Category Archives: safeathomeinrussia

The Unexpected Comeback of the Soviet Spirit due to Pandemics

I was going to tell about this, but tonight’s snowfall makes an ideal backdrop for my story.

I witnessed the final 11 years of the USSR. I was a child, so my memories don’t contain any grim episodes. Instead, I remember the Soviet period as a very quiet time, synonymous with such words as security, safety and peace.

And it was also the time when families were very close-knit and generally kind-hearted. Money was rarely an issue, for everyone was generally pleased with what they had.

Following the demise of the USSR, families began to fall apart. For the second time in the 20th century, after the Civil War of 1918-1922, fathers and sons opposed each other. The civil war didn’t break out this time, but money and the opportunities it provided became the bone of contention. I can’t help pointing out that this expression is a perfect, if sad, metaphor for the conflict that engulfed generations of Russian people.

There was one more important change, apart from money. Younger people began to drift away from their families and homes. Some headed abroad, others to nightclubs. Shops began to work till late, and very soon there appeared those that never closed their doors.

And this was one of the biggest departures from the Soviet times. In Soviet Russia shops used to close any time between 6 and 9pm. I cannot remember a shop that would remain open till 10pm or later. Obviously, there were a few “duty shops”, like the chemists, that would stay open but there’d be only a handful of them for the whole of Moscow.

We often consider any restriction as an encroachment on our freedom. On second thoughts, restrictions help to structure one’s life; without limitations and boundaries people are quite incapable of implementing even the simplest regime.

In Soviet times, when most people finished work at 6pm sharp, they had some three hours to do their shopping. It is true that there were queues at the cashiers, but it’s now clear, why: lots of people had to do their shopping before 9pm. They also had time to meet their friends, visit the theatres and cinemas, walk or attend evening classes and clubs before coming home and spending the evening with their family.

Then, when many shops began to work 24/7, it suddenly became possible to do any shopping at any time. Time with the family became not so important, or it was difficult to make time for them. When you work for yourself, as capitalism often demands, you make your own success and fortune. But, as we have plainly seen, very few people are capable of managing their time well. And, as much as those 24/7 shops were convenient, they also helped to devalue the time. Indeed, if you can do your shopping any time, it doesn’t matter when you actually get to do it.

“Thanks to” the pandemics, shops in Moscow currently work from 8 till 11pm. In the spring 2020, some of them even closed at 9pm or 10pm. Naturally, we had to plan a shopping trip, or we and our pets would be left without food. This added some pressure, but I suddenly realized that I enjoy the quietude of the streets after 11pm.

Before, the traffic never stopped whatever the weather. Tonight there are only few cars, mostly taxis, that snail through the snowfall. People are at home. I don’t think they all sleep, but most of them do.

We hear about different conspiracy theories, but, if my observations are anything to go by, the traitors of mankind may not quiet achieve their goals. By getting back to the normal regime, sleeping when one is expected to sleep, and shopping in the day people are likely to improve their life and perhaps even make it more harmonious.

In historical terms and in the Russian context, this may indeed be a U-turn to the Soviet past and the best it had to offer.

Moscow Mayor Promises No New Lockdown

An autumnal park in Moscow is still the place for peaceful walks

While a new lockdown has been announced in several European countries, the Moscow Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, hopes to avoid the drastic measures. To do so, the following measures have been implemented:

  • no public transport access for pupils aged 13 to 18, pregnant women, people over 65, and those who have disabilities or chronic illnesses;
  • shops’ working hours restricted to 7/8am till 11pm;
  • masks and gloves are mandatory in shops, on public transport and in crowded, busy places;
  • at least 30% of workers to work out-of-office, except those whose presence is critical;
  • leisure centres closed until the end of November;
  • night clubs and bars’ visitors must obtain and scan a QR-code (until the end of November);
  • if hospitalised, a person can only receive food packs from the relatives; personal visits not allowed.

We are waiting to hear about restrictions on visiting the places of worship. This Wednesday, when the Russian Orthodox people celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan, one of holy icons that played an important role in fighting the Polish and Lithuanian intervention in the 17th c. November 4th (the day of victory over the intervents) has been celebrated since the 17th c., minus a few decades when November 7th (the day of October Revolution) was celebrated instead. It is the day when Russian people traditionally visit churches. And this time, unlike the Great Lent, the faithful will be able to participate in the service, albeit in masks and gloves.

