Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Russian Health Ministry Admits It’s Significantly Understated Number of HIV-AIDS Cases



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – A new survey which found that 1.5 percent of the Russian population is infected with the HIV virus has compelled the Russian health ministry to acknowledge that officials have been significantly understating the number of cases there. The ministry has been saying that only 0.7 percent of the population is infected.

            Russian statistics have always been problematic, but sometimes the gap between claims and reality becomes too great even for Moscow to continue to assert things that aren’t true. That has happened in this case as a result of a program which 25,000 Russians in 24 regions were tested for the HIV virus (ura.news/news/1052316385).

                That program found 375 infected, roughly 1.5 percent. The figure for the Russian Federation as a whole, officials now concede, is likely to be roughly the same and not the 0.7 percent they have claimed up to now.  That means more than two million Russians have the virus (life.ru/t/здоровье/1069704/zarazhionnykh_vich_okazalos_v_2_raza_bolshie_chiem_pokazyvaiet_ofitsialnaia_statistika).

            Because the regions involved, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk oblast, Sverdlovsk oblast and Primorsky kray, have long been rumored to have far higher rates of infection that elsewhere, it is possible that the projection of 1.5 percent for the country as a whole may overstate the share. But it is certainly closer to the truth than the 0.7 percent.

            Some officials are pointing to that possibility and calling on everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions until the final results are published next year (http://nsn.fm/society/vyvody-prezhdevremenny-minzdrav-o-prevyshenii-mnogoletnikh-pokazateley-po-vich.html), but even now it is likely that Russia is suffering more new cases of HIV infection than any other country.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clashes between Russians and Muslims Spreading to Universities in Russia



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Conflicts between Russians and Muslims on the streets and in the Russian military have a long history, but now they are spreading to an important part of daily life -- in higher educational institutions where some administrators now calling for the students to be separated by ethnicity and religion to prevent more clashes.

            This phenomenon came to broad public attention this week when a video clip showing a Russian student being forced to publicly apologize for his comments about Caucasian women that Muslim students found offensive and denigrating attracted more than a million views online (ura.news/articles/1036273236).

            “This is not the first such incident” even in elite higher educational institutions like the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, Stanislav Zakharkin says in his report for the URA news agency.  Earlier, a Russian joke about the Koran led to a situation in which one foreign student was forced to leave her Russian university and ultimately the country itself. 

                Aleksandr Safonov, the pro-rector of the Academy, says that no one knows how many such clashes there have been because no one is keeping a record of the statistics.  But he says that it is his impression that the numbers may be growing and increasingly reflect religious and ethnic differences rather than between urban and rural groups as was true in Soviet times.

            The pro-rector suggests that the higher educational institutions can and should address this issue, possibly by “dividing” the students and explaining to each group how the other perceives it and what is the best way to overcome such differences.

            Maksim Shevchenko, a Muslim commentator who is a member of the Presidential Human Rights council, plays down the importance of these clashes, “Conflict,” he says, “is the essence of human nature” and a way to learn; and he dismisses the idea that such clashes are about nationality.

            “One must not speak about Russians and Caucasians in general,” he continues.  There are sad cases in all nations, and what is important is to learn when ethnic and religious differences matter, when they don’t, and how to address these differences in a civilized war.

            Others are pushing for a tougher set of reactions. Arslan Khasavov, a writer who is a member of the Russian Council on the North Caucasus, says universities and especially elite ones must impose administrative punishments on those who get out of hand. And if things go even further, they should refer matters to the police for criminal prosecution.

            The URA news agency reports that the Russian magistracy has begun an investigation into the case shown on the video clip and that the head of the Union of Chechen Youth in the Russian capital says that he will meet with and try to educate those Muslims who did the attacking in this case.

Nearly a Third of Active NGOs in Russia Getting Foreign Funding



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Newly released figures show that only about ten percent of the roughly 200,000 non-governmental organizations registered with the state are in fact actually functioning but also that three percent of the total number get foreign funding (regnum.ru/news/society/2356192.html and  iq.hse.ru/news/212286708.html).

            Combining those figures which were compiled respectively by the Social Chamber and the Higher School of Economics and which because of the vagaries of registration must be treated with caution suggests that approximately 30 percent of the Russian NGOs that are actually in operation are receiving support from abroad.

            These numbers highlight not only the weakness of Russian civil society in this regard but also and especially the dangers inherent in Vladimir Putin’s ongoing campaign to label all groups receiving funding from abroad “foreign agents,” an effort that because there are so many in this category further chills public life in the Russian Federation.