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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: July 2, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Faces Growing Drug Addiction, HIV Infection Rates, Likely to Affect Mortality Rates

The number of drug addicts and alcoholics has increased ten-fold in Yakutia, a remote eastern region of Russia, reported June 16. There are now more than a thousand drug clinics treating addicts; in the early 1990s there were only 100.

At a recent inter-regional conference of doctors specializing in addiction in Yakutsk, participants noted that the numbers were constantly growing, along with the number of crimes committed in a state of intoxication. 

In Yakutsk, officially more than 4,000 alcoholics are registered. Despite increasingly strict laws on the sale of alcohol and a recent law mandating imprisonment for repeat offenders found driving under the influence, the situation hasn't changed.

There have been similar trends in other republics.

Novaya Gazeta reports that HIV infection is increasing 10% annually in Russia, with 56% of cases related to the use of unsanitary needles. Unlike other countries where the rate of AIDS has been reduced, in Russia the rate has gone up steadily every year.  Officially, more than 90,000 people are registered as HIV-infected but the numbers are greater as people don't wish to be stigmatized or caught in the net of officialdom.  Doctors estimate that about 20% of all drug addicts are HIV-positive.

Dr. Vadim Pokrovsky, Russia's chief specialist on HIV/AIDS, says that no other country in the world has a figure like 56%  of cases due to injection drug use. Countries like Spain and Italy once had figures like this in the 1980s, he said, but they reduced the rate of transmission through "harm-reduction programs" such as clean needle exchanges. The Russian authorities have stubbornly refused to incorporate clean-needle programs or methadone maintenance programs for addicts because they believe these measures contribute to increased drug use.

Dr. Pokrovsky says officials aren't bothering to read the findings of the World Health Organization, which says the "harm-reduction methods" work to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Even Belarus and Kazakhstan have come to understand the wisdom of these approaches, but Russia has resisted. Officially, 500,000 drug addicts are registered in Russia, and there aren't enough programs or funding for other traditional methods of psychotherapy to be used to help them.

"We are already on the threshold of a generalized epidemic; after us only South Africa has the same pace of spread of the epidemic among the BRICS country," he said. The term "generalized" means when more than 1% of the population is effected, and particularly, when more than 1%  of pregnant women are infected, as this spreads to children. More than 15 regions have more than 1% of pregnant women infected with HIV, and in Samara Region, it's even 3%.

He added that most cases of females infected are via sexual partners, and most males are through injection drugs. In Russia now, 3% of males 30-35 years of age are HIV-positive, and 2% of those ages 25-30 or 35-40, according to official statistics, but Dr. Pokrovsky says it is twice as much.

Because the rate is increasing unchallenged -- 20,000 people died of AIDS in Russia in 2013 and 25,000 died in 2014 -- the mortality rate will ultimately be affected.

The Russian Orthodox Church has increasingly preached that preventing childbirth is a sin, and the government has pushed fertility programs everywhere to shore up Russia's demographic decline. Therefore there is a conservative aversion to birth control which could also help stop HIV infection.

The Ministry of Education does not have educational programs in the schools on how to prevent the spread of HIV and STDs, says Dr. Pokrovsky, out of fear that this will lead to "the perversion of children."

In May, the rate of morality in Russia was 6% lower than in May of the previous year, an occasion for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to cheer. But the modest decrease hides the fact that the rate of mortality for the first months of the year was higher than last year, for a total of 14,500 people more people have died than over the same period last year. Experts argue why more Russians were dying, whether it is the climate, or lack of education about health, but a more impartial observer would point out that Russians experienced a loss of one-third of their salaries with the ruble crash, have less access to imported foreign medicines and better food, and face more stress from debts, including unpaid mortgages and car loans.

The number of middle-aged Russians has increased in Russia as in Europe.

The total number of addicts has increased in Russia, but officials differ as to how much, the BBC Russian Service reported.

The head of Russia's Federal Narcotics Agency (FSIN) said on June 26 that compared with the Soviet era more than 20 years ago, the number of addicts in Russia has increased 146 times and is now at 7.3 million people, says BBC.

The only good thing that can be said is that the rate of deaths from drug use has decreased thanks to FSIN's work, he noted.

But Dr. Yevgeny Bryun, the chief addiction specialist of the Ministry of Health, reiterated the number other specialists have given -- 700,000 addicts registered -- indicating the huge disparity between even government agencies, let alone between the government and private institutions. He said that FSIN put everyone detained even once for drug possession in the "addicts" list, although they could be users without becoming addicts, or mere sellers.

