What is Z Point
A letter with no meaning symbolizes a war with no meaning
At the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a new symbol was born: Z. There is no letter Z in the Cyrillic alphabet. Z means nothing in Russian.
Z has become the official symbol of the war. It indicates loyalty to the Russian state and its war in Ukraine. It is a dissociative simulacrum for a violent, fraternal war. Many Russians do not know what the war in Ukraine is about -- or even that it is a war. News is censored and state television still refers to the war as a "special military operation" in Eastern Ukraine.
The story of how Z came to symbolize the Russian war in Ukraine is mysterious. Z appeared on various Russian tanks in the early days of the Ukraine invasion. Military experts guessed it may have indicated the military district zapadny for Western, as V, possibly vostochny for Eastern appeared on other tanks. (V is also not a letter in Cyrillic -- it would be the Russian в and Z would be з.) Authorities seized on Z. The Ministry of Defense started promoting Z on its Instagram page. “Generation Z," "“Z For the Children of the Donbas," "“Z We Finish Wars," were the captions of various posts. (That page has now vanished since Russian authorities banned Instagram.)
The usage of Z goes straight to the top. Last week, Putin spoke in front of posters with Z at a rally at Luzhniki Stadium. "FOR A WORLD WITHOUT NAZISM. FOR RUSSIA," read the banners behind him.
Children and teenagers are deployed in the usage of Z. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Russian children in a Kazan cancer hospice were arranged in a Z formation on March 5. On March 9, students in white hoodies with Z on them chanted "for peace" and gave salutes reminiscent of the Hitlerian Sieg Heil. Sources told Russian news site The Insider that participation was mandatory except with a written note, which, under the circumstances, would be an admission of treason.
The usage of Z is also incendiary. On March 7, A 20-year-old Russian gymnast, Ivan Kuliak, wore the symbol Z on his leotard next to a Ukrainian winner at a competition in Qatar. He was banned by the International Gymnastics Federation. He said he would do it again.
Z has drawn comparisons to the Nazi swastika. A joke appearing on the Russian-language Internet went like this: "Why are the Russian forces in Ukraine using the symbol "Z"?" asks a caller on a radio program. The answer? "The other half of the swastika has been stolen."
It is a departure for Russian authorities to use a symbol without meaning. In the 2014 war with Ukraine, pro-Russian proxies in Eastern Ukraine used the orange-and-black St. George's Ribbon to show their support of the Kremlin. That ribbon goes back to the 18th century and was used by the Soviet state as well. Although the Russian state has incorporated the orange-and-black ribbon into the letter Z, the letter itself has no such history.
Z pushes away the horror of the war. 3.6 million Ukrainians have fled their homes. About a thousand civilians have died -- hundreds of them children. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have been killed. But in today's Russia, the war can be reduced to just the letter Z -- a meaningless symbol for a senseless war.
In George Orwell's "1984," the slogans War is Peace, "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength" are posted in giant letters on the white pyramid of the Ministry of Truth. In 2022 Moscow, the lights of a skyscraper were turned on in the arrangement of Z:
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