Black Death Returns to Central Asia

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Kyrgyzstan is facing a potential outbreak of bubonic plague after a 15 year-old boy died of the disease and — though this part is denied by Bishkek — others have become infected. Kazakhstan is on high alert as the semiporous nature of the border invites pandemic.

Plague is an ancient terror and rightly inspires fear, but the disease itself is relatively easily combated, at least compared to 14th century methods at disease control. But the larger issue the plague outbreak raises is one of overall health management, which always lags in totalitarian nations because of the breakdown in civil society, the propaganda around Cuba’s health system notwithstanding.

Reduced to a basic formulation, the more government terror, the less free communication; the less free communication, the faster diseases spread in the shadows. The Central Asian republics’ future depends in large part on their ability to reconstruct their civil society as much as to distribute broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Democracy is expensive in the transition and does not always take well, especially where civil society is decimated by decades of turmoil and deliberate destruction. But the cost of maintaining a despotic regime is always higher, for the citizens and the state itself.

Image Copyright TurboSquid/Michael Taylor