Response to the forum by Tarik Cyril Amar

First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the organizers and contributors of this forum; their initiative and work are much appreciated. In the following, I will discuss (not very systematically, I am afraid) several points raised in the contributions by (in alphabetical order) Christian A. Hess, Elidor Mëhilli, and Tom Williams. For the sake of brevity, I will not say much about comments that point to agreement with my work (although those have been very welcome as well), but focus on those that are critical, point to things missing or possibilities not (fully) realized, and suggest further avenues of research and debate.

Christian Hess provides fascinating points of comparison with his work on the Chinese city of Dalian that underwent Soviet and Japanese regimes during its transformation from a colonial port to a Chinese Communist production city (such as the importance of disruptive war as well as long-term processes that cut across regime changes). He raises a number of important questions about my book, of which I would like to highlight one in particular, i.e. how newcomers integrated into Lviv apart from the workplace (which I understand, hopefully correctly, to also refer to higher education here): in that respect there remains much that could (I believe, should) be explored further, such as kinship and regional networks, the roles of the black and gray markets, and of “corruption.” The efforts of Soviet elites to, as it were, “city-train” their new urbanites (often in a condescending manner that articulated their self-idealization and reaffirmed their own elite status) also deserve more systematic exploration, especially because urbanizing others is also a way to claim one’s own urbanity. Leisure, consumption, and generational differences and interactions come to mind as well.

To some extent, I think, some of these issues are present in my work. But I can only agree that there is much room for more work. One thing that, I feel, I have been able to do is lay to rest the old misconception (unfortunately still making its way into the response to my book from some historians in Lviv) that we can neatly divide the postwar years into an initial period when almost exclusively “easterners” resettled Lviv and a later period, beginning no earlier than the mid-1950s (and in some views even later than that) when “locals” began to arrive in large numbers. In fact, these two categories of newcomers were overlapping substantially from the beginning which makes the issues that need further research all the more interesting. (One young historian from Lviv I should mention in this respect is Halyna Bodnar, who is, strikingly enough, the only historian in Ukraine who has actually conducted and published extensive, original research based on archives and interviews into the resettling of Lviv over the postwar decades. Her work has, unfortunately, not been published in English and non-Ukrainian speakers are likely to encounter its results only in mediated form, which is a great pity.

Elidor Mëhilli points out that my book offers little on urban planning and, perhaps, in a related vein, Tom Williams regrets the absence of maps. They are both right, if for different reasons. Yes, there should have been maps (beyond the cover illustration) and I can only regret what is really a bit of an oversight on my part (perhaps relying too much on the internet as an alternative source).

Regarding urban planning, the absence of a chapter on it (which it easily deserves) is not an oversight. While it is clearly pertinent to the history of Lviv in the last century and would, I think, link up well with several themes my book covers, I made a (perhaps youthful) decision not to include it systematically early in my research, for two reasons: a promising work that focuses heavily on the material cityscape in postwar Lviv and Wrocław, including urban planning, is in the making by a different author. (Concerning Wrocław, but not Lviv, there is already Gregor Thum’s outstanding book, of course.)

Secondly, perhaps more fundamentally, while writing “The Paradox,” I tried to adopt a principle formulated by historian Jörg Baberowski – to focus on processes in a place less than on the place as such. In this sense, “The Paradox” was deliberately written in this spirit and not that of, for instance, Karl Schlögel. Another important example that has influenced my efforts has been Amir Weiner’s crucial “Making Sense of War,” a locally anchored study with a wide purview. Put differently, “The Paradox” is not and was not meant to be book that “reads time in space” in a Schlögelian vein. (Not, I should perhaps add, that I would like to argue that urban planning (and planners) could not be explored very much in a “process” register as well; they clearly could – and I hope, they will be. The above is really less an argument than a description of a path to an outcome as it stands now.)

All contributors ask about (to summarize) larger frames of comparison and broader contexts. They also ask in how far Lviv was unique, special, or typical. The first thing I should say about this point is that I feel they are fundamentally correct: there clearly is much more potential for comparison and contextualization than I have been able to exploit. In part (I’ll say it: although it’s predictable and somewhat self-serving, it’s also true) this is due to the limits of what one project realized by one person can do: I did not set out to do so, but it did become clear to me fairly quickly during my research that I needed to write a book focusing on revising existing narratives by, among other things, deploying deep and quite often unprecedented archival research, in which I had to go through a multiple of the materials that I actually used in the end. In sum, with Lviv’s historiography being what it was when I wrote “The Paradox,” I had to spend much time on building my own archival foundations from scratch, and this has biased the result toward an ever sharper as well as narrower focus on one city (all the while being attentive to its inherently transnational experience).

While I have made an effort to highlight some comparisons and contexts to signal, as it were, what was missing and awaits future research (and researchers), what the book could have featured but does not is, for instance, a separate chapter discussing them. Christian Hess’s comments regarding Dalian and those by Tom Williams on Alsace-Lorraine are truly inspiring in this regard because they point to potentials beyond Eastern Europe and beyond Europe as a whole. Clearly, a transnational and global urban history has wide vistas to explore – and in that respect my book can only be a very modest part of a hopefully much larger and growing whole.

