Welcome to Lviv, capital of Galicia

First of all, we must understand that the greatest trauma for the Poles - the partitions and the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - was in a way a hope for the Ruthenians, as the Ukrainians were called at that time. Only they had already lost their way a bit in the Spring of Nations. - says Prof. Ihor Lylo, historian from Lviv, expert on Galician cuisine and guide to Ukraine.

TVP WEEKLY: It seems that the Lvivians are often thrown to different parts of the world?

IHOR LYLO: A sign of the times! As a result of the war, I am now no longer teaching at the University of Lviv and guiding tourists around the city, as I did for years, but am a visiting professor at the University of California in San Diego. Of course, it's hard to complain, but I especially regret the latter. For 20 years I worked as a tour guide in the city, I saw it gaining tourist interest, I had the opportunity to meet many great people from different parts of the world. And suddenly it all ended overnight. But I hope that I will be able to return there soon.

Native Lvivian or migrant?

That's a good question, because my family comes from western Ukraine, right on what is now the border with Poland. So it's safe to assume that we're from the Lviv area. Anyway, the history of my family, whose ancestral line I can trace back to the 18th century and who I know have lived in this area ever since, is quite an interesting story. My father was born on June 15, 1939 as a citizen of the Second Polish Republic, but my mother - although she came from the same village - was born already on November 1, 1939 as a citizen of the... USSR. The people who lived next door, their neighbours, never returned to their villages. This is the experience of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people from Galicia, whose fate was sealed by the Yalta agreements that divided the border in two. But the culture of this part of Europe - despite this artificial border drawn by Stalin - was united by its unique atmosphere, and it was a multicultural, multiethnic and, interestingly, multiculinary phenomenon.

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Well, that's right, because as a historian you have quite a “tasty” research interest.

For years I have been studying Galician cuisine and the culture of the Polish-Ukrainian borderland. I have written several books about it, and a book by my colleague Marianna Dushar "Lviv cuisine" is being published in Poland. My contribution was to outline the historical background. The book tells the story of Lviv cuisine in a completely new way, not only through the prism of memories and nostalgia of people from the border area, but describes the phenomenon of Lviv cuisine in a solid way. Moreover, and this is the interesting thing, a prediction is made about the direction in which this cuisine is currently developing.

It is developing so much that the name of the basic dish has been changed.. …

„Ruskie pierogi” (Russian dumplings)?

Well, yes, you can't actually buy them here anymore. The Poles themselves have started to change the names on the labels.

I strongly oppose this! And I would like to say that Russian dumplings are just fine, and one day will be included in the list of intangible cultural heritage UNESCO under this very name. I appreciate very much that Poles kept silent about this decision, because it is necessary to say quite frankly that this dish is a common heritage of both nations, one of which invaded the other. But still the word 'Ruthenian' does not mean 'Soviet' or 'Russian'.

Probably, but I am unable to erase this connection from my subconscious. I associate 'Ruski' with one thing and it is by no means a positive term.

Well, that's true, and the term derives not from "Russky" as people in the Soviet Union were called in Poland, but from Kievan Rus itself. And Kievan Ruthenia is, after all, the old name for the present Ukrainian state. The Ukrainian state came into being only in the 16th century and after 1721 it adopted the name of the Russian Empire for itself. If this were not the case, the terms 'Ruthenia', 'Rus' and 'Ruthenian' would not have such associations as the designation of certain things as Ruthenian during the communist era. If we look at it from the perspective of bores like me, from the perspective of an academic chair, I would leave that name alone. On the other hand, there is no reason to crumble the copy, if someone really wants to, let him call these dumplings 'Ukrainian', although it would be fair to call them 'Ukrainian-Ruthenian dumplings'.br>
These very dumplings were the hallmark of Lviv cuisine?

This is more the case with the Lviv kiszka, but also with the tripe, which is completely different from the Mazovian. For there is an interesting aspect of Lviv cuisine: it was closer to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean than to the cold Baltic Sea. Many Armenians, Greeks and Jews lived here, which had a great influence on the spices and taste of Lviv dishes. From the culinary point of view, Lviv is a very special city. In Polish there are even songs about our regional cuisine: "Chlib kulikowski" by Marian Hemar, a beautiful song, "Ballad about Miss Franciszka" and Lviv kishka, and some other similar things. Before the war there was even a song about Lviv coffee. What else is there to say, after all, Baczewski's vodka is a product Made in Lviv!
But let's not get distracted and make a hidden advertisement , because today it is an Austrian product. And while we're on the subject of spirits: Was the legendary Lviv vodka rye or potato?

