Deadly frost

In eastern europe, the poor who could not cope with the change or fell by the wayside die

The news should have brought relief to most people in eastern europe. "The temperatures rise", says the current weather forecasts of eastern european media, even if there is still no talk of easing the situation. In bialystok in eastern poland, for example, the thermometer still drops to -7 degrees celsius at night, accompanied by heavy snowfalls. But in comparison with the last weekend, when in some regions of poland at night was measured up to – 30 degrees celsius, already an improvement.

The relief of the people about the announced weather relief is not groundless. The siberian high "cooper" the cold weather has gripped the whole of europe, but nowhere have so many lives been lost as in eastern europe. In russia, the extreme cold has so far claimed 215 lives, in poland, according to official figures, 99 people have died as a result of the freezing temperatures, and in ukraine, 135. The number of ukrainian victims of the cold war could be even higher, as the authorities have not published any data since tuesday of last week. The cold also claimed many lives in the czech republic, romania, bulgaria and other east-central european countries.

However, the many fatalities suffered by eastern europe are not solely a result of the coldest winter in 70 years, which russia, for example, has experienced in recent weeks. Rather, the many deaths are a side effect of the social and economic transformation period that the former eastern bloc has undergone since 1989. The frost killed mainly those people who could not cope with the change or were left behind in the last 20 years. The people who died were those whom the eastern european countries were unable to provide for because of insufficient or completely absent social systems. In short: the poor died.

Thus, russia has suffered a particularly large number of fatalities in the southern regions of the country. With the exception of sochi, where the winter olympics will be held in 2014, these are the most structurally weak areas of russia. The best example of this is the caucasus republic of dagestan, which is particularly plagued by this year’s cold weather. It is one of the poorest regions of the country, and the economic situation is one of the reasons why the russian state has been waging a war of terror in dagestan and the other republics of the north caucasus for years.

However, poverty in russia is not limited to the north caucasus. According to natalya tikhonova, deputy director of the institute of sociology at the russian academy of sciences, half of the russian population is at risk of falling into poverty, even though poverty statistics have been declining for the past 10 years, according to official figures.

The situation in ukraine is also dramatic, with a particularly high number of deaths caused by the extreme cold. In the host country of this year’s european football championship, a quarter of the almost 46 million ukrainians now live below the poverty line. Pensioners, who can only dream of a decent retirement despite decades of work, and the rural population are particularly affected. And how little the state cares about the living conditions of the poor is shown by the social policy of the current government of nikolai azarov. In november and december of last year, survivors of the chernobyl disaster protested for weeks against pension cuts, which the government had decided to implement under prere from the international monetary fund.

The shortage of money in the ukrainian state is not only reflected in the pension cuts. Many kindergartens, schools and homes could be much better heated if the insulation of the houses was better. But the state has not only no money for investments, but also no interest in them. Because this would also alienate the politically influential oligarchs, who earn their money by importing gas and operating thermal power plants.

Despite economic growth, poverty remains in poland

How deadly poverty and lack of state investment in social housing can be in extreme cold is also shown in a serious way by the eu member poland. Of the 99 people who died there since the onset of freezing temperatures, 47 died of carbon monoxide poisoning. In february alone, 508 people required medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. But the many victims of poisoning say everything about the inequality on the polish housing market. If you wanted to have a renovated or comfortable apartment, you had no choice but to buy one. Those who cannot afford it live in tenements that have not been renovated for decades or in pitiful public housing.

This image does not fit poland’s reputation as an eu economic miracle country, where poverty is shrinking fastest of all european countries, as the foreign press cheered last week.

But a look behind the facade of the economic miracle tends to cause disillusionment. Unemployment rose to 12 percent in december of last year.5 percent increase. And even a job does not mean a carefree life because of the low wages in poland. That’s why you have to read the data from eurostat, which caused euphoria here, in a different way. Between the oder and the bug there are still 14.2 percent of the population lives in poverty, while in the rest of the eu the average is 8 percent. A discrepancy that became deadly apparent in this year’s cold winter.

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