Ellidor Mëhilli, no less importantly, raises the different question to what extent postwar Stalinist things happening beyond Lviv influenced Lviv. Again, this question as well is spot-on: indeed, a book that addresses Lviv under late Stalinism could spend more time on, say, the Lviv specifics of campaigns that were not targeted at Ukraine or nationalism in particular – for instance, campaigns such as the Kliueva-Roskin “case,” Lysenkoism, anticosmopolitanism; or events such as Stalin seventieth birthday and his death a few (but still too many) years later. In a similar vein, I could have dedicated more space to parallels in postwar collectivization or dirty wars of insurgency and counter-insurgency, for instance between the Baltics and Western Ukraine. Again, there is no doubt that much remains to be done, also by historians in Ukraine and especially Lviv, of course.

(By the way, during my research I never ceased to be astonished, just how very few local researchers found their way to the party branch of the archive, a fascinating and rich resource literally next door. I hope that the lively response that my work has found among some of Lviv’s historians will serve as an incentive to no longer neglect a period of time that may well be deeply unloved but whose impact on Lviv is second to none.)

My guess, however, is that works centering on comparison, context, and connections would really have to do precisely that: they would have to be designed around such an agenda as their main purpose. My feeling is (and that’s what it is, a felling) that we may not yet be at a stage where one, synthetic work can really symmetrically balance the local and beyond-local.

On the other hand. I would not want to draw a sharp line between the universally Soviet (or Stalinist) and the specifically Lvivian. As I tried to show in my reading of the anti-Hrushevskyi campaign or the Soviet re-forging of Lviv’s past, it was a fact and a pattern that the local and generally Soviet could not stop interacting – with, for good measure, the generally Soviet-Ukrainian thrown in as well.

I am certain that I have omitted important questions and comments raised by the contributors and I hope that I have not misunderstood the points that I have addressed. These would be my thoughts at this point and it remains for me to once again thank the reviewers and the organizers.







Life and Death on the Borderland

The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv is a superb study of the transformations that multiethnic Lviv (also known as Lwów and Lemberg) went through during and after the Second World War. Based on solid research in Polish, German, Ukrainian, and Russian sources, Amar does not deny the persistence of pre-Soviet modes in the city, but he makes a convincing case for the crucial importance of Soviet policy in making Lviv Ukrainian.

The author sees the city’s initial Sovietization of 1939-1941 (“The First Soviet Lviv”) as being about more than conquering space. He frames it as a mental exercise, a battle over expectations, and claims about the meaning of progress and historical possibility. To rule over Lviv was to rule over Poles and Ukrainians—for both of these groups, Lviv was a national symbol—as well as Jews. The Soviets demoted the Poles, but they did not get rid of them. On the other hand, new professional opportunities became available for local Ukrainians, but they were expected to show total commitment to the model of a Soviet Ukraine. (Some refused.) Jews, too, had to abide by a “Soviet Jewish” template. (Soviet authorities preferred “progressive” Yiddish to the “reactionary” Hebrew).

The Soviet “liberation” of Western Ukraine quickly became the stuff of celebratory articles, fiery speeches, and films. Like the Habsburgs, the “Bolshevik enlighteners,” offers Amar, “imagined Lviv as both marginal and central, backward and crucial: a potential proving ground for their cutting-edge modernity.” (62) The upshot, for this book, is that it offers neither the story of a capital (centralized power), nor the history of a backwater. Instead, it is the story of something suspended in between: a city on the edge, existing between physical cleansing and memory clearing.

Amar delivers striking details to illustrate the mechanics of Soviet power: Moscow’ Bezbozhnik journal writing about the “talmudists” of Lviv’s Golden Rose Synagogue as “overgrown with moss” like the building they congregated in (64), for instance, or the discussion of how Soviet authorities tried to lay claim to Mickiewicz, the great Polish icon (a “metaphorical and physical conquest,” 72). As with every instance of occupation, encounters are at the heart of the story; we get brilliant glimpses of personal contacts and conflicts between Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Some Ukrainians had dreamt of a united Ukraine, only to be disappointed by Soviet rule. Others believed in the promise of Soviet modernity. Soviet power, in other words, also drove differences among Ukrainians, including between eastern and western Ukrainians.

The Germans occupied Lviv/Lemberg shortly after launching their operation to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941. Much of the existing literature on wartime Eastern Europe is preoccupied with the similarities and differences between Soviet and German rule. And sure enough, the city’s inhabitants had to contend with these comparisons on a daily basis. But Amar is also concerned with what overlapped between occupations. The description of the 1941 pogrom is devastating. A Soviet-German continuity, he writes, was the propaganda warning non-Jewish inhabitants not to become Jew-like (“getting rich at others’ expense”) even as Jews were forced to sell their valuables to try and stay alive (106). Ghettoization followed, and then the shipments to the death camps. The book traces the looting of Jewish property, as well as the myriad of indirect ways of involvement in the mass persecution of Jews, as well as efforts to save them.

