Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus Destroying ‘Bread and Circuses’ Russia and Other States Depend On, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 13 – Since antiquity, rulers have known that they must use bread and circuses to keep those under them in line, bread when there is enough of that and circuses when there isn’t. But now the coronavirus is destroying both and posing new challenges to rulers, Russian ones in the first instance, Aleksey Shaburov says.

            Most disasters in the past have destroyed either “bread” or “circuses,” but the coronavirus is threatening to destroy both at the same time, destroying economic production and forcing the kind of self-isolation that makes circuses of the usual kind extremely difficult to organize, the Yekaterinburg editor says (

            `In ever more places, the pandemic is leaving empty shelves; but it is also leading to the cancellation of all major sporting events, concerts, church services, meetings, and conferences. And perhaps especially important in today’s world, it is eliminating the possibility of travelling to new places, something exceedingly important to Russians and especially young people.

            The sudden elimination of this form of “circuses” has three obvious consequences, Shaburov says. First of all, it means that people suddenly have a lot of free time and don’t know what to do with themselves. Second, “millions of people feel frustration and other negative emotions because they cannot do their favorite things.”

            And third, “the effect of community and unity which people experience during mass events will disappear.” New small unities may appear or people may be reduced to anomie, to the sense that they are entirely on their own. And that raises some serious questions for society and especially for rulers.

            How will societies deal with this? Will the Internet be sufficient to fill the gap – or will it, as seems likely, not be able to replicate the social experiences of collective circuses. If the crisis continues for some time, both societies and states will be confronted by “new models of behavior who have been left without bread and without circuses.”

            These may be positive or negative developments, Shaburov says. It is much too early to say. But anyone who isn’t concerned about this is missing what may be the most important result of this pandemic.

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