MOSCOW — There are scattered reports of unusual behavior from across Russia’s nine time zones.
Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a “collective mass psychosis" so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Maya-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.
For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.
Last week, Russia’s government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday he had access to “methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth," and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to “blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply."
Similar assurances have been issued in recent days by Russia’s chief sanitary doctor, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church, lawmakers from the State Duma and a former disc jockey from Siberia who recently placed first in the television show “Battle of the Psychics." One official proposed prosecuting Russians who spread the rumor — starting Dec. 22.
“You cannot endlessly speak about the end of the world, and I say this as a doctor," said Leonid Ogul, a member of parliament’s environment committee. “Everyone has a different nervous system, and this kind of information affects them differently. Information acts subconsciously. Some people are provoked to laughter, some to heart attacks and some to some negative actions."
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."