The Real Consequences of Symbolic Politics: Breaking the Soviet Past in Ukraine

Arturas Rozenas, Anastasiia Vlasenko

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Conflicts over symbolic issues are prominent in public affairs, but do they have wider political consequences, and if so, why? We study the electoral effects of Leninopad (“Lenin’s free fall”), a sudden wave of demolitions of Soviet monuments in Ukraine. Difference-in-differences estimates show that the removals of the Soviet symbols mobilized supporters for parties with a relatively sympathetic view of Ukraine’s Soviet past. We attribute this backlash effect to a signaling mechanism: the removals indicated the weakening power status of the Soviet legacy parties, which motivated their supporters to turn out in elections. This backlash dissipated once the Soviet symbols ceased being a contentious partisan issue due to the escalating war in eastern Ukraine. Symbolic politics has real, nonsymbolic consequences, but only when it maps onto partisan cleavages.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1263-1277
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jul 2022

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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