There’s actually quite a lot of sex going on in the USSR and without protection. Although the famous phrase “In the Soviet Union there is no sex” is just a misunderstanding on the part of a participant in a “Spacebridge,” a series of televised dialogues between Soviet and American citizens, it reveals a long tradition of silence and taboo around sex. Sex education in the Soviet Union was abysmal, essentially non-existent until a rise in STD rates during the Brezhnev era forced action. Real progress in this area, however, really didn’t start until Gorbachev and glasnost, when AIDS came to the Soviet Union in the 1980’s; still, efforts were severely hampered by “years of neglect which meant that there was a lack of the necessary resources (staff, establishments, medical supplies, finance).” (Williams, 98)
In the USSR, as in the FSU and USA, conservative attitudes towards sex and AIDs elicited (and still elicits) the usual calls for abstinence, martial fidelity, and scapegoating of victims. From the Current Digest, I found an article from September 1987, which sums up public attitudes well (for example, no talk of condoms in public), but also talks of an alarming extremism. According to the article, a group of 16 doctors (yes, doctors… Hippocratic oath?) called the AIDs virus “that most noble epidemic which eliminates from society gay males, drug users, and prostitutes” and that they were “categorically opposed to any efforts to combat the virus, which will soon eliminate the [above mentioned groups] from society.” Another article from July 1987 shows not only the hysteria associated with the early days of the epidemic–fear of “vampire mosquitoes” transmitting the disease–but also the problems I already mentioned, of a lack of basic supplies, staff, and so forth.
The rise of prostitution is discussed here, and I also wanted to mention this post on the macho Lyuber sub-culture, as both tie in with the social transformation going on. The Lyubers in particular seem to be a predecessor of something of what can be seen now in Russia: Putin’s image, the gay propaganda law (problems in Chechnya around this issue as well, but that deserves its own post), and issues of sovereignty/guarding against Western influence.
AIDS denialism is also, unfortunately, a thing that exists. I mention it here because I actually encountered it in person for the first time in my life in Moscow last year. From Freeze on infection rates in the 90’s: “135,000 cases were reported, but the real rate was probably five times higher; in some cases, the rate was of a horrifying magnitude: in Tver, the rate jumped from 8 infected in 1997 to 2,342 four years later.” (483) Russian interference in elections around the world seems like echoes of the disinformation campaigns allegedly employed by the KGB on HIV/AIDS. “Simplistic scapegoating, endless repetition, and the clever mixing of lies and half-truths with undeniable facts” were employed to foster distrust of the West, suggesting that the virus had been manufactured in the USA. As the author writes, “Once the AIDS conspiracy theory was lodged in the global subconscience, it became a pandemic in its own right … having effectively harnessed the dynamics of rumors and conspiracy theories, Soviet bloc intelligence had created a monster that has outlived its creators.” (19)
Current Digest of the Soviet Press: A. Novikov. Komsomolskaya pravda, Aug. 1, pp. 3-4 and K. Smirnov “AIDS Without the Uproar.” Izvestia, June 16, p. 3
Freeze, Russia: A History. pg. 483
Этот пост заслужил Красную звезду от редакционной команды.