Politics of Memory and Urban Landscape:
The Case of Lviv after World War II [1]

Lviv (Lwów, Lemberg, Lvov)—an East European city, located in the Polish-Ukrainian border zone, recently attracted the attention of many scholars. Its history and cultural heritage is an interesting source for studying cross-cultural influences and identity contests, politics of memory, processes of nationalization of urban space, as well as its symbolic marking.[2] During the medieval period Lviv developed as a poly-cultural, poly-religious and poly-ethnic space inhabited by Armenians, Germans, Jews, Poles, Ruthenians (Ukrainians), and others. All of them left their imprints on the city’s landscape creating many places of memory. At the same time, their co-habitation entailed a constant struggle through symbolic representations and markers of urban space. Coming into the era of modern nationalism, their contest became stronger and evolved into an attempt to turn the whole city into a national symbol.

From its beginning, Lviv experienced several shifts of borders and changes of political regimes. The most numerous and rapid transformations of political regimes happened in the 20th century when the city subsequently belonged to the Habsburg Empire, West Ukrainian People’s Republic, Polish Republic, Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, and finally the Ukrainian State. Two World Wars profoundly changed its physical landscape and ethnic composition. Many turbulent events caused continual attempts to “rewrite” the city’s social space by destroying some places of memory and imposing others. These manipulations and distortions of the past resulted in the marginalization of some voices and domination of others.

This article examines changes that happened to the politics of memory in Lviv, as reflected in its symbolic landscape after the Second World War. The first part of the article provides a comparative overview of the politics of memory under the Soviet and new Ukrainian political regimes. It also touches upon some theoretical aspects of studying the politics of memory within an urban space as well as its symbolic structure. The majority of scholars who studied manifestations of memory politics in Lviv focused on the macro-level—describing institutions that produce memory and/or its structure. They did not take into consideration whether symbolic representations of the city’s past were shared by inhabitants of Lviv and to what degree. Similarly, discussion about the processes through which the personal experiences of Lviv dwellers become part of the collective memory was often omitted in their research. Consequently, I will introduce a new conceptual scheme, which allows us to incorporate both levels— analysis of the symbolic structure of a city’s politics of memory and its impact on the collective identities of the inhabitants . Using this scheme in the second part of the article I will perform a diachronic analysis of changes of the politics of memory in Lviv after the Second World War, focusing on monuments, memorial plaques and street names as the most important markers of urban landscape. For this purpose I will perform a content-analysis of monuments and memorial plaques,[3] which helps to identify major tendencies and shifts in the symbolic structure of city landscape. Among other sources used for the reconstruction of historical discourses, I explore tourist guidebooks and regional newspapers. In order to reconstruct the current official model of the past I use speeches of the President of Ukraine. In the last section, I consider the impact of all these processes of (re)codification of city space on the identities of contemporary inhabitants of Lviv, and discuss effectiveness of memory politics and the level of its internalization, as well as possible strategies of resistance. For this purpose I will triangulate outcomes of content-analysis with the results of sociological survey. Additionally, I will compare observed patterns of the symbolic marking of urban space in Lviv with other cities from the region.

In the search for reasons for the “explosion” of memory in the late 20 th century, Pierre Nora points to a process of the decolonization of minorities’ memories and “democratization” of history. He argues that the ideological decolonization of memory is characteristic for countries liberated from a totalitarian or authoritarian regime, when these nations turn to their traditional memory, once distorted or destroyed by the previous regime.[4] Ukraine is an exemplary case of the ideological decolonization of memory. The democratization of Ukrainian society after 1991 opened possibilities for pubic debates and raised questions about its problematic past and the politics of memory used by the previous ruling regime. In the democratic state ruling elites cannot simply replace the old regulatory techniques of memory with new ones without having at least some support from the public for their activities. The following questions are publicly debated: which elements of the past should become part of collective remembering or forgetting? What forms of commemoration should be given priority? Who has a right to decide? In an ideal democratic situation all interested agents would have equal access and the opportunity to enter the debate and come up with the best solution, but the reality of a post-Soviet state is much more complex.

It is often believed that the authoritarian state exercised a strictly bipolar relationship: “state (government)—population” through which official historical discourse was imposed (sometimes forcefully) by ruling elites; the population had limited possibilities to express its memories publicly if it did not agree with the existing regime of truth and the official model of an historical past.

In our opinion it is an oversimplification to present the Soviet politics of memory as a one-way process and the Lviv case proves to be different. One should take into consideration the limits of historical memory, its malleability affected by institutional and individual factors. Although authorities make all possible efforts to focus the attention of the population on periods, facts, and processes that they feel are articulating especially important values from the existing political system, they have to take into consideration local models of historical memory as well. Changes in historical symbols and meaning ascribed to selected historical events and personalities occur not as a simple act of replacement of old signs by new ones, but as a complicated interaction that sometimes results in partial replacement, overlapping, or even hybridization of signs.

Often a very similar bipolar scheme (ruling elites—population) is used in studies of memory politics in post-Soviet countries (including Ukraine). In my opinion, a post-Soviet society has a tri-polar relationship: state (central government), institutions of civil society, and population.

