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Following the outbreak of a full-scale war in Ukraine, Russians exhibited a heightened interest in news and political shows. However, after a year, viewership ratings returned to their previous levels. Exhausted by the uncertainty, audiences shifted their attention to programs that explore the supernatural. An increasing number of Russians are now tuning in to watch series about fortune-tellers and talk shows featuring “patriotic psychics” who prophesy about Russia's glorious future (naturally, on state television). The promotion of supernatural subjects seems to have received official encouragement, with Z-psychics becoming an integral part of Kremlin propaganda.

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  • Politics is tiresome

  • Supernatural Popularity

  • “Russia will be great”: what Z-oracles say

  • Superstition as a sign of the tipping point

  • Who are deceived by psychics

Politics is tiresome

Following the start of the full-scale invasion, the prevalence of political programming on television increased, which was in high demand for a while. In 2022, Russian interest in news and sociopolitical programs experienced two spikes: immediately after the onset of the invasion in February and March, and after Putin declared a “partial mobilization” in late September and October. According to Mediascope, a research company, news views rose by 50 percent, while political shows saw an 88 percent increase. However, these growth figures may be misleading. For instance, the share of the Sunday program Vremya on Channel One was 23 percent in 2014, 16 percent in 2015, and 9.3 percent in 2022. The Sunday Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week) on Rossiya channel soared in ratings in 2022, reaching 18 percent, but this is only marginally different from 2014-2015 (it's worth noting that the share is calculated relative to the audience of other programs; if one considers the entire Russian population, the most popular programs are viewed by only 4-5 percent of the country's population).

Over the past year, the viewership of entertainment shows and series has decreased by 22 percent and 15 percent, respectively, compared to the previous year. This is primarily due to the removal of some entertainment content from the airwaves of federal channels following the outbreak of the war. For example, Channel One has discontinued airing programs like “Let's Get Married” and “Field of Miracles.” According to Mediascope, before the war, movies and entertainment programs on Channel One occupied about 50-60 percent of the airtime on weekdays; in March, this figure dropped to nearly 10 percent.

Political talk shows have taken on an increasingly aggressive tone over the past year altering the makeup of their guests. “Experts” on these programs are now more frequently comprised of various psychics, fortune-tellers, and astrologers.

Supernatural Popularity

In the second half of January, 16 of the 80 broadcasts of the Malakhov talk show that had been aired to that point made it into the top 100 most popular programs among Russians over the age of four. Eleven of them were devoted to supernatural topics. “The titles of the shows show that Russia 1 is now entertaining its viewers with clairvoyant psychics, “Predictions of an Afghan Mathematician,” “Chechen Visionary,” “Military Psychics on the Frontline,” “X-Men Among Us,” and so on.

The main guests on the show are now tarologists, numerologists, astrologers, and psychics. Additionally, the program topics have shifted from stories about celebrities or individuals in difficult situations or scandals to discussions about military and socio-political issues. Guests on the shows now make predictions about the outcome of the war with Ukraine, the future of Russia, and the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

The NTV network's “New Russian Sensations” show, which combines supernatural and political content, has seen a rise in ratings. The January 22 episode, featuring a discussion about the “messenger of Vanga,” received a rating of 5.3, setting a record for the season and ranking third among the 100 most popular shows with Russian viewers that week. Of the top 100 shows, 16 episodes were from “New Russian Sensations,” with six of them centered around derogatory content regarding Ukrainian President Zelensky, such as “Stealing Zelensky's Husband,” “Stars against Zelensky,” “Zelensky's Goddess of Death,” and “Zelensky's Clan of Terrorists.”

TNT's show “New Battle of the Psychics” has also seen an increase in ratings. Although the show regularly appears in the top 100 most popular programs with viewers of all ages, it was at the bottom of the list in September. However, by mid-December, it had risen to the top 20.

