Blue-Yellow Visions, Bioweapon Warnings: The Face Of Russian Paranoia
Today's Russia is similar to Stalin's USSR in more and more ways, including the constant search for enemies and the paranoia of betrayal. Some examples of this panic may be funny, but also help inform what Moscow might do next.
Some compare the regime of Vladimir Putin to the regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Sometimes the comparison holds, sometimes it doesn't. But one thing they share is a sense of social panic — and paranoia.
The nature of panic and paranoia often makes it ripe for jokes, though in the end there is little to laugh at in a totalitarian regime. We have gathered some recent signs of the paranoid state of Russian society.
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Take Olga Z., a resident of the Moscow neighborhood, who was taking the metro when a neighbor caught her eye. He wore a yellow jacket with a blue sweatshirt peeking out from underneath. She was also concerned that a man who was a lookalike of Ukrainian nationalist Dmytro Yarosh was sitting beside the suspicious citizen in yellow and blue. She immediately informed the police.
Then there's Svetlana Sharkova, a 60-year-old retiree from the village of Lashino near Moscow, who complained to the police that a local plant nursery was selling seedlings of the Ukrainian apple variety "Glory to the Victors."
Police in the central Russian city of Pyt-Yakh, are investigating a report from the local school principal that a student wore blue and yellow ribbons in her hair.
On a bus traveling from Dzhankoy to Sevastopol in Crimea, a retiree reported to police that he saw a passenger with a tattoo on his leg of Stepan Bandera, the noted World War II-era Ukrainian political lead. The tattoo turned out to be Irish actor Cillian Murphy in the role of Thomas Shelby, a character in the gangster series Peaky Blinders.
But perhaps the pinnacle of this twisted epidemic is the case of Pavel Protasov, a 29-year-old unemployed man from Krasnogorsk who literally denounced himself. He confessed to local authorities that while drunk, he had painted an angry anti-war slogan, in yellow and blue on the wall inside his own house. Later, he sobered up and admitted that he had made a terrible mistake. It is unclear whether all of this means that Protasov can be considered a "good Russian" for Ukrainians, or whether he is only so when he's drunk.
What is happening today in the Russian world is not a temporary dizziness but a time-tested national idea of the Soviet world. Conspiratorial searches for disguised enemies and denunciations have been the norm since at least the 1930s. However, back then, it was not the yellow and blue colors, but Nazi swaztikas.
In December 1935, Glavlit, an organization responsible for censoring all printed media in the Soviet Union, sent a directive banning the publication of a photograph of Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov with Stalin. "In the picture, the strands of hair on Comrade Dimitrov's forehead look like a painted swastika," the censors warned.
The search for swastikas did not end after 1945
Censors also went after dead Russian poets. In 1937 the country solemnly celebrated the centenary of the famous poet Alexander Pushkin's death. A multimillion-copy edition of school notebooks with the classic poet and characters from his works on the covers was published to mark the anniversary.
But soon, schools received an order to immediately remove the covers of the anniversary notebooks. One of the covers featured what someone thought was the shape of a swastika on the poet's ring finger. On the other cover, in the left corner of the reproduction of the painting, there were the would-be corpses in Red Army helmets. The word "down" was seen on Prince Oleg's sword and in the folds of his cloak, and the letters of the abbreviation for the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks were seen on his shoes. All of this added up to a criminal slogan.
Millions of harmful covers were confiscated, schoolchildren wrapped their notebooks in ideologically corrected newspapers, and saboteur artists Pyotr Malevich and Mikhail Smorodkin were sent for re-education to the GULAG labor camps.
Swastikas were found in the most unexpected places. For example, in a butter churn made at a Moscow factory in 1937, the Party Control Commission found that the shop manager, a German by nationality, "added a second blade to the device, placing it perpendicular to the first. As a result of the arrangement of the blades, the product took on the appearance of a fascist swastika."
The search for swastikas did not end after 1945, moving into the realm of myths and legends. One features eight concrete pigeons on a fountain in the courtyard of the Simferopol railway station, built in 1951. Viewed from above, they were arranged in what some said was the shape of a Nazi symbol, the silent revenge of the captured Germans who built the station after the war. Myth is a myth, but the two pigeons were removed.
Blue-yellow-colored benches are being repainted in Omsk, Russia
But it's not just colors and symbols. Male mallards from the Askania-Nova reserve carry deadly infections. Killer mosquitoes transmit yellow fever, plague, anthrax, tularemia, and cholera. Bats transmit plague, leptospirosis, brucellosis, coronaviruses, and filoviruses. Combat locusts prepared specifically for the destruction of crops in the fields of the Lugansk People's Republic.
Rumors spread on Russian social media about explosive devices disguised as children's toys.
News about secret biological warfare laboratories on the territory of Ukraine is coming off the Russian propaganda conveyor belt all the time. Ukraine is portrayed as a testing ground for developing biological weapons commissioned and funded by the Americans. At some point, it was supposed to rise into the air and bring ethnic Russians to their knees with a buzz and a squawk.
No one cared about the evidence of Kyiv's atrocities or even the slightest plausibility of the accusations: the more absurd the lie, the more willingly people believe it.
Foreign strains of tuberculosis
In July 2022, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Irina Yarova enriched the fairy tale series with new artifacts. In a report on the work of the commission investigating the activities of American biolabs in Ukraine, she told her colleagues about poisoned money, literally. Ukrainians had allegedly planted counterfeit banknotes infected with a "very dangerous highly pathogenic strain of Asian tuberculosis."
Rumors spread on Russian social media about explosive devices disguised as children's toys, wallets, and cell phones planted by Ukrainian saboteurs on the streets of Russian cities. The epidemic of panic was so threatening that regional authorities even had to deny the rumors and declare that everything was under control and that the enemy would not pass.
However, as in the cases of secret swastika signs and killer mosquitoes, modern propagandists are only copying their inventive predecessors from the Soviet era.