“More than two hundred thousands Jews from the former eastern Galicia were deported to death camps and murdered out of sight,” writes Amar, but some (between thirty and forty thousand) were murdered in the city’s outskirts. By the end of 1943, Lviv/Lemberg had undergone a profound transformation: “a historic metropole of Jewish culture was now reduced to the nightmare utopia of European anti-Semitism” (115). As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the arrival of the Germans excited native nationalists who nurtured visions of ethnic statehood. There has never been a shortage of opportunists in wartime, and Amar captures a variety of motivations among an admittedly broad and complex array of actors.

Why did some Ukrainians support the Germans? And does it make sense to look for only one reason? (This is not history driven by a single operative force.) Did Ukrainian patriotism and pragmatism necessarily conflict with German aims and brutal measures? (Amar argues that they did not.) How can we make sense of motivations that were not clearly spelled out in writing or in speech? And if they were, should we take them at face value?

Once the Jews were purged, Germans, Ukrainians and Poles made plans to remake the city—again. But when the Soviets returned, in July 1944, fortunes reversed once more. Since then, Lviv’s Polish population has gone from an absolute majority (in 1944) to less than 1 percent in the early 2000s. The expulsion of the Poles in the 1940s completed the “clearing” of the city’s population. Polish signs (street names, buildings, but also books) disappeared. This was yet another continuity across the typically sharp line drawn in 1944.

For decades after the war, Lviv turned into a center of conflict between western and eastern Ukrainian elites. Importantly, the city received an infusion of “outsiders” (Ukrainians, Russians, Soviet Jews). This new elite included government officials, party members, administrators, and technical staff. New terms emerged to describe this new reality (“locals,” “arrivals from the east”). This was in addition to the now consolidated Soviet jargon that marked individuals based on party affiliation, class, and behavior.

But despite the displacement and the sheer will of Soviet power, the old historic Lwów did not disappear completely; the very fact that “locals” were distinguished from “easterners,” argues Amar, meant that a sense of the old city survived. Under the guise of Soviet power and in light of the historic defeat of the Nazi war machine, a united Ukraine contained within it Lviv’s alienated Western Ukrainians.

After 1944, “the easterners” found themselves in a position of ideological authority. It was the “locals” who had to “catch up” with the Soviet east. Effectively, notes Amar, being “a local” after the war meant not being Jewish or Polish (182). Industry was at the core of the Soviet civilization, but so were collectivization and ideological work, which meant a battle against Ukrainian nationalists. Officials projected the idea of backwardness onto past Habsburg and Polish rule, just as the Ottoman Empire became a stand-in for backwardness in the post-World War II Balkans. The Western parts of Ukraine became “a test and triumph of the Soviet achievement” (186).

The idea of this local inadequacy vis-à-vis the Soviet civilization is picked up again in Chapter 6 (“Local Minds”), which shows how Lviv’s old intelligentsia became an instrument of this once-more Sovietization. The Ukrainians who stayed in Lviv in the interwar period, notes Amar, “missed out” on the Soviet project, and were thus urged to see themselves as “contaminated and underdeveloped, having missed out on the “‘great school of Socialism building’ of the interwar Soviet Union.” This accounts for Lviv’s paradox: the Soviet “liberation” of Western Ukraine, instead of erasing it, contributed to its persistence.

What about the city itself? Amar frames the story around the problem of urban administration, which explains the book’s sharp focus on schools, administrators, municipal politics, literary circles, and the Komsomol (youth organization). We get glimpses of the informal ground level forces unleashed by occupation and chaos (for example, in Chapter 3, on the removal of Polish traces, and the architectural aspect of postwar campaigns). The photographs, too, are helpful in giving the reader a sense of place amidst constant upheaval. Still, one reads hoping that Amar might go deeper into the history of Lviv’s urban planning. (The book’s splendid cover invites it.)

The author is razor-sharp in outlining Soviet shortcomings, especially with post-1944 labor mobilization, to the point that one wonders how the authorities got anything done at all. But more than that: how to analyze reported Soviet plan shortcomings in a system where shortcomings were necessary, indeed, a structural need?

The need to “catch up” in the 1940s and 1950s, finally, was neither limited to Lviv, nor to Soviet Ukraine. From the Balkans to East Asia, industry and cities became showcases of a backbreaking battle to overcome poverty by way of central planning. Given the complexity of Lviv’s history, perhaps it would be unfair to fault Amar for keeping the frame local. Clearly, there are advantages in doing so. This raises the question, however: To what extent is an understanding of post-Second World War Stalinism in Lviv dependent on what was happening to the world beyond Lviv?

Shared Paradoxes of European Borderlands

In this thoroughly researched monograph, Tarik Cyril Amar examines the turbulent, violent processes which transformed the multi-ethnic borderland city previously known as Lemberg (in German) or Lwów (in Polish) into the Soviet and Ukrainian city of Lviv. While the city today is a symbol of a western-looking Ukrainian national identity, Amar argues convincingly that this should not be attributed wholly to the notion that the city’s experiences before 1939, first as part of the Habsburg Empire and then in interwar Poland, set it apart from the rest of Soviet Ukraine. Rather, Amar suggests, the shaping of Lviv into a distinctly western Ukrainian city should be understood as the direct consequence of Soviet and Nazi policies during and immediately after the Second World War. This is the paradox announced in the book’s title: the city was transformed into a modern, Ukrainian national centre by two successive authoritarian regimes, and above all by a Soviet regime vehemently opposed to Ukrainian nationalism.

