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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

On the phenomenon of Ukrainian liberty

27 May, 2014 - 11:08

The term liberty can be interpreted in countless ways, including human free will, civil liberty, and spiritual freedom of the individual. This word, familiar as it is, makes possible ethics, philosophy and law, and even the reality itself as we perceive it. It is therefore understandable that humans have for centuries felt need to create embodiments of it. It has been embodied in colors, in writing, in music and in stone. In the case to be discussed here, it was a mixture of concrete and lime that was used for it. However...

We will discuss here the Lviv Statue of Liberty that some sources call the Galician Thrift. Although the debate continues both on the name and on the authorship of the sculptural group crowning the facade of the building at 15 Svobody (Liberty) Avenue in Lviv, it is undoubtedly the most iconic statue in the city. It is so not only because of a consonance between the crowned Liberty on the roof of a revered building (given its use as a museum) and name of Lviv’s main avenue, but rather because of the amazing need of Ukrainians in general and Galicians in particular to have that inner liberty, in all its dimensions and at all times, whatever its interpretation. At least one of its embodiments has to be in stone, even if that stone is artificial. Every resident of this city will, with purely Galician persistence, try to convince you that liberty cannot be artificial. Is there any sense in continuing this debate, though, when the events of the last six months in Ukraine convincingly demonstrated the validity of this thesis to the whole world?

These days, Western media are unanimously covering the events in Ukraine as the “most prominent in the 21st century.” Although the century has just begun, and most of our readers may be entitled to a skeptical remark that eloquent headlines in the news are nothing more than a journalistic exaggeration, but still... We have to admit, given the height of the American sister of our Ukrainian Liberty statue, that exaggerations are inherent to the outlook of the wider world outside our country, particularly so in word and sculpture.

Is it even appropriate to talk about exaggerations regarding liberty as such, its importance, our striving to enjoy it? For an observant eye, the Lviv Liberty from avenue of the same name and the New York Liberty of Liberty Island are very much alike. They differ in size, reflect the same “face,” with one and the same aspiration, anguish, primordial thirst. It is the face of a free woman, willing to have a choice, to be able to choose either a decent husband from all the men around, or, with incalculable consequences, between agriculture and industry. These two are embodied by figures in arms of the Galician Star – a lady that is thrifty, prosperous, and, given the manly support she has, quite successful and confident in her place at the head of the city.

Regarding her age, we must recognize that the American sister is not only taller (93 meters including the pedestal), but also older than the Galician one. Difference is low (for a sculpture) at just five years, but women’s years are not to be counted. The Galician lady’s guardian and godfather was known sculptor, author of many works now gracing Lviv, indigenous Italian Leonard Marconi. The idea to create a statue of liberty in the female incarnation as a symbol of independence and democracy belongs to French lawyer and scholar Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye. The American beauty, on the other hand, was created by Frenchman Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and his early work on that project can still be seen firsthand in the Luxembourg Garden near the Eiffel Tower, as Gustave Eiffel, like a true Frenchman, could not avoid the temptation and joined himself the work to enable his young protege to enter the New World gracefully. It was his efforts that made the New York lady so surprisingly slender in physique and, at the same time, strong in posture, as he created cast-steel legs and frame for her. Her copper “cloth” was, however, ordered in Russia. It is unknown whether it was a plant in modern Bashkortostan or Nizhny Tagil copper refinery that made it. The foundation under the Lady Liberty’s feet, the largest at the time, was poured by German contractors. Substantial financial assistance needed to make the crowned Beauty’s first ball possible came from Joseph Pulitzer, a patron of arts and the publisher of New York World. Although a bronze plate carrying Emma Lozarus’s sonnet entitled “The New Colossus” appeared at its pedestal later on (in 1903), during her first ball on October 28, 1886, only two females were present – Lessense’s eight-year-old daughter and wife of Bartholdi. However, the chains were symbolically broken by a tender heel, even if weighing tens of tons, and Liberty Enlightening the World began its social life walking a confident gait. With the blessing of so varied parents, or maybe just owing her beauty and character to their diversity...

As for the Lviv lady, everything was much more modest as behooves a low-key city. Marconi finished his three-figure sculpture group called Thrift in the attic of the Galician Savings Bank building (now housing the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts of the Institute of Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine), with name probably chosen because of the building’s then use. Over time, and that is not surprising in view of the local mentality, the adjective Galician was added somehow, and despite falling on hard times and into disrepair under the ruinous Soviet regime, the Ukrainian Liberty has, in comparison with her overseas sister, a rather symbolic company of two men and dominates rather than proclaims, rules rather than steps into the future. It dominates Lviv and rules the Ukrainians’ minds, all of them, looking like it is smiling at hard history of Ukrainian lands, squeezing men in her arms and predicting prosperity and fertility, which have always gone side by side with liberty. It has linked, not with chains but with gentle hugs, people across the worlds Old and New, people with liberty in their hearts and blood. It has tempted to unite all those who are dignified enough to speak to each other in Ukrainian and stay true to their land and roots that go under the ancient walls of buildings in the hearts of Ukrainian cities and towns. In particular, these roots grow deep in Lviv, which has chivalrously lent its inherited crown to the Beauty it chose at a ball, making the Ukrainians to experience everlasting hunger for her embrace – the embrace of liberty, liberty above everything else, which is eternal and worth fighting for to the last breath…

By Dmytro BEZRUK