Legacies of 1917 in Contemporary Russian Public Health: Addiction, HIV, and Abortion

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I examine the legacies of Soviet public health policy and the socialist health care system and trace how the Soviet past figures in contemporary Russian policymaking and debates about drug use, HIV, and abortion. Drug policies and mainstream views of HIV reflect continuities with key aspects of Soviet-era policies, although political leaders do not acknowledge these continuities in justifying their policies.

In abortion policy, by contrast, which is highly debated in the public realm, advocates represent themselves as differing from Soviet-era policies to justify their positions. Yet abortion activists’ views of the past differ tremendously, reminding us that the Soviet past is symbolically productive for arguments about Russia’s present and future.

I describe key aspects of the Soviet approach to health and compare how current drug policy (and the related management of HIV/AIDS) and abortion policies are discursively shaped in relation to the Soviet historical and cultural legacy.

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