Jeremy Morris is an Associate Professor in the School of Culture and Society at Aarhus University where he researches and writes about the informal economy, class, precarity and post-socialism. His most recent book is Everyday Postsocialism: Working-class Communities in the Russian Margins published by Palgrave.
Jeremy has written up an addendum to this interview providing more detail. I highly recommend it.
The Clash, “Career Opportunities,” The Clash, 1977.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Laurie Taylor briefly interviews the authors of the controversial Lancet article on Post-Soviet privatization on his Thinking Allowed. His discussion with Megan Comfort that follows on women who have boyfriends and husbands in prison is worth a listen too.Post Views: 529
By Sean — 13 years ago
Two weeks ago readers of the Moscow Times were met with a rather chilling article on the front page. The headline: “Growing Number of Army Draftees Have HIV”. According to Major General Valery Kulikov the number of draftees rejected by the Russian army with HIV “skyrocketed by 27 percent over the past five years.” Last fall, 9000 were rejected for having HIV. Before 2000, only 300 were rejected. The military admits that this new figure is difficult to quantify because there aren’t reliable numbers of HIV/AIDS of the population as a whole to compare to, the extreme reluctance of the Russian armed forces to discuss the matter, the lack of equipment for reliable testing, plus recruits are not systematically tested. In many ways the military is a microcosm of the overall problem of HIV/AIDS in
The prognosis for Russian is not good. For 2004, UNAIDS estimates 420,000 to 1.4 million cases of HIV/AIDS, compared to the official Russian figure of 240,000. By 2020, they predict 5.3 million to 14.5 million cases, and 252,000 to 648,000 HIV/AIDS related deaths per year. For female sex workers, the estimates are staggering: 33.3% of female sex workers between 15-19 years old, 63.5% 20-24 years old, and 40% between 30-34 years old are infected with HIV. The numbers are shocking.
has the undesirable distinction of having the highest rate of HIV infection in the industrialized world. Russia
Some might ask what the point of yet another article about the problem of HIV/AIDS in
. The issue is not new. There perhaps nothing new that one can say. Not to mention that nothing can top Michael Specter’s profound and chilling explication of the global AIDS pandemic in his series of articles in the New Yorker. (Unfortunately, Specter’s article “The Devastation” is not available online without paying. However, you can read an interview with him discussing the issue here. You can also get the article through Lexis-Nexus if you have access.) The issue might not be “new” and there might not be much more one can say about it. But the problem is real. All too real. It is also being consistently ignored by the Russian government and society. All one can do is scream. Scream so loud into the darkness of ignorance and denial in hopes that a ray of sense pierces through. Russia
Pointing out the dire situation that exists in
on the HIV/AIDS front has nothing to do with Orientalist pretensions. This is no East/West thing. This has nothing to do with our “superiority” and their “backwardness.” It is about life and death. It is about a preventable problem. It is about putting the breaks on a still emerging epidemic. In fact the Russian case is illustrative of the global problem. The Russian discourse on HIV/AIDS is reminiscent of how the American government dealt with the issue in the 1980s. Hell, much of it is so strikingly similar to the American discourse now. Russia
After I read Specter’s article I asked a young Russian friend of mine about what she knew about AIDS. At first, my questions were met with blank stares. The reality of AIDS in
just flew over her head. She did respond and her response was telling: “Well, this disease only afflicts drug users and homosexuals.” That’s right the dregs of society, the depraved, the “abnormal.” One can’t really blame her. Much of the official discussion is about these “high risk groups.” Since they continue to engage in these risky behaviors they will be more likely to get HIV. Behind such statements is an implicit: “They deserve it.” Specter noted similar in his piece. As an unnamed “prominent” Russian liberal told him in reference to drug addicts, “AIDS might be a good thing, in a way, because it is killing people who only destroy the country anyway.” However, behind such crude and social Darwinist statements is also its binary opposite: those who don’t engage in those practices are “safe.” Russia
My argument is not with the fact that HIV/AIDS infection is higher among these groups. My problem is about how the creation of the category of “risk group” suggests a “safe group.” You can see it in statements like the following from Mosnews.com:
“In those countries [
Southeast Asia, Indiaand ], HIV is creeping out of marginalized urban groups such as prostitutes and intravenous drug users and into the population mainstream. The latest research gives a strong statistical boost to those warnings.” China
