By Manuel Veth –
Lviv and its football club Karpaty are a curious case: a city that boasts such a multi-cultural past has become the centre of nationalism and radicalism. Nationalist and fascist fans now shame a club that was once the symbol of Ukrainian pride when it won the Soviet Cup in 1969, and that had been at the centre of a radical youth culture that opposed the rule of the Soviet Union. The city that celebrates itself as the home of Ukrainian culture and football has forgotten that its history and cultural achievement is not cemented in nationalism but in a multi-ethnic tradition. Today, the capital of Galicia is regarded as the centre of Ukrainian culture. But few cities in Eastern Europe have a more complicated history than the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
The birth of Karpaty Lviv
After World War II, Lviv became part of the Soviet Union, and officials soon began a policy of Ukrainization of the city. Due to the guerrilla warfare of Ukrainian nationalists that the region of Galicia had endured, Soviet anti-terrorist forces pejoratively referred to the city of Lviv as Banderstadt (after the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera). The name Bandera became something of a political synonym: when used by Soviet authorities it meant Ukrainian terrorist, but when used by Galicians, it often meant anti-communist and, even more importantly, anti-establishment.
The name Bandera became something of a political synonym: when used by Soviet authorities it meant Ukrainian terrorist, but when used by Galicians, it often meant anti-communist and, even more importantly, anti-establishment.
The Carpathian Miracle of 1969
Then in 1969 Karpaty did the unthinkable; the club was the first and only from the Soviet First Division to win the Soviet Cup, the unlikely victors against the army team SKA Rostov. Four thousand Lviv fans made the journey to Moscow’s Lenin Stadium however found their side behind after 20 minutes. Unwilling to give up, the Karpaty fans began singing the Cheremshyna, a Ukrainian national ballad. Karpaty’s captain Ihor Kulchytskyi later remembered coming out of the dressing and hearing the fans: “It made an incredible impression upon us — from that excitement my tears came up…” Karpaty completed the miracle in the second half, beating Rostov 2-1. The cup win became a real source of pride for an entire region, and the victory’s association with the national ballad of the Cheremshyna turned the story it into a Galician fairy-tale. It was at that time that Karpaty became a genuine symbol for nationalist Ukrainians of the region that strived for more autonomy from the Soviet regime.
SKA Karpaty Lviv and Ukrainian independence
In 1982 Soviet officials decided that Lviv would be better served with one club instead of two; SKA Lviv merged with Karpaty Lviv, and they fell under the control of the Red Army.
The club that had won the Soviet Cup in 1969 wearing the green and white colours of Galicia were now forced to play in the red and blue colours of the Red Army
Petro Dyminskyi – the Berlusconi of the Carpathians
In 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist and Lviv once again became a city of a new nation when Ukraine was declared an independent Republic. Liberated from the Soviet Red Army, Karpaty became a founding member of the Ukrainian Premier League. Today the club, like so many in Ukrainian football, is owned by an oligarch. In 2001 Petro Dyminskyi, a manager of coal mines during the time of communism and a successful businessman after the fall, bought Karpaty Lviv.
In a familiar story, Dyminskyi had used his old party contacts to amass an incredible fortune of several hundred million dollars by trading in natural resources. Dyminskyi was also a fan of Silvio Berlusconi and, like the Italian tycoon, wanted to use football to launch a career into politics. In 2002 he was voted into the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, on which he served one term. However, Dyminskyi was in the wrong political party and, like most oligarchs, he supported the Partiia Regionov (Party of the Regions), which was financed by Donetsk-based businessman Rinat Akhmetov (for further information see Futbolgrad article The Shakhtar Donetsk Code).
Svoboda vs. Dyminskyi
Galicia is strongly anchored in Ukrainian culture, and people of the region do not support a party that has its roots in the Russian speaking east of the country. In recent years there has been a radicalization of Galician society, and the radical right-wing party Svoboda (Freedom) has become especially popular as depicted in this excellent Guardian article. In the 2010 local elections and the 2012 general elections Svoboda made significant gains in Eastern Galicia. Svoboda also holds the majority of seats in the Lviv city council, and has deep connections with Karpaty Lviv. The party is closely connected with Karpaty’s ultras group “Banderstadt” (the exploits of the self-styled Banderstadt Ultras can be viewed here, which has 2000 members.
The “Banderstadt” ultras are known as one of the loudest and most mobile fan organizations in the Ukraine
Karpaty: Between the maelstrom of Politics
Karpaty are deeply rooted in Ukrainian culture and even radical nationalism. However, like Shakhtar, the club is owned by an oligarch, but unlike Akhmetov, Dyminskyi has stopped investing in the club. Before the 2012 European Championships Dyminskyi pulled the plug on the stadium project, and the city had to finance the construction of the new Arena Lviv. The stadium is now empty, because the club refuses to pay rent for the stadium, and instead competes in the old Ukrainia Stadium.
The conflict over the stadium demonstrates the political powers at work in the city of Lviv. On the one side is the oligarchical owner of the club who has political allegiance with the Partiia Regionov, on the other side are the people that support Svoboda. As the Guardian reported, the city councillor and Svoboda party member Andriy Khomytskyy for example stated that he was a regular on the terraces of the Ukrainia Stadium.
Karpaty: Galicia the home of Ukrainian football?
It was under Austrian rule, and with Polish players, that Lemberg (as Lviv was called at the time) became the birthplace of Ukrainian football. In July 1894 the home team Sokil played a friendly match against a city select team from Krakau (as Krakow was called at the time). As the Polish newspaper Gazeta Lwowska reported, the match lasted only six minutes, barely resembling today’s game. The winning goal for Lemberg was scored by a bystander who was watching the match, a young Polish student by the name of Wlodzimierz Michal Chomicki. At the time Lemberg was the cultural centre of Jews, Poles and Ukrainians living within the Austrian Habsburg Empire. Today a monument marks the place where the first match on Ukrainian soil was played with a plaque showing the symbol of the Ukrainian Football Federation, which at the time did not exist. This shows the real irony of the story; the city of Lviv, with its multi-cultural past, is today home of a club supported by a right wing fan group.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London, currently living in Kyiv. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. You can follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus