Russian Apocalyptic Conspiracism and Chernobyl

Once again, my self-imposed moratorium on Nostradamus conspiracy writing has failed, and on that note, I am back with another post touching on Nostradamus conspiracies as they relate to Russian active measures and Third Rome-style apocalypticism.

As a bit of an update to my prior posts (1 , 2), the Nostradamus conspiracies which circulated in the wake of the Notre Dame fire reeked of Russian conspiracism, and as it turns out, writers at the Financial Times have henceforth made a direct connection with Notre Dame (if not Nostradamus) conspiracism to that of Moscow, the Third Rome.

Today however, moving away from the Notre Dame fire, I am going to write a bit about the conspiracy theories which surrounded the April 26, 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which also occur within the context of Third Rome. I was intrigued to see that in an article about the new HBO-Sky Atlantic show: Chernobyl, that one of the actors (a Brit) recalled a conspiracy theory about Nostradamus predicting the disaster that had circulated in 1986.

“There was a weird conspiracy theory about Nostradamus. Something to do with ‘Wormwood’. Apparently it translated into Russian somehow and [Nostradamus] predicted it. People come up with all sorts of crazy things when things like that happen.” – Jared Harris, Actor

I was intrigued by this statement because I knew that a similar conspiracy theory existed in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine around the same time; and that even up until the turn of the millennium a great many people from that part of the world believed that the Chernobyl disaster had been foretold as an apocalyptic prophecy. I found it quite interesting that this conspiracy from Eastern Europe seems to have gone viral as well as far away as the UK.

Knowing that Russian influence does seem to extend to the promotion of Nostradamus prophecies in the US within the context of 9/11, and that there are even examples of Nostradamus being promoted in pre-Perestroika Soviet journals within the subversive context of ‘political murders’ and ‘revolutions’ which should have been state censored, this piqued my curiosity. Indeed, there does seem to be a strong Russian nationalist and Orthodox influence behind the 1986 conspiracies as well.

A 1996 survey found that “Nostradamus was cited as often as St. John [Book of Revelation] on the Chernobyl Prophecy in Belarus”, and that close to one third of the 485 Belarussians surveyed believed that the Chernobyl disaster was predicted in the Bible. The effect seems to have been similarly strong in Russia and the Ukraine.

In part, this seems to be because the word Chernobyl (or Chornobyl) does (controversially) translate into the Slavic name for the wormwood plant used in absinthe, and especially appears in some Ukrainian Bible translations of Revelation:

“And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.” – Revelations, Ch.8, V.11 (KJV)

This line of reasoning leading to the apocalyptic and popular eschatological conspiracies was traced back to the Third Rome doctrine, Russian messianism, and the apocalyptic perspectives of Russian philosophers like Nikolai Berdiaev (Berdyaev).

Most poignantly perhaps, Chernobyl was notable for being a settlement of a group of the Russian apocalyptic Old Believers (Old Ritualists) from the 18th century who had believed the apocalypse was imminent. Old Believers were known as heretics, specifically notable for their disdainful views of Russian monarchy since the time of Peter the Great and the so-called 1666 Apocalypse of the Russian Orthodox Church. They saw the post-1666 Tsar and reformed church as ‘Antichrist’. They looked back to the time of Ivan IV (‘The Terrible’) as sort of a golden age in Orthodoxy. They continue to embrace the idea of Moscow as Third Rome.

The general revanchist, right wing nationalist position in Russia today is associated with a resurgence in idealization of Ivan IV and Orthodox apocalypticism. In fact, the notable Russian ideologue Aleksandr Dugin (who himself has used a Nostradamus prophecy traceable to Third Rome and Ivan IV to herald the rise of Vladimir Putin) describes himself as a member of the Old Believer sect and sees at least a partial model for his philosophies in the perspective of Berdiaev. In this sense, while they come from a legacy of heresy, the Old Believers group is closely paralleled to modern interpretations of right-wing nationalism in Putin’s Russia.

This line of apocalyptic mysticism and prophecy traced to Russian nationalism doesn’t stop there. In addition to the ‘traditionalist’ Christian apocalypticism and prophecy associated with the Book of Revelation, and the more secular-superstitious ‘bednaya religiya’ associated with Nostradamus, Chernobyl was also claimed to be prophesized by the Bulgarian, Orthodox mystic known as ‘Baba Vanga’, who was popular in socialist Bulgaria (including with the ruling elites) and continues to be so today. Vanga has been called the “Nostradamus of the Balkans” or “The Bulgarian Nostradamus” and her dubious post-facto prophecies have been carried by such Russian state media as Sputnik News. In addition to claiming she predicted Chernobyl, 9/11 and even Brexit, recent Vanga prophecies claim that Vladimir Putin will be the “lord of the world” in the near future.

Of course, Orthodox popular eschatology is not the only kind of conspiracism which surrounds Chernobyl. On the pro-Western side, there are surprisingly plausible arguments have been made that the event was intentionally orchestrated by the Soviet government along the lines of astrological readings, purported to be used for prediction by key figures in Soviet naval and space forces. It is hypothesized such an intentional act would have been done with the end goal of creating an anti-nuclear sentiment in the West which would lead to a dropping of guard which may facilitate an eventual Russian conquest.

While the idea may at first blush seem somewhat fanciful, it would not be out of line with suspected Russian efforts to promote the anti-war movement, promote fears of nuclear winter, and even possibly in the modern era – stir both – climate change skepticism and climate change fears (which suits the apparent purposes of dividing and conquering target political groups as Russia is so fond of). This is not to deny climate change, but only put it in the framework of its mutually conspiratorial political context on both the left and right today.

(Let’s not forget that the driving force behind modern climate change on the political left has been Al Gore – whose family was compromised by a known Kremlin agent (Armand Hammer); as much as Russia has taken to utilizing the melting Arctic to shore up its naval power, even as right wing figures prone to embracing Russian conspiracy celebrate Putin and vehemently deny climate change.)

Altogether, it does seem objective that there has been a great trend towards conspiratorial apocalypticism associated with the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet bloc, and that these ‘prophecies’ are derived from sources which increasingly speak to modern Russian nationalist philosophy. It seems circumstantially plausible that they were intentionally spread moreso than that they were completely organic, regardless of whether the disaster at Chernobyl was in fact intentional. There is significant prior and subsequent evidence of Russia spreading such conspiracies in an ‘active measures’ context (eg. Nostradamus and Baba Vanga). These narratives may have been in line with contemporary 1980s ‘active measures’ related to the anti-war movement.

(If this idea intrigues you, you should read this paper linked above in full:

Christensen, M. (1998). The Russian Idea of Apocalypse: Nikolai Berdyaev’s Theory of Russian Cultural Apocalyptic. Paper presented at the Third Annual International Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston, MA. Retrieved from: http://www.mille.org/publications/Confpro98/christensen.PDF  )

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