Dmitry Rogozin: ‘The Matthew effect worked in coronavirus realities: those who felt bad began to feel worse’

According to the RANEPA expert, even the Russian president with his ratings can’t be compared to the ratings of people’s interest in the pandemic

Dmitry Rogozin: ‘The Matthew effect worked in coronavirus realities: those who felt bad began to feel worse’
Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

“If in April, March the coronavirus threat was considered as a media product, that it was happening out there, “while there is nothing around me”, according to our estimates, so now many people’s closest relatives recovered from the disease, acquaintances of quite a big group of the population already died from COVID-19. This is why such jokes are in the past. On the other hand, the carnival of interaction with the state remains,” claims sociologist of RANEPA’s Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, Candidate for Sociological Sciences Dmitry Rogozin in the second part of his interview with Realnoe Vremya. The famous sociologist also told us why it got worse during the pandemic than before, what groups are afraid of contracting COVID-19 the most, why coronavirus cast light on social inequality and cases of domestic violence suddenly increased.

“The mobilisation of civic activity isn’t linked with COVID-19”

Mr Rogozin, can we consider COVID-19 was the catalyst for society’s politicisation? Do you think the lasting social activity of Khabarovsk and Belarus citizens unprecedented? If so, is it linked with the pandemic?

I think it is parallel occurrences. COVID-19 likely mobilised administrative activity, not civic. And civic activity is a reply to a huge wave of administrative sometimes lawlessness, sometimes management. But this reply of civic activity is insignificant. Of course, if we ask ourselves this question, we should look not at Khabarovsk, not at Belarus but, let’s say, the way Muscovites behaved when they were said they could go outside according to hallway lists or the way Muscovites behaved when organisations received an instruction to forward their personal data to track mobility. However, the letter had a formulation: “We aren’t asking for your personal data, but, please, write down your phone number, your number plate, the number of your social card and travel passes. But we don’t need personal data”. This is funny, of course. It is slyness that gives the green light to all swindlers.

Do you mean that Muscovites didn’t react to all this at all?

Yes. I mean that this certainly didn’t cause protests. But I don’t mean that this is bad and speaks about the absence of civic self-consciousness because it is unclear how to react in this situation. We are still in a huge zone of uncertainty. Our habitual ethical coordinates of what’s good and what’s bad were destroyed. We can’t say for sure that a functionary acting this way is the people’s enemy who is subjected to condemnation.

The mobilisation of civic activity isn’t linked with COVID-19. Whatever, but certainly not COVID-19, initiated this.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
A business that had nothing to do with the state, which is mainly the one regulated by market mechanisms — a small business, commerce, tourism, transportation, services for the population, it simply died, went bankrupt, didn’t withstand the pressure

“The presence of the state in society’s life has been very wide

How has the pandemic influenced the citizens’ attitude to the state in general? On the one hand, there was help, including financial aid for families with children, for entrepreneurs. On the other hand, people don’t believe the statistics... How did this match?

This matched amazingly. The help was rendered not to everybody and in a specific way. And even that help that was provided didn’t compensate for the loss people had, that’s to say, it wasn’t compensatory.

We have always looked at the state suspiciously regardless of social status, age, sex, education. It is necessary to war for the state’s attention. Everybody got used to the fact that the taxation system is not fair a long time ago. Our relations with the state have always been like the cat-and-mouse game. In this respect, COVID-19 hasn’t contributed anything new. Another thing is that the presence of the state in society’s life has been very wide. What’s concerning is that the state’s presence has increased in all spheres: both in social life and business. A business that had nothing to do with the state, which was mainly regulated by market mechanisms — a small business, commerce, tourism, transportation, services for the population, it simply died, went bankrupt, didn’t withstand the pressure. Only big operators that had some lobby, a habit and skill of formalising state papers and so on received subsidies, credit and other measures in general. Now we don’t fully feel the economic crisis that is looming, but we have already witnessed a colossal distribution of the economic structure of society. A public business is going to the forefront. That’s to say, the state is here too one way or another, and it is not necessarily a right to property. Not only state rhetoric but also rules of the existence of the state apparatus.

The same applies to the social environment, personal relations. And intimate interpersonal relations in a family, with friends, close people, acquaintances is one of the threats the pandemic has brought. The state doesn’t have a good apparatus to regulate this sphere. This zone isn’t covered by the state, and it completely falls out. The problem of relations between the man and woman in the broadest sense is no less significant than the problem of housing I talked about earlier. But it isn’t realised by people because the problem of intimacy for the state is a blind spot. And as the presence of the state is very big, this blind sport began to spread to society on a large scale. It is a huge threat since the lifeworld has distributed very much, including social roles even in a traditional family consisting of mom, dad, two children. But everything regarding relations has changed in other families too.

