MOSCOW — It’s that time of year when the unusual is expected, and apparently it’s all the fault of the Mayans.
According to some New Age schools of thought, the world will end on December 21, 2012.
That’s the date that a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar ceases.
Some may scoff that it’s all nonsense and superstition, but in Russia the natives are taking the predictions, literally.
Evidence of this can seen in the vast Mayan-style archway being constructed out of ice on Karl Marx street in Chelyabinsk in south Moscow.
Rather alarmingly, The New York Times writes of “scattered reports of unusual behavior from across Russia’s nine time zones.”
Inmates in a women’s prison in Gornoye, close to the Chinese border, reportedly experienced a “collective mass psychosis” and wardens had to call priests to calm the women.
In an interview with the Data News Service, one such priest — Father Tikhon — was called to the prison in November.
Tikhon said the wardens told him the prisoners’ fears about the Mayan prophecy had built up for months, with some inmates breaking out of the institution “because of their disturbing thoughts,” while some even had seizures.
To combat this, the priest said he lectured inmates from the New Testament. According to Tikhon, after that “the populist statements about the end of the world were dispelled and the tension eased.”
East of the prison, in Omutninsk, a factory town, residents stockpiled candles, matches, kerosene and sugar. Reportedly, they did this on the instructions of a Tibetan monk called the Oracle of Shambhala who has appeared on some Russian television broadcasts.
Similar accounts have appeared in local newspapers in other regions across Russia. Last week, the government there tried to nip the rising panic in the bud.
On Friday, its Minister of Emergency situations (rough translation) announced to Russian citizens that he had access to “methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth,” and could confidently state that the world was not going to end in December.
The Minister qualified, saying, Russians were still vulnerable to “blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply.”
Other Russian authorities have also come forward. The state’s chief sanitary doctor, lawmakers from the State Duma, a former disc jockey from Siberia, and a high ranking official in the Russian Orthodox Church have all stepped up to deflate the anxiety.
One official even proposed prosecuting Russians who spread alarmist rumors.
“You cannot endlessly speak about the end of the world, and I say this as a doctor,” said Leonid Ogul, a member of the Russian 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.”
In France, it’s a similar story.
A planned visit to Bugarach mountain by groups that believe it’s a sacred place and will protect a “lucky few” at the end of time, is in jeopardy from French authorities who want to keep those groups out of the area.
The Patriarch of Ukraine’s Orthodox church recently said “doomsday is sure to come,” but the cause would be the moral decline of mankind, not the “so-called parade of planets or the end of the Mayan calendar.”
Oddly, in Yucatán State in Mexico, which has a large Mayan population, there is no panic in the streets. Officials are planning a Mayan cultural festival on December 21 and — to show that the world will still turn after that — another is planned for 2013.
An entrepreneur in the Siberian city of Tomsk has already sold several thousand emergency kits. Priced at $29, buyers are provided with vodka, sprats, buckwheat, candles, matches, string and soap.
The motto on the package? “It can’t be worse.”