'It is you and us, not someone, who repost fakes about COVID-19 or about the harm of 5G'

How the society has changed in Russia over the year since the beginning of the pandemic

'It is you and us, not someone, who repost fakes about COVID-19 or about the harm of 5G'
Photo: Maksim Platonov

Russia has been living in the conditions of the pandemic for exactly one year. Maria Vyatchina, a researcher at the Centre for Independent Sociological Research, discussed with Realnoe Vremya how Covid-19 has changed our society. Fake news was rampant, covid-dissidents denied the disease, women and the elderly experienced enormous pressure, and the low-income segments of the population felt completely on the edge. But there was also good news.

“Every pandemic exacerbates inequality”

Maria, what is the most disturbing thing sociologists find for society a year after the start of the pandemic?

First of all, the pandemic has become a global phenomenon. There are practically no places that it has not affected, and even if these influences are not yet felt somewhere, they are quite possible later. The changes have affected a wide variety of areas, but I will probably start with the healthcare sector, in which I specialise. Some medical institutions in our country were quickly mobilised to work with Covid-19 patients. The other part slowed down their work or advised their patients to postpone a visit to a doctor. In the future, this may create big problems — such as underexamined people, overlooked diseases. That is, what could be detected in the early stages will be detected in the later stages.

Besides, it has long been noted that each pandemic exacerbates inequality. That is, those people who were socially vulnerable became even more vulnerable in a year. Of course, there are also those who benefit — let's remember at least how Amazon's shares soared, how delivery services developed.

How has people's attitude to the virus changed and have they become more concerned about their own health?

First of all, we started discussing social responsibility and saw covid-dissidence. From the first days, people refused to believe that COVID-19 was a real threat to their health. The proof of this is that the media has recently published data on excess mortality in 2020. This is more than 300,000 people. By the standards of Russia, this is one regional centre like Smolensk. These are those who died from the virus and other diseases, became victims of non-received medical support and assistance. It may well be that a certain covid-dissident was not harmed, but the people around him may well have succumbed to his influence and do not observe the necessary measures. What is more, it could be people who are quite vulnerable from the point of view of health — coronavirus, as we know, affects people differently depending on their state of health.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
If it is not clear to people where Covid-19 came from and why it is spreading so widely, then what can be done here? The eternal human mechanism of developing explanations is activated — through conspiracy theory

“Conspiracy theory is essentially a kind of folklore”

Do you agree that in addition to covid-dissidence, the year of the pandemic showed a greater propensity of Russians to conspiracy — people in social networks were inspired that the virus was invented by the Americans as a bioweapon, etc.?

I agree, and on conspiracy theory related to the coronavirus, by the way, several studies have already been published. About what these theories were, how they arose, and so on: at first, stories about the history of the appearance of coronavirus (remember the bat) or tips on how to avoid it were popular. Now rumours about vaccination are spreading massively.

Hasn't the degree of conspiracy theory decreased over the year?

No, it hasn't decreased at all. What is the conspiracy theory? This is, in fact, a kind of folklore, and folklore does not die. It is always with us, because person's reactions to uncertainty, to lack of information, to moral panic always give rise to such theories. If it is not clear to people where Covid-19 came from and why it is spreading so widely, then what can be done here? The eternal human mechanism of developing explanations is activated — through conspiracy theory.

Can such pandemic stories disappear in a year if the vaccination is successful?

These conspiracy stories will not disappear, but they will change — some will be less talked about and written about, but they will be replaced by others: this is a feature of the genre.

Perhaps, it is largely because of the “conspiracy theories” that vaccination is going so difficult in the country. Is it possible to judge the normal, not conspiracy, perception of the coronavirus in the minds of people in a year?

In February-March 2020, most people had complete uncertainty about this issue. There were no manuals, recommendations on the treatment of COVID-19, any prescription for the treatment of the disease was perceived with enthusiasm, was in demand. Over time, the issue has been studied, but the zone of uncertainty does not decrease due to the emergence of new strains of coronavirus. However, this is due not only to COVID-19, but also to the peculiarities of folklore — people can know the facts but continue to spread this news.

