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Hong Kong and Ukraine: a comparative study of social protest

23 October 2020

4 mins

by Harrison Winter

Personally, I found it quite difficult to commit to a single area of research during the ‘Research Design’ module in second year which prepares students for the realities of planning a dissertation topic as well as the methodological and theoretical grounding needed to foreground any potential research area. However, it was after visiting my flatmate in Hong Kong during the Easter break that I began to formulate some concrete ideas about what I wanted to focus my dissertation on. Following my visit, I started to research more about Hong Kong’s colonial history and how the handover in 1997 had transformed the prospects of the ‘Special Administrative Region’.

Nevertheless, it was not until the outbreak of protests in 2019 when I was able to crystallise my dissertation thesis. I had read several blogs and articles online which drew parallels between the Hong Kong protests and Ukraine’s Euromaidan in 2013 which eventually led me to further podcasts and academic arguments that underlined further comparisons.  I cannot stress enough that for any undergraduate or prospective students struggling to identify a dissertation research topic, the best advice that I could possibly give is to think about topics that excite you and that you possibly have a personal affinity with to stay continuously motivated to work on your project throughout the academic year.

Undoubtedly, it was my personal interest in the Hong Kong protests which made me fascinated with the interconnected relationship between the 2019 protests and Euromaidan.  I selected three theoretical frameworks to draw tangible comparisons between the two social movements, which were primarily chosen to highlight how ordinary people across disconnected moments in time and location can learn from each other and pass on different ideas of social movement learning to emerging protest movements of the future.

After completing a literature review to find a unique and distinguishable position on the Hong Kong protests, I focused in the first chapter on comparing the symbolism and violence across both movements which included the shared experiences of police brutality,  protest anthems, as well as Hong Kong’s colonial past alongside Ukraine’s communist legacy.  Moreover, in chapter two I then continued to draw parallels between the movements as ‘21st Century protests’ which separates them from preceding movements in Hong Kong and Ukraine and furthers the notion of technological innovation in planning protests and avoiding detection.  Finally, the third chapter considered the global ramifications of the protests and how the international community should learn from Euromaidan and its inefficiency in opposing Russian annexation in Crimea when advocating for Hong Kong’s autonomy under the one-country, two-systems framework.

Nonetheless, I could not have achieved the success that I did with my dissertation if it not for the considerate people whom I reached out to interview remotely for the project.  As part of my methodology, I was able to reach out to distinguished journalists, politicians, lawyers, and protestors on social media to gain their insight and useful quotations for the dissertation. As always, reaching out to complete strangers on social media can always return mixed results, but I was surprised by the generosity shown by those with extremely busy schedules to help me with my project. 

Fundamentally, my research topic was concerned with two social movements which were able to interact with one another through the boundaries of time and geography in the pursuit of attaining more just and egalitarian societies.  Even with the ever-changing situation in Hong Kong, it is an area of international relations which continues to intrigue me to this day, and I can contextualise the current climate in Hong Kong with a deep-rooted academic focus.

Bio: My name is Harrison Winter, and I studied History & International Relations at Loughborough. Looking back on the past three years of my studies, I cannot praise highly enough the inspiring and supportive nature of the POLIS department and in particular my dissertation supervisor Hannah-Partis Jennings who made herself available at every opportunity to assist with my research project. Since sixth form I have sought to pursue a career in the legal sector, however; my fascination with modern history and contemporary affairs made Loughborough University stand out from the rest as the foremost destination to complete my undergraduate degree.

Image: Photo by Amine M’Siouri from Pexels

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