A guest blog by Martin Dowle, Director, British Council

The west Ukrainian city of Lviv is an intriguing location for a literature festival.  Breath-taking views of spires and domes, offset with hidden courtyards, make this city on the cusp between East and West a crossroads for cultural exchange.

Some 300 events are packed into four days. Poets, readers and writers pack into bars and Viennese-style cafes. There is an intimate buzz between authors and readers largely lost from Britain’s big lit-fests.

This year, the British Council brought two poets from Scotland – Sophie Cooke and Kona Macphee – to work with Ukrainian counterparts in translating each other’s poems.

The results were presented in a basement bar beneath the elegant Opera House, appropriately named ‘the Left Bank’ (a subterranean river runs under it).  All four felt they had managed to delve more deeply into the hidden meanings of each other’s work than would have been possible through traditional translation techniques.  

More widely, the festival tackled issues around dialogues of culture and civilisations. Few cities could provide a more appropriate backdrop than Lviv.  Reconciling past with present prays on the mind here, and it is encouraging to see a festival that works to build on the historic concept of an open city, while working through the issues raised by the trauma of much of the 20th century.    

Lviv’s profile will soar next year when this UNESCO heritage site is a host city for Euro 2012.  The city authorities are aware of its potential and keen to attract cultural tourists.   

Lviv has set itself the goal of becoming a city of festivals.  Next up is a coffee festival – appropriate for a town with 500 cafes which learnt how to make the stuff from the Turks and how to drink it from the Habsburgs.

Leigh Turner

23 September 2011


Ukrayinska Dumka


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