The primary mentions of “Z” emerged within the media roughly one week earlier than the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Based on journalist Alexey Kovalev of the Meduza information web site, “the letter was used to mark navy tools to keep away from pleasant fireplace.”1 Its sturdy visible presence within the media prompted civilians to seek for extra that means, which led to the creation of a pro-war propaganda image extensively utilized by the Russian public and authorities authorities.
It is very important word that the letter “Z” doesn’t exist within the Russian alphabet. The Latin letter “Z” successfully replaces the Cyrillic letter З in texts associated to the invasion. It takes on a patriotic connotation in such contexts, aiming to evoke emotions of devotion and obligation. The Russian authorities has strategically employed Z to construct a nationwide identification. This image has develop into emblematic of a brand new type of totalitarianism, nationalism, and “ruscism” – a time period used to explain the aggressive nature of Russia’s political system and the cult of persona that has emerged round Vladimir Putin. The designer of the Z image is unknown. In an article for The New York Occasions, Timothy Snider writes that “ruscism” is “a helpful conceptualization of Putin’s worldview.” Nonetheless, The Russian Ministry of Protection stated the Z image is “not official and doesn’t carry a particular that means.”2
Notably, Z typically dons the colours of the St. George ribbon, a outstanding image of contemporary Russian nationalism. Brandon Schechter explains in Views on Historical past that “these orange-and-black strips of fabric had been initially an apolitical signal of solidarity with the disappearing technology that fought in World Struggle II and delight within the Purple Military’s key function in defeating fascism.”3 Right now, the proponents of the invasion invoke the necessity to “de-nazify” Ukraine. But, it’s laborious to disregard the comparisons drawn between Z and different symbols, notably the swastika and the runic signal “Wolfsangel.” The image represents a hyperlink between violence and solidarity, showcasing a person’s alignment with the authorities—those that oppose the utilization of Z danger prison fees. Meduza tells the story of Vladimir Zaklyazminsky, who was sentenced to 12 days in jail after he ripped out patches containing pro-war symbols from the garments of kids in non permanent lodging facilities.4
Many voters specific their help within the digital realm. With the state encouraging the utilization of the signal, false and deceptive narratives flood the preferred Russian media platforms. Quite a few Telegram (beneath) and Vkontakte (VK) teams and channels incorporate the Z image into their branding when publishing supplies from the entrance strains, characterizing Ukrainian troopers as “neo-Nazis” and “militants.” Customers of those platforms add avatars that includes the image to show their loyalty to the present regime. The character even has made its manner into the world of music, showing on album covers of patriotic songs discovered on VK.
The signal has develop into a focus in numerous public establishments, together with colleges, the place kids and adults are concerned in public demonstrations of help for the actions in Ukraine. Kremlin pro-war propaganda targets younger Russians, calling them “Putin’s Technology Z.”
Using Z has additionally prolonged into clothes design. Non-public sellers produce T-shirts that includes Z with “patriotic” slogans: “We don’t abandon our personal,” “I’m not ashamed,” “We’re collectively,” and “Collectively for peace.” This rebranding seems on baseball caps, automotive stickers, key rings, beer glasses, and even vodka bottles.
Displaying the image on constructing facades demonstrates help for the Russian military, as do flash mobs that contain Z-shaped lighting. The signifier has discovered its manner into installations, monuments, and gravestones, forming a brand new custom round occasions celebrating the military’s achievements. Drivers show the letter Z on their vehicles; some take part in “patriotic automotive rallies.”
The proliferation of Z has additionally spurred opposition and fuels the rising anti-war motion. Internationally, the influence of Z has led to a reluctance to make use of related symbols in world areas. Firms worldwide have begun renaming merchandise to keep away from associations with the conflict. Swiss firm Zurich Insurance coverage Group ceased utilizing the blue Z on its social media, as a substitute opting to spell out the phrase. Samsung Electronics additionally altered the identify of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 line to Galaxy Fold 3 in sure nations. The disinformation and propaganda ecosystem that Russia continues to domesticate doesn’t stand unopposed. A thriving world neighborhood comprising governments, civil establishments, academia, the press, the non-public sector, and residents worldwide is pushing again.
In a world the place symbols maintain immense energy, the story of Z serves as a cautionary story, demonstrating how weaponized design shapes perceptions and ideologies.
This can be a visitor submit by Elly [surname redacted for privacy], a postgraduate design researcher, author, and adventurer. Her analysis explores the affect of design inside mass media on identification formation.
Header picture: Photograph by Jade Koroliuk on Unsplash.
Imagery from prime: Z image in colours of St. George’s ribbon with slogan: “We don’t abandon our personal,” Cosmin Stefano Amzoc/Wikimedia Commons/CC 4.0; Z in model of German “Wolfsangel,” MSA09/Wikimedia Commons/CC 4.0; Sampling from Telegram; Constructing that includes the Z within the model of St. George’s ribbon, Alexander Davronov/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 (picture cropped)