Photo: Ilya Repin
And intimate interpersonal relations in a family, with friends, close people, acquaintances is one of the threats the pandemic has brought. The state doesn’t have a good apparatus to regulate this sphere

“The wife sees her husband at home all day long and thinks: ‘Why do I need this husband?’”

How is this manifested first of all?

Isolation is the reason. The scale is compared to the case when a person hunted for something first, then he came to cities, began to build houses. The concept of freedom was also suddenly redefined. What is freedom? Can we be in charge of ourselves, our body and our dreams? Now all this is problematic. And the family as some social interaction was anyway built on the definition or redefinition of freedom because we share our freedom when creating a family. People reasonably say that husband and wife are of the same breed, it is some social body, a unit.

When we, sociologists, study social policy, first of all, we study families. Not a man who earns money or a woman is an actor but the whole family. So the actor started to redistribute his or her functions because the wife sees her husband at home all day long and thinks: “Why do I need this husband?” While the man sits and thinks: “Gosh, how am I living?” Children look at their parents and don’t understand what they want from them. And this hidden social conflict that only increases is aimed not to make people change — what if the dad or mom became different, while the space and time in it changed, which means that social interaction in the family changed. In other words, the family itself redistributed.

“Those who felt bad began to feel worse

In this respect, the growth of domestic violence in isolation has been discussed quite a lot. Do you think such assumptions were reasonable?

Yes, they are reasonable. People write about it not only in Russia but also in foreign papers and even in scientific articles. This theme is clearly seen in the September wave of scientific magazines in articles, which don’t have printed versions yet. The Matthew effect works in this issue as well as in all other issues: those who felt bad began to feel worse. And nothing changed among those who had nothing. And domestic violence suddenly increased precisely in disadvantaged families, in families with difficult life circumstances. Due to the same reasons.

When there was no self-isolation, the state, social services, other people interacting with members of a disadvantaged family compensated for the situation. And when this disappeared, when people entwined like snakes in one ball, cases of domestic violence significantly increased. As according to even official statistics there are a lot of people who are in a difficult situation, the effect of the growth of social violence isn’t isolated, it is noticeable in big social groups. If something goes wrong in a disadvantaged family, the situation changes both in the courtyard and in the hallway of this block of flats. Obviously, there are changes. But if we are talking about them in society’s social structure seriously, we should ask agencies for internal affairs for this information. Unfortunately, these statistics are closed for us. It would show us what’s happening in fact. So we only assume.

Photo: mos.ru
We all clearly hate Zoom, but in fact, all these videoconferences are a revolutionary thing that breaks solitude, etc. One just has to know how to use them

What do sociologists say about the rise in suicides because of the pandemic?

Sociologists say nothing. I think there is certain growth anyway. But we should have a look at death statistics, it more or less works in Russia. I don’t think this growth is big. Even the COVID-19 death toll isn’t compared with the rate mortality from traffic accidents. Obviously, suicide, especially among children, which is also quite a widespread occurrence, is a separate case. It is a tragedy not only for the family but also even the class where the child studied, for close people. At the level of big social groups, this is unnoticeable in general because, thank God, it isn’t a mass occurrence, not a group death but isolated cases.

Logically, it is clear that the current situation is very fertile ground for some indecent actions of people with mental disorders. As this is a story about solitude, the impossibility of talking with close people or get qualified advice from a specialist. All this wouldn’t be so dramatic if we had a well developed service of remote work, employment. Since we didn’t have this, and the system is created in a rush, we see these problems. I am not prone to creating a drama saying that we are in isolation, nothing can be done remotely. Not this is the problem but different means of communication, utilisation, habitualness of these means of communications, their inclusion to the everyday world. We all clearly hate Zoom, but in fact all these videoconferences are a revolutionary thing that breaks solitude, etc. One just has to know how to use them and spread all these things. As we don’t have it in families, especially those in a difficult situation, there is a higher probability they don’t know how to use them than advantaged people. It is the same Matthew effect. It turns out that those who felt bad began to feel worse. This is the biggest tragedy.