“Urban groups” versus “population mainstream.” Our concern should not be with the former. We know what that code screams. It is the latter that is troubling. What is the “population mainstream”!? And if the AIDS is penetrating into the “population mainstream” means heterosexuals, non-drug users, and people who don’t go to prostitutes, then isn’t there something equally risky about their behavior? Shouldn’t they also be lumped in with the so-called risk groups? The point is that ultimately HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. It does not care about risk groups, urban groups or population mainstreams. The pandemic has gotten worse in the last 20 years not better, especially in Africa,
India, , and now Eastern Europe/Russia. Isn’t it time to stop speaking about “risk groups” and time to start talking about safe sex? China
It is here that the ideology of sex of in
Russiaand the converges. They both assume a hetero-normative position based on the ideal of monogamy. We know all too well, or we should know, that the Bush Administration has tied AIDS funding to abstinence education. The idea behind this is that no sex until marriage will cut down on unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Such a policy is starving organizations that urge condom as they find themselves more and more excluded from the money trough. Just read Helen Epstien’s excellent article “God and the Fight for AIDS” in the New York Review of Books. United States
The Russian case is different in this respect. There isn’t the brick wall of religion in the way. Denial has a different optic. Consider this statement from the article “Sex in Russia: Teeming with Unpleasant Surprises”: “On the other hand, an average Russian’s thoughts on safe sex include the following maxim: Having sex while wearing a condom is like smelling flowers while wearing a gas mask.” Yeah sure, and having sex without a condom could also be like inhaling nerve gas without a gas mask. The article continues that the risk/safe binary is so ingrained that:
“Many people doubt they can contract a disease simply because of their high social status – surely they and people they sleep with can’t possibly be infected. But STDs know no social boundaries, [urologist, Dr. Leonid] Spivak says: “Quite frequently, young women come in thinking they have cystitis [a urinary tract infection] that won’t go away, and we find gonorrhea. Of course, when you tell a young woman who’s well-off and professional and certain she’s clean that unfortunately, she has such a disease, she’s going to be rather shocked.”
I’ve read and heard other, more outlandish beliefs about AIDS. Myths and folklore that produce a shock in me perhaps comparable to that of the HIV infected “well-off and professional” Russian woman. AIDS is a number of things here. Rarely these things are anything close to the truth. AIDS is a CIA conspiracy. AIDS can be contracted by a cough, kissing, even touching. Many don’t understand the basic complexity of the disease—that there is a time lag between infection and symptoms. That it is a blood born disease that has a short lifespan outside of a plasma environment. Education about AIDS is sorely lacking. But the Russians do not possess a monopoly on such thinking. A recent
Congressional report on sex education showed that many American teens think similarly. U.S.
It also doesn’t help when the disease itself is so infused with stigma. Because many associate HIV/AIDS with risk behavior, those who are actually brave enough to disclose their infection to family, partners or even doctors can sow suspicion, hatred, and disgust. According to a Human Rights Watch report, HIV-positive women are frequently berated by doctors and nurses, sometimes refusing them treatment. Natasha R, a HIV-positive woman in her thirties from
, told Human Rights Watch the following: St. Petersburg
“She and her friends have found one way to avoid the contemptuous glances and rude treatment at the clinic – they have stopped going there altogether. “We go to our own clinic,” she said, referring to the St. Petersburg AIDS center. In theory, the local clinics are supposed to treat all HIV-positive patients within the district for comprehensive medical care—gynecological, dental, surgery, etc. But since many of these local doctors refuse to treat HIV-positive patients—and many HIV-positive patients refuse to continue to go there—the AIDS center has to pick up the slack. The lines are often very long, says Natasha R., but it is worth it to be able to avoid her local clinic”
Lenin’s slogan “??? ????” (who beats who) is eternally caught in a historical echo chamber. Its meaning and context changes but its core rhetorical power haunts the Russian societal landscape. If
was flesh those two words would protrude from its surface as keloid scars. ??? ???? silently hovers over the problem of HIV/AIDS. The question remains as to whether Russia will be “???” or will be “????”. At the current pace Russia will be the object and not the subject of this phrase. Russia
Sadly, full acknowledgment of this issue remains elusive. The Putin Government has taken steps, albeit very small, toward recognizing that there is a problem.