Moscow is obviously affected most, as it is bigger, and more businesses and people are located here. Incidentally, in Paris, people have been leaving the capital ahead of a new lockdown. This is unlikely to happen in Moscow, as a lot of famous dachas are not adapted to winter conditions.

I suggest we all keep in touch at this time, so please share your experience of living through the pandemia, suggest the topics we can discuss, or look at my brisk notes on the first wave of epidemics in spring this year.

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The Mask as a Test on Inner Freedom

For the second day running one of Russian radio broadcasters, VestiFM, is discussing a truly vital question:

How to make citizens wear a mask?!

The question sounds crazy because “to make” is to force someone to do something against their will. In the days of “we shan’t be slaves” a mask is called nothing but a “muzzle”. According to this logic, the task is, more or less, to make the Russian citizens wear muzzles.

Dogs are shocked: people are wearing muzzles

A MASK: FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

Since March 2020, just as you, I have been reading various opinions of the doctors as to whether a mask protects you, and how well, and if the demand to wear it at all times is really justified, and whether this runs against the Constitution and the civil rights, etc. Likewise, I cannot doubt that the virus exists, and people fall ill, among them – my friends and their relavites.

Add to this numerous publications about the “Illuminati conspiracy”, and I suspect that someone really wants to see all the craziest forecasts come true so we can witness “apocalypse now”. You see, the TV passions are no longer exciting, but a live catastrophe is just the right thing!

You know what I think? I think that the virus, the pandemics, and all related restrictions run a check on the degree of our inner freedom. We may call it Jesuitism and abuse, or look for the culprits. Or we can admit that the most aggravated are those who are in no way responsible for their lives. For them, to wear a mask is not a measure to protect oneself and everyone around; it is a pain because the inner restrictions (which sees no-one but you) are now coupled with the outer.

Believe me, this is one’s personal choice. It has nothing to do with the circumstances, place-and-time, or the “wrong” head of state. This is one’s own fear: to fail, to take responsibility, to make a decision, to choose. It is far easier to find a scapegoat and send it off to the desert, so one can sit back and keep fearing.

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat (1854-1856, Manchester Art Gallery)

You may disagree and say that age is a factor, but let me disagree with you, too. Anxiety has nothing to do with age. It is a consequence of a person’s desire to control – especially if the object is out of one’s sphere of influence, in principle. Today we witness people who are ready to give their all just to prove that the mask is not necessary and can be done without.

A person who takes primary responsibility for their life is doing the following in the present conditions:

  • Seasonal prevention;
  • Wearing protective equipment;
  • Avoiding, if possible, busy places;
  • Looking after oneself, the near and dear, and friends.

And what do some people do instead? Anything, except looking after themselves. Still, if anyone is really awaiting the Doomsday, please remember the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Five wise virgins took with them the oil for lanterns, the foolish ones didn’t. Then the latter ran out of oil and couldn’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Parable of the wise and foolish maidens

To look after oneself and wear a mask in busy, crowded places is the task of the wise virgins. Yet Christianity respects one’s free will, so it is only a fine that can make “free citizens” wear masks. Meanwhile, my friend was attacked on the Moscow underground when one such citizen tried to rip the mask off her face.

WELL, WHAT IF ALL THIS IS TRUE?

One final thought, especially for those who love conspiracy theories. Suppose, all this is true: there is a conspiracy, the Masons and the Illuminati, the digital concentration camp, and so on. Suppose even you’ve had an epiphany, and now you are dead certain as to who is guilty of all this mess. To begin with, any such culprit is an illusion; the real masterminds remain behind the curtains, so you shouldn’t be too pleased with your guesses. Secondly, what’s next? Most likely, there’s nothing you can do. Are you planning to keep on living in spite of these terrible people’s ? Then remember that the main goal is to reduce the population of the Earth. Smart, free people are indispensable in the face of a pandemic: it is thanks to their irrepressible love of freedom and concern for others that the goal is achieved much easier.

Look after yourself. And use a mask.

The Russian original text

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Post-LockDown Thoughts: Distant Education – 1

distant-education
DIstant education has become widely accepted (if reluctantly) during lockdown of 2020 (Image credit: zazaschool.com)

There are rumours that another lockdown is looming from mid-September onwards. Hence I thought it was high time to reflect on the first episode of our not-so-lovely soap opera. First, let me share some musings on distant education we’ve been through.

