The city of Львів (Lviv) is home to many statues and monuments adorning the numerous squares. On December 27th in 2015, a new monument was unveiled on the corner between Вулиця Степана Бандери (Stepan Bandera Street) and Вулиця Михайла Вербицького (Mykhailo Verbytsky Street), dedicated to the Galician composer Mykhailo Verbytsky (image 2). Though Verbytsky produced many compositions in his life, he is most known for being the composer of the music to the Ukrainian anthem Ще не вмерла Україна (Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina).
2015 marked the 200-year anniversary of Verbytsky’s birth and to celebrate this, the Надсяння (Nadsiannia) Society, based in Lviv, organized several exhibitions and concerts dedicated to the composer. This monument was commissioned in the light of this anniversary. There were 21 proposals for the design of the monument, the eventual sculpture was designed by the brothers Volodomyr and Andriy Sukhorsky. They are also known for another large monument on Svobody Boulevard in the city of Lviv (image 3), the monument of Taras Shevchenko, who was one of Ukraine’s most famous poets and artists and was very important for modern Ukrainian literature and language.
So why is there a monument dedicated to Mykhailo Verbytsky as the composer of the national anthem in Lviv? Why was this whole commemoration organized by a socio-cultural association? And what about Pavlo Chubynsky, the poet who wrote the lyrics to the anthem? In the following text I will analyse the monument and the anthem in the light of nation building, specifically the nation bulding that has been done in Ukraine after the declaration of dependence in 1991. Dealing with a monument, without many related texts, only give so much potential information. During my research I have tried to piece together as many pieces as the puzzle as I could, starting with Mykhailo Verbytsky himself.
Mykhailo Verbytsky, creater of an anthem?
Mykhailo Verbytsky was a Greek-Catholic priest from the region of Galicia, which is currently located in Poland. During the life of Verbytsky, who was born in 1815 and died in 1870, it was part of the Austrian Empire. Verbytsky was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle in Перемишль (Peremyshkl or Przemyśl). His connection to Lviv is that he attended the Theological Seminary there starting in 1833. It was here that he became seriously interested in music, and especially in the guitar. He studied at the Seminary on-and-off for 13 years and eventually became a priest. Verbytsky was appointed a parish in Млини (Mlyny) in 1852 and remained the priest there until his death.
During his time as a priest, Verbytsky wrote many compositions. It is also during this time that he came upon the poem Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina written by Павло Чубинський (Pavlo Chubynsky), which was published in the Lviv-based Ukrainian nationalist jounal Meta. An interesting side note is that this poem was ascribed to Taras Shevchenko at first. The choral piece composed by Verbytsky with the lyrics was first performed in 1864 in Lviv.
During Verbytsky’s life, Ukraine as a nation did not yet exist. The Ukrainian people, which Verbytsky was one of, were one of the many ethnicities in the region. Ukrainian nationalism was, however, something that was quite present during this time and it is in the light of this nationalism that Pavlo Chubynsky wrote the poem. During his speech at the unveiling of the monument, Oleh Synyutka, the current Governor of the Lviv Oblast, attributed creating the identity of the Ukrainian people in the words of the national anthem to Verbytsky, and not to Chubynsky. Pavlo Chubynsky, who was based in the Kiev region, seems to be less well-known than Mykhailo Verbytsky. This might have partially to do with the history of the anthem.
The anthem and its different incarnations.
The song Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina, with music by Verbytsky, has a clear nationalist sentiment and was banned quickly after its creation in what is now the eastern part of Ukraine. Perhaps because of this, it has been used as an anthem by several incarnations of Ukrainian states. In 1917 it was adopted by the Ukrainian People’s Republic as one of their state anthems and in 1918-1919 it was used by the West Ukrainian People’s Republic as their anthem. Carpatho-Ukraine also adopted it as an official anthem in 1939, during its very short existence.
During the period between the WOII and the independence of Ukraine, when the territory was part of the USSR, the song was banned in order to suppress feelings of separatism among Ukrainians. The official anthem during this time was Живи, Україно, прекрасна і сильна (Zhyvy, Ukraiyino, prekrasna I syl’na), of which public performances are currently banned in Ukraine. Following the Ukrainian independence in 1991 Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina was chosen as the official state anthem of Ukraine. However, there were some controversies about the lyrics being too pessimist and anti-russian and only the music was officially adopted at first (Kuzio, 2005). In 2003 a slightly altered version of the lyrics was approved with just the first verse and refrain and a change in the first stanza (ni slava, ni volja was changed to i slava, i volja).
