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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

IVAN FEODOROV RESTORED BOOK-PRINTING IN LVIV Books had been printed in the city 100 years earlier

3 March, 1998 - 00:00

Myths and legends tend to appear where historical truth is hard or impossible to establish for one reason or another as is the case with Old Rus’ Prince Kyi, considered one of the founders of Kyiv. There is, however, a special type of myths and legends engineered and disseminated by political forces for political ends. One such myth is about Ivan Feodorov (Feodorovich), allegedly the first book printer of Rus’.

Under the Soviets, this myth was officially accepted as a historical fact. Those in power used it as yet another undeniable proof of the "age-old unbreakable friendship" between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples on the one hand, and "positive" Russian cultural expansion in Ukraine, on the other. This, in turn, gave birth to yet another myth about the Russian people being the Ukrainians’ "elder brother."

Here everything was done using the old tried and true Soviet methods. The original text of the epitaph reads that he "revived book-printing then in decay." The "experts" upstairs edited this out and wrote "established book-printing." And whoever doubted the correction was immediately branded a turncoat and bourgeois nationalist, with all the attendant consequences...

The latter must have been the reason why Orest Matsiuk, director of the Central State Historical Archives, landed in trouble in the 1960s when he was still an ordinary research fellow. After studying documents stored at St. Onuphrius’ Monastery (Lviv), he discovered that book-printing in the city had been first mentioned in 1460, when a burgher named Stepan Dropan presented the monastery with its own print shop.

Naturally, the authorities and official scholarly circles were far from overjoyed at the discovery. They banned publication of Matsiuk’s paper, and his "case" was eventually discussed by the CPSU Central Committee in Moscow. Times have changed, and now the public has strong evidence that Ivan Feodorov really did restore, not establish book-printing in Lviv.

Talking of Feodorov, the man was haunted by trouble all his life, but it seems that he knows no peace even in death. The communist regime made him in a way the trailblazer of the unity of "fraternal peoples." Enough to make him turn in his grave. But human talent knows no bounds.

At the end of last year, the local Council of People’s Deputies resolved to finally show the "adversary" his proper place. Literally. After much deliberation, the public servants resolved to transfer Feodorov’s statue from the square facing the Assumption Cathedral to the one in front of the Vilna Ukraina (Free Ukraine) Publishing House (in his time the place had been a small suburban village). Formally, the reason for was that the statue does not fit in with the surrounding architecture. Perhaps, but placing it in front of a publishing house seems about as harmonious as a hole in the head. What makes one wonder is that the overzealous deputies, hunting down reminders of the communist regime, zeroed in on Feodorov, a figure that has as little to do with totalitarianism as Einstein’s theory of relativity.

It was further resolved to replace the statute of the "first book-printer" with that of St. George the Dragon Slayer, probably as a symbol of the triumph of good over evil. Be it as it may, Feodorov is still there and no one knows for how long, because dismantling and transportation cost money and the municipal purse can’t even pay schoolteachers and doctors. But then maybe the deputies will chip in. But, I wouldn’t count on it.

Photo by Mykhailo Dashkovych, The Day