Constituencies of Political Authoritarianism: Struggle, Survival, and Separatism in the Donets Coal Basin (1989-2014)
Dominic Cruz Bastillos
Since the start of the War in the Donbas in 2014, the miners of the Donetsk Coal Basin have suffered immensely due to economic and political destabilization, mine flooding, mine closures, intermittent shelling, mounting wage arrears, outdated technology, and generally hazardous conditions. Yet this struggle for survival is not a recent or unfamiliar phenomenon. The Donbas colliers have been fighting their own impending redundancy for decades. Due to massive subsidies, latent privatization, bloated labor forces, and general unprofitability, the Donbas mines have been treated as a barrier to progress and a siphon for state funds in post-independence Ukraine, a relic of the old Soviet system that refuses to acquiesce to the economic reform programs of an increasingly Europe-oriented Ukrainian nation-state. But even more than a story of survival, the tragedy of the Donbas coal miners is a story of the failure of collective action and their willing subsumption into authoritarian structures on the heels of repression. If the Donbas coal miners were the prototypical heroes of Soviet labor in 1989, then today, in 2021, they are scattered, divided, and cowed by the yoke of the same pro-Russian separatist elements whom they either supported or failed to resist in 2014. This thesis traces the evolution of the Donbas colliers as collective actors, analyzing their transformation from independent grassroots organizers to a constituency of authoritarianism. The miners’ drastic economic circumstances presaged and hastened the emergence of exploitative, yet symbiotic political relationships with authoritarians who professed support for the coal industry. In the absence of meaningful political alternatives, the Donbas miners have been one of the most important constituencies that has supported authoritarianism and allowed separatism to establish a foothold in Ukraine. This support has been built on the decades-long desire to stave off economic redundancy and revive the Donbas coal mining industry. This thesis includes an attached avtoreferat in Russian. Данная дипломная работа включает автореферат на русском языке.