Modern Lviv`s alternative first lady

  • Modern Lviv`s   alternative first lady
Issue 18, November 2009.

 Ever since independence in 1991 Lviv citizens have consistently been well-represented among the country’s political classes.
Thanks in part to their superior Ukrainian–language skills and credible patriotic credentials citizens of Lviv have always managed to find more than their fair share of political postings both in the capital Kyiv and throughout the country’s diplomatic service. But while Lviv politics is traditionally famed for its nationalist fervor, one of the city’s most senior serving politicians is actually a leading figure with the Party of Regions. Anna German was born in a West Ukrainian village and moved to Lviv in her teens before raising a family in the West Ukrainian capital. As the most senior Lviv personality within the Party of Regions and one of the party’s most eloquent Ukrainian-language figureheads, Ms. German occupies a fascinating and strategic position in the national identity debate which continues to hog the political limelight in post-Orange Ukraine.

What are your fondest memories of growing up in Lviv?

My mother in law lived on Spartak Street (nowadays named Kovzhyna Street) in the centre of the city close to the George Hotel and it was here that my future husband Sergiy German first gave me a piece of his mother’s homemade apple pie. It was incredibly tasty and untiltoday reminds me of the cream buns of Krakow which Pope John Paul II once claimed to have remembered all his life. You could say that Mrs. German’s apple pie conquered my heart there and then on Spartak Street.

When you visit Lviv today, which place most reminds you of your childhood in the city?

I spent my early childhood in a small village on the Dnister River and moved to Lviv when I was older. My sweetest memories of living in Lviv are all connected with Kvitneva Street, where Sergiy and I lived so happily together with our children. There was an apple tree which used to blossom beautifully, but when we moved to Gdansk the next owners of the property cut the tree down. When I returned to the city and saw that the apple tree was no more, I felt that I had lost a piece of my own personal Lviv forever.

How did growing up in Lviv shape your view of Ukraine and Ukrainian politics?

First and foremost living in Lviv meant communicating with a diverse spectrum of fascinating people unlike any you’d find elsewhere in Ukraine. One of the greatest individual influences on me personally was Professor  Yaroslav Dashkevich, who I regard as one of the greatest men in modern Ukrainian history. Even then he was a legendary personality and meeting him was a real turning point in mylife. I had never met anyone quite like him it was Dashkevich who taught me to swim against the flow. Sometimes this makes life difficult for me, but it is never boring.

You spent much of your life living in Ukraine’s most famously nationalistic city and are now a leading figure in the country’s leading pro-Russian party. How has your political career influenced your relationship with Lviv society?

In life I like to go against the flow and this is also the case in terms of my relations with Lviv society. I enjoy being a Ukrainian-speaking figure within the Party of Regions and often meet supporters of the party who approach me and say, “Your Ukrainian is so beautiful. I wish I could speak so well in Ukrainian.” Whenever I hear this kind of reaction from people I feel that I am right to go against the flow.

What most epitomises Lviv’s unique personality and character?

I would say that the unique character of the city is best epitomised by those locals who remain completely convinced by their own particular brand of patriotism.

Can Lviv’s cosmopolitan history play a role in helping Ukraine discover an inclusive post- Soviet national identity?

Yes it can, but only if we adopt a tolerant and sensible approach to identity issues and do not attempt to artificially speed up the process. At present it is crucial to prevent the country from turning in on itself - we must make sure different regions are not pitted against one another. We need to acknowledge that attitudes to Ukrainian national identity vary greatly throughout the country and so therefore there is a genuine need to listen to each other’s points of view even if we are in total disagreement.

Which famous Lviv citizens past and present do you most admire?

I often tell my party colleagues about the Lviv composer Stanislaw Ludkevich, whoused to say, “They liberated us and there is nothing to be done about it”. I adore Lviv society and despite my political convictions have many, many great friends in the city. If we are talking about historical figures it would be very difficult to choose any one
single personality from the long list of Lviv legends, but I would certainly mention monumental names such as Ivan Franko, Solomya Krushelnytska and Marya Zankovetska as well as the many heroes of the liberation movement.

How would you describe Lviv to a Ukrainian acquaintance who has never visited the city?

I would tell them that in the morning the city’s paving stones look like they have been brushed by the same brushes used by Lviv housewives to sweep the stone floors of their Habsburg-era Austrian townhouses. I would describe how the city’s venerable old trams appear to dangle from their cables on frosty evenings, and tell them about the best coffee they’ve ever tasted, served up in cozy places full of extraordinary people. I would regale them with tales of Lviv’s many legends and promise to take them to see the tree in the former Kaiserwald Park which mysteriously fell down but now serves as a bench.

How has your chosen political career beeninterpreted by your Lviv childhood friends and classmates?

I did not choose my career – my career chose me, and to be honest I have never taken an interest in what other people may or may not think about it. I remember once joking that I felt like a fish on a hook, which just about
sums it up.

In recent years Lviv and Donetsk have come to be seen as representing the two opposing extremes of a great Ukrainian cultural divide. What do you think the two cities have in common?

Opposing sides? You must be kidding! Both cities adore football!