CIUS Events. Fall-Winter 2014 Seminar Series: September 10, 2014
Why did Kyiv’s Independence Plaza, or the Maidan, become the focus of mass protests during the Orange Revolution and the EuroMaidan? This talk will trace the changing geography of protest in Kyiv over the last century and explain the choice of protest venues through their relationship with traditional locations of festivities and sites of power.
Serhy Yekelchyk is Professor of Slavic Studies and History at the University of Victoria and the author of several books on Modern Ukrainian history, including, most recently, Stalin’s Citizens: Everyday Politics in the Wake of Total War (Oxford University Press, 2014).
In this interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study, we examine the transmission of the Guy Fawkes mask as a material semiotic marker for protest from its origins in Renaissance England to the streets of present-day Ukraine. Although the mask has been ubiquitous in 21st-century world street protests as varied as New York and Frankfurt (the Occupy Movement), the Arab Uprisings, Gezi Park (Istanbul), Los Indignados (Spain), and Anonymous Brazil (against the 2014 World Cup), its recent Ukrainian manifestation in Kyiv’s EuroMaidan, and Kharkiv’s, Slavyansk’s, and Donetsk’s Pro-Russian demonstrations has received relatively less focus within the Western media. Using a media archaeology, we trace the development of the mask from its historical and popular culture iterations (ritual, comic books, film) through its political and social dimensions (online parodies, hacktivism, street protests) from .4chan to Project Chanology, to its current street protest manifestations worldwide. Next, we examine news photographs gathered from image databases (Google, Getty, AccuNet) and video clips posted on YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram as a way to isolate the uniquely Ukrainian elements grafted on to the generic Guy Fawkes/Anonymous semiotic template. Finally, we compare these results against semiotic (Peirce), memetic (Blackmore), and cultural transmission (CT) models, as a way to assess the risks and advantages of the movement’s heterogeneous social structure, and to explain why the mask, so visible in protests from New York to Malaysia, has had relatively less success projecting itself through the intercultural media lens trained so intently on the EuroMaidan and eastern Ukraine.
Folklore is the artistic expression of belief. It is a “bottom-up” phenomenon: art generated by the people themselves and not imposed on them by commercial or political interests. This paper will explore 3 forms of folk art connected to Euromaidan. 1) During Euromaidan itself people asserted their ties to Ukrainian tradition by painting their combat equipment with traditional Ukrainian images. Helmets were painted to look like pysanky while shields were decorated with bucolic scenes such as those found in folk paintings. 2) After Maidan was over, people incorporated symbols of the uprising into their lives. Tires, associated with the barricades used on the square, were painted blue and yellow, often with additional decorations such as flowers, and used as planters and statuary. 3) People used folk items to effect a wished-for outcome. Images of a korovai in the shape of Ukraine – and with Crimea still obviously attached, appeared on the internet. There were pysanky and rushnyky with the Ukrainian trident and rushnyky with text calling for God’s help and protection of Ukraine. My paper will analyze these forms of expression and contrast them with the one Russian folklore form that has appeared online to date. This is a video of an elderly woman reciting a verse addressed to Barak Obama, asking him to be a friend of Russia. It is notable that this text is not the woman’s own composition, but something composed for her in the manner of Stalin era fakelore.
Professor and Kule Chair
University of Alberta