Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Conspiracy Theories Take Hold in Russia

Elliot Borenstein, HuffPost, Posted: 07/28/2014 10:23 am

All it takes is an hour or two of Russian state television to learn that someone is plotting against Russia. Watch for a few more hours, and you'll find that everyone is plotting against Russia. Watch for a few more days, and the truth comes out: Russia is plotting against Russia.

Thanks to the increasingly baroque explanations of "what really happened" to Flight MH17, the Western media have turned their attention to a feature of post-Soviet Russia that is all too familiar to those of us who've been paying attention: Russia has become a world leader in the production of conspiracy theories.

Until now, Russian conspiracy theories have been for domestic consumption (no network of pipelines exports them to Europe and beyond). This is to be expected; while that tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continues to be a world-wide hit, Russia's more recent forays into paranoid fear-mongering (centered on post-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine) are a tough sell on the global market. Conspiracies, like riddles, depend on the audience's familiarity with the objects in question. People who haven't even heard of alien abductions can't be expected to obsess over anal probes.

But now, Russian conspiracy is ready for prime time, or at least for late night. The New Republic's Julia Ioffe gave a delightful synthesis of Russian MH17 counternarratives when she appeared on The Colbert Report. MH17, it turns out, is actually the original missing Malaysian airliner, which had been captured by the Americans, spirited away to the Netherlands, filled up with corpses, and then flown out over Donetsk, whereupon the pilots parachuted to safety before the on-board explosives brought the plane down. To Colbert's audience, this sounded less like a theory than like a punchline, Ioffe's gracious gift to her famously funny host.

(More here.)

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