Ukraine has faced turbulent times over the past few weeks. The current crisis began in November when President Yanukovych rejected financial stabilization talks with the European Union and instead took a bailout from Moscow. Weeks of protests have culminated in the deaths of many protesters and parliament ousting President Viktor Yanukovych, who has fled the capital in Kiev. Elections will likely occur in May, and Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution which toppled Yanukovych a decade ago, is a strong candidate.

While the media spins the protests as a pro-democracy and pro-EU push against a corrupt government, only 43% of Ukranians actually wanted the EU deal, and Yanukovych was actually acting in the favor of the majority. Ukraine has been deeply divided since its independence in 1991. In the country’s east, the majority speak Russian as their first language, where they also have historical and cultural links to Russia. In the west, the Ukrainian-speaking majority would rather see their country identify with Europe and the EU than with Russia.

The conflict in Ukraine is not just an isolated protest against the president or his decision, it may signal a much larger divide in national identity.
Protest events don’t come out of nowhere. They serve as “switchmen” in the development of social movements, existing within a broader context shaped by culture and history.

For more on how sociologists study these kinds of social movements, check out this TSP roundtable.