ARCHIVES Danyliw Seminar 2017
Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine
Volodymyr Ishchenko is professor of Sociology at the Kyïv Polytechnic Institute. Between 2009-2016 he coordinated the Ukrainian Protest and Coercion Data (UPCD) project at the Center for Social and Labor Research. He recently published “Far Right Participation in the Ukrainian Maidan Protests: An Attempt of Systematic Estimation,” European Politics and Society (2016).
The Positive and Negative Effects of the Radical Nationalists
in the Maidan Protests
The precise role of Ukrainian radical nationalists from the Svoboda party and the Right Sector in the Ukrainian Maidan protests remains a controversial issue. It is important not only for understanding the causal dynamics of the most important political upheaval in contemporary Ukrainian history, with long-reaching international consequences, but also for an adequate addressing the nationalist and non-democratic tendencies in Ukrainian politics and public sphere after 2014.
A cohesive group of known experts on Ukrainian radical nationalists argued that they did not played neither important, nor even significant role in the Maidan protests essentially reducing the issue to Russian propaganda (Shekhovtsov, Likhachev). They appeal mostly to the low number of far right activists in the Kyïv camp and the poor electoral performance of the far right parties in 2014, not paying enough attention to the crucial role of the Maidan protests in the regions (particularly, in Western Ukraine) and ignoring the disproportional role that small radical minorities can play in the mass protests and non-electoral politics in general.
There are also scholars who pointed to a crucial role of Ukrainian radical nationalists in some of the most significant cases of the violent confrontations during Maidan based on detailed analysis of vast publicly available records. Our own systematic protest event data (UPCD), derived from the reports from the Ukrainian local media, indicate that the Svoboda party was the most active (even if not the most numerous) collective agent in the Maidan protests, while the Right Sector was the most active collective agent in the Maidan violent and confrontational events.
What has been lacking in this academic discussion so far was the perception of the role of the Far Right by the events participants themselves, especially from the Ukrainian regions. The paper contributes to the debate with an analysis of more than 100 in-depth interviews collected by our team between November 2016 and May 2017 in Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne, Odesa, Vinnytsia, Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Kharkiv, and Kyïv. We targeted participants of both Maidan and Anti-Maidan protests, as well as some law-enforcement officers involved into the policing of public order during the events. The 82 Maidan participants’ interviews were conducted both with the activists of radical nationalist groups and with the activists of the moderate opposition parties and civic organizations, as well as with previously non-political participants of the Maidan protests and some “elite” supporters (known politicians, officials, businesspeople, celebrities). The interviews ranged in average between one and two hours. Some of the specific research questions guiding our interviews were:
How the protest participants’ perceived the impact of different organized groups, particularly of the Far Right, on the mobilization and radicalization of the Maidan protests in specific Ukrainian regions and cities?
What were the attempts of the moderate Maidan supporters to distance themselves from the Far Right?
How did law-enforcement perceive the role of the radical nationalists in the Maidan protests, did they discriminate them and moderate Maidan protesters, to whom did they attribute the violence?
To put the analysis into a wider theoretical and comparative context the paper applies the theory of the positive and negative effects of the radical flanks in the mass protests developed within the field of social movements studies.