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Solidarity without unity as a force for political change: Lack of common identity in the Kiev and Sk

Determining Europe along fault-lines / Being and nothingness

The approach to the Other is crucial in determining both the politics and the identity of an individual, a state, or any measure of community. This is because politics and identities begin at the same moment, at the point of meeting with the Other. The European identity has been on ruthless trial in the current political climates of the refugee “crisis”, the financial crisis, and the crisis of the democratic deficit of the European Union [EU].[1] It follows, then, that a re-examination of its approach to its Others is underway, just as these crises require. The Others against which Europe has historically defined itself have been multifarious, yet among these there has always been an insider – at least, geographically speaking – belonging to the territory of Europe but not upholding the same values.[2] Those values remain evasive, however; not only have attempts at superimposing a common identity onto EU members failed, but also the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (2004) went unratified.

All the same, a scale of democratic progress has been used across the continent to codify the countries. The West has become synonymous with “developed”; leaving the East as merely “developing”. The scale of democratic progress actually has a dark underside as state building processes actually tend to go together with conflict. The expansionist ambitions of warring states enabled much of the organization we associate today with “progress”: standardized dialect, well connected and kept roads, food distribution, technology, armies, industry, and an effective postal network. Are we talking, then, of democratic progress or of something else? What the scale fails to recognize is that there isn't just a single direction of development. Many of these “developing” countries in Eastern Europe have adopted, instead, regimes of competitive authoritarianism (to use a term meant to replace “hybrid regime”).[3] In such cases, formally democratic political institutions exist to contest for legitimacy but function under authoritarian principles, especially showing patience for – or even depending on – widespread corruption.[4] All the countries of Other Europe are considered to belong to this category in this paper, as is the almost undisputed sentiment.

Czesław Milosz determines the characteristic trait of Other Europeans in the twentieth century as lacking in form externally and internally.[5] He embodies this trait of formlessness both as a Lithuanian-born Pole defected to the West and, professionally, as a poet. Observing the Second World War, Milosz finds that unifying and subjugating the masses is achieved in authoritarian regimes by dehumanization. “Today man [sic] believes there is nothing in him, so he accepts anything, even if he knows it to be bad, in order to find himself at one with others, in order not to be alone”.[6] Alienation was more horrifying than crimes against humanity. To this day, Other Europe continues to be politically terrified of its nothingness, of being alienated from the more “developed” or “better-formed” states.

Demonstrating change / Changing demonstration

Without the sanction of its subjects, a state government cannot but be considered in tug of war with its people. It is not a fair game, as it is the state that throws the rope to the public and says, metaphorically, make of this what you can. They are in control of laws that determine rights of assembly and association as well as determining the punishments incurred. Yet there comes a point at which it incurs less damage for citizens to practice misconduct than to conduct oneself according to prescribed laws. This is when demonstrations take place. Demonstrations are typically viewed in the light of liberating people from authoritarianism,[7] yet recent studies have redirected the conversation. In a report on a trend of Western nations violating the right to use public space for democratic demonstration, Richard Seymour concludes: “The reorganisation of states today in an authoritarian direction is part of a longer-term project to contain democracy while retaining a minimum of democratic legitimacy. That is what the anti-protest laws are about”.[8]

Douglas Rutzen reports that the attack on civic spaces is a direct consequence of 2001's war on terror proclamation; civil society organizations became threats to security overnight, and not just in the US. “This concern heightened after the so-called color revolutions”, Rutzen continues. “The 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia roused Russia, but the turning point was the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Russian president Vladimir Putin viewed Ukraine as a battleground in the contest for geopolitical influence between Russia and the West”.[9] This position of the battleground was also used to describe the Balkans at the start of 2015 by US Secretary of State John Kerry.[10] The Arab Spring brought even more legislative restraints, Figure One shows, with Europe and Eurasia being among the higher offenders.[11] The most recent well-known example is Spain's Citizens' Security Law 2015, which prohibits demonstration in front of governmental buildings or politicians' homes, among other restrictions, with fines of up to €600,000.[12] On the other side of the continent, in Russia, crippling fines were already put in place in 2012 for unsanctioned demonstrations [13] and increased two years later along with potential prison sentences.[14]