The central argument of The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv is that the processes of Sovietisation and Ukrainization were effectively inseparable. Moreover, the persistence of a distinctly western Ukrainian identity in Lviv is presented not simply as an oversight on the part of the Soviet authorities but as the result of Soviet policy itself: by making a sharp distinction between ‘locals’ and ‘easterners’ (i.e. between the not-yet-Sovietized borderland population and those who had already undergone the process before 1939) the Soviet regime reinforced a sense of regional difference that endured even after the western borderlands were declared to have ‘caught up’ with the rest of Ukraine. This argument is put forward persuasively, and one of the strengths of Amar’s analysis is the attention it gives to the category of the ‘local’ in Soviet policy-making and rhetoric, a category that, when applied to the region’s Ukrainian population after 1944, further reinforced the exclusion of the city’s former Polish and Jewish inhabitants from official memory.

By spanning the whole of the Second World War and immediate post-war period, and including a useful introductory chapter on earlier relations between the city’s main ethnic groups (of which Ukrainians, before 1939, had been the smallest and least powerful), Amar emphasises that there was nothing inevitable about the city’s Ukrainization under Soviet rule. Indeed, as his chapter on the first Soviet occupation of 1939-1941 suggests, the city’s ethnic composition and its path to Sovietisation might have looked very different had it not been for the intervening experience of German occupation from 1941 to 1944. Although the Nazi period is less central to the book’s main arguments, a meticulously researched chapter on this period reconstructs the wartime developments that would permanently change the face of the city: the demotion of the Lviv’s Polish population and the genocide of its Jewish population. Amar’s chronological framework also reveals the crucial if unintended continuities across this period, notably that Germans, Soviets and Ukrainian nationalists, despite their differences, all pursued policies of ‘ethnic unmixing’.

Amar’s study thus provides an excellent example of the value of historical approaches that cut across the twentieth century’s political ruptures and regime changes, demonstrating how Soviet and Nazi policies were formulated in opposition to previous regimes and how local responses were conditioned by past experiences. Ukrainian and Jewish interactions with their Soviet rulers after 1939, for example, were shaped by memories of national discrimination in interwar Poland; in turn, Ukrainian nationalist participation in pogroms during the Holocaust was fuelled by the claim that the city’s Jewish population had welcomed Soviet rule. By spanning these chronological ruptures, Amar’s study also underlines how each successive regime positioned its own version of modernity within longer historical narratives of progress and decline, civilisation and barbarism, ‘falling behind’ and ‘catching up’. Under Soviet rule, for example, the city’s supposed backwardness was blamed on Habsburg and Polish neglect; under National Socialism, the Habsburg past was used to present the city as a historical bulwark of European civilisation against the barbaric east. In other words, each successive regime not only put forward its own vision of the city’s bright future but also reinvented and appropriate the city’s past.

All in all, Amar’s study not only makes major contributions to the history of Sovietisation, Ukrainian nationalism and Nazi occupation, but it also makes extremely stimulating reading for anyone interested in nation-building and imperial projects in other European borderlands and contested territories. Although, understandably, such a local case study leaves little room for detailed comparisons with other cases, the brief references Amar does make to other cities (such as Vilnius and Grodno) are always illuminating and might have been developed further. Amar suggests at one point that ‘Lviv was special but not unique’ (footnote, p. 4) and elsewhere that ‘Lviv was typical of a broad stretch of territory from the Baltic to the Black Sea where Soviet conquest occurred twice, was interrupted by German occupation, and led to annexation’ (p. 6). Considering this broader regional context, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv could perhaps have gone a little further to explain just how uniquely paradoxical the case of Lviv should be understood to be. How, for example, did Soviet distinctions between ‘locals’ and ‘easterners’ contribute to the construction of national and regional identities elsewhere? In particular, a stronger sense of how the case of Lviv should be situated within the broader regional context would have given more precision to the claim put forward in the subtitle of the book’s conclusion that Lviv’s history represents ‘a Sonderweg through Soviet Modernity’. Should this Sonderweg thesis be understood as applying uniquely to urban, industrialised Lviv, or to all of western Ukraine, or indeed to other regions in the post-1945 Soviet West? Finally, though it may seem a minor inconvenience, readers who are not specialists in this particular region’s history may regret the fact that no maps have been included, an absence that is made rather more conspicuous by the use of a Soviet-era street map on the book’s cover. The inclusion of a few maps showing Lviv’s urban transformation and its position in relation to the shifting national and regional boundaries would have made a welcome addition to this very impressive study.

