Thursday, June 25, 2020

‘We’re Far from Moscow; Who Needs Us?’ North Caucasians Lament

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – The coronavirus pandemic has hit the North Caucasus particularly hard, the result of both inadequate health care and cultural attitudes that have prevented many from taking proper precautions or seeking help early on when it could have been the most effective.

            But it has also been the result of the inadequate response of many local leaders who haven’t wanted to call attention to problems in their fiefdoms and of the sense being expressed by some in Kabardino-Balkaria that “we are far from Moscow: who needs us?” (

            Many of these social and political aspects of the pandemic in that region were discussed on a May 31 online conference among experts, whose deliberations have now been reported by Naima Neflyasheva in her North Caucasus Through the Centuries blog on Kavkaz-Uzel (

            Ziyautdin Uvaysov, head of the Patient Monitor project, says that one of the most unfortunate aspects of the pandemic in the region has been that a large number of doctors have become infected and then have spread the virus to others even as they try to combat it, largely because of inadequate defensive mechanisms.

            Almost all doctors recognize this is the case, he continues, but instead of speaking out and demanding change, the doctors have remained silent – and the pandemic has become much worse in the North Caucasus. Many of them have remained silent because they fear that if they speak out, they will be fired and not able to find other work, other participants add.

            Rustam Pezhev, a TV journalist from KBR, says that no medical system could possibly have been prepared for the onslaught but that the one in the North Caucasus was especially inadequate. Moscow has not provided enough help to build up its response and as a result the hospitals in the region have gone deeply into debt in the hopes of doing their jobs.

            He and other speaks said that what is needed is a new doctors’ union that could bring to the attention of the powers locally and in Moscow of the problems they face and mobilize the population to demand more and better treatment, although all who advocated such a union said its prospects for success are not great.

            Pezhev was among those who said that the pandemic had expanded so rapidly not just because of shortcomings in the medical system but because of popular attitudes. Many people there have denied the coronavirus exists or taken the view that it is the result of some conspiracy against Russia.

            Moreover, he continues, “the mentality in the Caucasus does not allow people to express fear, worry or agitation; and thus thing slike self-isolation, the wearing of masks and antiseptics are viewed as a form of ‘cowardice.’” Because people won’t follow these strategies, more of them are getting sick.

            Aida Kasimova, an attorney from Daghestan, suggests that a major factor is that people in the North Caucasus live in large families and are accustomed to interacting with them. That means if one member becomes infected, others are likely to. She too says that in her republic “the majority doesn’t believe in the virus.”

            But Khasan Nalgiyev, a member of Daghestan’s Social Chamber, says that the pandemic has brought out one very positive aspect of North Caucasus culture: charitable organizations have flourished or even been started from scratch as people try to find ways to help their neighbors cope.

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