Media and Identity in Wartime Donbas, 2014-2017
This dissertation examines the discourses of local print and internet media in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” (DNR and LNR) in eastern Ukraine, paying particular attention to the role of these discourses in the construction of group identity. Drawing on nationalism studies, identity studies and social psychology, I trace how authorities and media actors in these two unrecognised territories sought to build legal legitimacy and public support, and to shape collective identity between 2014 and 2017. To do so, I analyse both primary and secondary source material, including speeches, statements and writings by local officials, legislative documents, internal communications, and a large corpus of news articles published in local newspapers and internet media.
After tracing the development of the DNR and LNR’s political and media landscapes, as well as the legislation passed by the authorities to regulate the mass media, I use Natural Language Processing methods to examine what narratives predominated in DNR and LNR newspaper and internet media coverage, with an abiding focus on attempts to shape and develop group identity. I demonstrate that DNR and LNR authorities prioritised building and projecting internal and external legitimacy from the beginning by controlling the information space through media capture and by passing restrictive legislation. Despite the fact that this legislation created conditions for the pursuit of an ideological identity project, I argue that this project remained unrealised and incoherent, founded more on representations of the ‘they’ of the outgroup rather than the ‘we’ of the ingroup. Understanding the semiotic impoverishment of this project can offer insight into the nature and future of Europe’s “forgotten war”.