From Oligarch to Benefactor? : Legitimation Strategies among the Wealthy Elite in Post-Soviet Ukraine

Abstract: This thesis explores how wealthy actors in post-Soviet Ukraine seek to legitimize their extraordinary positions in society. It argues that they attempt to create legitimacy by setting up private philanthropic foundations, in this thesis also termed giving organizations. This act of social responsibility needs visibility, which is obtained through conspicuous projects and promotion in media. The period studied stretches from the 1990s up until 2016, post-Maidan, allowing for an investigation of the dynamics of legitimation strategies during relative stability and political turmoil. How do they organize their giving initiatives? What image are they trying to build and how do they control it? Furthermore, what are the studied actors’ and their giving organizations’ attitudes toward the state and what role do they claim to have in society? These questions guide the four studies in this compilation thesis. The first essay analyses the institutionalization of the giving initiatives, while the second is a study of how the wealthy elite control their image via media. The third article investigates the self-presented justification logics for engaging in such matters as giving. The final essay looks at the action of the giving organizations during political turmoil and the perception of these among civil society activists.The thesis contributes to the understanding of legitimation strategies of oligarchs and the role of elite giving in transition economies as well as in social change movements. Elucidating the concept of the oligarch, the findings show how the giving organizations of different subdivisions of the wealthy elite demonstrate diverse combinations of compensating the state, competing with the state and changing the state. Distinct socially and geographically defined audiences are targeted depending on political ambition and a shifting political context, in which the waves of democratization have had an influence on legitimation efforts. The invisibility of oligarchs during the nation-wide protests in 2013–2014, together with their conformation to norms in society, suggests that they are not drivers of change but rather adapters to public opinion. Moreover, the political dependency of elite giving confirms that the phenomenon is a part of the intertwined relations between politics and business.