Figure SEQ "Figure" \*Arabic 1: Number of Repressive Initiative Since 2012

Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, makes a direct plea in the 2015 Annual Report, saying that “we’re well past the point of talking about “shrinking” civic space. In many places, that space is long gone. The challenge for 2016 and beyond is not simply to reverse the trend; we are in a crisis [yet another one], and we need to re-order our approaches to address this crisis and get that space back”.[15] If democracies are being “contained” to offer only a minimum of rights to salvage their legitimacy in spite of authoritarian trends, should they be interpreted as at all different to competitive authoritarian regimes?

Maidan moments everywhere, so why not in Macedonia too?

Since a new Ukrainian revolution broke on Maidan Square in November 2013, similar protests in cities of Other Europe have been faced with inevitable comparisons to Kiev. “Maidan moments” have been springing up in Sofia, Yerevan, Chisinau, Prishtina, to name but a few. To treat these Other Europe protests as co-relative is one strategy among the re-ordered approaches of addressing the crisis of civic space. Unfortunately, this hasn't been happening on a serious level as yet – which would properly challenge the continued practice of measuring all experiences against the West – but more to the extent that newspapers bandy about the term “Maidan moment” to excuse deeper study. An in depth study, it follows, might actually be very revealing in determining what a Maidan moment is and why comparisons are reserved for countries of Other Europe. Is there more than ignorance to it? Are we in the process of creating an analytical language for these phenomena?

Recently, I have researched one of the instances of superficial comparison with Ukraine: a mass-scale demonstration in Skopje, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that started on 15 May 2015.[16] In this section of the present article, I wish to uncover what light a deeper comparisons might put to the problems posed above. Also, what can we really take from looking at the protest publics of these very different cases together? In actual fact, the 2014 protests in Macedonia are more like the Ukrainian attempt to oust president Kuchma in 1999 for corruption than like Maidan. In this work, nevertheless, I will pursue the comparison with Maidan since this is more telling of European and Other European perceptions which is our primary focus. On the level of state identity, both Ukraine and Macedonia lack a pre-existent historical state they can lay claim to restoring, both suffer from endless and seemingly unsolvable border disputes, and neither are nationally or ethnically homogenous. These conditions lend themselves to national mobilization, which was indeed happening in both countries but by different actors and to serve different ends. Let's use this as a starting point.

On the one hand, in the Ukraine the nation was viewed as an integrated political entity by the former President Viktor Yushchenko. In his own words, their aim was “to integrate every region in Ukraine as deeply and as quickly as possible into a united entity called the Ukrainian nation. By that I mean a political entity. I anticipated that a policy of national development was the best answer to Putin's aggression. Because a united nation cannot be defeated”.[17] Elites were more concerned with securing deals with Russia or the West for badly needed economic relief.[18] The nationalisms present on Maidan Square intending to mobilize crowds were a bottom-up movement, then. At first, these were in support of the government's initial policy by challenging the u-turn then-President Viktor Yanukovych made when he suspended the EU Association Agreement to protect trade with Russia. More radical anti-government sentiment and far right nationalist groups [Svoboda, Right Sector, Trident] surfaced in the protest camps only after the 30 November police brutality, but were never representative of the entire demonstrating body – as Russian propaganda would have it. Although “the two nationalist candidates in the presidential campaign received less than 2% of the vote between them” at the 2014 parliamentary elections,[19] tolerance of far-right politics and symbols was widespread in spite of this.[20] A third phase began with the passing of ten “turbo” laws repressing freedoms of association and speech on 16 January 2014, or Black Thursday; stern protestors' demands to remove Yanukovych and the occupation of administrative buildings began only then.[21]