As is the case with creating a common memory, choosing their state symbols is quite an important process for a new nation since national symbols play a very important role in the nation-building and nation-maintenance process (Kolstø, 2006; Elgenius, 2011).Though Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina is arguably an interesting and well-written national song, the fact that they didn’t fully agree with the lyrics poses the question why this song was chosen as the national anthem. In his article, Kolstø (2006) mentiones two interesting and powerful psychological mechanisms.
The first mechanism has to do with the normative force of that what is actually there. This mechanism is closely related to the phrase ‘History is written by the victors’ and states that that which is there, is always stronger than a hypothetical alternative. It is quite plausible that the main reason that this song was chosen as the anthem is because of its history as an anthem. I am not completely familiar with Ukrainian songs, but I am quite certain that there were more potential suitors for this position. Most texts on the anthem mention its immediate popularity in the 19th century and the fact that it has been forbidden quite a few times, but always prevailed. But wouldn’t these same stories have been told if any other song would have gotten this position?
The other mechanism Kolstø (2006) mentions, is Pavlov’s ‘law of association’. This has to do with the power that events that are associated with pride, joy and high spirits can have on national symbols. An interesting case is the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine, during which the anthem was quite prevalent and which cemented its popularity even more.
It is tempting to think that the timing of the monument to Mykhaily Verbytsky might have something to do with the turbulent happenings in 2013 and 2014 and the funding might have been influenced by the strong nationalist sentiment. The location of the monument was, however, already approved for by the local government at the beginning of 2013. There is the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution which might have had influence on the placing of the monument. It is unclear when the monument was in the making, so it is possible that some of the design of the statue was influenced by the happenings in Ukraine during the Euromaidan Revolution.
A monument dedicated to a composer or a national symbol?
The monument to Verbytsky is not as imposing as the 12-meter high monument to Shevchenko. It stands at a modest 3.5 meters and depicts the composer in a moment of inspiration. Wearing his priest robe, he gazes off into the sky, feather in hand to start writing on the paper in his lap. It could be seen as though he is looking at God for divine inspiration, which would be in line with his occupation as a priest. Behind him stands a slab of white marble, roughly in the form of a wave, with on it the 2015-borders of Ukraine surrounding the sheet music of the National Anthem. On the back of this marble piece there are patches of rough and smooth marble, especially on the side where the country is located.
It is not entirely clear what the sculptors were trying to convey with this monument. Especially the back of the piece is interesting, in that it has these different textures without a clear explanation of what is what. Are they meant to be meant to show that not everything is as smooth as it could be? The front of the wave at the back also has some roughness, located around the image of the country, especially in the east, perhaps a reference to the turbulent relation with their neighbour? Because of the placement of the monument, most people will probably only see the front and especially the image of the composer in the foreground catches the eye.
The unveiling of the monument was attended by regional politicians, among whom the current Governor of Lviv Oblast, Oleh Synyutka, who mentioned in his speech that Mykhailo Verbytsky managed to create the identity of the Ukrainian people in the words of the national anthem. The city did not just receive a monument to the author of the national anthem, but also a state symbol that resembles the ethnic boundaries of the state. It might be interesting to note that the monument, as was the case with the Shevchenko monument, did not receive funding from the government. The Nadsiannia society paid for the monument through crowdfunding, receiving donations from and Ukrainians and Leopolitans (inhabitants from Lviv, derived from the Latin name of the city: Leopolis) from all over the country.
For me, my research started with music. I was determined to combine my previous education with my current studies and when I stumbled upon Mykhailo Verbytsky and the monument dedicated to him in Lviv, I thought I had found the perfect subject for combining the two. However, I did not realize at first how multi-layered something as simple as the memory of a composer can be. Even after this (field) research I am quite certain that there are a number of things I am overlooking because of the language barrier.
Being the composer of the national anthem made Verbytsky not just a composer or a priest, but a national symbol and to me the question remains whether this monument is dedicated to him or to Ukrainian nationalism. This is especially the case because of the organization that instigated the commemoration in 2015, the Lviv-based Nadsiannia association. As far as I could determine this is an older socio-cultural organization with a rather controversial, nationalist agenda (Narvselius, 2012).
Elgenius, G. (2014). Symbols of Nations and Nationalism: Celebrating Nationhood. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan
Narvselius, E. (2012). Ukrainian Intelligentsia in Post-Soviet L’viv: Narratives, Identity and Power. Lexington Books.
Kolstø, P. (2006). National symbols as signs of unity and division. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(4), pp. 676-701.
Kuzio, T. (2005). Nation building, history writing and competition over the legacy of kyiv rus in Ukraine. Nationalities Papers, 33(1), pp. 29-58.
Cover image: The Ukrainian Anthem. Source: http://www.pisni.org.ua/files/001/000217_shche_ne_vmerla_ukrayina.gif.