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Replying to:  Ukraine: President, opposition sign crisis deal by loco503   Feb 21, 2014, 12:51 PM

Re: Ukraine: President, opposition sign crisis deal

by loco503    Feb 21, 2014, 12:52 PM

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Joshua Tucker: The following is a guest post
from political scientists Keith Darden
(American University) and Lucan Way
(University of Toronto) addressing the
question of who is protesting in Ukraine, and
how much support do the protesters actually
have. Their conclusion: Ukraine’s protests
may not be driven by the far right, but they
are not supported by a clear majority of
Ukrainians … and neither is a turn toward
Europe. You can find links to previous posts
from The Monkey Cage on the ongoing
political turmoil in Ukraine at the end of the
For over two months, anti-government
protesters have camped out in the center of
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Coverage in
the media has presented vastly different
images of who these protesters are and what
they represent. Recently, some
commentators have depicted the protests as
emblematic of a Europe-wide resurgence of
chauvinistic nationalism . They point to the
presence of the Right Wing among the
protest movement and the prominence of
“ultra-nationalist” groups in the recent
In stark contrast, others have seen the
protesters as fighters for democracy
expressing the views and interests of the
broad Ukrainian public to join Europe and
rid themselves of Russian subjugation.
Along these lines, the conflict in Ukraine
has been viewed from a geopolitical
perspective as a battle for and against
efforts by the Kremlin to seize Ukraine,
with critics of the protests seen as abetting
such efforts or potentially even being on the
Russian payroll . Asserting that “the
movement as a whole merely reflects the
entire Ukrainian population, young and
old,” influential supporters of the Maidan
in the academy have concluded that
nationalist forces represent a “minor
segment” of the protests and therefore a
focus on such radicals is “unwarranted and
What then do the protesters represent?
What is the role of the far right in the
protests in Ukraine? To what extent does
the movement “reflect the entire Ukrainian
population,” and how would we know?
Available research on the protesters and
public opinion data from Ukraine suggest a
reality that is more complicated than either
of these competing narratives. First, there is
no evidence that the majority of protesters
over the past two months have been
motivated primarily by radical nationalism
or chauvinism. Surveys of the protest
participants conducted in early December
and again at the end of January suggest that
the main driver of the protests has been
anger at President Viktor Yanukovych as
well as a desire for Ukraine to enter the
European Union (see also Olga Onuch’s
prior post on The Monkey Cage). Notably,
the most unifying factor seems to be
opposition to Yanukovych’s efforts to crack
down on protesters. This is consistent with
the ebb and flow in the size of the protest
movement over the past months. Initially
quite small, the protests exploded after a
violent crackdown on them at the end of
November and then again in mid January
after Yanukovych pushed through a series
of draconian laws to limit protest and
dissent. None of the protest demands reflect
an obvious chauvinist or nationalist
Yet, in Ukraine today, it is equally
misleading to state that the nationalist right
represents a “minor segment” of the current
protests. The protest leadership (to the
extent that it exists) consists of three
opposition parties in parliament – one of
which, the Svoboda party, is clearly on the
far right. Svoboda, which captured 38 seats
and 10 percent of the vote in the last
parliamentary elections, until 2004 called
itself the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine
and employed neo-Nazi and SS symbols.
While the party changed its name and
symbols in 2004, Svoboda’s leader, Oleh
Tyahnybok, continued to argue that the
opposition should fight the “Muscovite-
Jewish mafia running Ukraine” and praised
the Ukrainian Insurgency Army (UPA) in
World War II for fighting “against the
Moskali [Muscovites], Germans, Zhydy
[Jews] and other scum, who wanted to take
away our Ukrainian state.” The party does
not hide its glorification of the interwar
fascist movement, the Organization of
Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). In December
they held a torchlight rally on the Maidan
to honor the OUN leader, Stepan Bandera,
and they regularly fly the red and black flag
of the OUN, which has been banned as a
racist symbol at soccer matches by FIFA.
The explicit harkening back to the songs,
slogans, and symbols of the nationalist
movement of the 1930s and 1940s — with
its aspiration to achieve an ethnically pure
Ukrainian nation-state free of Russians,
Jews, and Poles — has been one of the most
significant differences between these
protests and the Orange Revolution of 2004.
The right-wing groups have been
particularly active among the organization
of the protest movement on the ground,
particularly as the number of protesters has
dwindled over time and revealed a resilient
right-wing core. Svoboda’s deputies control
the opposition-occupied Kiev city
administration building, its flag is widely
visible and a portrait of Bandera hangs in
the central hall.
And Svoboda is just one of many signs of a
strong far right presence in the
organization and mobilization of the
Maidan. Andriy Parubiy, the
“commandant” of the Maidan and the
leader of the “self-defense” forces that guard
the protest camp in the center of Kiev, was
a co-founder of the Social Nationalist Party
with Oleh Tyahnybok. In recent weeks, the
coalition of smaller right-wing
organizations called “Right Sector”
spearheaded the violent turn in the protests
– using stones, Molotov ****tails, pipes, and
siege weaponry against police. While this
group has not been welcomed into the
protest leadership, it is clearly an important
player on the ground and has reportedly
been arming itself in the event that talks
fail to achieve Yanukovych’s resignation.
More generally, nationalist activists from
Svoboda and these other groups have
provided the opposition with its most
“fearsome demonstrators” who according to
the New York Times “led some of the more
provocative efforts to occupy buildings and
block government offices.”
Despite the strong right-wing presence, are
the protests nonetheless pro-democracy?
The answer to this might seem obviously yes
– given that they are directed against
authoritarian behavior and an autocratic
president. Yet recent work on mass
mobilization has suggested that we need to
be careful about assuming that politicians’
and analysts’ master narratives about
“democratic revolutions” reflect the actual
motivations of those on the street.
Princeton University Professor Mark
Beissinger has shown that Ukrainian
protesters in late 2004 had a “weak
commitment to democratic ends” – despite
the fact that the protests were sparked by
electoral fraud. More recently, a December
survey of the current protesters in Ukraine
cited above shows that less than 20 percent
were driven to protest by “violations of
democracy or the threat of dictatorship.”
More broadly, it is important not to assume
that opposition to a non-democratic regime
is the same as support for democracy.
History is littered with examples of
opposition movements that governed in an
authoritarian manner after they took
power – from the opponents of the Shah in
Iran in 1978/1979 to the anti-Soviet
nationalist movement in Armenia, which
harassed opposition, and engaged in serious
electoral fraud after taking power in
1990-1991; to the dictator Alexander
Lukashenko, who started off as an
opposition parliamentarian in Belarus in
the early 1990s.

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