Macedonian nationalism, on the other hand, was the political project of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) Government. The Party, which had ruled for nine years at the time, had implemented a major restructuring of the physical space of the capital with the nation-building project Skopje 2014. It appears to be an attempt to lay claim to the Macedonian name – which has long been disputed by Greece and, in 2008, prevented NATO membership. To date there are 27 new buildings, 6 façades, 8 multi-level parking lots, 73 monuments and sculptures, 2 fountains, 4 bridges, and 5 squares, among other details. Changes were Prime Minister-initiated, decided without voting. Competition between architects, construction firms, and sculptors was unfair and usually not transparent. Protests against construction were, and continue to be, systematically suppressed. The costs of Skopje 2014, at the time of writing, have already exceeded eight times the 80 million Euro estimation made upon announcement of the project in 2010 – by which point, construction was already under way.[22] Meanwhile, a quarter of the country's population lives in poverty. It will come as no surprise that the project has very little public support: a study of the Brima Gallup Institute found that this represents only 25.4% of the population while 49.5% expressed direct opposition.[23] The 15 May protests began in response to a wire-tapping scandal that revealed widespread ministerial corruption and intelligence activity on civilians; demands to remove Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski were on the immediate agenda.

Although evidently different, there is a crucial shared point between the demonstrations in Macedonia and Ukraine. Both made calls to modernize and democratize their respective states, which the people felt was a neglected jurisdiction by their representatives – elected under questionable circumstances as in all competitive authoritarian regimes. Even the nationalisms found on Maidan, I would argue, can be interpreted as an attempt to progress the state; they have as a model the supposedly homogenous societies of nation-states to which the EU is tailored and to which they would have to contort if ever to conform. That is in fact a prime example of how modernization and democratization have violent potentials or, at the very least, lead to public discontent: for the sake of the state, a position against the state is taken up. A strictly identity-based reading would be blind to such observations – it would categorize ideals as either pro-European or pro-Russian, perhaps as pro-democratic or pro-authoritarian.[24] Even problematising the associations of Russia axiomatically with authoritarianism or Europe with democracy is often not done by critics. Furthermore, “Othered” countries aren't respected as actors who have the capacity to change or innovate.[25] This will continue to be a problem so long as academia is bound to using identity-centric Europe and Russia, not to mention the US, as pillars for comparison. Going beyond identity questions can move the frozen debates forward.

Other Europe might hold some of the answers. Certainly the means of association between protesting publics there exhibits serious change in the politics of identity, the approach to the Other. Reports of Maidan participants from the first phase of the protests consistently boasted the “good vibes” journalist Mustafa Nayyem told everyone to bring on the Facebook post of 21 November 2013 that started the revolution. There was a lot of voluntary first aid and shelter assistance, artists were drawn to the publics and the potential for change, and a general sense of solidarity and openness prevailed.[26] “The Maidan itself turned into something of a canvas”[27] or hotpot of creativity and liquid identities. The so-called “Yid-Banderites” – people of Jewish descent sporting flags of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – embodied the plurality and insignificance of identity. As a result, a “post-identity form of solidarity” was celebrated in Ukraine which could also be part of what defines a Maidan moment.[28] Something similar was seen in Skopje where demonstrators took a stance against politically-imposed nationalisation. The Macedonian majority and Albanian minority, who have had a long and even recent history of turmoil, were now protesting together with shared goals. Their flags were raised side by side at the demonstrations, alongside flags of other minorities including non-ethnic ones such as the LGBTQI community. This showed the good will of people to get past ethnic divides, revealing them to be little more than attempts at political mobilization.[29] What's more, party affiliates chanted with anarchists, and when it came down to making demands the release and amnesty of captured demonstrators – in both countries – was made a priority. It was an exhibit of solidarity without unity.