Speaking as a tutor, I have to say that I’m rather thankful to lockdown. On the one hand, it was a bit of a hassle to sort out the weekly schedule for my students. Up until May we all presumed that there would be Year 9 exams, analogous to the GCSEs in England. In May the Ministry of Education resolutely said ‘no’ to GCSEs and rescheduled A Levels to June. In case with private tutors it meant that we kept working all through May, June and even July. My personal vacations began on August, 2. To say that I’m tired is to say nothing. It looks and feels that I’d better stay in the city to avoid possible complications, but I certainly feel I have to go somewhere to get some rest.

On the other hand, I realised just how convenient my work suddenly became. I no longer had to visit students, neither they had to come to me, and yet we had quality lessons over the phone or Zoom. If I wanted, I could easily make myself a cup of tea or coffee, something I don’t practise when I work face-to-face. Most importantly, we were able to do so much more in a relatively short time. I felt that my secondary school students began to feel more confident.

Children, too, had more time on their hands to do something creative. In the next post on the topic I’ll show the animated plasticine videos one of my students created at home. Other students took to drawing, sewing, reading, and just enjoying themselves.

I’m not sure I want things to stay this way. The classroom experience means a lot to both students and teachers, so it is important that we all the chance to learn and teach face-to-face. However, I must admit, now relying on my own experience, that distant education is a good opportunity that should not be discarded.

To be continued…

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QR-codes in Moscow Are Introduced

We’re in the new week of quarantine, and QR-codes in Moscow are now necessary to obtain if you need to go to work. Officially, this is due to the Muscovites’ below-average observation of quarantine. Indeed, a lot of people, especially youngsters, still go out, so now they will have to order QR-codes in Moscow that will then track their movement and whereabouts.

As for me, I’m in yet another week of distant teaching. There are many advantages, and perhaps my dogs appreciate the sudden absence of people more than I do. The biggest disadvantage is the need to operate multiple devices. In the past, if we used a textbook, then I didn’t need either phone or the Internet. Today, I often use both a textbook and the Internet, and I conduct a session via a phone.

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Quarantine Shuts Moscow Down

As of March 30th nobody can leave the house in Moscow, unless a matter of urgency. Quarantine shuts Moscow down. Dental services have stopped working for a week, just as shopping malls, entertainment centres, cultural places and restaurants and cafés of sorts. People are advised not to walk in parks, therefore all major parks have been shut down. Only shops, pet shops, pharmacies, clinics, and municipal and state services remain operational.

Needless to say, this will cause a lot of damage to businesses; however, it will also reveal just to what extent these businesses are responsible and ethical. It’s one thing to report the growing profits but a totally different thing to consider the liabilities and a force major. It’s one thing to boast a team of people and another thing to avoid lay-offs at the time of an economic crisis. Quarantine shuts Moscow down for us to reassess our ways in life and business.

The future will show what Russian businesses can withstand this frightening check on their skills. In the meantime, we’re all bracing up to a week off work… that may be extended, for all we know. I went shopping yesterday, so I’m going to stay at home mainly, except for short voyages to walk my dogs.

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How We’re Going Through the Pandemics

I’ve been working from home this week. It’s slightly challenging for going through, delightfully novel and surprisingly wholesome. I start work in the morning and finish any time between 4.30pm and 8pm. And I still have time for other things.

I’m a bit concerned about the attitude of some new “divines” to coronavirus. They preach this is a great, albeit scary, way to “clear the planet”. Look, they say, dolphins are coming back to Venice, isn’t this amazing?! Sure, some people die, and still more will if they are too resistant to change. Be flexible, be liquid, learn to work online, and chances are, you’ll get through alright.

The reason these preachings perplex me slightly is because there is strong evidence of a new kind of biological weapon being tested. And as much as I’m glad for both Venice and dolphins, I feel anxious as to what the future holds.

However, I agree with the sages: we need to be flexible. In the time of great changes it’s futile to try and maintain status quo, ancien régime, the way we were, you name it. I’ve just had a thought that this pandemic may hammer the nail in the EU’s coffin, perhaps penultimate yet. One of my students is going through his personal upheaval, and he’s managing it poorly, so I reason with him thus: everything that is yours will remain yours. Sadly, at time like this it is only us that remain ours; the rest may go.

I’ve been through these crises a few times already, and I’m grateful for the skills that will undoubtedly see me through. I’m grateful for my faith, my work, my talent. These are the things that will always remain mine.

I’ve just been through the posts I wrote in 2008 and 2009, and it’s wonderful to see how the above mentioned skills helped me then. Feel free to read my blog and find all the inspiration and support you need. And I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in Russia (particularly Moscow) and how things are going for me this time.

Take care and #staysafeathomeinrussia