I should perhaps add that, as a specialist neither in the history of Sovietisation nor in this particular region’s past, I belong to this latter category of readers. My own research focuses on Germany’s western borderlands during the same period, particularly the border city of Strasbourg. Amar’s work on Lviv certainly makes stimulating reading for historians of other European borderlands, and it is tempting to see some elements of ‘the paradox of Ukrainian Lviv’ as symptomatic of a wider paradox inherent to national, imperial and civilising projects in other contested frontier regions. Both German and French nation-building projects in Alsace, for example, were likewise paradoxical insofar as each successive regime, despite declaring that the region would soon become an undifferentiated part of the national body, pursued policies of nationalisation and modernisation (often described in similar terms of ‘catching up’) that inevitably established a hierarchy between locals and outsiders and ultimately reinforced a sense of regional distinctiveness. Equally, though the post-war experience of Strasbourg of course had little in common with Soviet Lviv, an analogous paradox might be observed in the fact that it was in part the experience and memory of Nazi dictatorship that made post-war Strasbourg more unambiguously French than it had ever been before, as well transforming it into a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation and of the emerging European project.

Reading Lviv through the Lens of Modern Chinese History

I’d like to thank the organizers of the Second World Modernity project for affording me the opportunity to review this book, which I read with great interest and some trepidation.  As a specialist in Modern Chinese urban history, my grasp on Ukrainian and Soviet history is limited.  However, my own research focuses on Dalian, a city in Northeast China that was built and controlled by Russian and Japanese colonial powers through 1945, and then occupied by the Soviets after 1945, and finally ‘returning’ to the newly established People’s Republic of China in 1950.  While Dalian did not experience the same level of horrors and violence as Amar so powerfully uncovers for wartime Lviv, it did experience seismic shifts in its function and identity during the war and subsequent Chinese revolution.  Like Lviv, competing geopolitical powers vied to claim Dalian, a complex process that involved substantial ideological, material, and historical change.  The Soviet presence played a key role in Dalian’s postwar transformation from a Japanese colonial port city into a Chinese Communist production city.  I read Amar’s fascinating book with these and other comparisons in mind.  My review thus explores factors that stood out to me in my comparative reading of this book.

Amar’s work is rich in archival detail and navigates complex terrain in terms of confronting historical issues and competing nationalisms, the forces that various actors use to lay claim to this ‘paradoxical’ city.   The chapters cover themes that range from the operations of successive regime changes to the larger process of building urban Soviet socialism after the war, a project which included targeting and remolding both urban space and creating new urban identities.  Taken as a whole, the book reveals the ongoing process through which successive war regimes stake claims to a city with a diverse and contested past and in which socialist, internationalist and nationalist power simultaneously created new categories of the local.  As Amar shows us, the making of Ukrainian Lviv was rife with paradoxes and tragedy.  The story is tragic in that Ukranian Lviv was built via a process that involved the removal of the Polish and Jewish population along with the city’s rich history as a multi-ethnic space.  The paradoxes can at time be a bit harder to follow.

Amar’s analysis strikes a balance between local, national and international narratives.  Many of the factors at play in the making of modern Lviv were certainly unique and include the city’s location and position within successive states, geopolitical contestation in terms of claiming the city, the mass murder of the city’s Jewish population and subsequent forced (and horrific) population removals amidst successive regime changes.  However, Amar also skillfully shows us the larger forces that were instrumental to its modern experiences—namely total war, Sovietization, and industrialization, forces that were operating together in parts of Europe and Asia.  One of the major strengths of this book is that it not only provides insights into the local history of this contested city, but also offers broader comparative points about the nature of Soviet rule and the various paths involved in the establishment of socialist modernity in a given locale.

There are three major themes I see in the book that make it accessible for comparative scholars. The first is the central role that war played in the making of modern Lviv.  In my own field of modern Chinese history, scholars have shifted focus away from revolution toward the prolonged impact of warfare on the development of modern China.  As Amar forcefully puts it: “To understand the transformation of Lviv, its Sovietization and Ukranization, it is necessary not only to take into account the geopolitical outcome of the war but to integrate our picture of the grand strategies pursued by conquering states bent on fulfilling violent, ideology-driven project with an account of local experiences. (p.44).”  Building from this, one of Amar’s main arguments in the book is that the period from 1939 through the 1950s, which saw the city controlled by overlapping war regimes, should be viewed as central to understanding.  As he argues, the period is often characterized in later historical narratives by a simplistic, binary story of Sovietization (bad) vs. Ukrainization (good). Amar weaves a much more complex picture in which the two are intertwined and that the experiences and results of successive regime changes during wartime were the formative years of Lviv’s entry into the Soviet world.

Three chapters are devoted to the wartime period, a six year span which saw Lviv occupied by Soviet, German, and once again by Soviet forces. These occupation regimes each had a significant impact on Lviv and its people.  The most gut-wrenching and horrific change involved the mass murder of nearly the entire Jewish population of the city and Amar recounts in detail the robbery and land grabbing that accompanied the displacement and murder of the Jewish population, adding that Ukrainians collaborated with Germans in attacks on Jewish lives and property (98-102).  This is contrasted with the more gradual Soviet operations to remove the city’s Polish population and replace key posts with “Easterners.”