Community without community / Solidarity without unity

Solidarity without unity signifies a radically new way of approaching the Other: with mutual respect, heterogeneity, and love.[30] It is present on the terrain of these, and many other, demonstrations today; this is a crucial new characteristic of the changed nature of protest publics. How does it happen? Firstly, it is essential that the demands be post-identity concerns as in our examples, backing out of political promises and corruption. Secondly, the protesting body cannot start as an already-established party or movement but have more organic roots and be open to all sympathisers. Both in Kiev and in Skopje many previously unengaged citizens took to the streets, civic and party camps gathered spontaneously – to start with – and only later merged.[31] Thirdly, the various sectors cannot absolutely integrate ideologically, although the debate between them that is made possible by their physical contact is important. Contentious politics are not sustainable, of course, but sustainability should not be our aim since any political system that is self-perpetuating is totalitarian.[32] Fourthly, the discontented must find new grounds of associating and means of protesting. States with repressive laws of association and assembly set up the preconditions of dissent based on solidarity without community since they forestall the formation of non-governmental organisations, social movements, or even oppositional parties. We are yet to find examples of solidarity without unity in institutionalised politics.

It is a surprising source of uprising. That these people could emerge without a common signifier or distinct ideology is, in itself, remarkable. Seemingly, it is no coincidence that examples of solidarity without unity arose in Other Europe – the Europe of weak identity but strong oppression. Could this be where there is great potential for meaningful demonstrations today, the site of important developments against neoliberal, nationalist, and anti-immigration policies? Perhaps, but Other Europe does not hold a monopoly over weak identity and top-down oppression. Postcolonial and third-world countries would probably also be fine territories for this.[33] Such regions could use what is normally treated as their impediment to their advantage by nurturing post-identity and postmodern publics. Instead, political projects in these parts have been focused on modernizing, which has always meant mindlessly following the “developed” countries into nationalism, neoliberalism, and capitalism. They have been inspired by scales of democratic progress and, often, have seen the intervention of already “developed” countries to bring them in line with their vision of democracy. Yet it is not just places that are regressive on the scale of democratic development that can house solidarity without unity. We've already learnt that it is possible anywhere, tested by the global Occupy Movement which was built on the same grounds – but also depreciated for it. Such loosely united collectives that don't present alternatives couldn't be conceived of as threatening to identity-focused politics of Western Europe, Russia, America. What appears to have happened is that the subjectivity of global civil society changed in an environment of inflexible political systems.

Göran Therborn points how the social base that is necessary for the creation of movements has been swept from beneath the feet of the masses since social cohesion is much less vital for the ruling elites of today than it was for their counterparts in previous centuries. Conscript armies have largely been replaced by mercenary ones; the mass media have helped to make domestic elections ‘manageable’; prevailing economic wisdom holds that the sentiment of international investors counts for more in delivering growth than developmental unity.[34]

Therborn shows how, instead, the fight against capitalism [which is the case-study of his article, but equally applicable here] is now most threatening when combined with groups gathering across identities and generations for other political aims. Wider socio-political engagements fall outside the grip of capitalist systems. The author does not quite say, but alludes, that any single-mission demonstration can easily become consumerised and thereby defused. The polyvocality may not be a weakness, it follows, rather the source of these demonstrations' strengths – and, in the cases of repressive regimes, the only means of demonstrating at all. The same elements that have ended social movements that Therborn lists – a lack of social cohesion, more independent actors, changes in media, globalization – serve as the foundation of what comes next.

Solidarity without unity exemplifies a change that is happening: the nothing inside us becoming the very thing holding us together. The Poet Milosz wrote in 1959, “I see an injustice: a Parisian doesn't continuously have to exhume her city out of nothingness”[35] – the sentiment being that Paris is so well formed it doesn't need advocates. More than half a century later, society is rejecting the illusion of good form. Postmodern culture is creating a different society with the assistance of the present political environment, technological advancements, a general distrust of all-encompassing ideology, and a departure from seeking answers in master narratives. If state structures prove not to be impenetrably rigid, then they too will adapt to these changes. Working on postmodernizing politics means bringing an end to ethno-nationalism, stopping the myths of TINA[36] and self-creation (the American dream), minimizing the personalization cults of political leaders, rethinking interventionist foreign policies, reopening closed borders, restructuring property rights, ensuring transparency of information, and not obliging individuals to certain or strict conduct on any grounds.


