The Impossible Totality of Ukraine’s “People”: On the Populist Discourse of the Ukrainian Maidan – Olga Baysha, Ph.D.

National Research University 'Higher School of Economics'

“According to the discourse theory by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, social identities are not pre-given: they emerge through discursive practices. Any collective identity appears when (1) different demands or characteristics of various social groups are united equivalentially and when (2) one of these demands assumes a hegemonic representation of all other demands.

The Ukrainian movement for European integration emerged when pragmatics’ demands for modernization, liberals’ demands for democratization, and nationalists’ demands for separation from Russia were united under the umbrella of “Euro-Maidan.” “Euro-Maidan” thus became an empty signifier denoting the impossible but necessary totality of all those seeking Europeanization. It was “impossible” because of its irreconcilable internal contradictions (liberals vs. nationalists), but it was necessary for the creation of the “popular front.”

Any collective identity is always full of contradictions – this is a condition of possibility of all populist discourses. However, if we systematically leave these hidden contradictions (antagonisms) without attention, we mask them by pretending they don’t exist. This is how the suppression of alternative voices is usually achieved.

In mainstream political and media discourse, the Euro-Maidan appeared as an impossible totality of the Ukrainian nation. After the victory of the revolution, those holding anti-Maidan views found themselves as “non-Ukrainians,” as “the Ukrainian condition” was imagined exclusively in populist pro-Maidan terms. The whole of the anti-Maidan movement was called “separatist” and anti-Maidan combatants “terrorists,” in contrast to Maidan armed revolutionaries who were considered heroes.”

Ogla BayshaNational Research University ‘Higher School of Economics’