Taras Fedirko: Liberty after liberalism: an anthropology of emancipatory struggles in Ukrainian journalism


The post-Cold War moment saw global experiments in liberating the world through capitalist markets and liberal democracy. How have they shaped understandings of freedom in the former Soviet ‘empire of justice’?

I address this question by focusing on Ukrainian journalists’ struggles against the power of oligarchs and other media patrons between 2001-2021. I build on fieldwork in Kyiv since 2017 to trace the transformation of what had begun as a solidarity movement against media censorship, into a divisive, moralised struggle over who counts as real’, ‘honest’  journalist in Ukraine. This transformation reveals that the idea of freedom as non-domination has been central to the way Ukrainian journalists have navigated the (geo)political and economic conjuncture of the pre-invasion decades, and the moral conclusions they made from it. Ultimately, to understand the origins, dynamics, and ethical stakes of these journalists’ emancipatory struggles, we need to critically revise anthropology’s own Cold-War liberal heritage: the centrality of the idea of freedom from interference to the rise of the anthropology of ethics and its rejection of political economy.