“Russia will be great”: what Z-oracles say

Television predictions and prophecies strictly adhere to the ideological stance of those in power. During the December 12 episode of the “Malakhov” talk show, Lieutenant General Alexei Savin, a military “psychic” who reportedly worked in Soviet intelligence, claimed that the Russian President holds a higher status than any other world leader:

“We are happy to see how much stronger our leader Vladimir Vladimirovich is intellectually, spiritually, than [the leaders of Europe and the United States]. God has given us such a leader.”
Military psychic Alexei Savin
Military psychic Alexei Savin

During the January 25, 2022 episode, predictor Tamara Globa promised that Russia will ultimately succeed after enduring challenging years.

“Despite the efforts of other countries to suppress Russia, it may actually benefit our country by awakening its people. The current circumstances have inspired a form of protest in the character of those who live in Russia - to act not because of the current state of affairs, but in spite of it. This has fueled a desire to create Russia's own payment systems, social networks, and new directions in commerce and agriculture. Despite the current pushback, many people may ultimately be drawn to Russia for business opportunities or to live there.”
Astrologer Tamara Globa, who is married to astrologer Pavel Globa
Astrologer Tamara Globa, who is married to astrologer Pavel Globa

During the same show, Aizen, a hereditary soothsayer from Chechnya, was another guest “whose appearance is alleged to have been predicted by Nostradamus himself.” Aizen adheres to the ideology of the superiority of the Russian people and views Russia as the Messiah with its people being the saviors of mankind. He calls on the Russians to unite against the enemy, whom he identifies with Satan, echoing the views of the supporters of the “Russian world.”

“Unexpected troubles will arise from unforeseen sources, and to avoid this, we must unite against the satanic forces of evil. We, the Russian people, representing a diverse multinational community, are destined to be humanity's saviors. Let us come together under the guidance of our leaders and channel our pure intentions and spiritual impulses to combat imperialist evils.”

Psychics were also featured on the show “New Russian Sensations” on NTV. One of the guests was 86-year-old Ivan Fomin, who was introduced as a “combat psychic from the KGB.” During the show, Fomin predicted that Vladimir Zelensky would surrender in the fall of 2022 and be replaced as president in 2023. Although the first prediction did not come true, it is likely that Fomin will continue to be invited to appear on television in the future.

Psychic Ivan Fomin
Psychic Ivan Fomin
“New Russian Sensations”

Sediq Afghan, an Afghan mathematician and prophet, predicts that the Ukrainian leader, Zelensky, will persist with his strategy of nuclear threats against humanity in the coming year. In a video, Afghan's prophecy is accompanied by footage of Zelensky nodding in apparent agreement, a technique meant to bolster the credibility of the prediction. Other predictions from Afghan are reiterated by political experts on propaganda talk shows, including the collapse of the EU between 2027 and 2032, and the exhaustion of the United States as a world power. The prophet also predicts that a nuclear global conflict will not occur in the immediate future.

Afghan Prophet Mathematician Sediq Afghan
Afghan Prophet Mathematician Sediq Afghan
“New Russian Sensations”

Famous predictions from past soothsayers such as Nostradamus, Vanga, and Messing are experiencing a resurgence in popularity on Russian television. Their ambiguous and metaphorical prophecies are being adapted to fit into current special operational narratives. For instance, NTV quotes a prediction from Bulgarian seer Vanga: “Any opposing force against Russia will ultimately lose the war and perish.” Additionally, the program publishes a prophecy from Elder Zosima, who passed away over twenty years ago in the Donetsk region, supposedly predicting events in Ukraine long before Russia's invasion. During the show “In Reality” on Channel One, the anchor did not limit himself to the already known predictions announcing that a lost videotape containing Vanga's predictions of events in Ukraine was discovered in May of 2022:

“The prophecy of “five deuces” appears to be unfolding, as Russia recognized the independence of LNR and DNR on 22.02.22, followed by a special military operation in Ukraine just two days later.”

Superstition as a sign of the tipping point

Political psychologists suggest that the rising popularity of esoteric shows mirrors an increased fascination with superstitions, predictions, and prophecies during difficult times for the country and society. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent when there is ideological confusion in society and people are struggling to comprehend the ideas and direction of movement advocated by the authorities. Turning to the irrational is an attempt to make sense of events when logical explanations fall short or prove unsatisfactory. This tendency is evident across different historical periods and various states.

