Friday, April 17, 2020

East of the Urals, Pandemic Quarantine Exists ‘Only on Paper,’ Kulekhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – During the pandemic, Russia’s federal subjects have attracted attention for their actions to prevent its spread. But remarkably little has been said about how people in them are behaving. It appears that at least some regions represent another case of the old truth that the severity of Russian laws is mitigated by the absence of effective enforcement.

            Mikhail Kulekhov, an Irkutsk journalist, says that “in the Far East and Siberia, the quarantine exists only on paper. To be sure, in the centers of cities, there are somewhat fewer cars and people than on an ordinary day, but that isn’t the case on the peripheries where life is bubbling along” (

            “Current measures of ‘self-isolation’ aren’t having an effect,” he says, because most people in the regions, including himself think that “’the Russian quarantine is a profanation and farce. It is killing business, sparking enormous social tension, and provoking a wave of bankruptcies and a rise in unemployment.”

            But “in no way is it ensuring the real isolation of citizens and the breaking of their social ties, about which doctors so love to speak.” Instead, this policy like so many others reflects, “administrative inadequacy at all levels of power.”  The big shopping centers are in fact closed, but in Irkutsk, the government itself says that 68 percent of enterprises continue to work.

            There have only been 50 cases of a positive test for coronavirus out of a population of 2.5 million in the Irkutsk region and only one death, he says; and so people don’t see why they need to stop everything. A few people die all the time, and from their perspective, Kulekhov says, there is no need to shut everything down for this.

            According to the journalist, while there have been hotspots with many deaths, “’the great virus myth’ doesn’t impress” people in places where the numbers are so low. Many suspect the whole thing is a hoax invented by officials for their own purposes. This is very unlikely, he continues.

            “The world is ruled not by some secret lodge but by a very public mess.” Bureaucrats everywhere “are the same.” They don’t need to conspire to overreact or to use a crisis as some kind of “’short victorious war’” they can play to their advantage.  What they are all hoping for is an end when they can declare victory and take credit for it.

            But what these officials forget, Kulekhov says, is that such “short victorious wars” often have “entirely different consequences” including but not limited to economic collapse and popular anger among people “who in other circumstances would be completely loyal to the regime.”

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