Central & Eastern Europe: Swine Flu (aka “California 0409”)

Below are some of the Central and Eastern Europe bloggers’ reactions to news reports on swine flu and measures taken by some of the governments to keep the disease from spreading to their countries.

Blogging Balkanistan and other Eccentricities turns to history and posts an excerpt from an eyewitness account of the Thessaloniki plague epidemic of 1724, written by Pylyp Orlyk, a Cossack hetman, and highlighted in Mark Mazover's non-fiction book, Salonica, City of Ghosts. The blogger ends the post with this note:

[…] As for the current pandemic several Balkan countries have imposed a ban on pork imports from the US or Mexico, while reviewing their emergency response.

And here's one exchange from the comments section:


Guys, cancel your Mexico vacations, and insted of ordering pork – try eating a roasted goat. It’s awesome.


What does goat taste like?

Croatian Crescent writes this about the coverage of Croatia's one suspected swine flu case:

A 22 year old girl who returned from Chicago to Osijek, in the far East of Croatia, was suspected of having swine flu. In a special press conference, Health minister Darko Milinović told the girl was being kept in isolation and monitored. Večernji list put a picture of the girl online, with a bar over her eyes as if she is some kind of criminal.

A day later we know that the girl is not infected with swine flu. Actually, she doesn't even have “normal” flu. She recovered from swine flu in a day, but I wonder how much time she needs to recover from the stigma. […]

Sleeping With Pengovsky writes this about the fear of swine flu – and xenophobia:

[…] However, the rise of Fascism today is connected to one other phenomenon. The Culture of Fear.

Did you notice that all of the sudden economic crisis is no longer top issue? Turn to any news channel and you’ll see a 24/7 live reporting on swine flu. The fact that so far it killed less people than your average flu does every year is not important. What is important is what it could do. The fact that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction was not important. What was important was that it could have had them. It is also very important that certain corporations make a lot of money in such cases. […]

Ari Rusilla of BalkanPerspective/Blogactiv.eu writes about the possible effect of the swine flu media hype on the June 2009 European Parliament election:

[…] Swine flu has been in headlines nearly two weeks. The media hype is not in any scale to the real thread, it can be good entertainment like circus in ancient Rome and a tool to put the common people’s focus on trivialities. For example if European Parliament elections have attracted quite a few people so far there is now good change that the whole election will be passed unnoticed due the swine flu panic. […]

Ukraine Today writes that the Ukrainian president should stay away from focusing on the domestic politics aspect of the swine flu emergency:

[…] The epidemic crisis was not helped by a President seeking to place all blame and responsibility on his political enemies whilst hand balling any responsibility, which is what Viktor Yuschenko had done. Maybe Yushchenko would be better off placing his energy in getting Ukrainian authorities to start cleaning up the Country as a visit to Ukraine is at times like visiting a garbage dump (literally). […]

The Czech Daily Word writes about travel to the Czech Republic and “a sad paradox” that the swine flu emergency has created:

[…] During the times of unilateral USA-Czech visa regime many politicians, tourists and journalists (including myself) used to mention the fact that the system had been humiliating (”we have to, they don’t“).

And now every American who arrives in the Czech Republic is screened. “Luckily” we do not have regular Mexico-Prague flights, so passengers traveling from Mexico have to change flights in Madrid where some precautions have been in place as well… […]

Both The Czech Daily Word and Czechmatediary write about the warning issued by the Czech health minister; here's a quote from a Czechmatediary‘s post:

[…] For now the Czechs have enough of the anti-viral medicine for about 2.2 million people which is sufficient for about 20% of the Czech population. The Minister of Health, Daniela Filipova, warned citizens not to buy out all of the protective masks as well as the Tamiflu medicine which, if overused, can cause a resistance of the virus to the other otherwise helpful antiviral agents. […]

Lituanica writes about something of a swine flu-related pharmaceutical emergency in Lithuania:

As the Lietuvos Rytas daily writes stocks of anti-viral drugs costing more than 100 litas (EUR 29) have been swept out of Vilnius pharmacies, although the medication is only sold on prescription. Pharmaceutical companies believe this is due to the threat of swine influenza pandemic. […]

Streetwise Professor writes about the Russian authorities’ decision to send “all passengers arriving in Russia from the United States or Mexico” through “contact-free heat sensor” to test their temperatures:

[…] Whew. Glad there’s a “contact free” test. When I read the first paragraph, I had a vision of a Russian Nurse Ratched standing at the end of the jetway in Sheremetyevo with a thermometer, and NOT one of those nice little electronic oral ones, if you know what I mean.

Uhm, I mean a temperature may be a necessary condition for swine flu, but it’s hardly a sufficient condition. My 15 year old had a fever last week. Pretty sure it wasn’t the swine flu. Talk about a test tailor-made for false positives. In other words, a complete waste of resources with virtually no prospect of any benefit. Unless the whole idea is to discourage foreign tourists, and to deter Russians from traveling abroad. […]

Streetwise Professor also writes about import restrictions on “uncooked pork from Mexico, California, Texas and Kansas” imposed by the Russian authorities:

[…] Russia has routinely used health justifications to ban imports of agricultural products that compete with domestic producers. This just seems another transparently opportunistic attempt to exploit health fears to engage in protectionism. […]

In the comments section to this post, some of the readers compare Russia's response to the measures taken in other countries.

Leopolis writes that “Russia's WTO accession my be first casualty” of swine flu:

[…] Over the past year, Russia has failed to ‘relist’ 34 US pork processing, production and storage facilities – effectively rendering around half of all US pork production ineligible for export to Russia. On April 8, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) called on the Obama administration to decelerate Russia’s WTO accession until it began to “play by the rules and stop its blatant actions to restrict US pork.”

Until this week, Russia has not been able to identify any health or sanitary reasons for blocking US meat imports – the requirement for justifying the block as per its 2006 bilateral WTO obligations. The ineptly named swine flu now presents a reason for Russia to approve US meat facilities on a plant-by-plant basis – actions inconsistent with the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement requiring WTO signatories to recognize equally standards in other countries. […]

Sean's Russia Blog reports on the alleged discovery of the first two swine flu cases in Russia – both in passengers who arrived from New York City – and writes about other geopolitical dimensions of the emergency:

[…] Interestingly, in Russia doctors call the virus, which has damned the good name of the pig the world over, “California 0409.” That should make pigs feel better, but what of the sensitivities of us Californians?


Mexico as epicenter has of course inspired our American xenophobes into a fury of anti-immigrant hate. Fox News has predictably led the anti-immigrant charge with accusations that illness is part of some kind of viral conspiracy against America. It is only a matter of time they follow the Israelis in adopting “Mexican flu.” […]


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