There are places in the world where education is difficult, polluted, hazardous and unsafe. Bodies die of disease. Families need healthcare, and assistance with informal care for their children. But it’s nearly impossible to get any kind of support unless you have the means to pay. That’s the world Covid attacked long ago, and one that will always remain far away from the UK.
Where Covid comes from, as it happens, is one of the places where healthcare is difficult, polluted, hazardous and unsafe – although it may not yet sound that way. For a long time, the mighty Soviet Union was the bad boy of the world – Moscow was a dying city. Some 70 years ago, it was a nuclear bomb away from having a horrifying nuclear war with the US.
It’s no wonder so many people in Covid were so poor. They’d seen their jobs “left to die by an unfaithful government,” in Mikhail Gorbachev’s words. They could not trust the Russian government to provide for their basic needs. They could not even trust their own friends, family or other relatives, many of whom were there on the outside looking in – men and women who were educated at a time when the Soviet Union wasn’t (after the first world war) only poorer, but also more brutal, incompetent and inept, with less respect for reason and the law. These people believed that they had a moral duty to keep an eye on the actions of their acquaintances and those they knew “in more respectable circles”, who left to look for work, no longer needed to provide for their families, or who had simply lost the ability to do that.
Covid’s heroes, Petya and Olga, faced similar obstacles when they were born. Sixty years ago in a state called Kazakstan, where the health and education systems were in shambles, these girls were obliged to live in extended famines. No white sheep
The Soviet government had sent Soviet police officers to spy on political dissidents, including those of the liberal democratic party, the CPSU. The regime sent its men and women (like Khodorkovsky) with authority to look for “spies” in the West, often infiltrating schools or moving their families into the capital city so they could do so. The existence of this threat – a real one with real fear of death – was to prove that there was a real threat of communist revolution. The threat was very real. Anyone who said otherwise had to face the same potential consequences. None of them, of course, did. They were carrying on with their social justice activism, justice for the poor.
You may be pleased that we now spend a lot of money on medical care for children, after all the effort Britain has been putting into healthcare in the UK. Maybe you’re surprised at the huge progress that has been made. You’re really kind of surprised. But at a certain point in your life, Covid will have taught you. You’ll have given it a chance. You will have almost run your own film-making company. You will have made some films yourself. You will also, today, be alive. Your camera is still working. You have, however, lived in Britain, and you may be American now. That also brings a certain sense of surprise.
Covid is short for kindergarten povid – and many of the people who make films there were once poor pupils who were forced to attend a kindergarten by decree. They were led there in hope and at random. Yes, those moments have a slight chilling effect on you. You would, after all, be heartless if you didn’t admire the bravery of those pupils who courageously encountered the sort of frightening “threat” they knew they might not be able to face in their homeland. Not the threat of death, but the threat of hardship and poverty they knew they might have to face if they lost their teachers, if they were pulled aside and punished for being in contact with what looked like a political enemy.
So the Russians, of course, risked their lives for their cause. They didn’t always win. They lost in cold wars and oil wars and they lost in nuclear war. But these people, I mean the ones, are now in the West. They have money. They have weapons of the like that we didn’t even know we had, like super-fast data transmission systems. They don’t just keep the world safe but they also make the world better.
If you want to go into what feels like growing and proliferating darkness, then look to Covid. The Europeans have learned a valuable lesson about vaccines. They also have learned