The history of vodka production in the Austrian partition territories and in the lands of Galicia deserves a separate study. Let's start with the fact that sometime in the 19th century it became a nightmare, mainly due to propination, i.e. forcing villagers to buy vodka produced on the estates of the aristocracy. Propination is such an encyclopaedic term, but I prefer to call it simply getting people drunk. Only after the abolition of propination attempts were made to mitigate its harmful social effects.

Later, a somewhat more glorious history of vodka began in Galicia. Potatoes appeared here relatively late and were not very popular, they even had to be introduced administratively by the authorities from Vienna. So the vodka was made from grain. The Baczewski family company had a clear advantage here, because it used the most modern technology for alcohol production, and this was due to the fact that Jozef Adam Baczewski was no ordinary moonshiner, but a graduate of prestigious European universities, a specialist in chemistry and technology.

But Galicia and alcohol are another story. Here the "nalewki" (fruit liqueurs) are very popular. I suppose the whole phenomenon of fruit liqueurs and their popularity also in Poland has its origin in this region. You just have to look at the consumption of sugar in southeastern Poland. People don't just buy it to sweeten their tea, they make their own fruit liqueurs, and competitions are held on both sides of the border for the best products. "Nalewki," homemade alcohol, was one way to resist the state monopoly.

Is there any other common heritage of the region?

For me, Lviv and Cracow have been very similar cities in recent years. Maybe even more so than Cracow and other Polish cities. Anyway, there is an interesting example of this. Do you know what “meszty” is??

This is the first time I have heard such a word.

Then welcome to Galicia! The word is known and sometimes still used in both Cracow and Lviv, and it means brogue. In both Warsaw and Kiev this word is completely unknown. There are many such Galicianisms, which are usually a mixture of German, Yiddish and God knows what else. In addition, there is also the Lviv dialect. I mentioned the songs about Lviv cuisine, I also recommend listening to Szczepek and Tońcio, who sing that "when we earn two hundred zloty, we will make a big ball" and mention that they will buy "mniód" and "kulikowski chlib". This is not a language, but a subculture and such an interesting taste that distinguishes the people of Galicia. Moreover, as a man with close ties to Poland, I have more than once observed the difference in mentality between the inhabitants of the former Galicia and, say, the inhabitants of Greater Poland or even Silesia, which supposedly also drew heavily from the East.
Were there visible differences in Ukraine in recent history as a legacy of the division? In Poland, on the occasion of elections, a map of the partitions is used and overlaid with support for liberal and conservative parties.

Of course, this is very obvious in Ukraine. In Volhynia, for example - which is now treated as a single region because of its tragic history, whereas it used to be divided into an Austrian and a Tsarist part - you can see the difference even in the appearance of the villages. If you talk to older people there, even today there is a difference in worldview. In my opinion, the difference between people in western Ukraine and central Ukraine was noticeable. And then there is eastern Ukraine, southern Ukraine, and Crimea. These are completely different issues.

Basically, the people who have lived under the Soviet occupation for only two generations have not soaked it up. It is quite different with the generation that knew the Soviet authorities from the very beginning and had the most tragic experiences of the 1930s. I think that if the Soviet authorities had survived for another 25 years or so in Western Ukraine, the mentality of these people would also have been more difficult to deal with. But the differences within Ukrainians are not the only thing. Our country was not mono-ethnic, as Poland is today. There were very many national minorities living in Ukraine: half a million Poles alone, 100,000 Greeks, about 300,000 Crimean Tatars who are Muslims, almost 70,000 Hungarians. And then there is the large number of Russians who were deliberately brought here - just as they were brought to the Baltic states, to Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia. You could say that the Russians have sided with the aggressor today, and maybe that was the case in Crimea or in the Donbass. It's just that a significant proportion of Russians today are fighting on the side of Ukraine. All these minorities have united in the face of a threat which has not always been noticed in the world-but also in Poland. I think this war is the beginning of the modern identity of the Ukrainian people. br>
And coming back to the East-West divide in Poland: I think it is artificially created by the media. Poles - from one or another region of the country - still have a lot in common.

We were not to talk about the 20th century, but you mentioned Volhynia and these painful wounds in our history. As a historian, how do you see these much-publicised, very difficult Polish-Ukrainian relations in the 20th century?

