Healthcare in Vladimir Putin’s Russia
Global Voices has translated a series of Russian blog posts dealing with the quality of healthcare provided in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The story they tell is truly horrifying, and not only because of the grotesque disregard for individual human life that is shown by the regime but also because of the craven cowardice displayed by the Russians who confront it.
The story begins in 2006, when a blogger’s mother is taken to the hospital with an injured leg. She spent her entire period of treatment languishing in a hallway along with hundreds of other patients helplessly waiting (basically, begging) for treatment in the packed confines of the facility.
Jump ahead to this year, when the mother’s condition worsens and she needs specialized surgery. There’s a gigantic two-year waiting list, and the only way the woman can get on it is to obtain a specialized permission to enter the list. This requires a ghastly encounter with the bureaucracy. Global Voices translates what happened next:
Quotas are currently being issued in St. Petersburg and Leningrad region on Wednesdays, in the courtyard at 24 Rudnev St., from 10 AM till noon, at the Orthopedics and Traumatology Medical Center. My mother had made four attempts at getting through there, before she turned to me, because she “was afraid to disturb me.” She just tried to do it by herself. And failed. Here’s why – people in wheelchairs and on crutches, as well as their relatives and friends, start coming to that courtyard to secure their place in the waiting line from 2:30 AM. At 5 AM, dressed in my winter jacket, I didn’t even make it into the first 30. People stood in darkness on crutches, in wheelchairs, everyone recognized each other […]. Cars were parked everywhere. People were helping each other, as if during the [Siege of Leningrad], letting strangers sit in their relatives’ cars to get warm […]. Cold, dark, no toilets, people could barely keep standing. […] Mama replaced me at 8:30 AM. I was freezing to death by that time. Miraculously, she got her paper at 11:50 AM, ten minutes before the place closed. The fifth attempt was a success.
That wasn’t all. The blogger thought of visiting those waiting in the cold with tea and coffee, but was informed “coffee and tea won’t help. People are afraid to drink them, because they are spending 8-9 hours before the office opens, in the freezing cold and without toilets, with nowhere to go. ”
The blogger then decided to publicize the circumstances on the line with a photo essay, and this got picked up by the wider blogosphere and even some media outlets, which in turn induced the facilty to begin seeing patients twice a week rather than once and to stay open for longer hours. So now, apparently, people will stand in line in the freezing cold with no bathrooms for three hours instead of six. This is what passes for “progress” in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
At no time during the discussion do the bloggers even contemplate any wider political action, such at as to demand national-scale action from the government leaders who are responsible. Nobody attempts to blame the Kremlin, nobody suggests supporting any opposition political party (like Other Russia, for instance), and indeed nobody seems to care a whit what might be happening in other communities, only their own. No thought is given to reducing the two-year waiting list, or even to documenting how many patients never get the care they need. No questions are asked about why the Kremlin, floating on a sea of cash from oil windfalls, is devoting so much energy to foreign provocations and so little energy to the needs of Russia’s sick and aging population.
In a second translation, Global Voices translates another post from a Russian blogger, this time attempting to help his grandmother qualify for an apartment subsidy. It’s more of the same. Even with the use of the grandson’s automobile, a luxury most impoverished Russians cannot dream about, the necessary documentation could not be obtained in a single day. One commenter writes:
Yes, it takes a couple of weeks and more to gather all the certificates and stand in lines in order to get any kind of benefits payment here… It is especially horrible to watch single mothers who are forced to move through all these circles of hell to get money for their newborns. Old women, they are taking it one step at a time, they are at least not tied to breastfeeding and the child’s schedule, and they don’t have to run up the stairs with baby carriages
While you […] are talking about getting some benefits out of the bureaucratic apparatus, what amazes me is how much energy one has to spend on getting what seems like the simplest paperwork done. To change [propiska, “the record of place of residence”], for example. Even the young ones need to store up some energy for that.
Again, there is no attempt to ascribe blame to the Kremlin, much less to support opposition politics.
One would like to remind the latter commenter that what’s really amazing is not the amount of effort required to get a propiska but rather that (a) Russia is supposed to be democracy, not the USSR, and propiska is not supposed to be required and (b) the craven, cowardly people of Russia stand idly by and allow this requirement to be imposed upon them.
In fact, as to the effort required to get a propiska, that’s not the least bit surprising. The government is sending a clear message to the people of the country that they stand in servitude to the regime and have no rights of any kind. By creating these obstacles the regime cowers and intimidates the population, and by denying them social benefits it weakens them. Weak, intimidated people are of course much easier to control, with fewer resources, than people of a different kind.
Putin has chosen from the beginning to devote Russia’s few resources to reinvigorating the cold war rather than Russia’s sick and helpless population. History is left to be his judge, because it’s clear the craven population of Russia will not do so.
It’s highly noteworthy that nowhere in this translation do we see any comments from Russians placing blame on Putin or Medvedev, much less do we see any plans for direction action. Instead, the author simply proposes to do the government’s work for it, allowing it to save money to be used on a new cold war with the outside world.
Here we have the horrifying mess that is Russia in perfect microcosm.