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.







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