Accordingly, memory is no longer imposed directly and exclusively by the state authorities. The central government proposes certain initiatives, which local communities have much more freedom to reject. Vice versa, local communities or associations often come up with suggestions regarding what should be commemorated and their proposals could be included in government or city development programs.

The city administration has an intermediary position in these relations concerning the politics of memory in post-Soviet Ukraine. On the one side, it represents an official governmental position, but, on the other side, being elected by a local community, it belongs to the civil society as well. In addition, numerous non-governmental organizations, combatants’ associations and national-cultural societies use various ways to affect the city administration in order to define symbolic space and historical commemorations in the city. At the same time one should not overestimate the role of civil society and its ability to influence local politics of memory. It should be stressed that in spite of all changes in Ukraine, the city administration still has a strong impact on the politics of commemoration and has greater resources for changing the city’s symbolic landscape than the majority of institutions representing civil society. Any monument or memorial plaque planned for erection or renaming of a street has to be officially pre-approved and registered by the city government.

The other type of decolonization of memory, according to Pierre Nora, is interior decolonization, which affects ethnic, social, religious, sexual, and regional minorities.[5] In Ukraine, as in other counters, official discourses of the past are being confronted with voices from the margins, voices of groups ignored by the official historical meta-narrative. Agents representing these marginalized voices usually do not have equal assess to the politics of commemoration. They are frequently excluded from the process of decision-making. Therefore, in studying the processes of symbolic marking of urban space and the politics of memory, one should first of all examine the possible actors and their roles. Analyzing recent transformation in a symbolic landscape of Lviv, one notices that both processes (ideological and interior) of memory decolonization described by Pierre Norra coincide, thus making it even more complicated for investigation.

In this article I focus primarily on processes of ideological decolonization of memory describing the major shifts in the politics of memory that happened in Lviv after the Second World War. I will outline major changes in the symbolic representation of the historical past within the city landscape. Manifestations of internal decolonization will be discussed to a lesser extent.

The other dimension of this research requires the distinction between the levels in which these actors function or refer to when producing historical discourses. Eric Corijn suggests three levels in urban politics: world, nation, and city.[6] Our opinion is that this scheme does not reflect Lviv’s complexity because more components should be added: local, regional, national, continental (European), and global. Speaking of Lviv, one can note local, regional, national and Soviet models of the past that compete or coexist within the city space. Their competition can be marked sometimes by a sharp conflict about the politics of memory or, in some cases, by their mix and creation of hybrid markers.

Finally, a symbolic structure of discourses about the past and places of memory should be the next stage in an analysis of the city’s politics of memory. It should include three levels of inquiry, as indicated in Scheme 1.

Scheme 1:

  1. City as a social text: marking space and projecting an “identity” on the city
    • Monuments, memorial plates
    • Street names
    • Other (cemeteries, museums, interiors of shops and restaurants, etc.)
  2. Texts about the city: constructing a city image
    • Media
    • Guidebooks
    • Other (diaries, memoirs, fiction, films, paintings, etc.)
  3. City reflected in people’s identities
    • Internalization (commemorations, heroes)
    • Strategies of resistance

In my study I focus primarily on the first and the third levels. At the first level, one explores elements of the marking of modern urban space, and how identities are projected on a city. “City text”—its appropriation and demarcation—is one of the means by which various ideologies and identities are daily reproduced and imposed. Different models of the past—the official historical discourse produced by ruling elites as well as alternative ones produced by other actors—are inscribed into a city space through street names, monuments, memorial plaques, museums, archives, media and so on. My analysis of the changing symbolic landscape of Lviv will be limited to monuments, memorial plaques and street names as they are the most important markers of urban space. Simultaneously, a ll three markers are mutually reinforcing symbolic means of codification of urban space. Some streets were named according to the names of historical figures commemorated by monuments. Similarly one of the major functions of the memorial plaque was to explain to city dwellers and tourists, the identity of the person whose name is given to a certain street. Monuments, memorial plaques and street names become a material embodiment of memories expressed in landscape and produce a system of meanings to legitimize a particular vision of the historical past.

The City as a Social Text: Marking Space and Projecting “Identity” on a City


Soviet Periods (1939-41/1944-1991)

As our analysis shows, one of the important tasks for a new political regime was to eliminate any specific signs of Polish presence in the city (after the forced exchange of population between the Polish Republic and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) and symbolically (re)codify contested urban space. After Lviv became a part of the Soviet Union most important Polish monuments were destroyed or moved to Poland, e.g., a monument to Alexander Fredro to Wroclaw, Jan Sobieski to Gdansk. Only those four monuments were left that could be re-articulated and incorporated into a Soviet version of Lviv history as monuments to “revolutionaries”—Mickiewicz, Kilinski, G?owacki, Kapusci?ski and Wiszniewecki. All other commemorative elements symbolically connected to the Polish national past were “deleted.” Special efforts were made at “wiping out” all Polish and Ukrainian military cemeteries or monuments devoted to fallen soldiers, as well as local landmarks representing World War I battlefields (“Cmentarz Orl?t,” cemetery of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, etc.), which could be refashioned into the sacred experience or collective memory of other nations, disconnecting them from the Soviet historical model. All of them were destroyed. New Soviet war memorials and cemeteries were built instead of them.

