Andrey Nevskiy is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Sociology in St. Petersburg, Russia. His thesis is on the political and social prerequisites of spontaneous volunteer mobilization in times of natural disasters. He joined in 2014 an independent research group called The Public Sociology Laboratory.
Public Sociology Laboratory, St.Petersburg, Russia
Draft: Not to be Cited Without Permission
Political and Economic Demands in the Revolution of Dignity
by Andrey Nevskiy Institute of Sociology, St. Petersburg, Russia
My paper concerns the issue of economic demands and, largely, economic and political attitudes of participants of mass movements in Ukraine, both Euromaidan and Anti-Maidan. Economic protests in Ukraine (as well as in the other countries of former USSR) were quite common; suffice it to recall protests against monetization of social benefits in Russia (2005), anti-austerity protests in Latvia (2009) or miners unrest in Western Kazakhstan (2011). In addition, labor and anti-gentrification movements made their presence felt from time to time (Kherson machinery plant workers’ strike, a conflict around Askold’s Grave in Kyiv etc.) However, when it came to mass protest movements (Orange Revolution in 2004, as well as Euromaidan) economic demands and issues of social justice gave place to slogans of resignation of the government, sovereignty or some vague “moral” slogans.
The problem of representation of economic demands (social justice demands foremost) matters for two reasons. First, there is a striking inconsistency between objective economic conditions of the majority of the population and the agenda of protest movement. This leaves an impression (that is also roused by reactionary commentators and representatives of incumbent regime) that there is some specific kind of people participating in the protest – those who are completely insensitive to economic grievances of the majority. This explanation is insufficient without any doubt. This makes us seek other shared reasons for the mass character and spontaneity of these movements or, at least reasons for absence or replacement of economic demands.
Secondly, recent post-Soviet protest movements evolve on the back of global rise of spontaneous urban protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Arab revolutions, unrest in Greece etc. – that are primarily consolidated by demands for social justice, more equal distribution of benefits and general anti-neoliberal agenda. At very least this tendency requires putting Euromaidan (as well as Bolotnaya movement) in the context of these issues. And in this particular case, the differences are apparent at once. The demands for social justice (let alone any substantial critique of neoliberalism) are poorly represented, giving place to instantaneous political demands or abstract “moral” slogans. Whereas some commentators claim that Euromaidan “came from the left» (Snyder, 2014) putting forward the demands for social justice, this inference requires more detailed analysis.
In my report, I will examine a hypothesis positing that not putting forward economic demands is conditioned by the situation of social and economic on the part of the state, customary for post-Soviet societies. The state takes responsibility for solving all major political, economic and social problems, while all options for civic engagement into distribution of powers and resources are reduced to zero. I am going to demonstrate how our informants from both Maidan and Antimaidan perceive opportunities for civic engagement and improving their living conditions in this context. However, it is not my intention to treat this issue merely as an inheritance of the Soviet era; therefore, I will try to relate it to major global tendencies in the sphere of political involvement. I will use data taken from several surveys conducted by the Public Sociology Laboratory. I am going to focus on Ukrainian case using examples from our studies of Bolotnaya movement of 2011-12 and Electric Yerevan in 2015 where appropriate.
Economic demands in contemporary protest movements.
Tendencies and importance
After 2010 the era of mass urban rebellions has come – Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, Occupy Wall Street in the US, anti-neoliberal protests in Greece. Long-term popular movements such as Indignados moved to the forefront. Against this background, one could imagine that we are witnessing the rise of protest or, at least, protest attitudes brought by the Great Recession and general disillusionment in neoliberal economic policies. However, the picture appears to be more complicated. Scholars that use postmaterialism theory in their analysis of recent waves of World Values Research have shown that protest attitudes have decreased after 2008 world economic crisis (Cameron, 2013). This academic tradition usually relate this kind of fluctuations with economic difficulties and the growth of scarcity and that result in decreasing number of economically secured young people with postmaterialist attitudes, those who are usually disposed to protest (Inglehart, 1981). Beissinger and Sasse contribute to this picture by demonstrating the tendency for decrease of protest actions in general all over the globe, and particularly in the Eastern Europe meanwhile the specific amount of anti-austerity actions is growing (Beissinger & Sasse, 2014). It appears that center of attention has shifted from so-called pro-active protests (meaning demands for extra social benefits, political change etc.) gave place to reactive protests against austerity measures. Anyway, the tendency of moving economic demands to the forefront seems to be obvious. Which is, apparently, not true in the case of Euromaidan.
 Survey of “for Fair Elections Movement!” in St.-Petersburg and Moscow in 2011-2012 conducted by Collective of Politicization Researchers; Survey of Ukrainian Protest Movements in 2014 conducted by Public Sociology Laboratory; pilot survey of Electric Yerevan in 2015 conducted by Public Sociology Laboratory.
 One more issue is worth mentioning – what do we actually imply while speaking about economic demands. Typically, these are the issues of employment, fair salaries, descent living, health care and education. However, one of the most widely discussed issues in our interviews was an issue of corruption. Therefore, the question is whether we determine “struggle with corruption” as an economic, political or moral slogan. The thing is that “corruption” as well as the “struggle with corruption” appears to be not only a matter of everyday life in post-Soviet states but also one of the most preferred figure of speech for both authorities and the liberal opposition. Thus on the earlier stages of “For fair elections!” movement we have noticed that people often mention the issue of corruption, although they never encountered this problem in reality. This made us put that the slogans against corruptions in one row with vague moral slogans such as “For fair authorities!” or “Against crooks ant thieves!” Nevertheless, I tend to define struggle against corruption as a social justice demand for two reasons. First, our Ukrainian interviews demonstrate very different picture – the issue of corruption here is much more material as it affects everyday life of almost all our informants. Second, it is important what exactly is understood under the term “corruption”. Indeed procedural fairness plays significant part in legitimation of regime; however, some scholars show that the very fact of misuse of authority among power elites does not have a great impact on either the level of confidence in authorities (Linde, 2012) or growth of protest attitudes (Kravtsova & Oschepkov 2012). What really matters is awareness that authorities treat most of the citizens in equal matter and there is at least theoretical opportunity to equal access to the distribution of benefits.