The mythical Galicia – a shared territory of memory

Galicia a historical province of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, 1772-1918. Yet, it still lives in the collective imagination and memory of the present inhabitants of the region: Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians, Jews. It is an imagined space, with which they have an emotional and psychological bond. The myth of Galicia still shapes their identity. The Krakow exhibition „The Myth of Galicia” in International Cultural Centre Gallery has been organised in co-operation with the Wien Museum and seeked to answer the question about the source and contemporary condition of the myth, trying to find out why literature, visual arts, and film still refer to it, while Galicia itself is used as an attractive brand.

The exhibition confronted mythical images with historical facts and with the perspective of nations entangled in the history of Galicia. This confrontation revealed the partly shared and partly diverse meanings of Galicia for Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians, and Jews, suggesting how the myth of Galicia functioned in collective imagination, culture, social and political life. The exhibition presented Galicia as a land of paradoxes. On the one hand, it was a space of development of national identities and cultures, on the other, the ethnic differences between the groups locked within artificially created borders led to numerous tensions. With the development of the railway network and the discovery of oil reservoirs, Galicia, the poorest and the most backward province of the monarchy, suddenly experienced civilizational leap and became the place where many fortunes were made.

In contemporary Europe, where the European Union is in many respects reminiscent of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria remains a symbol of multinational agreement and co-existence. Although a universal Galicia exist as a notion, however, in reality its historical territory is bisected by the border of the Schengen area, which is also the border of the European Union, and this forms a sharp division between western, Polish Galicia and Eastern Galicia- the Ukrainian Halychyna. This geopolitical separation conditions acute differences in the building of meanings around the Habsburg myth, which in the Ukrainian consciousnes today has a political, „pro-Western Europe” dimension, something that is abundantly visible in contemporary Ukrainian painting, for instance.

The Myth of Galicia

Exhibition (photo by P. Mazur)

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