that there had been a strong western Ukrainian
Communist movement in the interwar period. Amar rightly points out the
forgetting and marginalization of the Polish and Jewish parts of the
history of Lviv, but tens of thousands of Roman Catholic Poles continued to
live in the city. The Latin cathedral was one of two Roman Catholic
churches in Lviv not shut down under Soviet rule. The monument to the
Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz was still in the heart of the city and
the Kiliński monument still stood in Stryjskij Park.

Amar relies heavily on documents and sources from local and regional party
organizations and from the Communist Party leadership in Kyiv. He also uses
some contemporary Soviet publications, including novels and plays. The
heavy reliance on official Soviet documents would not be a problem if Amar
merely wanted to give the Soviet perspective on the city, but he aspires to
do more. Amar makes claims about the mentality of Lviv inhabitants and
their western Ukrainian "identity," which he sees as a product of
Sovietization. He challenges the self-perception of today's Lvivians who
emphasize the non-Soviet elements of their identity and speak of a specific
western Ukrainian consciousness, which was shaped by the prewar Ukrainian
national movement and wartime nationalist resistance but also older Polish
and Austrian influences. Amar's line of argumentation does not fully
convince, as he does not sufficiently take the bias of party documents into
account. It would have been good if Amar had complemented his source base
with other accounts--for example, oral history sources--or if he had made
greater use of memoirs and diaries of local residents who lived through the
period. He also does not address the question of whether the urban
environment with its distinctive central European architecture affected
identity formation.

Amar has written an important contribution to the history of Lviv. He shows
that Soviet influences were strong and had a lasting impact on the
formation of a peculiar western Ukrainian identity in Lviv; other
influences are, however, underrepresented.

Citation: Christoph Mick. Review of Amar, Tarik Youssef Cyril, _The Paradox
of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and
Nationalists_. H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. May, 2017.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47681

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No
Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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