Saturday, April 4, 2020

Responding to Pandemic, Russian Officials as Always Seek to Control and Punish Rather than to Help, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 1 – Crisis situations inevitably reveal “the true nation of things and phenomena, including those of the state and the powers,” Aleksey Shaburov says; and in the current coronavirus pandemic, the Russian authorities have “disappointed” because they have continued their habit of seeking to ban and punish rather than to help.

            The editor of Yekaterinburg’s Politsovet portal says that self-isolation measures and quarantines are entirely justified; “but the State Duma decided not to stop with this and to strengthen the latter with truly draconian punishments” (

            “Yesterday and literally in one day, the Duma immediately in three readings and the Federation Council in special order adopted an ‘anti-virus’ package of laws. But the notable parts of these laws were directed not against the virus but against Russian citizens,” Shaburov continues.

            These laws threaten those who violate quarantines or disseminate inaccurate information about the pandemic with significant fines and even jail terms.  According to deputies, the editor says, “such measures should frighten Russians and prevent violations.”  That is true, but should not the deputies be asking instead about frightening people who are already scared?

            “Of course,” Shaburov says, “sanctions against violation of quarantine are needed, and discipline is needed as well. But in such a complex moment as now, it is necessary to be sensitive to society and search for the optimal balance.”
            “But the deputies decided to proceed along their accustomed path. Between humaneness and pitiless strictness, they chose the second. And in this way, they showed their true attitude toward people and manifested those political reflexes which have been developed in them in the course of recent years.”

            According to Shaburov, “the strictness of disciplinary measures could have been somehow compensated by measures providing support … But no one is talking about that.” A few are being helped in the city of Moscow but almost none in the regions.

            A second “reflex” the Duma members displayed was a willingness to ignore legal rules and go beyond what the law allows. If the police and siloviki are ready to do what senior officials order them to do regardless of the law, it is perhaps not surprising that so are members of the country’s parliament.

            And a third reflex in the current context is the propensity of officials to try to control the movement of people. In normal times, doing that is hard; but the pandemic provides a perfect opportunity – and officials both at the center and in the regions are exploiting that to limit the constitutional rights of Russians to move about.

            Again, some limitations are justified to fight the pandemic; but many seem more about the realization of the dreams of officials to further control the population than about combatting the coronavirus. This can have serious consequences, and even Vladimir Putin appears aware of them as shown in his warning to FD heads not to put up with restrictions on internal borders.

            Beyond any doubt, the current pandemic makes demands on the people. But it also or at least should make them on the powers that be as well. “In an ideal world, they need to be wiser and more humane than usual. But so far, we see that habits and reflexes are winning out. And it will be very difficult to overcome that.”

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