’s Minister of Finance recently approved an addition $20 million to the global fund against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria for 2005-2008. Kudrin also reported on the particular threat AIDS poses to Aleksey Kudrin, Russia . Mikhail Zurabov, head of the Health and Social Development Ministry, has also complained that the current government funding for AIDS treatment is only adequate for treating 1000 people. Even the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Vershbow noted the necessity to engage the Russian media to “talk up particular issues where we see problems that need to be addressed, whether it is sensitive issues like the independence of the media or social problems that they’re not paying enough attention to, like HIV/AIDS.” Russia
Unfortunately, states have done miserably in combating the short but deadly life of AIDS in the late 20th Century. In star-fucker culture of
, it was the death of Rock Hudson and the infection of Magic Johnson that partially awoke a sleepwalking public. Some suggest that this is what America needs; one of their cultural icons to contract or die of AIDS to make the disease a mainstream reality. Russia
But also In America it wasn’t until homosexuals took up radical positions toward sex that anything was accomplished. True they didn’t alter much as to how the government concretely dealt with the issue. What the activism of ACT-Up did with their slogan “Silence = Death” was to throw AIDS into the face of the homosexual community. It became a zero tolerance issue. Perhaps this is also one possibility for
. If the state isn’t going to recognize the issue then it must come from society itself. There are, however, signs of this necessary radicalism developing. In the tradition of ACT-Up, the group FrontAIDS looks to turn silence into death. They protest and chain themselves to government health buildings. They scream and shout about the reality of AIDS. We can only hope that their efforts are not in vain; that their small numbers can help penetrate the morass of denial. For this we can only wait and see. And hope. And hope that the shocking quantitave particularies of HIV/AIDS do not become a horrific qualititive universal. RussiaPost Views: 8,210
By Sean — 9 years ago
Vedomosti has a great article on the history of Russia’s housing crisis. Housing, as Maksim Trudoliubov notes, is a chronic historical problem in Russia, one which the Soviets tried to attenuate, but made little headway until the 1960s. “The comfort of our home life is still not good for many of us,” Trudoliubov begins. “As in the early Soviet and even in the “mature Soviet” period housing was the main problem for the majority of citizens. Life was collective not because the state managed to inculcate citizens with a fancy for the romanticism of “communal life,” and because of this all of Stalin’s construction projects must be seen in this light. There’s just not enough housing (as is the case up to the present). But even more important, housing–from the bunks in dormitories to elite apartments in nomenclature buildings–was an instrument of manipulating people.”
Indeed, as Truboliubov continues, solutions to the housing problem took on a variety of realist and ideological forms to manipulate people. Lenin, for one, saw the housing problem a matter of distribution and allocation. According to the Soviet founding father, the Tsarist elite held a monopoly over living space. The solution was a simple but cold revolutionary formula of “K = N – 1,” where K equaled the number of rooms, and N the number of residents. Meaning that “the number of people in an apartment must be one more than rooms.” Well, as the those intimately familiar with Russian housing know well, the proportion of people to rooms was often many times more lopsided than Lenin’s prescription.
Things only worsened after the Civil War when structural dilapidation, poverty, disease, and general governmental decay exacerbated the existing housing problem. As Truboliubov writes, “In 1921 37% of buildings in Moscow were unsuitable for habitation.” As one resident of what is now Building 9 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, the street that runs parallel to Tverskaya, central Moscow’s main drag, commented in 1922, “The pluming system, drainage and heating are destroyed. Apartments lack facets, radiators for central heating, and are stripped of stoves. In the majority of apartments the floors are taken apart, and dirt and garbage are everywhere.”
