Where Europe Still Lives

LVIV – The outcome of the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum shocked populations across Europe. But watching the response in Lviv, in Western Ukraine – a hub of enthusiasm about the European Union – was particularly jarring.

At a time when irresponsible opportunists and populists in the UK are taking a wrecking ball to their country’s own institutions, and those of Europe, Ukrainian reformers are trying to build something new. Whereas the UK’s “Leave” campaign peddled trumped-up dangers from immigration to make its case, activists in Ukraine are facing very real threats as they work toward a civil-society framework that can stand up to internal pressure from the oligarchs and external influence from Russia.

Historically, Lviv, perhaps more than any city, reminds us of Europe’s capacity to self-destruct. Around its picturesque squares, every cobblestone and ornamental façade has borne silent witness to the bloodletting that accompanied empires’ rise and fall. Yet Lviv is also where one can find hope for the promise of Europe.

Lviv is a deeply anti-Russian and pro-European city; but, for five days each summer, it hosts the Alpha Jazz Festival, sponsored by a Russian bank. At a time when Russia and Ukraine are still very much at war, policymakers, local citizens, members of the Ukrainian diaspora, and even some Russians pack the streets of Lviv to celebrate world-class jazz.