Monday, May 11, 2020

North Caucasian Peoples’ ‘Total Distrust’ of Authorities Undermining Counter-Pandemic Efforts, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 10 – A major reason for the failure of quarantine and related self-isolation measures in the North Caucasus is that the peoples there totally distrust both the republic governments and Moscow televisions and thus are inclined to accept only the advice of family and friends and to believe the most hyperbolic conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.

            That was the almost universal judgment of 15 experts from and about the region who took part in an online conference on “The Coronavirus in the North Caucasus: Medicine or Politics?”  It is being written up by Naima Neflyasheva who prepare the North Caucasus Through the Centuries blog (

            The observations of seven of them are particularly instructive:

·         Irina Starodubrovskaya, a senior scholar at Moscow’s Gaidar Institute, says that the North Caucasus is “literally choking on the coronavirus … the result not only of the catastrophic state of medicine but also the crisis state of society,” the full dimensions of which remain hidden by “close social ties” and “traditional norms.” People there distrust not only the authorities but almost everyone, thus opening the way to faith in various conspiracy theories and “the disintegration of society.” 

·         Mussa Bekmurziyev, a blogger from Ingushetia, says that official statistics are fraudulent and dramatically understate just how serious the problem is. He says the powers, who enjoyed little authority before the pandemic, now enjoy almost none because they hypocritically do not wear masks or self-isolate even as they demand others do so.

·         Rashid Tsakhayev, a doctor from Adygeya, says the spread of unreliable information about the pandemic is undercutting efforts to fight it and leading to more infections and deaths.

·         Liliya Kurbanova, a professor of sociology at Chechen State University, says that “the epidemic only accelerated and threw into heightened relief the total trust in society to political, government and legal structures.” People retreat into conspiracy thinking just so they have something to hold onto.

·         Aleksandr Khoffman, head of Pyatigorsk’s Strategikon Center, says the powers that be have made things worse by replacing some longtime officials with others who are having to learn on the job during a most difficult time.

·         Ziyautdin Uvaysov, head of the Patient Monitor organization in Daghestan, says that many North Caucasians were led astray by virus deniers who appeared on central television. As the falsehood of their statements has become obvious, people are rejecting even correct information emanating from that channel.

·         Rasul Abdulkhalikov, a lawyer and sociologist from St. Petersburg, says that if one looks beyond the capital cities in the North Caucasus one sees some remarkable efforts by social groups to mobilize assistance for those who are suffering as a result of the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.

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