Amar reveals fascinating glimpses into the corrupt, sometimes chaotic ways the Soviet and German occupation authorities redistributed and flat out stole Jewish and Polish homes and property. I was particularly intrigued by Soviet efforts to redistribute housing along ideological lines.  A similar, Soviet-backed effort occurs in postwar Dalian, where the vacant homes of former Japanese colonial elites were redistributed to Chinese workers in a manner similar to what Amar describes.   We see in Lviv that the process of redistribution was in fact corrupted by market forces and by control of the new official class, many of whom were outsiders arriving in the city (177).  I wondered if there was evidence of people who had gained and then lost property in the shifting political winds of various occupation regime changes?

Amar highlights the fact that the decimation of the city’s prewar Jewish and Polish population and influx of new residents created an environment in the city that provoked “special ambitions and anxieties among its inhabitants and rulers”(171).  By shedding light on this mix of ambition and anxiety, we begin to see glimpses of the paradoxes alluded to in the title of the book. What promises or opportunities did the Soviet and German regimes make and provide to locals?  How did this work when, at the same time, the state viewed locals, particularly Poles and Jews—key members of the urban community (thus locals)—as backward?  In a comparative perspective, the Japanese imperial elites faced a similar quandary in their wartime empire, which, at the peak of war mobilization, promised equality to non-Japanese subjects while simultaneously dehumanizing them through forced labor, sexual slavery, and military service. In the case of Lviv, Ukrainians and Poles were often the target audience for ambitions of the state, yet were also made suspect in new ideologically driven Soviet system.

The first Soviet regime seemed to pay particular attention to issues of zoning and residence restrictions, part of what Amar describes as a process of “passportization” in which identities were forged or denied by the new bureaucracy (p.58).  Later, when the Soviets arrive again, they view Lviv as a place to fill up with cadres and officials from outside, in what looks like a heavy handed state effort to repopulate key portions of the population with “Easterners”.  These people received privileges in the forms of houses, jobs and more generous food allowances, a continuity with German practices (180-181).  Yet, we also see lots of unofficial movement in and out of the city as well, from refugees in the weeks after the end of the war to rural locals coming and going from urban jobs.  Beyond the work unit, how did these people integrate into city life? Was this possible or did these part-time urban residents maintain stronger affinity to their native rural homes?

The process of industrialization and development in Lviv is a second comparative theme in the book.  The rapid construction of factories and the creation of industrial jobs drew new people into the city, and this influx of Easterners and rural locals fuels some of the main social tensions in postwar Lviv.  Industrialization was also a major component in the reframing of Lviv as a central place in an expanding Soviet world. The new elite perceived Lviv as a “backward” place that was undergoing a rapid transformation to become a site of Soviet urban modernity. Amar’s book puts this into historical context: “Like Hapsburgs of earlier era, Bolshevik enlighteners imagined a Lviv as both marginal and central, backward and crucial—a potential proving ground for their cutting edge modernity (p.62).”

Lviv was thus imagined as a central place in terms of state-led modernization and development schemes, yet at the same time distanced from the center as a peripheral border city in need of development. This seemingly paradoxical state of affairs was not unprecedented.  For example, in the late 1930s and early 1940s Japanese imperial elites implemented a utopian industrialization plan for Manchuria, a region targeted as a model for Japanese-led rapid modernization.  Manchuria was urbanized and industrialized yet during this process colonial elites simultaneously enforced and intensified colonial racial hierarchies that denied or restricted Chinese and Koreans from full access to this new modernity.

A major part of the new narrative constructed for Lviv involved the arrival of Soviet modernity, which, as industrial jobs came online, would be experienced by a key segment of the city through the exaltation of a new social category of  “worker.”  Here I was interested in rural-urban relationships.  The new Lviv seemed to readily absorb rural migrants, who may or may not have moved permanently to the city.  And through his descriptions of violence and depravation in the countryside, Amar makes the important point about the complimentary nature of rural hardships and urban opportunity (p.196).

The final comparative theme centers on Amar’s illumination of the complex processes of Sovietization at work in Lviv, a process closely bound to creating new definitions of the local. One analytical thread that is woven throughout the chapters is the issue of the local—how this category is produced, challenged, and transformed.  For Amar, this involved not only identities and space, but also time.  As someone working outside of central European history, I found this to be the most challenging portion of the book.  Chapter 8 reveals how the Soviet regime attempted to shape the historical narratives about the city’s past, a dangerous reduction of the city’s history to overemphasize in myth the role played by various political organizations like the Hvardia resistance organization (p.285).   Ultimately, Soviet history of the city reduced the pre-1939 years to darkness only broken by liberation (p.312).  In my own research on Dalian, I see similar processes at work as the Chinese Communists history of the city before 1945 was similarly reduced to a time of oppression and enslavement by the Japanese, a narrative which also overemphasized the CCP’s underground resistance.  Socialist Dalian, like Lviv, would similarly struggle to overcome its paradoxical characterization as both a cutting edge industrial city yet also a borderland city with a complex colonial past.

With its emphasis on the local, the book is also a welcome addition to larger comparative studies on totalitarian and fascist states such as Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick’s edited volume Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared (Cambridge University Press 2008) and provides and important local view of some of the processes of state formation explored by Kate Brown’s Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2005). I found the book very inspiring and it provided me with new comparative potential for my own research.  It will no doubt add to comparative studies of the nature of establishing socialist regimes in contested territories.