Ukraine and Poland share common tragedies and common good memories. I am convinced that in times of war there were people who showed both their good and dark sides - someone saved, someone killed. People often say, 'What do you mean, a neighbour was a good person and suddenly became a beast, we did not expect that." Often this person himself did not expect how he would react to one event or another. This is the case, but in no way excuses what happened, because at that time nothing was simple and every situation was extremely complicated. If only because there were many mixed families and there were even some rules for inheriting identities. When boys were born into the family, they usually adopted their father's religion and affiliation, while daughters took after their mother. It happened that families attended both a Roman Catholic church and a Greek Catholic or Orthodox church. There were many such cases, which is not surprising since there are many border areas in Europe where social relations are difficult to define and sometimes impossible to reconcile. Much also depended on the position of the local elite, namely the clergy. It was they who often smoothed or did not smooth the relations between people.
Participants of the Ukrainian Writers' Congress, Lviv 1989. Photo from the collection of Prof. F. Pohrebennik, Public domain, Wikimedia
I also wanted to ask about the time when national identity awakened. Was the bond that connected people in nineteenth-century Lviv related to class, social status, or nationality?

In discussing history, we too often take the perspective of the nobility or the aristocracy, who are, after all, only a small group in society as a whole. Let us consider the bourgeoisie in Lviv. In the 19th century, a large number of Italians, Czechs, Germans and Austrians lived here. In the Austro-Hungarian monarchy there was a very famous family of Lviv confectioners who made the city famous, and ... they were Italians from Switzerland. A Lvivian named Andriolli was neither of Polish nor Ukrainian descent, but while living in Lviv he adapted to the very colourful reality in which he found himself.

It must be emphasized that Lviv was like an island where the Polish language was dominant, but one only had to step outside the borders of this city to find oneself in a completely different world. Ukrainians dominated eastern Galicia and were in the majority. Identity could be very mercantile, depending on what trade one was in. Polish was mostly used in documents and interpersonal communication. This means that these people either identified themselves in this way or referred to Polish as the most convenient language for communication. If you read documents or advertisements from the second half of the 19th century, much of it is trilingual. Signs were written in German, Polish, and Ukrainian. This is also a consequence of the Spring of Nations in 1848, when Ukrainian organizations were also founded, the Supreme Ruthenian Council and others. This was a great surprise for the Polish circles in Lviv. There they were convinced that Ukrainians were a kind of local people standing somewhere on the margins, while this element began to develop at a rapid pace and build its own identity. In the 19th century, there was a need for self-identification among Ukrainians, and language and religion were very important parts in this.

How did they react in Lviv to the fact that they were under partition??

First of all, we must understand that the greatest trauma for the Poles - the partitions and the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - was in a way hopeful for the Ruthenians, as the Ukrainians were called at that time. Only they had already lost their way a little in the Spring of Nations. This is best illustrated by a piece by Ivan Franko, 'A Hero Against His Will," which is very well-known in Ukraine but completely unknown in Poland. It tells the story of an Austrian clerk of Ukrainian descent who holds an office in Lviv in 1848. He observes the struggle for independence but is formally an Austrian official and cannot decide which side he wants to be on. This illustrates very well how many difficult situations and emotions developed in the region.

I must admit that the admiration shown in Cracow to His Majesty, the gracious Emperor Franz Joseph, is for me a complete aberration, even a kind of perversion... What are the memories of that time in Lviv?

They are similar, if not warmer. The annexation of Galicia and Lodomeria to Austria-Hungary was a great opportunity for the economic development of Lviv. Because not Cracow, but Lviv became the capital of Galicia. And this city benefited from it in an incredible way, attracting, among others, numerous investors. This city, where Polish was spoken in the majority and German only to a small extent, felt in some ways like one of the centers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One should not forget that Lviv was the fourth city of this empire - after Vienna, Budapest and Prague. It was an incredible progress for this city and for very many people. That is why it is a controversial topic.
Commemorative card of the Galicia trip of Emperor Franz Joseph. Ball in Lviv, 1880 - drawing by Juliusz Kossak. Photo:, public domain, Wikimedia.
Sentiment for the time of enslavement under the Habsburg Empire, which collapsed like a house of cards?

There is absolute consensus among both Polish and Ukrainian historians that the Austrian partition was the most liberal. It does not matter whether the historian in question comes from Mazovia, Silesia or anywhere else. This partition really offered the people of Galicia a great opportunity for economic and other development. In Lviv, the myth of Franz Joseph is even greater than in Cracow, because for the Poles it was a foreign partition. For the Ukrainians, he was the good emperor. There were even national fairy tales, which are still published, about a mythical, wonderful, good emperor who gives gifts to the people. A statue of Franz Joseph was erected in Chernivtsi in Bukovina.