The fact that even during a relatively short period of controlling Lviv, between September 1939 and June 1941, Soviet administration managed to erect its first monument illustrates the significance of monuments for the legitimization of Soviet power. This monument was devoted to Stalin’s Constitution and symbolically it marked the central point of the city. Made of cheap materials, it was destroyed during the Second World War. During the next period of Soviet rule (1944-1991) the city’s center was marked by Lenin’s statue erected in 1952, which was a starting point for official tourist routes.

During the period of 1944-1991, 24 new monuments were built. Many of them (9 monuments) commemorated Soviet figures (Lenin, Kuznietsov) or historical events important for the legitimization of the Soviet character of the city: Memorial of the Unification of Western Ukraine with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1939, Memorial of Fighters for Power of Soviets, cemetery and memorial devoted to fallen soldiers of the two World Wars—Hill of Glory, cemetery and memorial devoted to fallen soldiers of World War II, Memorial to Tankists-Liberators, Monument of Battle Glory of the Soviet Armed Forces, and Monument to Lecturers and Students fallen in the Second World War. The cult of the “Great Patriotic War” was built systematically in Lviv as everywhere else in the Soviet Union.

Another group of new monuments was commemorating Ukrainian Soviet writers or artists (Halan, Havrylyuk, and Tudor) that were supporters of the Soviet regime or people representing professions particularly glorified in Soviet discourse (cosmonauts, geologists, doctors). Finally, the last group of monuments was devoted to Ukrainian historical figures or writers and events that were rearticulated and incorporated into the Soviet historical meta-narrative (Franko, Kryvonos, Pidkova, Stefanyk, Cossacks) or Russian historical figures (e.g., Ivan Fedorov) representing Russian-Ukrainian collaboration through the city’s past. Even though the internationalism was one of the major elements in propaganda about the Soviet identity, some traditional city minorities, like Armenians and Jews, remained almost totally invisible in the Soviet city landscape.

Present Ukrainian Period

A process of ideological decolonization of memory from the Soviet past often took place through the destruction or re-articulation of the most visible symbolic markers. In many cities Soviet monuments were selectively destroyed after Ukraine became independent. Lviv was the first city in the Soviet Union where Lenin’s monument was destroyed. Besides Lenin’s monument, another seven monuments were removed. These included statues of Soviet personalities (like Kuznietsov) and monuments commemorating important Soviet historical events (like Memorial of the Unification in 1939 or Memorial of Fighters for Power of Soviets). An exception was made for Soviet cemeteries and memorials of World War II. This policy might be explained in part by the influence of the central Ukrainian government. A differentiation between local and national actors proves to be useful here. On a country-wide scale, the Ukrainian government attempted to turn old Soviet holidays (Victory Day was the main one) into Ukrainian national ones and in this way to eradicate conflict between the Soviet historical legacy and new Ukrainian loyalty.[7] As a result, the official historical discourse made its impact on local practices of commemoration. All Soviet cemeteries and World War II monuments were left intact although there were frequent acts of vandalism.

The other group of monuments, intended for destruction (Halan, Havrylyuk) or complete oblivion (Tudor), had commemorated Ukrainian Soviet writers loyal to the Soviet regime.

One should take into account that many of the destroyed monuments were built in the grand Soviet style. These monuments were distinctive cult objects with a big “public distance” zone surrounding them. Thus the simple act of their destruction would not be enough for successful re-signification of a city space. New city administration did not have enough resources to rebuild them, but the majority of these spaces were marked by memorial stones informing the public that in the future new monuments would be erected.

None of the Polish monuments that were present in the city during the Soviet regime were destroyed after 1991 and in some cases the area surrounding them was improved. Another 16 monuments (67%) erected in the Soviet period were left practically without any changes by the new regime. Among them the biggest group, six monuments, commemorated Ukrainian historical figures or events, four monuments were devoted to various professionals. They were rearticulated within a new historical discourse and turned into hybrid markers.

Among other commemorative practices one should mention the restoration of pre-Soviet Polish and Ukrainian cemeteries, and partial restoration of the Jewish cemetery. But the most visible one was the erection of 36 new monuments within 14 years. The largest number of newly erected monuments, 22 in number, commemorate Ukrainian historical figures or events. Three mark Jewish places of memory, one is devoted to the Czech political leader Massarik, and one to a Russian poet Pushkin.[8] This visible tendency of inclusion of other nationalities into the process of symbolic codification of the city space should not be attributed exclusively to the politics of city administration. Rather, all these commemorative activities correspond to a process of interior decolonization of memory (using Nora’s concept). It is a result of the cooperative efforts of various national-cultural associations and NGOs, though sometimes contested by supporters of the dominant Ukrainian historical discourse.

Another large group of recently built monuments in Lviv are monuments to the traumatic memories of the Second World War as well as of Soviet and Nazi totalitarian regimes (Holocaust, Famine, GULAG, NKVD and Gestapo victims). Only a few of them honored the non-Ukrainian national group of victims. The majority of them address victims in general, without naming any particular group.