[1] Decision 2 BvE 2/08 of 30 June 2009, § 244, 211, 216, 270; available in English on the court website. With the EU, I would argue that a Second Europe has been institutionalized to solve the problem of the defining borders and controlling values. This is an attempt to revise the continent. Membership is difficult to acquire and by invitation only, an exclusive club to which not all states have chosen to belong [notably Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein have rejected].

[2] That Eastern Europe doesn't share in the same narrative of progress is clear – to many observers, it is already swallowed up by Russia, which is not Europe yet not not Europe. Grammatically, this might be confusing, but it is a part of everyday life in the region and couldn't seem more natural, whether we agree with the sentiment or not. The obsession with Russia should not surprise: in part it is the memory of the USSR that modelled an alternative socio-political organization, that the country is considered Europe's closest threat [if not exactly internal], the dependence of much of the continent on Russian gas, and US influence over the EU.

[3] Levitsky, Steven, and Lucan A. Way. Competitive Authoritarianism: The Emergence and Dynamics of Hybrid Regimes in the Post-Cold War Era. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010.

[4] Robertson, Graeme B. The Politics of Protest in Hybrid Regimes: Managing Dissent in Post-Communist Russia. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011: 6.

[5] Milosz, Czesław. Druga Evropa. Gornji Milanovac: Dečje Novine, 1990: 70.

[6] ——. The Captive Mind. New York: Vintage, 1990: 81.

[7] Lee, Fracis F. L. “Triggering the Protest Paradigm: Examining Factors Affecting News Coverage of Protests”. International Journal of Communication 8 (2014): 2730.

[8] Seymour, Richard. “From Quebec to Spain, anti-protest laws are threatening democracy”. The Guardian. 25 November 2013.

[9] Rutzen, Douglas. “Civil Society Under Assault”. Journal of Democracy 26/4 (2015): 29.

[10] Geslin, Laurent and Jean-Arnault Dérens. “The Balkans – a new front line between Russia and the West”. Georgia – Caucasus Strategic Study Institution. 2 July 2015 (accessed 18 January 2016).

[11] Rutzen. “Civil Society Under Assault”. 30.

[12] Spongenberg, Helena. “Spain's 'gag' law comes into force”. EU Observer. 3 July 2015 (accessed 20 February 2016).

[13] Herszenhorn, David M. “New Russian Law Assesses Heavy Fines on Protestors”. New York Times. 8 June 2012 (accessed 20 February 2016).

[14] Nechepurenko, Ivan. “New 'Anti-Maidan Law' Lets Russian Authorities Come Down Harder on Protesters”. The Moscow Times. 22 July 2014 (accessed 20 February 2016).

[15] United Nations. 2015: The Year in Assembly and Association Rights. 5 January 2016. (accessed 6 January 2016).

[16] Most comprehensively: Deralla, Xhabir Memedi. “RFERLive: Macedonia’s Maidan Moment?” Radio Free Europe. 21 May 2015. (accessed 25 September 2015). Other comparisons tended to use Maidan as a potential violent event in the future of the Macedonian protests.

[17] Yushchenko, Viktor. Interview conducted by Anna Sous for Radio Free Europe. July 2015. (accessed 14 January 2016).

[18] Yekelchyk, Serhy. The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015: 103.

[19] Fedorenko, Kostiantyn. “The Two Movements: Liberals and Nationalists during Euromaidan”. Ideology and Politics. No. 1 (5) 2015: 19.

[20] Ishchenko, Volodymyr. “Ukraine's Fractures”. New Left Review. No. 87. May / June (2014): 25.