“There are shifts in consciousness, but but not so serious so far?

But here the reason is that reposts of fakes about COVID-19 or about the harm of 5G are made not by someone, but by us, roughly speaking. The number of people with higher education who spread fakes is no less than the rest.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The reasons are that some regions took strict measures against the spread of the virus (Moscow, for example, or Tatarstan), and somewhere on the contrary, the measures were not very strict

“Older people are already excluded from the public agenda”

Is it possible to understand from your data how the attitude to the government has changed? Is there irritation and dissatisfaction?

There is not enough data to answer this question yet. The reasons are that some regions took strict measures against the spread of the virus (Moscow, for example, or Tatarstan), and somewhere on the contrary, the measures were not very strict.

What segments of the population after the year of the pandemic cause sociologists alarm?

Over the year, due to restrictions for the age of 65+, first of all, the elderly were actually locked in their homes. And it became a blow to them, about which is still not much said. Look, 65 is not quite an old age, it is the age at which people continued to work, use public places, and infrastructure. And in the pandemic, these people already felt and continue to feel themselves the most vulnerable. In fact, older people are already excluded from the public agenda, and they are now experiencing very serious psychological discomfort, since their many rights were “curtailed”.

It is clear that extreme quarantine measures were introduced, but such measures will have far-reaching consequences — many elderly people were cheerful and active yesterday, and now they are, in fact, cornered. I believe that the traumatisation of the coronavirus era is something that we will have to work with in the future.

Iis it not just about the elderly?

Of course, with everyone. It is possible to distinguish the situation with parents — their children were embedded in different educational institutions — kindergartens, clubs, studios, schools, extended daycare groups. And then they found themselves isolated, and the parents were left alone with their children. All this was a great challenge for children, and of course, for the parents, who had to do both household chores and combine them with workload. The issue of the balance of roles — professional, personal, and gender — has become more acute.

Photo: Ilya Repin
In fact, older people are already excluded from the public agenda, and they are now experiencing very serious psychological discomfort, since their many rights were “curtailed”

If we talk about women, then in Russia, they are known to combine both household chores and main work. Hence the big question arises — if a woman cares a lot about her husband, children, and parents during the pandemic, then who will take care of her?

As we know, in Russia, the issue of domestic violence has always been acute and remains so — now it is decriminalised, there are no statistics about it. But given that almost all families were locked in their homes, in small apartments, the issue of domestic violence in 2020 has escalated — already around the world. As I said, we do not have statistics on Russia, but we have some cases to say that it increased during the pandemic.

“We can help each other ourselves very well”

Can we say that after the pandemic, the social inequality that you mentioned earlier will increase?

Undoubtedly, it will increase.

Does this mean that the poorest people will expect assistance from the state in the coming years?

I believe that the support to such people is no longer limited to one resource, although the targeted system support of the state, of course, is needed in the current conditions. What important things did the pandemic give us? First of all, it showed that we ourselves can help each other perfectly.

I conducted a study in one of the covid hospitals in St. Petersburg, and I remember that when there were not enough protective equipment, they were brought en masse by those who were not indifferent. For example, there were guys who came up with the idea of making the same masks using 3D printers. It was noticeable that people realised that in these conditions you need to rely not on the state, but first of all on yourself.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
The social policy of the state should soon be very serious and thoughtful — and now it should not be one-time payments, as in the summer of last year, because one-time payments will not solve the problem of systemic inequality for sure

Another example of vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic is migrant workers. They were practically stuck at airports when businesses were shut down en masse, borders were closed, and flights were cancelled. People with belongings had nowhere to go while they waited for help from their consulates. The first people who came to their aid were small business owners, the owners of cafes brought lunches, because they understood that it was their employees who were in trouble.

There were many such initiatives, and the pandemic has shown that people can rely on each other in difficult situations. And the feeling that we can trust and help each other is very important not to lose in the future. The social policy of the state should soon be very serious and thoughtful — and now it should not be one-time payments, as in the summer of last year, because one-time payments will not solve the problem of systemic inequality for sure.

By Sergey Kochnev