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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Europe. Lutsk. 1429

With presentation of the first Ukrainian work of fiction telling the story of a congress of monarchs held in Grand Duke Vytautas’s time, light has been shone on new pages of the Dark Ages of Ukraine’s history
20 May, 2014 - 11:48
IT IS THIS LUTSK CASTLE THAT HOSTED A 13-WEEK-LONG CONGRESS OF EUROPEAN MONARCHS IN 1429 / Photo from The Day’s archives

Europe. Lutsk. 1429 is a small book and the first work of fiction about the event which could radically change the history of a continent when it happened. In the preface, its author Viktor Hrebeniuk noted that it was awareness of how really limited was our knowledge of the past that prompted him to write it. When thinking about it, we jump from Kyivan Rus’ directly to the Cossack Age, despite whole centuries that intervened between the two! These intervening periods are even called the Dark Ages, because very few artifacts from the time have survived. However, it was a colorful period in the history of Europe, which had the fate to arrive in the ancient city of Luchesk (now Lutsk) that was the southern capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the time. It ascended to that status under Grand Duke Vytautas’s reign which saw our city to experience real economic development. For 13 weeks, Luchesk hosted a congress of European monarchs who had to solve many pressing issues, but for various reasons they had not been resolved there.

Hrebeniuk book’s presentation was held in Lutsk just as Ukraine lost Crimea to the Russian annexation and was fighting a veritable war with that neighboring country in Ukraine’s east... Therefore, the analogy with the time of Vytautas and the congress of monarchs was just too striking. After all, the Duchy of Volhynia, too, was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by force, as we were told by the reviewer of the book historian Petro Tronevych, who wrote a few monographs on the history of the old Lutsk. Duke Liubartas’s son Fedir spent eight years fighting for the preservation of the independence of Volhynia as a separate state. However, only Vytautas’s successor Svitrigaila was able to restore Volhynia as an independent state which then voluntarily acceded to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Historians call Vytautas’s reign the golden era of Volhynia, as it flourished, while the region’s capital city played a role in European affairs. Still, extant historical documents agree that the grand duke treated Volhynians harshly, terrorized the local elite, and appointed solely ethnic Lithuanians to govern the city, while under Liubartas all positions were filled by ethnic Ruthenians... There had been not a single Ukrainian work of fiction about that time, with only Polish or Lithuanian interpretations of events available.

Tronevych calls the congress of European monarchs an interesting and important event. In addition to discussing pressing political issues, the congress had to crown Vytautas, making him a king instead of a duke, which actually would mean the independence of the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state. However, the crown, already blessed by the Church, was stolen on its way to Luchesk by the Poles who sought to prevent such glorification of Vytautas and were totally unwilling to resolve the issues troubling the Volhynian political elite. The subsequent history of the crown is not known, and its only reminiscence in Lutsk is the name of a restaurant clinging to the walls of the city’s medieval castle. Hrebeniuk said that while writing the narrative poem, he had used historical sources, finding documents that reflected the era. It was these sources that brought to the text names of Lutsk residents of the Vytautas era and other important everyday life details.

According to Lutsk mayor Mykola Romaniuk, who also took part in the presentation, the book will have greatest importance for the city’s residents themselves. Works of fiction, when based on historical facts, always reveal the historical events better than a simple statement of facts in the textbook ever can. He believes that Lutsk residents have to become advocates for the history of their native city, which has great tourism potential. Of course, celebration of the 585th anniversary of the congress of European monarchs had to be held on a larger scale because it shows that Lutsk occupied an important place in European history once. However, Europe still faces the unsolved issues of the 14th century now...

By Natalia MALIMON, The Day, Lutsk
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