He lectured inmates about the signs of the apocalypse according to the New Testament, he said, and after that “the populist statements about the end of the world were dispelled and the tension eased.”
More common are reports about panicky buying. In Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryatiya region, citizens have reportedly been hoarding food and candles to survive a period without light, following instructions from a Tibetan monk.
A similar account appeared in a local newspaper in the factory town of Omutninsk, about 1,200km east of Moscow.
Viktoria Ushakova, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told the Interfax news agency that she ran the article as entertainment on the last page of her newspaper, in a section entitled “Relax” that also includes crossword puzzles. The ensuing panic lasted for more than a week and then spread to nearby villages.
“I checked myself today,” she said. “There are no candles in all of Omutninsk.”
Last week, lawmakers in Moscow took up the matter, addressing a letter to Russia’s three main television stations asking them to stop airing material about the prophecy.
“You get the sense that the end of the world is a commercial project,” Mikhail Degtyaryov told the newspaper Izvestiya. “Just look at how many swindlers are trying to make money on this affair, starting from the pseudo-magicians, ending with people selling groceries and other rations.”
Maria Eismont, a columnist for the newspaper Vedomosti, said the government’s recent embrace of archaic religious conservatism set the stage for apocalyptic thinking. At the blasphemy trial against the punk protest band Pussy Riot last summer, she noted, the young band members were sentenced in part on the basis of writings by Orthodox clerics from the seventh and fourth centuries.
“It would be unfair to consider Omutninsk a unique site of flourishing mysticism,” she wrote. “If Cossacks in operatic costumes march in downtown Moscow, and the State Duma is quite seriously considering introducing punishment for the violation of believers’ feelings, then why shouldn’t people living in a depressed town 1,000km from Moscow not buy matches out of a fear of cosmic flares?”
An entrepreneur in the city of Tomsk has sold several thousand emergency kits, including sprats, vodka, buckwheat, matches, candles, a string and a piece of soap.
The motto on the package offers a classic Russian commentary on the end of the world: “It can’t be worse.”