Putin’s War on Ukraine and the Perversion of the Letter “Z”


The filmmaker Costa-Gavras immortalized the image Z as a protest cry for liberty and against military services dictatorship and violence. His 1969 Oscar-profitable film of that identify starkly dramatized the 1963 murder of the Greek opposition leader Grigoris Lambrakis by ideal-wing extremists.

Protests against each Lambrakis’s murder and the sham trial that followed crystallized in the sort of a letter: Z. Athenian structures ended up spray-painted with Z graffiti illegal gatherings all over Greece ended up punctuated by loud cries of “Z!” When pronounced as zée, the letter in Greek suggests “He life.” “Z!” was a elevated fist of rebel, and it also intended “Hope life.”

No much more.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with its perverse up-is-downism, the letter Z has been appropriated to depict ethnonationalist militarism, loss of life, and destruction.

Unsurprisingly, the Putin-led regime—which calls war a “special military services operation,” decries Jews as Nazis, and shells civilians to “demilitarize” Ukraine—is commandeering a Greco-Latin alphabetic letter. It is not the most felony act of Putin’s invasion, but it’s a criminal offense towards morality and human compassion. Putin has deployed Orwellian “Newspeak” to assault historical past and corrupt Z’s correct indicating.

If Greece’s Z was a subversive peace sign, inspiring survival from all odds, Russia’s Z is an abbreviated war indication for hyper-violent military services accomplishment. In Russian, Za pobedu suggests “for victory.” The letter, no for a longer period featuring hope, represents demise, and is intended to inspire fear.

Putin’s propagandists have spread Z-fever throughout Russia and the battlefield that is Ukraine. The letter is un-artfully painted on invading tanks and staff carriers that tear into the Ukrainian countryside and rip up paved city streets. Z has been stylized and weaponized to become an ostentatious show of help for the war. A bronze medal–winning Russian gymnast trolled the Ukrainian gold medalist next to him by carrying the Z on his upper body as if he had been some evil Superman. Social media is rife with video clips of rallies scored with driving electric powered guitars where by ruffians in black T-shirts with graphically struggle-worn Zs are whipped into a bloodthirsty frenzy. The Putin Z has been added to area-names. Posing for photos at a hospice in the Russian metropolis of Kazan, unwell kids have been positioned in a crooked line to form the letter.

Curiously, the letter Z does not exist in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. The seem for Z does, but as it appears on war swag, the image has the look of a 50 %-drawn swastika, a 1930s echo in the 2020s. The Russian war on Ukraine and its civilians is the cry of rape victims, the snap-crackle of bullets fired on bicycle-using Ukrainian citizens, and the booming of bombs slipping on maternity wards and theaters, marked as children’s shelters in letters so big they’re noticeable to any Russian pilot. It is a horrendous cacophony punctuated by moments of silent terror exactly where bleeding bodies are left in debris, and barkless canines wander by indifferently.

Compared with Russia’s Z, the Greek Z was a indication of reverence reserved for martyrs and heroes. It reminded all those underneath the jackboot of the colonels’ junta that time was ticking down for the military dictatorship. Hope was alive since Lambrakis’s spirit “lives.” The letter Z and the rebelliousness it represented were so threatening to the Greek junta leadership that the letter was banned.

It was not purged from the 24-letter alphabet or excised from typewriters, but it was illegal to create the letter alone or decontextualize it in any public forum. The military services dictatorship also banned all 1960s and 1970s symbols of protest or leftist leanings. The pursuing were being manufactured unlawful: extended hair, miniskirts, abortion, audio by the Beatles, and something penned by the composer Mikis Theodorakis.

Theodorakis was a Communist agitator, peace activist, and recipient of the Global Lenin Peace Prize. He under no circumstances stayed silent and wrote the pulsatingly driving soundtrack for the motion picture Z, as nicely as for Zorba the Greek and Serpico. His music was as incendiary as it was unlawful, and he remained politically active until eventually his death final 12 months at the age of 96. His compositions were the soundtrack of Latin American liberation movements and nonetheless rouse mass rallies.

It was not just Theodorakis’s new music that was forbidden. As a vacationing Greek American, I as soon as innocently performed a common Cretan folk tune that I’d realized in my California house. It was a innovative song that I absent-mindedly noodled on my accordion even though sitting down in my grandparents’ yard in Chania. The to start with recognizable notes sent my family and neighbors in just earshot into a worry as they raced to silence me, warning that another person would definitely contact the cops. They did display up, but my loved ones defined that my straightforward rendition was not politically motivated but, relatively, politically naive. Ignorance can be an justification. Several years later, as a UC Berkeley undergrad, I noticed the film Z on campus, and it catalyzed my political awakening.

Motion pictures, audio, guides, and even letters—cultural symbols and common memes—possess the energy to be politically subversive. Right up until 2022, the letter Z threatened dictatorships.

Now Z is a perverted symbol, a MAGA-like representation of unquestioning support for Putin’s war, which has despatched extra than 10 million Ukrainians fleeing their households. Putin and his henchmen commit these premeditated atrocities, and now they have stolen my own romance with a letter, a Greek symbol of hope, and a worldwide democratic motion.


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