Apartment life in the 1920s was abysmal to say the least. As any reader of Bulgakov’s Dog’s Heart will know, apartments were allocated and reallocated in a sporadic, albeit proletarian, manner. Residents of various classes were cramped together. Revolutionary justice in housing required the bourgeoisie to give up their rooms to the new proletarian ruling class. And “when there weren’t any rooms to rent, then people rented corners, that is parts of rooms, corridors and kitchens.” And if those weren’t available, then sleeping in bathtubs served as a desperate alternative. The average living space in the 1920s was an average of 5.2 to 5.8 square meters per person.
Stalin’s industrial campaign of the 1930s only made matters worse as millions of peasant migrants flooded into Russia’s cities. As David Hoffman notes in his Peasant Metropolis, migration was so great that there was no conceivable way for the authorities to provide adequate housing. The solution was often the rapid and shoddy construction of worker’s barracks. The crunch was so great that the average number of persons per room in the Soviet Union rose from 2.71 in 1926 to 3.91 in 1940. One can only guess that the increase would be even more if the statistics only accounted for the country’s industrial urban centers.
More people meant less comfort. One American cited by Hoffman described his friend Kuznetsov’s living conditions in the barracks of the Kuibyshev electronic factory in the 1930s,
“Kuznetsov lived with about 550 others, men and women, in a wooden structure about 800 feet long and fifteen feet wide. The room contained approximately 500 narrow beds, covered with mattresses filled with straw and dried leaves. There were no pillows or blankets. Coats and other garments were being utilized for covering. Some of the residents had no beds and slept on the floor or in wooden boxes. In some cases beds were used by one shift during the day and by others at night. There were no screens or wall to give any privacy to the occupants of the barracks . . . I could not stay in the barracks very long. I could not stand the stench of kerosene and unwashed bodies. The only washing facility was a pump outside. The toilet was rickety, unheated shanty, without seats.”
Rapid urbanization also gave rise to the Stalinist internal passport system in 1934. The passport system was an attempt to slow migration, especially that induced by the famine in Ukraine. The logic was to prevent an already desperate situation was getting worse. With housing and food supply already short (urban residents were on rations), a tidal wave of starving peasants would have brought the situation to the brink Soviet officials reasoned. The policy was certainly cruel. But Stalinist policies were never known for their niceties.
The passport system also became a permanent biopolitical measure of population control. Urbanites got them. Kholkhozniki didn’t. And though getting off the collective farm was easily done, the system put in place institutionalized discrimination until the mid-1970s when Russia’s rural inhabitants began getting passports. This is not to say that urban residents were allowed to move freely. City to city migration required registration. True, people still moved throughout the postwar period, but the passport and registration system was yet another bureaucratic control for the authorities to wield when necessary.
Substantial housing relief didn’t come until the 1960s when Nikita Khrushchev attempted to tackle the housing problem with the mass production of five story, box like apartment buildings. The “khrushchevki” provided relief, gave many their own apartments, but were hardly aesthetic or structural masterpieces. But a shoddy apartment was better than no apartment, especially for those war refugees who were living in dugouts until the late 1950s. And the continued housing projects of the Brezhnev period provided additional living space. So much so that by the end of the Soviet period, the square meter per person had grown to 15.3 square meters.
Present day housing, though still a problem, appears to be improving. As Truboliubov notes, according to Rosstat, the average living space has increased to 20.9 square meters per person. This is still low by Western European and American standards (Germany, 36 sq. m.; Sweden, about 40; and the US, 60), yet by Russian standards, which has a totally different historical relationship to living, privacy, and relationships, this is a great improvement.
Finally, Truboliubov ends his narrative with a reminder that registration, though deemed illegal by the Russian Constitution, remains in force. The authorities repeadtly balk at abolishing it. They only seem to always promise to “modernize” its application. Why? As Truboliubov notes, one of the features of a capitalist system is to increase the mobility of not just capital, but labor. But Russian capitalism works on an additional profit motive. The registration system has an additional function as an “instrument of extracting the profit of corruption.” “The Stalinist institution of registration now properly serves the bureaucrats as a source of income.”
Photo: English Russia.Post Views: 765