Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Who Were the Protestors and What Did They Want? Contentious Politics of Local Maidans across Ukraine, 2013-2014

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Who Were the Protestors and What Did They Want? Contentious Politics of Local Maidans across Ukraine, 2013-2014

Article excerpt

Abstract: Whereas most studies of the events that took place in Ukraine from October 2013 to February 2014 have focused on the Kyiv Maidan, I analyzed the local maidans in 57 cities and towns across Ukraine and the claims they made addressing local, national and international governments. I use a contentious politics perspective in asking three main questions: (1) How do the claimants identify themselves and their actions? (2) How do they justify their actions? and (3) What do the claimants want? Protesters' primary identity emphasized their right to direct democracy, including influence over national and local policies. National-level factors played a key role: Human rights violations, deepening political crisis, total corruption and other institutional failures were, to the protestors, the key triggers of contention. The overall tone of local claimant's demands suggests they were concerned about stopping the incessant political crises that have characterized Ukraine at the local and national levels.

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In Ukraine, contentious politics involving mass protests began in November 2013 and lasted until February 2014, ending only when the president fled the country. During this time, the center of claims-making was the Maidan, which is both the name of a square in downtown Kyiv and a catchword of the protest movement as a whole. In the international press, Maidan became synonymous with the protests in Kyiv. (1) In the social sciences, interest in the Maidan has focused on protest development patterns, the implications for Ukrainian democracy and civil society, and the triggers of the epochal events. (2)

In contrast, this article examines the local maidans in the 57 cities and towns across Ukraine. I use a contentious politics perspective (3) to analyze the claims made by local maidan protesters toward local, national and international governments. I ask three main questions: (1) How do the claimants identify themselves and their actions? (2) How do they justify their actions? and (3) What do the claimants want?

Investigating local maidans and classifying them as contentious politics enhances our understanding of a momentous event in Ukraine's post-Soviet history. There is considerable debate as to the nature of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian events. Some scholars define them as revolution, (4) while others see them as something smaller, such as a protest (5) that took place within a social movement framework. (6) Gomza suggested viewing the Ukrainian events as an episode of contention, (7) comparing the Maidan with previous episodes of Ukrainian contention. Onuch and Sasse also analyze the events following the logic of Tarrow's cycle of contention. (8) I refer to the Maidan as claims-making, with the performance as protest.

The empirical basis for my study is a content analysis of 94 resolutions issued by the local maidan rallies in 57 localities across 20 regions (oblasts) of Ukraine that contain the demands addressed to national and local authorities. These documents are expressions of political protest: they are the people's demands and their plans for future action.

Classifying Maidans

Today, most scholars refer to the Ukrainian 2013-2014 protest events as the "Euromaidan," (9) while other names, such as "Maidan," (10) and "Revolution of Dignity"" are also mentioned. Many Ukrainian scholars offer a more attentive approach to naming, suggesting that Euromaidan and Maidan represent different stages of the contention that were divided by the shift in demands and that the two names should be considered separately. (12)

For my analysis, there are problems with using the term "Euromaidan." First, the prefix "euro" suggests that all Maidan protests were about Ukraine's relationship with Europe as a whole. Yet, there was great differentiation in the target of Maidan protests because demands often dealt with local, rather than Europe-wide, claims. Second, the "euro" prefix disguises the anti-Maidan protests which are part of the broader protest picture. …

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