Oil is not a gift from God but a drug. No matter how immeasurable its deposits are, they will definitely be exhausted in the most unbearable moment. Afterwards an eternal paralysis will set in, or at least something quite similar.
Oil corrupts the economy and along with it (should we believe Marx for a second?) the whole superstructure with its phantom creations. In this sense, oil is like gold indeed, the black kind. In the same sense white gold is not salt but cocaine.
Approaching Drohobych evokes the visions of its oil heyday: the town, in a flash filled up with capital and literally uncontrollable Californian-style cash, which suddenly decided to transform into a city (some could even say, one and a half cities): rich eclectic houses, villas, small palaces and theatres, restaurants, clubs, brothels. And nearby there is Boryslav, which is always laughing, quite mockingly. Primarily, it’s known as a hellish sort of place. Therefore it cannot stop laughing. What else can you do besides laugh?
Several original sources are behind these visions. For instance, the fiction of Ivan Franko, reminiscent of Émile Zola’s prose; yet even more my impressions of it that have been marred by the old cinema.
There are more objective evidences.
In 1914 (not after but before, since after would not have made any sense), the new addition of a thick guide book entitled “Eastern and Central Europe (Russia, Austro-Hungary, Germany and Switzerland)” was published. The author of this extremely scrupulous work, Dr Mieczysław Orłowicz, having dedicated to Drohobych only one paragraph out of its five hundred pages, manages to tell us about 38 thousand residents, “mostly Jews,” the hotel Roma and a restaurant named after the not so suitable surname of its owner, Leperd. Then the paragraph mentions the “big industry” and an oil processing factory (the Polish language has a much more beautiful word than our language has, “rafineria,” as if it were actually a sugar refinery). This factory was the largest of its kind in Austria and open for tourists’ visits. The information from Orłowicz concludes with a mention of cult buildings, as they are called today (don’t confuse them with cult movies or books!), – a gothic cathedral of the 14th century and “three nice, stylishly built wooden churches of St Yuriy, St Cross and St Paraskeva.” It’s strange but not a single word is mentioned about the biggest synagogue in all of Galicia.
I recall how we entered under its half ruined vault. And how a startled flock of birds unseen before flew up above our heads.
But this story is not about them. Bruno Schulz’s “The Birds” is about them.
Here we will talk about another thing: in the times of oil, Drohobych contained the largest refinery in Austria and the largest synagogue in Galicia. And both of these institutions were closely connected.
The statistical data on the ethnic composition of population are sometimes an epitaph hidden behind numbers. Sometimes it’s a cry checked in one’s chest. “Sometimes” here is not so much the circumstance of time as the circumstance of space. “Sometimes” is in fact located in East-Central Europe.
In 1869 – a kind of “Drohobychian” caesura between the salt and oil epochs – the population of the city reaches almost 17 thousand people, 29 percent of which are Ukrainians, 24 percent are Poles, and almost 48 percent are Jews, which is nearly half of the residents. Exactly seventy years later, in 1939 (obviously, not after but before), the population is twice as large (34.5 thousand people), but the ethnic proportions remain about the same. Ukrainians and Poles swapped their second and third places for some reason, though. Using here the expression “for some reason,” I actually know the reason, like you do. Besides, the percentage of Ukrainians insignificantly decreased (26.3), while the percentage of Poles substantially increased (33.2). The decrease in the percentage of Jews can also be considered significant but not yet dramatic (40); they still represent the largest ethnic community. We find an entirely different proportion thirty years afterwards, in the 1970 census. Out of 56 thousand residents, Ukrainians clearly predominate (70 percent); Russians, not seen on this land before, have offensively burst their way to the second place (22 percent); speaking of Poles and Jews, their numbers are about the same and quite proportional with the somewhat pitiful and sometimes scornful definition of “ethnic minority.”
Three percent of Poles and three percent of Jews in 1970 are an indubitable consequence of several simultaneous cataclysms, which we don’t need to dwell upon. Everything is clear without many words: the war, the change of regimes, distress of the defeated, or, more precisely, the defenseless, distress of the winners, or, more precisely, murderers, several parallel and perpendicular ethnic cleansings, for which the world community did not yet have the severe word “genocide”, deportations, depatriations, special operations, the extension of living spaces for their own through mass murder of others, cleanups, brigandage and other marauding repressions, and finally the planned and well thought over in the top echelons of power filling up of demographic vacancies and holes, which had appeared as a result of all the aforementioned factors, with other people brought from afar and near.
I don’t have even the smallest reason to doubt the fact that both Polish and Jewish percentages fell even more towards the end of the last century, and apparently, speaking in purely mathematical terms, dipped down to zero.
Yet should it be supposed that Drohobych’s loss of all its Poles and Jews could be equal to the loss of Bruno Schulz, Polish by language and Jewish by blood? That is, as of 1970, were there exactly 3 percent of Schulz left in Drohobych? (As of 2001 even these were removed, like the wall paintings which nobody needs here, in the city of strange people brought from elsewhere).
If the genetic succession is irrevocably broken, how can you start another one? On what grounds? Is any succession at all possible in this post-oil nook “between East and West”?