FSIN believes they have had great victories in the war on drugs, such as confiscating 500 kilograms of heroin coming from Afghanistan to Russia last year via Tajikistan, or 300 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a tanker owned by a Russian company bound for the US. But Tajik authorities could not corroborate the story of that large an amount, and the BBC could not confirm the story of the cocaine shipment, either -- except via a Spanish-language news item from Sputnik, the Russian state propaganda agency.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Comedian Zhvanetsky Cut from Television Awards Broadcast

Most of the incidents of censorship in Russia in recent years have involved online or print media -- certain web sites are totally blocked, as in the cases of and, or orders are issued to editors to remove pages or regular columns of certain bloggers, such as opposition leader Alexey Navalny on Ekho Moskvy.

Usually state television is already so heavily controlled and pre-taped that it doesn't require censorship of this kind after the fact. But this month there have been two incidents. Yesterday, Dmitry Kisilyev's unexpected advocacy of LGBT civic unions was cut from Ren TV and other websites and explained later as his "private opinion".

Also, the comic Zhvanetsky has been removed from the prestigious annual TEFI awards ceremony for best television. His monologue poking fun at state television was cut completely from the award ceremony.

As the video show, Zhvanetsky first quipped that his "teeth had been set on edge" backstage watching the awards -- already a sign of trouble.

Then in his first routine, he read from a script. It was a dialogue between an aging TV star and a young producer who kept criticizing him -- a piece that clearly seemed taken from his real-life experience.

"Grandpa, TV is for dumb people!" she cries. She castigates him for wearing mismatched socks and says this might be seen as a "hint" about something. Says the young woman from state TV:

"We work hard, gramps. But how can I explain it so you understand? We provoke an echo: we speak and wait. The echo comes back already corrected and added to. There are a lot of channels, but we only have one echo...For ratings, you have to go head-on. It's last century to work for laughs."

Her reference is to the considerable control of creative producers by state propagandists overseeing the media.

As Novaya Gazeta describes the event, first some people in the audience began laughing at Zhvanetsky's routine, but then they stopped.  The camera falls  on the face of one official who laughed, but then looking around to see what other people were doing, and turned stony-faced.

Seeing that the audience wasn't reacting, he cut short his first monologue and went to the second, where people laughed  when he said that people nowadays had a pill for everything -- for waking up, for making love, for falling asleep -- and had put all their happiness in one little box.

Not everyone found this so funny, however. After his third monologue, Zhvanetsky concluded he had a tough audience.

While the video of his performance can still be found on YouTube and some Internet pages, it has been cut from the official broadcast version on the TEFI and state news sites.

The TEFI Awards, founded in 1994, are Russia's analogue to the Emmy awards, and are given out annually by the Russian Academy of Television. They used to mean something to Russian journalists, back when television was just breaking free from state control and there was really ground-breaking work.

In recent years, they have become more and more controlled; in 2012, TV Rain talk show host Kseniya Sobchak was nominated, but then removed from the competition when she attended opposition rallies.

This year, liberal bloggers have been groaning more than ever at the rigged outcome. The top award went to the Kremlin's chief propagandist, the aforementioned Dmitry Kiselyev, for his Vesti Nedyeli (News of the West), a show that has been notorious in the last year for bashing the West, even implying that the US could be "reduced to nuclear ash," and promoting the Russian nationalist agenda. Kisilyev has been placed under EU sanctions for his role in propagandizing Russia's war on Ukraine.

The "TV Event of the Season" award went to a state concoction featuring Putin called Crimea: Road to the Motherland was nominated for the category "TV Event of the Season" but didn't win in that category; another category seems to have then been created for it:

Translation: A special TEFI prize for "Making Sense of Modern History" was received by the film "Crimea: Road to the Motherland."

Translation: Ehhh...the TEFI TV award went to the "news" "program" of "journalist" "Dmitry Kiselyev."

Even those who have been pro-government haven't been too happy with the outcome.

Translation: Oh, is today TEFI? Then I will definitely not go. My more than critical attitude to this action is well known. Although I have been awarded.

Some people still become engrossed with the awards show, however -- after all, most people in Russia get their news from state TV and are not critical of it.

Translation: they're just about to give out the TEFI awards for daily programs. I'm rooting for "Morning on 5" and "Open Studio"!

Or they work at state TV:


Translation: Oh, this is a difficult choice, what should I wear for today's TEFI? I've already tried on 7 dresses.

Many agreed that one award was deserved in principle, although the wrong people got it.

This was for the "Immortal Regiment" action conceived by two producers from TV-2 in Tomsk. They originated the idea of having people go to war memorials with pictures of their relatives who fought in World War II, in order to personalize the state occasion. They staged and broadcast such events for several years.

But this last independent TV station in Russia's provinces was forced to close this year, and the action has now been taken over by the government. Instead of the TV-2 producers, the State Television and Radio Company received the award for broadcasting the action this year in Moscow, with actor Vladimir Lanovoy as the host. He received the award on stage at the TEFIs, and the official coverage of the award only mentioned that it was originally conceived "in Tomsk."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick