Voices of the War in Donbas: Exploring Identities in the Affected Communities Through the Prism of War Songs

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This thesis examines identity work in the ongoing war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. It takes as its object of study a corpus of songs about the conflict representative of the key political and military actors involved: Ukraine, Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Songs are examined using multimodal discourse analysis, with both their visual and musical elements considered, but with a special emphasis placed on the song lyrics.

In the thesis, I begin with examining the songs at the level of ‘syntax’ – paying particular attention to how identity work is mobilized through history, language, and different approaches to constructing the image of the enemy – before tracing the coming together of these individual syntaxes into the prevalent ‘grammars’ of othering. I posit that two competing strategies or grammars are actively shaping identities of groups and individuals in the War in Donbas: circumstantialist othering, which distinguishes between friends and enemies on the basis of the specific conditions that prompted the division, and essentialist othering, which implies the existence of an inherent trait that unavoidably pits one group against the other.

I contend that these two grammars of othering reflect two different world-view paradigms persisting in the communities that circulate the songs. I argue that the circumstantialist approach – as of early 2019, most commonly found in Ukrainian war songs – is aligned with a vision of complete disengagement as the desired outcome of the war. By contrast, the essentialist approach – now most commonly found in songs from Russia and the self-proclaimed republics – is associated with a messianic vision of the war, aiming for cultural and territorial expansion as a means of fulfilling a historical mission.

Finnin, Rory
slavonic studies, slavic studies, ukrainian studies, popular culture, popular music, popular songs, identity, war in donbas, war in donbass, ukraine, donbas, donbass, war songs, identity work, contemporary ukraine, ukrainian culture, ukrainian popular culture, russo-ukrainian war, war in the donbas, war in the donbass, othering, selfing, postcolonialism, eurasian studies, postsoviet studies, postsocialist studies, postcolonial studies, postsocialism, russian culture, russian popular culture, ukrainian music, ukrainian popular music, russian music, russian popular music, dnr, lnr, donetsk people's republic, luhansk people's republic, lugansk people's republic, luhans'k people's republic, novorosiia, novorossiia, propaganda, grammars of othering, multilingualism
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
The Gates Cambridge Trust