I am just trying to understand this myth of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy…

It is a neutral myth. After all, Austria-Hungary is such a likeable retro-empire that no longer exists and therefore does not threaten us. It is possible to be sentimental towards it, because it is not a betrayal, we do not owe it anything and it does not lay claim to us. On the other hand, how could we not look back nostalgically to those times, since it was the heyday of Lviv. Interestingly, in real estate advertisements in Lviv people still write: "I sell an apartment in an Austrian building", or "I will rent an apartment in a Polish building". And this is not about the nationality of the owners, but about the historical era. There are also very funny situations where someone has demolished a barn or a hovel and then sells the bricks from this demolition. Again, "Austrian brick" is written, which magically makes this product two or three times the price of a new brick from the construction depot.

And there is something else that those who like to look back to the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Monarchy do not know. From Vienna, officials were sent like into exile, there was no worse, pardon the expression, "shithole." Nobody from Vienna wanted to go to this Lemberg. There were no attractions there, no theatre, no university, no good entertainment, it was a poor province, but they went there because it was incredibly easy to make a career there. It did not matter if you were German, Polish or Ukrainian - if you showed loyalty, you were promoted very quickly. In many cases, these memories in the families have a strong influence on the present.

Recently in TVP Weekly we wrote about a man who gained world fame in Lviv. Many people do not know that the great oil industry started here and that Lviv owes its boom in the 19th century to Ignacy Lukasiewicz.

It is true. The discovery of oil, natural gas, ozokerite - for many of these deposits were discovered there - made Galicia a kind of Eastern European California, a destination for many who were looking for a new opportunity and where it was easy to succeed. A large amount of investments and money flowed to Lviv. This is evidenced by the number of banks and hotels that sprang up in the short time when the Lukasiewicz shaft and others were built. Interestingly, his memory has survived, the history of the Lukasiewicz oil lamp was protected even during the Soviet period. Near the Lviv market square there is an old pharmacy, formerly called "Under the Black Eagle"," and next to it, still in the 1980s, there was a plaque informing that this first lamp was made here - of course, without mentioning the nationality of its inventor. And already after Ukraine regained its independence, the myth of Lukasiewicz, the myth of the kerosene lamp, the myth of everything related to technical progress in this field, developed very quickly and continues to pay off to this day. In Lviv, on Armenian Street, there is a tourist attraction in the form of a bronze sculpture depicting two men, the inventors of the oil lamp: Ignacy Lukasiewicz and his collaborator Jan Zeh, who is somewhat forgotten in Poland.

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And what about the famous pharmacy where kerosene and gasoline were first distilled?

The famous pharmacy "Under the Golden Star" is no longer a pharmacy, but a cafe. But the new owners have respected this wonderful heritage and have taken care of the interior of the pharmacy from the 19th century - different drawers, accessories that make you feel like you are traveling to a distant time. Anyone who comes to Lviv can visit it. It is located at the beginning of Kopernika Street, where the famous Mikolash Passage used to be - unfortunately, this very special place was completely bombed during the World War II.

What about today's bombings??

You can now formally come from Poland to Lviv. Strange as it may sound, nowadays the probability of being hit by a Russian missile in Lviv is lower than being run over by a car in Poland. Of course, tourism is not developing and will continue this way until the war is over. I predict that interest in Ukraine will explode when it does.

What would you particularly recommend to our readers?

If they come to Lviv these days, I can tell them my gastronomic preferences. You must try the Lviv cheesecake in the cafe on Starozhivska Street, simply called "Cukiernia". For gefilte fish, or as they say in Poland - carp Jewish style, you must definitely go to the restaurant "Jerusalem", which is located far from Lviv Old Town on Mecznikova Street, but it is a really great place with gourmet Jewish cuisine that you will not try in Poland. Maybe I will surprise someone with this, but I will not mention the great, thriving post-Soviet restaurants that are numerous and popular in Lviv. If someone in Lviv wants to find out what the USSR and the People's Republic tasted like, I recommend a small café on Slowackiego Street, across from the main post office building, that makes rolls. It's a very cool place that's cheap and where you can recreate the taste of buns from 60 years ago. The kind of buns that almost no one makes anymore.

–interview and translation: Cezary Korycki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Ihor Lylo – Lviv historian, graduate of the National Ivan Franko University in Lviv. Guide to Ukraine and Lviv. Visiting professor at UCSD (CA) and Jagiellonian University (Poland), head of the Institute of Galician Cuisine (Ukraine), cookbook author (books "Lviv Cuisine" and "Noble Galician Cuisine").
Main photo: Karl Ludwig Street. The Jewish shopping centre of Lviv at the time, with a Yiddish signboard on the left. The batiar (street man) in the foreground is also known from other Lviv postcards. Photo: private collection, Public domain, Wikimedia
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