An analysis of the distribution of monuments built after 1991 in Lviv according to the professional spheres and historical periods they commemorate illustrates that the main emphasis is on the 19th and first half of the 20th century history (the pre-Soviet period when Lviv belonged to the Habsburg monarchy or was a part of the Polish state) which is often idealized both by Lviv intellectuals[9] and media-discourse[10] as the “golden age.” World War II is the second period to which newly erected monuments are related. At the same time, by paying attention to the sequence of monument erections, we notice a continuing redefinition of commemorational practices of Lviv from the traumatic events of World War II and the Soviet regime to the celebration of scientific and cultural achievements with a special focus on pre-Soviet ones.

Memorial Plaques

Soviet Periods (1939-41/1944-1991)

Practically all Polish and Ukrainian pre-war memorial plates were destroyed. Instead, 80 new memorial plaques were installed during Soviet rule: 21 of them were devoted to Soviet personalities (whose ethnic belonging, in line with the Soviet ideology, was almost never stated in inscriptions); 47 to Soviet events. Together they made up 85% of newly erected plaques. A proportionally small number of memorial plaques—nine plaques or 11% of the total—were devoted to Ukrainian historical figures or events re-signified to support and legitimize the Soviet model of history, as well as to Ukrainian Soviet artists. Other ethnic groups remained practically invisible during the Soviet-era in the city landscape. Only two memorial plaques were devoted to a local Polish personality—a leader of workers’ protests in inter-war Poland (Kozak), but his ethnic origin was never declared. A single historical figure, whose ethnic origin was openly declared, was Russian printer Fedorov, who introduced book-printing technologies in Cyrillic in both Russia and Ukraine.

Present Ukrainian period

After 1991 commemorative activities in the form of memorial plaques in Lviv were basically following the same patterns of codification of urban space as was the case in regard to monuments. Inherited from the Soviet period, plaques became a subject of selective destruction or preservation. A significant number of Soviet memorial plaques “survived” after 1991 (50 plaques or 62.5%). The majority of those memorial plaques were devoted to Ukrainian historical personalities or artists (35 plaques or 70%); the other seven to Soviet historical figures representing Russian ( six plaques) or Byelorussian (one plaque) personalities; and two to a Polish revolutionary (Kozak).

Sixty-nine new memorial plaques were erected in Lviv between 1991 and 2004. (A comparable number of memorial plaques were erected in Lviv during the 47 years of Soviet rule.) This number reveals a scale of commemorative activities that were taking place within a city space during the last decade. Out of them 55 (80%) were marking Ukrainian places of memory, three (4%) Polish, three (4%) Jewish, one (1.5%) Russian, one (1.5%) German, one (1.5%) Hungarian, and four (6%) commemorated victims of World War II and Nazi or Soviet repression, while the rest were devoted to some other events, such as the UNESCO heritage plaque. Here one can notice a tendency, albeit a weak one, to include some elements of other nationalities’ pasts and their places of memory into the symbolic space of Lviv.

One can also notice a focus on the pre-Soviet past, both among memorial plaques that were selectively left and among newly erected ones. The greater part of Soviet memorial plaques that survived the change of regimes were devoted to artists and scholars (38 plaques or 76%), representing less ideologically engaged spheres of activities. As a rule, these memorial plaques commemorate people or historical events from pre-Soviet epochs (40 plaques or 80%).

As a part of a process of reclaiming Lviv’s multicultural past, nine memorial plaques from pre-1939 times were recently restored. They represent five Polish personalities, three Ukrainian, and one marking the place of the invention of a gas lamp. One can notice a similar tendency in regard to the erection of new monuments. Here again the main focus of memorial plaques is on the commemoration of pre-Soviet events and historical personalities with emphasis upon political figures and artists. The second most numerous group of memorial plaques was devoted to victims of the Second World War and of Soviet repression, although public attention to commemoration of these events gradually decreases by 2004.

Street names

Soviet Periods (1939-41/1944-1991)

An analysis of changes of names of Lviv streets, first under the Soviet regime, and then under the new Ukrainian one, sheds light on the specific regional features of the politics of memory in the city. It also illustrates the politics of both regimes towards various nationalities living in the city. A complex study of the political role of street names in Lviv for the period of 1871-1997 was conducted by Yaroslav Hrytsak and Viktor Susak in the article “Constructing a National City: A Case of Lviv.” Below I will briefly summarize their findings and compare them with the outcomes of my own research.

During the first period of Soviet rule (1939-41), the process of symbolic re-codification of city space was not as intensive as during the second one (1944-1999). Between 1939 and 1941 only 39 street names were changed. By contrast, in the period between 1944 and 1969, 85 % of streets were renamed.[11]

Changes in street names during this period followed the same logic as the erection of monuments and memorial plaques. The largest group of historical names of streets referred strictly to Soviet history— 24% by 1969. The Soviet image of Lviv was even more pronounced if one takes into account other, non-historical street names: 13% referred to localities of the Soviet Union and commu­ nist Eastern and Central Europe; another 5 % represented the new industrial character of the city.[12] These new industrial developments, which occurred in Lviv under Soviet rule, became substantial elements in the representation of the Soviet character of the city and central points for tourist guidebooks for that period.[13]

