The Real Consequences of Symbolic Politics: Breaking the Soviet Past in Ukraine
36 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2020
Date Written: June 22, 2020
Symbolic politics plays a prominent role in public affairs, but there is no systematic research quantifying its tangible impacts. We advance this agenda by studying the electoral consequences of Leninopad ("Lenin's free fall''), a sudden wave of demolitions of Soviet monuments in Ukraine prompted by Euromaidan protests. Difference-in-differences estimates show that the demolitions mobilized turnout and increased support for parties with a relatively sympathetic view of Ukraine's Soviet past. The evidence is consistent with status threat mechanism: the demolitions symbolized the diminishing influence of the Soviet legacy parties, which motivated their supporters to turn out in elections. This backlash dissipated once the fate of the Soviet monuments ceased being a contentious issue due to the escalating war in the country's east; thus, symbolic politics has real, non-symbolic consequences only when it maps onto existing partisan cleavages.
Keywords: symbolic politics, post-communism, Ukraine, memory
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