The post-World War I and flu pandemic that wiped out tens of millions marked the golden age of spiritualism in the United States and Europe. The American political elite, in particular, became fixated on fortune-telling and divination, which illusionist, philanthropist, and anti-charlatan Harry Houdini argued posed a threat to national security. In 1926, Houdini suggested a bill in Congress that proposed a four-day hearing to ban divination and fortune-telling in the District of Columbia.

In Germany, a surge of superstition emerged near the end of World War II, which continued to flourish even more strongly after the war ended. Monica Black, an American historian and editor of Central European History, delves into this topic in her book, “A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder-Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany.” According to Black, people began to consider any hypothesis and explore various options for the war's outcome. Almost everyone at that time was involved in predicting the future, as noted by the author.

“After 1943, as the war turned increasingly deadly inside Germany itself, all kinds of chimeras became steadily more compelling. Premonitions, rumors, and legends gained tremendous, predictive power. Word of mouth, speculation, and whispers achieved epistemological sovereignty. People read signs to comprehend what was to them incomprehensible, even unthinkable: that they were losing the war,” Black writes.

German society found itself caught between the old Hitlerian ideology and the new belief system that condemned it as the embodiment of evil in the world. The collapse of familiar norms and absence of new points of reference resulted in a fixation on the supernatural, Black writes. This preoccupation with the supernatural was so profound that it went beyond mere divination and fortune-telling, as is presently the case in Russia. Rather, it led to incidents of “witch hunting,” where citizens were plagued by paranoid thoughts of witches and sorcerers capable of causing harm, casting spells, and spreading disease. This manifested in widespread accusations against fellow citizens, ostensibly for malicious behavior or other transgressions, but fueled by an irrational, medieval fear of witches.

Ostensibly, the accusations were for malicious behavior or other transgressions, but they were fueled by an irrational, medieval fear of witches

According to Monica Black, the fear of witches can be attributed to a deep-seated, subconscious sense of impending retribution for the heinous acts committed by the Reich leadership as Germans became increasingly aware of the extent of the atrocities inflicted on other nations under Hitler's regime. In other words, this fear of witches was a tangible expression of the “collective guilt” that remains a topic of discussion in the current context of the war with Ukraine.

At the same time, the leadership of the Third Reich also tried to use the irrational fear of the population for their own purposes:

“Hoping to brighten the national mood, Goebbels promised miracles, including “wonder weapons” that would turn the war’s tide. He had his staff type up and send anonymously, through the mail, prophecies that predicted Germany’s final triumph.13 Old legends and bits of folklore began to circulate, depicting a luminous, greater German Reich, represented as a great bird sheltering chicks—a surreal image of benevolence in the midst of a war of annihilation.”

Russia also experienced something similar in the late '80s and early '90s, recalls political psychologist and media expert Nikolai Grigoriev:

“The realms of psychics, the occult, and the paranormal are experiencing a resurgence in popularity for the first time since the era of Kashpirovsky and Chumak. It is worth noting that the fascination with the irrational during the late 80s and early 90s coincided with an expansion in the scope of media and entertainment industry possibilities. Currently, the situation is reversed: the opportunities within both the media and entertainment sectors are narrowing.”

Who are deceived by psychics

Yet, it is becoming increasingly challenging for propagandists to sway the audience via television, given that the average time spent watching TV is decreasing across all age groups. In 2022, Mediascope registered the lowest viewing figures in six years.

However, it is too early to assert that television is on the verge of being completely disregarded, as 88% of the population still watches it on a weekly basis, and 63% watch it daily, amounting to approximately 90 million individuals. Furthermore, according to a Mediascope report, older audiences aged 65 and above spent over 6.5 hours per day on average watching TV in 2022.

The ratings of the “Big Three” television channels are also experiencing a decline, primarily among younger audiences aged 4 to 44, who tend to gravitate towards thematic channels rather than federal channels, despite the unprecedented number of significant events in recent years that have increased the demand for news and analysis.

Simultaneously, the 65+ age group remains a steadfast consumer of propaganda, as the “Big Three” channels not only sustained their place in the top three but also experienced a minor increase in viewership compared to 2020-2021. Therefore, it is probable that the exhibition of “patriotic psychics” on federal channels will only impact older audiences.

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