As for some social problems, while you talked about the problem of civic self-consciousness, the problem of social inequality is a more serious problem. The pandemic shed light on it. On one hand, it seemed to equalise everybody epidemiologically — the richest people are falling ill, Trump also fell ill, though it seemed who else was protected better than the American president? But the problem of material inequality in access to services, social security, the possibility of planning something came to the surface. Poor people living on benefits are completely losing the remnants of freedom they had. This colossal problem requires more attention than the talks about civic society.

This is why people completely realise the problem and start to play a game of evading administrative pressure. How is it manifested? In a carnival of masks

“The entire story with the pandemic is happening under the aegis of administrative pressure”

In the first part of the interview, you talked about functionaries’ fears. What is society afraid of the most in general? Is it afraid of being infected or isolation? Is society completely refusing second isolation or can consider it on certain conditions?

We are asking precisely these questions when conducting surveys. The fear of infection approximately grows in line with education and economic protection of people. University teachers, functionaries, cubicle rats are those who can afford remote employment, their fear of introduction of self-isolation measures is lower, but the fear of infection is higher. While people who lost their job don’t think about the pandemic, they can stop caring about it.

Our fears are big, the realisation of the seriousness of problems is very high, the population’s awareness of the pandemic’s agenda is very high. Even our president with his ratings can’t be compared with the ratings of people’s interest in the pandemic. It is the most popular theme. There is no other topic that would interest Russia’s population more. Moreover, unfortunately, the entire story with the pandemic is happening under the aegis of administrative pressure.

This is why people completely realise the problem and start to play a game of evading administrative pressure. How is it manifested? In a carnival of masks. You won’t receive a receipt at the till in chain stores in Moscow if you don’t have a mask on and gloves. But nobody will say you a word if you wander in the shopping mall without a mask. And funny moments appear here. Only the presence of a mask is required. Wearing a mask below the chin is already accepted in Moscow. Nobody is wearing cellophane gloves anymore, this is why they are lying near the till.
You cannot pay via, for instance, PayPass in these gloves. Such a complete feeling of senselessness of such protection totally depreciates all measures. On the one hand, there is a feeling of a threat and understanding that, in fact, it is a terrible thing because if in April, March the whole threat was considered as a media product, that it was happening out there, “while there is nothing around me”, according to our estimates, so now many people’s closest relatives recovered from the disease, acquaintances of quite a big group of the population already died from COVID-19. This is why such jokes are in the past. On the other hand, the carnival of interaction with the state remains. Any administrative violence, enforcement causes a desire to evade, outsmart, laugh about the mindlessness and senselessness of these actions among our citizens.

Are there certain prerequisites for the second self-isolation anyway?

They are very big. On the one hand, people are very tired of all this. On the other hand, there was some pause. Also, the state already learnt something, and the stupidities of administration that one may not go outside to breathe air in the park won’t repeat anymore. One must be an enemy of one’s own life not to allow people to breathe. Of course, and we are forecasting this, isolation measures will appear again, which will likely be introduced depending on the diagnostics pace. And the population’s loyalty to it is high enough — no big protests are expected here. But the measures will be better-thought-out, functionaries anyway don’t lose their sound mind at times and can learn the experience of previous mistakes. The problem is that they don’t tend to admit mistakes.

Photo: Dmitry Reznov
There are habitual fears, there are two, and they are stable — the fear of contracting coronavirus and infection of your close people and the fear of losing incomes. The latter is compensated among pensioners, public workers, while it is a colossal fear for people in the free market

What can’t people accept during the COVID-19 era the most? Is it the feeling of instability and fear of losing a job? A threat of losing relatives? The impossibility of travelling?

It greatly depends on the social group and lifestyle they got used to. But what isn’t realised but hits the most — the total failure of planning horizon — unites them. That’s to say, it is an absence of at least some confidence in the future. It is clear if you have children who are finishing the school, the concern is much higher. If some changes are expected in a person’s family — a move, university, new job, retirement — the concern is colossal if these events have been looming on the horizon for five years. Uncertainty kills the most. It is unimaginable to live a life in which you don’t know what will happen in a month, you know nothing. How will your life be organised, what income will you have, where will you live, how will you live? It is awful.

Probably this unites all categories of the population. There are habitual fears, there are two, and they are stable — the fear of contracting coronavirus and your close people will get infected and the fear of losing incomes. The latter is compensated among pensioners, public workers, while it is a colossal fear for people in the free market. These fears go in tandem, as a rule, people are equally afraid of both the first and second case.

By Kristina Ivanova