By analyzing the ethnic composition of historical figures chosen for naming streets in the Soviet period, one can note a tendency similar to that observed with monuments and memorial plaques. S treet names devoted to Ukrainian historical figures never made up a majority. Although d emographically Ukrainians were the dominant group in Soviet Lviv, symbolically they were a minority, so that by 1969 Ukrainian street names made up 20% of all streets in Lviv. Russians formed the second largest ethnic group in the city after World War II. As a result, the symbolic space of Lviv was marked for the first time by street names devoted to Russian historical figures. Another symbolic function of these street names was to create such city landscapes which would stress the common historical roots of Russian and Ukrainian people and to create the illusion that this city always belonged to “Ukrainians, who in 1939 after six centuries of foreign invasions finally united with their brothers in the Soviet Ukraine.”[14] For this purpose the n ames of Ukrainian and Russian historical figures were carefully selected, so that they were included into the Soviet meta-narrative. All other names, including representatives of the traditional city ethnic groups, were reduced to a minimum, especially Polish ones . The Soviet regime wanted to “delete” from the city practically all traces of the previous Polish presence and through the new marking system of street names legitimize its own vision of the past. Few Polish street names were left (Kopernik, Mickiewicz, and Kosciuszko were the most prominent), and the few that were introduced (like Ba nach and Boy-Zelinski) could be regarded as part of the Soviet historical pantheon, which included so-called “progressive figures” from different national cultures who fit into the Soviet model of the past.[15] At the same time Jewish street names were totally obliterated. This repeats the same tendency for complete marginalization of Polish names and total exclusion of Jewish names which became evident in my analysis of monuments and memorial plaques . After comparing the Polish case described by Kapralsky,[16] to the Ukrainian case of Lviv, one can see that the politics of memory employed by communist regimes in both countries aimed at ignoring the multinational composition of these societies, especially the presence of Jews who were to become the least visible group.

Present Ukrainian period

One should stress that the degree of civil society involvement in the process of renaming streets was greater than in the case of erecting monuments or memorial plaques. For this purpose a special expert committee was formed at the city council, which consisted mostly of professionally trained historians. Some streets were renamed according to appeals signed by groups of people, e.g., the student appeal for John Lennon street. Other renamings were hotly debated in the local media, such as the renaming of Lermontov street, previously devoted to a famous Russian writer, into Dudaev street, named after a Chechen leader killed during the first Russian-Chechen conflict.

Street renaming took place on a much larger scale than the removal or erection of monuments and plaques. If two thirds of monuments and memorial plaques erected during the Soviet time also “survived” the new Ukrainian government, the vast majority of street names that created a Soviet image of the city were changed. As Hrytsak and Susak show, the main aim of the process of renaming was to give to the city a Ukrainian character, and in this way to promote a national version of Ukrainian historical memory. Prefer­ ences were made to names of Ukrainian historical figures that were banned during the Soviet period. These names were chosen for the central and most populated streets within an intensive transport system . Another aim was to cover certain quarters with sets of names representing chapters of Ukrainian national history. The center of the city was turned into a symbol of unification for all Ukrainian lands striving for national liberation. For instance, one of the central squares was named after so-called sobornist , a central idea of Ukrainian nationalism.[17]

One can detect the same logic used in the selection of historical figures, whose names were given to certain streets, as to names and events commemorated by monuments or memorial plaques. Preference was given to figures representing modern Ukrainian history of the 19th and 20th centuries with a special focus on Galician personalities. In general, the politics of memory and symbolic marking of Lviv represents a model of the historical past that stresses the im­portance of L’viv and Galicia in modern Ukrainian nation-building.

Another trend in street-renaming, which has its parallels in the erection of new monuments and memorial plaques, was the certain recognition of the multicultural character of the city. It involves both a limited restoration of former Polish and Jewish street names and the introduction of new names. As Hrytsak and Susak conclude, in 1997 20% of all L’viv streets that were devoted to historical figures had non-Ukrainian names. T he largest non-Ukrainian group is still represented by Russian names although their number declined to 32% of what it was before . The majority of Russian street names are devoted to pre-Soviet writers, scholars or artists (Herzen, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Korolenko, and others). On the other hand, the number of Polish and Jewish street names increased as a result of a limited restoration of some pre- 1939 names or the giving of new names. (Polish names increased from nine in 1986 to 17 in 1997, and Jewish[18] names from none in 1986 to five in 1997.)[19] Comparing the proportion of monuments, memorial plaques and street names commemorating the historical past of non-Ukrainian groups, one discovers that the renaming of streets had the most multicultural character. Such a difference can be explained, first, by the greater involvement of civil society; second, by the fact that street renaming required fewer resources; and third, by the much larger number of streets in comparison to the number of monuments or memorial plaques which allowed the application of a much wider repertoire of historical names and events.

The City’s Reflection in People’s Minds

Previous sections of this article were devoted to the analysis of changes in the symbolic landscape of Lviv as well as to policies of memory formation and commemoration. Our focus was on the processes of symbolic codification of contested urban space represented in attempts to (re)read and (re)write the city as a social text by the construction of specific historical images through changes in street names, and the erection or removal of monuments and memorial plaques. Historical discourses, imposed on the city and its dwellers by ruling elites can either be internalized or provoke various strategies of resistance and attempts to decolonize memories. The visibility and strength of strategies of resistance may also depend on the level of democracy and tolerance towards others.