[21] Ibid. 1—29. In this source, the three phases are covered in detail through perspectives of nationalism and demonstrators' demands. Fedorenko suggests a different categorization in “The Two Movements”. Fedorenko's proposal, to view Maidan as having distinct social movements that often worked together, does not preclude applying the “phases” perspective; the more tools used together the better to draw a picture of the complexity – and contradictoriness – of ideologies present. In reality, there are as many ideologies as there are bodies demonstrating.

[22] Further details of construction and costs at: Prizma. Skopje 2014 pod lupa. 5 October 2015. (accessed 7 October 2015).

[23] Georgievska-Jakovleva, Loreta. “The Project 'Skopje 2014': Between Social Cohesion and Social Disintegration.” Култура / Culture 8 (2014): 52.

[24] Popșoi, Mihai eloquently shows how Molodova today suffers from this. “How International Media Failed Moldova's Protesters”. Open Democracy. 6 February 2016. (accessed 6 February 2016).

[25] In the words of theatre director Vlad Troitskyi, “Ukraine is treated as a victim rather than a source of new ideas or projects”. cf. Yakutenko, Anna. “Theatre director stages his plays all over the world”. Kyiv Post. 25 February 2016. (accessed 25 February 2016).

[26] “Remembering Maidan: names of the revolution”. EMPR. 2 December 2014. (accessed 25 February 2016).

[27] Moussienko, Natalia. “The Art of Revolution: Creativity and Euromaidan”. The Wilson Quarterly. (accessed 25 February 2016).

[28] Gerasimov, Ilya. “Ukraine 2014: The First Postcolonial Revolution”. 34. While this is an apt observation, as the conclusion of the present paper will show, I disagree with the arch of Gerasimov's paper. He reads Maidan as a postcolonial revolution on the grounds of the revolution “forg[ing] a new Ukrainian nation as a community of negotiated solidarity action by self-consious individuals” (23). In my opinion, postcolonialism cannot be applied to Other Europe so boldy as there are too many similarities between it and its supposed colonisers: the people and cultures are already mixed, the languages usually similar, the borders directly neighbouring and not well defined historically.

[29] As described in Howard, Lise Morjé. “The Ethnocracy Trap.” Journal of Democracy. No. 23 / 4 (2012): 155-169.

[30] Love is a figure, not to be taken in the sense we normally use it in. Jelisaveta Blagojević explains: “It seems that in the theoretical and political sense, the figure of love can describe the paradoxical process of subjectivization in the best and most provocative way — above all in showing the impossibility of a subject to appropriate and possess the Other and, thereby, also oneself” (11). Zajednica onih koji nemaju zajednicu, Beograd: fmk, 2007. Translation mine.

[31] As has been explained, they didn't come to a single ideology even after merging. Nevertheless, popular media do not yet have the language to discuss such collectives and tend to over-simplify dangerously, as we saw with the reduction of Maidan to neo-Nazism.

[32] “The logic of the absolute violates the absolute. It implicates it in a relation that it refuses and precludes by its essence”, writes Jean-Luc Nancy. Trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, et. al. “The inoperative community”. Theory and History of Literature 76. 1991: 4.

[33] The territorial aspect is not a sole determinant. Timing is also important: with today's technological advancements, most significantly the introduction of social media, traditions of dissent can be transplanted into formerly non-dissenting publics [as was the case in Macedonia] and postmodern culture can be spread.

[34] Therborn, Göran. “New Masses?” New Left Review. No. 85. January / February (2014): 13.

[35] Druga Evropa 57. Translation mine.

[36] There Is No Alternative slogan propagated by neoliberals but adopted by the Left.

Rastko Antić began his academic career studying literary history and theatre at the the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne, and Graz. His Masters studies were in Human Rights and Democracy at the Universities of Sarajevo and Bologna. The combination of disciplines bridge his interests between politics, anthropology, and actions in public spaces.

He regularly posts on these subjects at or on Twitter @kokoschkachanel.


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