A provocative take on politics and culture from a skeptical, libertarian point of view

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Past, Present & Future of Lemberg, Lvov and Lviv
November 30, 2005
Letter From Ukraine
Modest River, Wide Chasm, With Europe 'Over There'
LVIV, Ukraine - "Beautiful but poor" is a common shorthand description of Lviv, a city of 800,000 people in western Ukraine, and it takes only a few hours here to sense the accuracy of the phrase.
Lviv - which is known as Lvov in Polish, Lemberg in German - was once as European as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and wishes to be part of Europe once again. But it is not in Europe. At least not as defined by the border of the European Union, though that border is a mere 50 or so miles from here, where the Bug River separates Ukraine from Poland.
Lviv is the periphery. Here is where Europe officially ends, even if the end has an arbitrary, technical quality to it, because the plain fact is that there seems no particular coherence to the reality that Chelm, just across the river in Poland, is part of Europe, while Lviv (pronounced luh-VEEV) is not.
Both, after all, were cities in the Austro-Hungarian Galicia Province, with Lviv the bigger and vastly more important one.
Both were part of Poland for something on the order of 500 years, including at least a few decades of the 20th century, before the Nazis invaded and then Stalin moved the territory of Ukraine to the west, and Lviv became just another battered and tragic city in the Soviet Union.
But the problem for Lviv is that its European aspiration defies some of the most important elements of its recent history. During the years of Soviet control, it became a city in a different time zone from the European Union, literally and figuratively: an hour later on the clock than Chelm, Krakow and Madrid, a quarter-century or so behind in other measures.
Now that Ukraine has been free from Soviet control for a nearly a decade and a half, its European aspirations have revived, and it seems reasonable for the acting mayor of the town, Zinovyj Siryk, to confidently predict, "After Poland, we are next," referring to membership in the European Union.
But as Mr. Siryk well knows, Lviv has fallen a long way behind its neighbor, one of Europe's poorer new members.
"It's a real border, not just a line," said Andrij Yurash, a scholar of religion at the university here.
"There's a real difference economically," he continued, offering this statistic as explanation: the city budget of Lviv is about one-tenth that of Krakow, another big, formerly Galician city in Poland, about 190 miles west of here, a city of roughly the same size as Lviv.
"It's the heritage of the Soviet period," he said, "because the whole network of economic relations was destroyed here."
To walk the streets of Lviv, a year after the Orange Revolution gave national expression to Ukraine's preference for the European zone of civilization over the Russian, is something like stepping into a time capsule.
There is much heavy residue of the basic fact of Lviv's recent past: during the time that it was a Soviet city, Lviv was ripped from the European womb, and many things about it - from the airport built in the style of a Stalinist Greek temple, with columns and a cupola, to the generalized dilapidation of its buildings and streets - are emblems of that rupture....


But it was not only the economic infrastructure that was destroyed during the Soviet period.
"You have to remember that after World War II, 90 percent of the population of Lviv changed," said a local historian, Vasyl Rasevych. "The Jews were eliminated. The Poles went to Poland. And before World War II, 50 percent of the population was Polish, 30 percent was Jewish."
When Stalin grabbed Western Ukraine for the Soviet empire, Red Army officers helped themselves to the homes and apartments of the city's better-off. Factories and their workers were moved here from farther east to replenish the depleted population.
"Up until the 1960's," Mr. Rasevych said, "Lviv was a Russian-speaking city."
Lviv speaks Ukrainian now, which is an element of revival. In a city where some 200,000 Jews were annihilated by the Nazis, Jewish children now play at the kindergarten at Hesed Arje, a new Jewish community center.
If the heavy hand of the Soviet dictatorship had not left such a powerful imprint on Lviv, where Joseph Roth, the Austrian-Jewish writer, went to college and where Sholom Aleichem, the originator of "Fiddler on the Roof," wrote some of his stories, this city would almost automatically belong to the European club.
Maybe, as Mr. Siryk, the acting mayor, predicted, Ukraine will be the next to join Europe.
If that is the case, for Lviv, history will have been set right.

This was a fascinating article with a personal meaning to me. My grandfather, Abraham Sommer, was captured in 1916 by the Tsarist Russian forces when they took Lemberg. At that time, he was in the Austro-Hungarian army. By the time he came back from Siberia, it had become Polish Lvov. Now it is Ukrainian Lviv with a Russian-speaking population, something I had not learned before.

His birthplace, Buczacz (Buchach in German), was taken by Stalin from Poland and remains part of the Ukraine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The French Riots

Does this mean that French politicians and intellectuals will stop disparaging the United States for its racial conflicts?

Don't be on it.

CSI Las Vegas

CSI Las Vegas is one of the better and more intelligent shows on TV. But it has its strange aspects.

1) The Vegas crime lab seems to have a budget larger than the CIA and Pentagon combined.

2) Their occupational safety leaves something to be desired. In one episode, the hipster character Greg opened a car trunk with decomposing bodies and was splashed without any facial or eye protection.

3) Their medical protocol leaves something to be desired. In another recent episode, Greg went to get evidence from a burn victim with third-degree burns over 80% of her body. He wore no mask so he was breathing over someone in a compromised immune condition.

Still this is a very high-caliber show

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Libertarians Call NY Budget Amendment A Scary Trick

PO Box 728, Bellport, NY 11713


Bellport, NY 11/1/05 New Yorkers considering their Election Day choices should take a pass on the proposed constitutional amendment changing the budget process, according to the Libertarian Party of New York (LPNY). The amendment would shift budgetary power in the event of a late budget to the legislature from the Governor. The Libertarians say the real budget problem is that New York State and the local governments borrow, spend and tax too much. Libertarians also fault both the state and federal governments for mandating spending. "Any budget amendment that does not remove the institutional bias towards spending by state and local governments is an exercise in futility and a trick," said former LPNY Chair Richard Cooper, who studied public finance at Columbia University.

The Libertarians note that the contingency budget does not cut spending at all. "Given the lack of competition for most legislative seats and the compulsive vote-buying with taxpayers money the legislators do, it is optimistic to look to the legislators for restraint," observes Cooper. While the Libertarians aren’t too keen on Pataki or Spitzer, they feel that it is easier to hold one person accountable than scads of legislators. Currently, legislators have their pay docked if the budget is late. The amendment would eliminate that penalty.

The current LPNY chair John Clifton, a Queens social worker and drug counselor, contends that "The legislature is supposed to be the closest to the public and thus the most accountable. But in New York politics, it’s upside down as only the Governor’s race is consistently competitive. Most pork-barrel plundering Assembly members and Senators are insulated from losing their cushy jobs. Under no circumstances should these cash-sucking vampires be given the credit card to spend and borrow even more."