Not an epidemic, but a global problem: the authorities’ construction of HIV/AIDS in Russia
The article deals with the ways Russian authorities have constructed the social problem of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in Russia. The statistical construction of HIV/AIDS includes data indicating the significant rise of HIV prevalence in Russia since 2000. The study focuses on what and how Russian authorities speak about HIV/AIDS, while there are official data on the rapid spread of the virus in the country. The work is based on a discourse analysis of the authorities’ rhetoric about HIV/AIDS. During his first presidential terms, Vladimir Putin constructed HIV/AIDS not as an epidemic in the country, but as a “global problem,” representing Russia as a participant in international efforts to combat AIDS. The president problematized the HIV spread through the rhetoric of endangerment but without its crucial term “epidemic,” while at the same time de-problematized HIV in Russia by the strategy of naturalizing (“this is a problem that all countries face”). The Russian authorities appealed to traditional moral values and spoke about marginal or risk groups, rather than risk practices. After the deterioration of relations with Western countries since 2007, the Russian president excluded HIV/AIDS problem from his public agenda, despite the existence of the data on steep HIV growth in Russia. The Russian president’s traditionalism, de-problematization, and silence concerning HIV/AIDS lead to the absence of the HIV/AIDS issues in media agenda, the agenda of local authorities, and consequently the personal agendas of Russian citizens. The consequences are ignorance, fears, stigmatization of people living with HIV, semi-legal status of needle, and syringe exchange programs for intravenous drug users, low antiretroviral therapy coverage, and the continuing HIV epidemic.