A historic humiliation
MOSCOW – We knew it was coming, but we naively believed that it would take longer than one week, and more than three dead grannies, to shut down Russia. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin – the fink of our time – has ordered all restaurants, shops and non-essential businesses to close their doors starting on Saturday. The city’s cherished parks and museums will also be shuttered. His decree was followed a day later by a fun little update from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who casually dropped on Friday that the new restrictions being implemented in Moscow would actually be extended to the entire country.
Why didn’t Hitler invade Russia with a ubiquitous virus that kills less people than the common cold? Think of all the chiseled SS death squads that would still be alive and well.
“The restrictions introduced today are unprecedented in the modern history of Moscow and will create many inconveniences for the everyday life of every person,” Sobyanin admitted in his official surrender statement.
For his part, Mishustin conceded that murdering the country’s economy was “harsh” but obviously necessary.
“Staying at home is the most important thing that any one of us can do. The restrictions are a small price to pay for life and health,” he said during his oh-by-the-way-this-applies-to-the-entire-country-not-just-Moscow proclamation.
Conveniently never the one to deliver bad news, President Vladimir Putin had made an earlier television appearance in which he declared a week-long paid national holiday, starting from March 30, in hopes that Russians would exchange their dignity for a few measly rubles.
“Don’t think: ‘This can’t happen to me.’ It can happen to anyone,” Putin said. “The most important thing is to stay home.”
Remarkable, isn’t it? A city that suffered one million casualties to repel a three-month Nazi onslaught in October 1941 is calling it quits in March 2020 because a handful of pensioners got sick and died of natural causes. At least Putin was candid enough to begin his bumbling soliloquy with “don’t think.” Very sporting of him.
The cherry adorning this humiliation sundae is that Putin’s generous “paid national holiday” apparently only applies to proles who can’t fulfill their tasks from home. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified on Friday that “all those who can work remotely, should.” What a little weasel.
Up until now, life in Moscow had continued largely uninterrupted by the worldwide COVID-19 bet-wetting. Sure, schools were closed in mid-March and large gatherings were banned. Chinese tourists were rounded up and sent packing, and nobody misses them. Its pride may have been slightly wounded, but the city chugged along.
We need to explain something very important before we go any further: Russians never bought into the COVID hype. The concept of “social distancing” in public never took hold here. Wearing face masks never caught on. We were recently in the very heart of the city and encountered a grand total of four people wearing protective gear. Even obvious germ emporiums such as metro stations were orderly and nearly mask-free.
So why is it suddenly so critical to human survival to “stay home”? Probably half of Moscow already has coronavirus. Herd immunity – Moscow’s half-assed version of it, anyway – was working. People at risk got out of the way. For the rest of us, it was business as usual. Sweden and the Netherlands have taken very similar approaches, with extremely promising results.
In fairness to our Kremlin overlords, Russians are not being forced to stay indoors – not yet, at least. But it’s simply a matter of time. Exorbitant fines for daring to step outside for “non-essential” reasons are almost surely on their way. Using drones to enforce social distancing might be too high-tech for our big-brained local law enforcement, but we’re sure they’ll find other ways to make life completely miserable.
Putin has already made it clear that he thinks it will take “2-3 months” to overcome the virus, but only if “forced measures” are imposed. Anyone who thinks life will return to normal after this one-week “holiday” is a massive Muppet.
Even more amusing is the thought that the Russian government cares at all about the most Covid-19-vulnerable members of society – the elderly. Their so-called pensions – a comical pittance – barely cover the cost of basic necessities. Pensioners with serious ailments have been increasingly neglected by the country’s eroded, inept public healthcare system. It’s not at all uncommon to see grandmothers begging in the streets of Moscow, their pathetic cardboard signs requesting spare change so they can buy a loaf of bread, or medicine that will keep them alive for another week.
The current COVID nightmare – we’re referring to the global totalitarian measures that will eventually murder us all, not the unimpressive respiratory illness – reminds us of a rather jarring incident that happened last spring. At the time we were living in a very swanky part of Moscow, a speedy ten minute metro ride to Red Square. One day, while walking to the neighborhood grocery store, we absentmindedly bumped into yellow police tape roping off the sidewalk. Looking down at the pavement we saw a wrinkled human foot peeking out from a blood-stained blanket. Naturally we were curious as to what the hell had happened. After mulling about, we learned from neighbors that Mr. So-and-So, who was old and sick and had no money and no family, had decided to jump from the eighth storey window. For as long as we live, we’ll never forget that mangled foot.
If only that poor, miserable old man had waited a year – Russia would have been ready to commit suicide to preserve his precious life. Or so we’re told. It’s a nice thought, at least.
Edward Slavsquat is an American in self-exile in Russia who sometimes writes things on the internet