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"The Cassandra Effect"

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Photo: "The Cassandra Effect", Source: Collage The Gaze \ by Leonid Lukashenko
Photo: "The Cassandra Effect", Source: Collage The Gaze \ by Leonid Lukashenko

Reading reports and stories from various forums, conferences, and discussion panels (which in one way or another touch on the topic of the Russo-Ukrainian war) by Ukrainian public and cultural figures, I come across their complaints - Western colleagues accuse them of "excessive radicalism," expressiveness, painting a bleak picture, and an unwillingness to admit that the world cannot be viewed in black and white. I hear similar remarks from my foreign colleagues and friends when I try to explain to them that sports/business/culture/science cannot be "apolitical" when a full-scale war is raging on the European continent.

Once again, unsuccessfully explaining to a Western journalist why, for example, the "anti-war" gallerist and art manager Marat Guelman at the Eastern Partnership Culture Congress in Lviv or the "oppositional director" Kirill Serebrennikov in Cannes are Trojan horses with a delayed effect, I feel like Cassandra, mumbling about the fall of Troy, but instead receiving patronizing pats on the shoulder and phrases like: 

"You're exaggerating... You're too categorical... Troy cannot fall because of one miserable wooden horse... And besides, not all Greeks are enemies of the Trojans. Take Odysseus, for example - quite a trustworthy and intelligent Greek, who clearly stands for all that is good against all that is bad."

The so-called "Cassandra Syndrome” or “Cassandra Effect" is a fairly common metaphor used in various scientific fields, from history and political science to psychoanalysis, behavioral science, and decision theory. History knows enough examples when the situation with the daughter of the Trojan king Priam repeated under new circumstances - but with the same result. Hitler's attack on the USSR, Roosevelt's reluctance to believe that Japan planned an attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 9/11 terrorist attack, Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the recent Hamas attack on Israel - all these events were warned about by insiders and intelligence services, but...

In search of analogies or metaphors to explain to the kind-hearted Western skeptic why Ukrainians are so categorical in their negative assessment of the impact of Russian public and cultural figures, not only on the course of the war in Ukraine but also on the possible fate of Europe, I decided to turn to the "low genre" of cinema - thrillers, horrors, and disaster films.

This genre also has its own "Cassandras" or witnesses to approaching evil. They appear at the beginning of the film and bring the first notes of discomfort, anxiety, and suspense to the still cloudless picture of the protagonists' world. Such "Cassandras" with their warnings are an integral element of most horror films, from "Evil Dead" and "Wrong Turn," to zombie horrors and mystical thrillers. 

"Don't go there! Don't open the door! Don't press the button! Don't trust this person!" - the weird, nervous stranger, who does not inspire confidence, exclaims to the heroes at the beginning of the story.

"But you were warned..." - the villain or monster murmurs with a smile, rubbing their hands at the end of the plot.

Just recall the classic "Omen" trilogy about the childhood and youth of the Antichrist's son. The number of secondary characters who tried to explain to Damien Thorn's guardians that "the child you have is not just problematic, but literally - horned," in each part of the film was significantly greater than one, which did not prevent the little "demon" from growing into a great politician.

One of the most accurate metaphors for the dialogue of war-torn Ukrainians, who try to warn the carefree Western world about the absolute evil creeping towards them from the eastern swamps, could be John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi horror "The Thing." More precisely - its opening scenes.

The film takes place at an American research polar station in Antarctica and tells the story of the polar explorers' confrontation with an ancient alien parasite extracted from the permafrost, capable of mimicry and self-replication. The film begins with a scene of an Alaskan Malamute being chased through the snow by two surviving members of the Norwegian polar station (their fate was shown in the prequel "The Thing" in 2011). The dog (more precisely, the alien creature pretending to be a dog) arrives on the doorstep of the American polar explorers as if seeking protection. The enraged Norwegians, whose base was destroyed by the alien monster, and their colleagues were killed or absorbed and assimilated, try to explain to the Americans that a deadly creature is near them, but the American polar explorers, first of all, do not understand Norwegian, and secondly, see only a cute dog pressing against their legs. And when the Norwegian, desperate to explain anything, begins to shoot at the dog, the head of the polar station shoots back and kills him. Needless to say, after a while, the Americans will have to share the fate of their Norwegian colleagues.

If we transfer this story from the White Continent to Europe, the role of the American polar explorers will go to the inhabitants of Western Europe, the role of the exalted Norwegians with explosives and rifles will be played by Ukrainians, the "cute" fluffy dog will be the Russian Federation, and the cause of mutual misunderstanding will be the banal perception optics.

What do the Ukrainians/Norwegians see, with the tragic experience of confronting evil behind them? A treacherous and insidious monster/military aggressor, persistently striving towards its goal - to devour as many people/territories/resources as possible. 

What do the Americans/Europeans see? A doggy/Pushkin/great Russian culture/business partner/Russian liberals/Roman Abramovich. 

What does the alien monster/Putin's Russia see, looking at both the first and the second? 

Prey. Food.  

By the way, the alien creature itself is a perfect allegory of modern Russia - it is unpretentious, capable of waiting in the ice for millennia for a suitable moment to invade. It has a collective mind and is hostile to the slightest manifestation of individuality, and its main goal is expansion, the absorption of everything alien to it, and endless self-copying. 

A single monster-parasite that rules the entire planet. 

A single Russian empire stretching from Vladivostok to Lisbon. 

Pretty close to the ideas of the "Russian world," isn't it? 

Therefore, when at the next international conference the cry-warning from a Ukrainian speaker "After Ukraine, they will come for you... they are already coming!" is heard again, the Western elites should not roll their eyes to the ceiling but demand from their government more military aid and new tough sanctions against Putin's Russia. Or one fine day, like Kurt Russell's character in "The Thing," they will have to put aside international law, take a flamethrower in hand, and face evil head-on.


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