Liisi Laineste (Estonian Literary Museum)

When Global Stays Global: Memetic Reflections of the War in Ukraine in Estonia

As memes have become an omnipresent and important part of our everyday reality, it is important to study their presence, semiotics and effect in real time, including in the time of conflict and war. Memes offer responsive acute commentary on social matters. They can become a vehicle for political critique while providing non-violent and democratic spaces for discussing conflicts. At the same time, their simplicity, incongruity and commonplaceness undermines that function in many ways. This is particularly true for humorous memes which provide an ironic perspective on the situation and can often be used for various – and sometimes even opposite – communicative purposes, depending on the metapragmatic context (the audience, the creator and sender of the meme, its intertextual references, etc.).

This study outlines the form, content and stance of memes that spread in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, from February 24 to April 8, 2022, in the Estonian Facebook group Ukraina meemid (‘Ukraine memes’). The great majority of these memes were borrowed from English, Russian and Ukrainian (in the order of frequency), which inspired the questions about when and why sometimes meme makers will resist localisation, adaption and variation.