Ukranian Lviv: Sovietization with a Regional Face

We’re pleased to introduce our discussion of Tarik Cyril Amar’s book, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis and Nationalists (Cornell University Press, 2015) that has triggered a lively historiographical debate since its publication in 2015. Based on extensive archival research, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv, traces the major local and transnational forces–including war, Sovietization, and industrialization–that reshaped the borderland, multi-ethnic city of Lviv (also known as Lwow and Lemberg) into a modern Soviet and Ukrainian industrial city in the course of the turbulent epoch between 1939 and 1962. This discussion seeks to question how unique the history of forging urban modernity in Lviv was. Is its destiny comparable to other cities in contested territories? And if yes, what makes Lviv’s story distinct from other places across the Second World if anything at all? One of the aims of the SWU project is to reflect on the methodological approaches we use for our studies on socialist and post-socialist urbanity. Amar’s work reveals the interplay and tensions between the forces of homogenization in the name of building Socialism and the forces striving for regional distinctiveness. In other words, constructing modern Lviv went hand in hand with embracing and reshaping the notion of the “local”. How can we translate this insight into our studies of Second World Urbanity and how does it challenge our understanding of the Second World’s projects of modernization? These are just a few questions that The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv poses for our field.  Christian Hess (Sophia University, Tokyo), Tom Williams (University of Angers), and Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter College, New York City) will conduct the present discussion of Amar’s book. Readers are invited to submit comments to any of the posts in this discussion.

Summer school “Sykhiv: Spaces, Memories, Practices”.

Center for Urban History invites applications for the summer school “Sykhiv: Spaces, Memories, Practices”.

Dates: August 13-27, 2017
Venue: Center for Urban History. Lviv, Ukraine
Deadline for applications: May 1, 2017

[Сall for Applications]

Sykhiv is the biggest housing estate of Lviv, initially planned and built through the 1970s and 1980s. Composed of 12 microrayons, it was intended to become a home for 120 thousand workers of the south-eastern industrial hub of the city. The construction of residential buildings, most of which were of the same series, was completed according to original plans, but many public facility and infrastructural projects remained unfinished or unimplemented because of the economic crisis that began in late 1980’s. The systemic changes that came with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine, resulted in multiple urban transformations on the different levels including that of the district. Not only Sykhiv was facing many challenges, but experiences new developments, adding new structures, functions, and meanings, and by now is considered as one of the most active districts of Lviv.

The school will explore the situations, changes, and challenges of mass housing districts through a combination of architectural, anthropological, sociological and historical research tools that will allow for more comprehensive and multifaceted understandings of mass housing urbanity. Highlighting different types of links between symbolic, material and human levels of once planned spaces is important for development of vectors of transformation and visions of future of such urban areas.

Structure of the School:

The school program is designed as a set of two short courses, workshops and field-work in three theme-based studios. Participants of the school will be offered courses by:

Prof. Florian Urban (Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art): “The Functionalist Сity and Its Critics”

The seminar will on the one hand focus on the theoretical background of functionalist mass housing estates, which can be found in early-twentieth-century urban theory (Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, Clarence Perry). It will then look at the most influential criticism of this urban form, which has been formulated from the 1960s onwards (Jane Jacobs, Colin Rowe, Rob Krier, Jan Gehl) and eventually analyse recent examples of modification, renovation, and retrofitting of functionalist mass housing estates in different European countries.

Dr. Daria Bocharnikova (KU Leuven / Center for Fine Arts BOZAR): “A History of the Socialist City: 5 Blueprints for Modernity from the Second World”

This course is a brief introduction into the history of envisioning and building socialist city across the Second World, from early Soviet experiments and mass construction campaigns in post-war Eastern Europe to the afterlives of socialist infrastructures after 1989/1991. In particular, students will investigate how the task of building a modern socialist city was interpreted differently in various national and regional contexts across the Second World and how it changed over time.

Workshops will focus on methods of urban research and revitalization of the planned areas.

Participants will be asked to work on their projects within the three theme-based studios under the tutorial of architect Nataliya Mysak (“Spaces” studio), historian Dr. Iryna Sklokina (“Memories” studio) and anthropologist Dr. Svitlana Odynets (“Practices” studio).

The “Spaces” studio aims at the reinterpretation of the Sykhiv district morphology and its structure through spatial analysis as well as analysis of experiences and ideas of users. While part of the functional links, which were set as principles for districts design, were not effective in the changing contexts, alternative links and spaces have been emerging in the district along with construction of new architectural and infrastructural objects. During the studio, students will focus on the ways how space is produced in the district (considering its both spatial and symbolic layers) and develop a narrative on it.

The “Memories” studio is going to deal with the imaginations and expectations of the dwellers before moving to Sykhiv and after it. The main question is how the previous experiences of inhabitants were used and rethought in order to adapt to Sykhiv, to appropriate it, and to make it socially meaningful place. Students will also pay attention to broader issue of what are the symbolic resources (related to “history” or not) that are used by dwellers from different groups for their empowerment, struggling for change, and imagining the future of the district.