Strategies of Resistance

In the Soviet period alternative memories had very limited space for their manifestation, and were restricted primary to the private sphere (hidden family stories and commemorations, usage of old street or place names) and semi-legal or underground activities, as with Samizdat. Today Lviv’s inhabitants may apply a wider spectrum of resistance to express their contested memories, although the situation is far from being tolerant or multicultural. The most visible new strategies for the representation of conflicting memories include the following: community celebrations of their own religious or national holidays, the creation of “alternative” tourist routes or guidebooks, the creation of new or restoration of old (pre-Soviet) places of memory (Pushkin monument, Memorial to Lviv ghetto victims, “Cmentarz Orl?t”), the usage of alternative names for official places of memory (the monument of Taras Shevchenko is called “a frog,” and the monument of Danylo Halytsky is “a circus rider”), and finally, unattended or “dead” monuments, for which M.Yampolsky comments that, “in reality monuments rarely become objects of a genuine cult or admiration,”[20] which proved to be the case with the monument to dead policemen. Other strategies include painting graffiti or even acts of vandalism.


In analyzing dominant discourses produced by local and/or national ruling elites, one should also ask a question about their support or level of internalization by the inhabitants of Lviv. To what extent is this city’s image reflected in people’s identities? Which holidays, national heroes and historical events became part of their historical memory? Here I would like to analyze whether an attempt to promote a Ukrainian national version of the historical past became a part of Lviv dwellers’ collective memory. Results form the “Lviv-Donetsk”[21] sociological survey will be used for this purpose. Two open questions were included in the questionnaire[22] to examine the repertoire of national “heroes” and “anti-heroes” important for inhabitants of Lviv. Those Lviv respondents who answered the question about national heroes produced a list of 73 positive personalities. Practically all of them represented Ukrainians. Only three Russian heroes (Suvorov, Fedotov, Yeltsyn) and three Soviet heroes (Gorbachev, Brezhnev, Khrushchev) appeared on the list. No Polish or Jewish heroes were named.

A list of those who, according to Lviv respondents, played a “negative” role in the history of Ukraine, was even shorter—58 figures. Among the “anti-heroes” Soviet personalities made 33.7%, Russians 6.7%, and other nationalities 3.1%. In the last category we find names of two Polish historical figures—King Kazimerz and Pilsudski.

If one compares the list of historical figures commemorated in monuments and memorial plaques with the list of heroes produced by Lviv dwellers, it becomes obvious that the level of internalization of historical figures is very low. Out of all monuments representing national heroes in Lviv, only seven names (or 22%) were recalled by the respondents. Among historical personalities commemorated in monuments but never named by Lviv respondents were monuments devoted to Polish historical figures (G?owacki, Kapusci?ski, Kilinski, Mickiewicz), as well as to Ukrainian figures (Kryvonos, Pidkova, Stefanyk, Trush).

Our analysis demonstrated that inhabitants of Lviv are even less acquainted with historical figures celebrated by memorial plaques. Out of 103 historical figures that were commemorated, Lviv respondents recollected only 10 names (9.7%). Therefore, despite all the attempts of rulings elites to mark the Lviv landscape symbolically, they are confronted with counter-memories and various practices of resistance, which have impact on the degree of internalization of projected historical identities and images of the city.

Concluding Remarks

Our comparative analysis of changes in Lviv symbolic space and its places of memory after the Second World War demonstrates that some markers representing L’viv as a Ukrainian city were introduced during the Soviet rule. Communists in their legitimizing strategies referred also to the Ukrainian national tradition, but this was a carefully selected combination of dominant Soviet and, to a limited extent, Ukrainian symbols. Their combination intended to create a Soviet Ukrainian image of the city.

Nazi and Soviet manipulations of memory (with support from the local population) had caused the almost complete destruction of Jewish and Polish, and partially Armenian and Ukrainian, places of memory and profoundly changed Lviv’s commemorative space, which practically lost its multiethnic character. The difference between Ukrainian and other East-Central European cases was that Ukrainians in Soviet-ruled Lviv, despite being the most numerous ethnic group in the city, did not dominate the politics of memory. Their past, with the exception of some selected elements that were incorporated into the Soviet historical meta-narrative, was destroyed and distorted.

There were also other important differences between the other East-Central European cities, e.g., in Lithuania or Poland. In most cases the prevailing trend after 1991 was to reclaim the country’s and city’s history from “communist distortion” and to place upon the city’s landscape a national (Lithuanian, Polish, or Ukrainian) model of the past. At the same time, there is still little agreement about what is Ukraine’s national past. Therefore, in analyzing Lviv’s case one should consider actors involved in the process of the re-codification of the city’s space and its variations of a Ukrainian national past that they are trying to impose. In some cases there might be a strong disagreement between the Ukrainian model imposed by the central government (which allocates money to the city’s budget) and the local administration or Lviv inhabitants. Thus, Lviv can hardly be taken as an example representing an all-Ukrainian model of a national past in its politics of memory.[23] It has strong regional variations.

