The recent wave of mass demonstrations in Russia and Ukraine has reawakened interest in post-Soviet protest. In both cases, the international media were quick to jump to conclusions about the protesters, usually without bothering to talk to them. Despite systematic evidence to the contrary, they identified a “middle-class movement” in Russia, and assumed that Ukrainian protesters took to the streets simply in support of association with the EU rather than against abuse of power and police violence. In both cases, protesters are consistently described as opposition supporters, even though conflict and tensions between grassroots protesters and the political opposition are a central part of the story in Ukraine just as in Russia.
However, merely deconstructing media representations of post-Soviet protest is too easy. After all, they mirror struggles over representation on the ground, and reflect the changing roles of protesters, journalists, and political elites in post-Soviet countries. What can media representation teach us about political representation, and what can careful empirical study contribute to an understanding of post-Soviet protest?
Mischa Gabowitsch (www.gabowitsch.net) is a research fellow at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam. He is the author of Putin kaputt!? (Berlin: Suhrkamp 2013), a study of the 2011-13 Russian protests for fair elections, and maintains www.protestrussia.net, which collects academic resources for the study of protest in Russia.
Both Your Houses. Protest and Opposition in Russia and Ukraine
Ukraine in Focus