The “Practices” studio will analyze the experiences of inhabitants related to the place and functions of the Sykhiv area on the symbolic map of Lviv. The migration of people in Sykhiv will also be an important focus for the studio, including “old” migrations from nearby villages to Sykhiv in 1980s, the “new” internal migrations from Sykhiv to other city districts after partial deindustrialization as well as current transnational migrations to EU countries after the 1990s. Students will also look into the different types of social and material capitals that are circulating in these migrations, and the new practices in everyday life.

Final presentation of the results of the school will be a part of the conference “The Ins and Outs of Socialism: Visions and Experiences of Urban Change in the Second World” (Lviv, August 25-27, 2017). The school participants will also have to prepare the final essays to be published in the aftermath of the school.

Working language is English.

Eligibility criteria:

The summer school is open for MA students, postgraduates and junior researchers in the fields of anthropology, architecture, geography, history, urban planning, sociology, and other disciplines in social sciences and humanities. The application should include:

  • Brief CV (up to two pages)
  • Motivation letter (up to 500 words, describing your decision to apply)
  • Essay to the topic “Into the Future of Mass Housing Estates” (up to 500 words)

All documents should be submitted in English.

Send your applications to: before May 1, 2017. Write the “Sykhiv Summer School” in the subject of the letter. Applicants have to indicate the name of the studio they wish to work with. The jury will be considering the applications and select the participants after May 15, 2017.

Participation in the school is free of charge. Organizers will partially cover travel expenses (for participants from beyond Ukraine, those shall not exceed EUR 200), accommodation and catering for the participants.

For more details feel free to contact the program coordinator Dr. Natalia Otrishchenko at

The school is organized by the Center for Urban History with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (Office in Ukraine).

Information about previous schools: Novy Lviv (2015), Slavutych (2016).

EAUH_Rome2018_call for panels

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

You are warmly invited to take part in the 14th International Conference on Urban History “Urban Renewal and Resilience. Cities in comparative perspective” which will take place in Rome from August 29 to September 1, 2018.

The call for session proposals is now open until February 20, 2017. Proposals can be submitted on the website and session organisers will be notified of decisions regarding acceptance in May 2017.

The European Association for Urban History encourages cross-disciplinary and international research on urban history. Therefore the Association invites you to submit sessions that are as comparative and interdisciplinary as possible. Furthermore, we give priority to sessions, which are co-organised by scholars from different countries.

We look forward to welcoming you in Rome on August 29, 2018.

Best regards,

Carlo M. Travaglini, President of EAUH

and the Organising committee of the 2018 EAUH conference in Rome


Chers collègues et amis,

Nous vous invitons chaleureusement à participer à la XIVe Conférence internationale d’histoire urbaine « Rénovation urbaine et résilience. Regards croisées sur les villes» qui se tiendra à Rome, du 29 août au 1 septembre 2018.

Nous vous prions de nous faire parvenir vos propositions de sessions jusqu’au 20 février 2017 au plus tard et nous vous demandons de soumettre vos propositions de sessions sur le site Les organisateurs des sessions sauront si leurs sessions sont ou non acceptées en mai 2017.

L’Association européenne d’histoire urbaine, qui souhaite encourager les recherches internationales et interdisciplinaires en matière d’histoire urbaine, donnera la priorité aux sessions qui seront co-organisées par des chercheurs de différents pays. L’Association vous invite également à proposer des sessions sur des recherches comparatives.

En vous remerciant d’avance pour l’attention que vous accorderez au présent appel et en espérant vous accueillir à Rome en fin août 2018, nous vous prions d’agréer nos meilleures salutations,

Carlo M. Travaglini, Présidente de l´AEHU

et le comité organisateur de la conférence de l’AEHU à Rome en 2018

EAUH Rome 2018 Organising committee

Roma Tre University
Centre for the study of Rome – CROMA
Via Ostiense, 139 | 00154 Rome – Italy
Ph. +39.06.5733.4016

CfP: ‘Comparative Approaches to Illegal Housing across the Globe’

Call for Papers

Conference ‘Comparative Approaches to Illegal Housing across the Globe’

University College London, 22/23 June 2017

Deadline for submission: 6 January 2017

Research on illegal housing is still fragmented. Several factors impede a more systematic approach to the topic. Different dimensions, actors, motivations, different social and political contexts, even a somewhat differing terminology make it a challenge to study illegal housing as a global phenomenon.

Continue reading

CfP: The Ins and Outs of Socialism, Lviv, August 25-27, 2017

The Ins and Outs of Socialism: Visions and Experiences of Urban Change in the Second World

August 25-27, 2017

Center for Urban History / Lviv / Ukraine


This conference aims at bringing together scholars who study different time periods and cities where socialist projects were either launched or collapsed in the 20th century, as well as those that are still in place. The theme of transition into and out of socialism and the (un-)making of socialist cities serves as entry points into broader discussions about the specificity of urban change in the Second World and its relationship to similar currents in the global North and South. The conference examines the content of the socialist city — its “ins and outs”– from power grids and housing stocks to museums and places of worship at these points of transition. Continue reading