At the same time, it would be an oversimplification to describe Lviv’s politics of memory as having been imposed by a city council, which resulted in an omni-directional construction of the Ukrainian image of the city with some regional variations. It is a multi-vectored process, where local associations and NGOs representing different political, ethnic, religious, generational or gender groups cooperate or compete in their attempt to define Lviv’s symbolic landscape. There could be a strong disagreement between them, as well as between them and the city administration about what should be commemorated, in which form this should happen, and which symbols should be used as representations.

Concurrent with the central tendency to articulate a Ukrainian image of the city there is another strong tendency present in Lviv’s politics of memory and practices. It can be described as an attempt to symbolically “write” the city back into a larger European historical past (here again one can find similarities with Lithuanian and Polish cases). Discourse about the “European-ness” of Lviv is articulated by different actors––official historical discourse (city administration), groups representing local civil society and private commercial practices (the usage of “European” names and the interior of restaurants or coffee houses, sculptures of Szwejk or Musketeer at front doors, etc.). The “Ukrainian” and “European” city’s “identity,” projected by historical discourses, has a very complex relationship. On the one side, the discourses are mutually constituent and strengthening. They are Ukrainian by claming that Lviv always belonged to a Europe, that it was the “pearl of Europe.” Lviv is often described as the most European city in Ukraine both architecturally and according to the political orientations of its inhabitants. And the historical discourses are also European through Lviv’s tourist and commercial search for “exotic” uniqueness and diversity where it can easily play the role of an “exotic” Europe. At the same time, these historical discourses and their places of memory can be mutually exclusive. Ukrainian historical and commemorational discourse in Lviv represents a modern project. Yet, a new European historical and commemorational discourse refers rather to a post-modern tradition, which questions the possibility of such a modern unifying nation-building project. For this new European historical discourse the past is always incomplete, fragmented and heterogeneous; it does not exist as a given object, but is always a fight between dominant memory and “counter-memory”—memories of groups excluded from the collective commemoration practices.

The difference between the Ukrainian and Polish cases is that in Poland “communists in their legitimizing strategies referred often to the Polish national tradition.” At the same time, as described above, though Ukrainians in Lviv were the most numerous among ethnic groups, they were not dominant in the politics of memory. Thus, today Lviv’s city administration is facing a challenging task. From the one side, the majority of city dwellers are Ukrainians who support a tendency to present Lviv’s commemorative landscape as genuinely and homogeneously Ukrainian. From the other, striving for an image of a democratic and pro-European city, a “pearl of Europe,” the municipal government could not avoid restoration of the city’s previous multiethnic and multicultural milieu. But then a question rises: who decides what should be restored and preserved? The scope of this restoration remains open. Some ethnic groups are too small to place any stronger pressure on the government: in 2001 Poles made 0.88% of the entire population; Jews were 0.27%, Armenians 0.11%.It should also be considered that these ethnic (in pre-modern times, religious) groups had different experiences of cooperation as well as competition. Therefore, another question is how to present these contested memories. And how does one overcome a possible segregation of each groups’ memories and to make them part of the multicultural identity of inhabitants in Lviv?

The review of current trends in the politics of memory presented in this article shows that despite Lviv’s highly homogenized population, its symbolic urban space is represented by fragmented memories. Following the collapse of the communist regime in East-Central Europe, Ukrainian society began a process of ideological decolonization of memory and a reformulation of old identities. The work of ideological decolonization is very visible in the symbolic urban space of Lviv represented by new monuments, memorial plaques and street names, where the main contesting pasts are Soviet and pre-Soviet, often Ukrainian. It cannot be described simply as a straightforward replacement of the old Soviet model by a new Ukrainian one, for two reasons: first, the new Ukrainian model is itself a subject of struggle; second, Ukrainian and Soviet models are not always conflicting. The new Ukrainian memory has heterogeneous representations and is contested by many actors at both the local and national level.

Lviv’s urban space is accompanied by another type of decolonization—memory-interior decolonization—where dominant discourses from the past are being confronted with voices from the margins. Therefore, the tendency to present Lviv’s commemorative landscape as homogeneously Ukrainian is constantly questioned by present day minorities, especially if one considers its multinational and multicultural past. Taking into account the fact that some of these minority groups previously held a dominant position in Lviv and had their own politics of memory and projects of symbolic codification of the city, a major question emerges. How are these contested memories reflected in a city’s present-day landscape? One can speak about the segregation of memories, when each national group focuses foremost on symbolic representations of their own history articulated in monuments, commemoration rituals, “tourist routes,” etc., and pay less attention, if any, to the memories of other groups. Reconstructed minorities’ memories expressed within Lviv’s symbolic space remain overlooked by the majority of Lviv’s inhabitants (as shown by our analysis of historical identities of Lvivites) or are perceived as a danger to the dominant model of the past. However, two new tendencies appear. First, there is an emergence of new urban identity, which can be described as an attempt to overcome national identity; here the key marker is Lviv’s multicultural past.

