Shouldn’t, Wouldn’t, Couldn’t? Analyzing the Involvement of Oligarchs’ Philanthropy Foundations in the Ukrainian Protests of 2013-14

  • Hanna Söderbaum Uppsala University

Abstract

This article analyzes the agency of wealthy businessmen-politicians’ philanthropy foundations during the Ukrainian Maidan protests of 2013-14 in which crowdfunding and grassroots mobilization constituted key distinctive features. As the role of these philanthropy foundations remains obscure, this article aims to bridge this gap in our knowledge of Ukrainian politics and society. The protesters strived to achieve social change and democratization similar to what was being purported by wealthy businessmen-politicians’ foundations during the years leading up to the protests. However, since the protesters specified one particular aim as “de-oligarchization,” the involvement of these organizations is puzzling. What did these foundations do at this critical point? To what extent can their actions or inactions be explained by the institutional and framework constraints of the foundations, the strategies of the wealthy businessmen-politicians behind the foundations, and the lack of the foundations’ legitimacy in the eyes of the civic sector activists? The analysis covers different types of foundation and is based on semi-structured interviews involving the foundations’ representatives, think-and-do tank analysts, and Maidan activists, over the years 2011 to 2017. The findings show that the organizational entities were largely directed by their respective founders. This indicates a dependence of the philanthropic organization on the political affiliation of the founder, rather than on the framed ambition of the foundation. Similar to the impact of philanthropic organizations in other institutional contexts, the impact of philanthropy foundations on the Maidan social movement proved marginal. Since oligarchs could not be invisible during the political turmoil, they tried to retain a position from which they could deny responsibility for specific actions. The logic of commitment compensation and the logic of flexibility advanced by Markus and Charnysh proved useful for analyzing the strategies of these businessmen-politicians.

Author Biography

Hanna Söderbaum, Uppsala University

PhD Candidate

Published
2019-10-21