February 28, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8595

As Russia Awaits Spread Of Coronavirus, Columnist Gurevich Pleads With Regime To Be Open With Russia's Citizens

February 28, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8595

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Kommersant columnist Mikhail Gurevich wrote a column titled "Web of fears defeats any technology and innovation", where he beseeched the authorities to be frank and open with the citizens about the spread of the coronavirus. He argued that despite technology and education, we were not far removed from medieval times, when confronted with an unknown infection. If the Russian leadership attempted to withhold accurate information from the public, the public would be governed by unverified rumors, and this would result in still greater panic. Russia should have learned this lesson from previous disasters.

Gurevich's article follows below:[1]

Mikhail Gurevich (Source:

It is an historical occurrence that every pandemic, to some degree or another, is accompanied by moral panic. It was almost a natural reaction in the middle ages: medicine was in its infancy and the lack of mass education almost automatically led to the conclusion that the invasion of any unknown infection is caused by the machinations of the enemies, who should be immediately driven out or destroyed for the sake of peace on Earth. It would seem that the information age would become a kind of vaccine against mass hysteria, but, as it turns out, this [assumption] was merely one of the philosophers' and futurologists' fallacies.

"With the coronavirus example, we observe how the bizarre web of human fears defeats any technology and innovation and how government attempts to hide the real scale of what is happening in one part of the world, leads to mass xenophobic protests thousands of kilometers away from the source of danger. It will be a good lesson if, after defeating the virus, the Ukrainian village of Novi Sanzhary with a population of 8 thousand people will become the twin city if Wuhan with a population of many millions. Laugh as you wish at the backwardness of the Poltava hinterland inhabitants and their certainty that the virus will enter the sewers and via the Dnieper will infect the whole country, but let’s be honest: even in Moscow and Paris, many are wary of Chinese and, as soon as possible, try to move away from them as far as possible. And we are only talking about the coronavirus."

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"Let’s recall the discontent among Russians that is being caused by their proximity to cancer patients or HIV-infected people. It turns out that mass communications do not protect, but rather contribute to the spread of moral panic. And the main responsibility for this rests upon the state. The system consists of living people who are afraid of the superiors above and of what is going on below [in population]. What worth one tragedy[2] in the “Winter Cherry” shopping center and rumors of hundreds of corpses that were allegedly hidden in secret morgues?

"But considering the degree of state control, we are still far away from China. Reports of an epidemic developing in the province of Hubei were not only hushed up for almost a month, but even after the information blockade was broken through, the [reports] were still made available with noticeable delays.

"The Middle Kingdom's leadership traditionally assumes that silence is the best approach to the media. And the global media suspects that the situation is really much than worse than the official communiqué [relates], and relies on the words of anonymous eyewitnesses.

"It is a vicious circle: the state hides [the information], in order to not to cause panic, and people a being fed with unverified rumors and thereby fuel their own fears. This chain can be broken only by direct and open dialogue between the system and the citizens - as in the very same Ukraine, where the Minister of Health decided to go into quarantine along with her countrymen evacuated from China."



[1], February 25, 2020.

[2] The author refers to the March 2018 fire in Kemerovo's Winter Cherry shopping mall that killed at least 60 people, most of them children. Residents claimed that the authorities were covering up the true number of fatalities and hundreds were buried in secret morgues.

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