Another tendency is the reorientation of commemorations in Lviv from being focused primarily on national symbols to celebration of the cultural and scientific achievements of the region, which include other nationalities. This process is stimulated by an attempt to maintain a new image of Lviv as a democratic European city, which includes recognition and declarations of city’s multiculturalism. Finally, Lviv’s multiculturalism is partially “reinvented” for tourists. Lviv’s uniqueness and cultural heritage become products for the tourist industry. Tourists are invited to enjoy the celebration of diversity through the process of consuming the urban representations of culturally distinct pasts.


1. My visit to the IWM, which resulted in this article, was sponsored by the AFP. A full version of this article will be published in 2008 by the Seminar of East-Central European Studies at the University of Bremen.

2. See collected volumes of articles or special issues of academic periodicals devoted to Lviv that were recently published: ??????? , 2002, ??? .7-8 ; ? , 2003, ? .29; Austrian History Yearbook , 2003. V.34; Lviv: A City in the Crosscurrents of Culture. Ed. by J.Czaplicka. (Cambridge, Mass., 2005); Composing Urban History and the Constitution of Civic Identities. Ed. by John J. Czaplicka. (Baltimore – London , 2003) ; ??????? ?????? ? ????? ????? / ???. ???. ?.???????. ?. 1- 2. ?????, 2007.

3. Content-analysis of street names was already performed by Hrytsak, Ya., Susak, V. “Constructing a National City: A Case of Lviv.” Composing Urban History and the Constitution of Civic Identities. Ed. by John J. Czaplicka. ( Baltimore – London , 2003), 140-164.

4. ???? , ?. “ ????????? ????????? ?????? . ” ???????????????? ????? , 2005 , T . 40-41 www.nz-online.ru/index.phtml?cid=10010434 ( February 3, 2007 ).

5. Ibid.

6. Bouldry, L. and Corijn, E. The Century of the City. (Brussels, 2005), 89.

7. This assumption is based on the official speeches of President L.Kuchma posted at www.president.gov.ua.

8. Pushkin monument is representing a vo i ce of counter-memory of a marginalized group — Russian Society. It was erected as their private initiative and is often vandalized by Ukrainian radicals.

9. Zayarnyuk , A. “’ Lviv Über Alles, ’ an Eden for Intellectuals .” S.Ingram, M.Reisenleitner, C. Szab?-Knotik (eds.), Floodgates Technologies, Cultural (Ex)change and the Persistence of Place, (Frankfurt/M, 2006), 149-184.

10. Sereda, V. “Regional Historical Identities in Ukraine: Case Study of Lviv and Donetsk.’ ??????? ??????? . ???????????? ??????????? “ ?????-??????????? ???????? . ” ???????????? ????? , 2002, No .20: 26-34.

11. Hrytsak, Ya., Susak, V. “Constructing a National City: A Case of Lviv.” Composing Urban History and the Constitution of Civic Identities. Ed. by John J. Czaplicka. ( Baltimore – London , 2003), 149.

12. Ibidem : 149.

13. ?????????? ?. ?????. ?????????, 1975; ?????????? ?. ????? : ??? ??? ?????????? ? ??????? . ?????, 1984.

14. ?????????? ? . ????? . ????????? , 1975 :5.

15. Hrytsak, Ya., Susak, V., “Constructing a National City: A Case of Lviv,” 150.

16. Kapralsky S. “Battlefields of memory: landscape and identity in Polish-Jewish relations.” History and Memory , 2001 , No. 2 : 35-58.

17. Hrytsak, Ya., Susak, V., “Constructing a National City: A Case of Lviv,” 153-154.

18. Three Jewish street names (Starojevrejs’ka, Diamand, Rapoport) were returned their old historical names and other two streets were given new names (one was devoted to Meyer Balaban and the other one to Shalom Aleichem).

19. Ibid., 155-156.

20. Yampolsky, M . “In the Shadow of Monuments: Notes on Iconoclasm and Time.” Soviet Hieroglyphics. Visual Culture in Late Twentieth Century Russia. (Bloomington, 1995), 9 2 .

21. This survey was conducted by the Institute for Historical Research (Ivan Franko National University of Lviv) and the University of Michigan in 1994, 1999, 2004 in Lviv and Donetsk under supervision of American professor Oksana Malanchuk, Ukrainain professors Yaroslav Hrytsak and Natalia Chernysh, Viktor Susak and Viktoria Sereda. Sample: 400.

22. “Name 3 historical persons, who played the most positive role in the history of Ukraine” and “Name 3 historical persons, who played the most negative role in the history of Ukraine.”

23. Discussion o n disagreements between the Ukrainian model of the past imposed by the central government and local variations of historical memory in Lviv see in: ?????? ?.?. ??????????? ??????????? ?????????? ????????????? ?? ?? ????? ?? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ?????????? ? ???????. ???????. ????: ???????? ?????????? ????, 2006.

Time, Memory, and Cultural Change IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. XXV
© 2009 by the author. Readers may redistribute this article to other individuals for noncommercial use, provided that the text and this note remain intact. This article may not be reprinted or redistributed for commercial use without prior written permission from the author. If you have any questions about permissions, please contact Klaus Nellen at IWM.

Preferred citation: Sereda, Viktoria. 2009. Politics of Memory and Urban Landscape: The Case of Lviv after World War II. In: Time, Memory, and Cultural Change, ed. S. Dempsey and D. Nichols, Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. 25.