Friday, December 21, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Long Winter Holidays Breaking Up Russian Families, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 21 -- The extended holiday season Russians now celebrate at the turn of the year, with its round of corporate parties, heavy drinking and tensions over gifts, is putting enormous strains on families there and leading to a significant increase in the number of divorces during the first three months of each new year.
Unlike in Soviet times when communist officials kept the New Years holiday relatively brief lest Christians have the opportunity to celebrate either Western or Eastern Christmas, in recent years, Russian officials have allowed the winter holidays to extend from Western Christmas on December 25 to the Eastern calendar New Years on January 14th.
Such a lengthy time off from work now involves the kind of partying, drinking, and gamesmanship over gifts that imposes strains on the entire society, and psychologists, sociologists and others warn that it will have some very negative consequences for a society already facing serious demographic difficulties.
But if such problems are widely recognized, few politicians seem prepared to back away from this lengthy winter vacation, and consequently, the problems it has produced since the “long” holidays became the norm across the country three years ago seem certain to continue and possibly grow in the future.
An article in today’s Novyye izvestiya surveys expert opinion on how this extended holiday is, in the words of sociologist Olga Torina, “introducing serious arguments and conflicts into every third Russian family” and contributing to the breakup of “every fifth one” (
The first challenge to the stability and even survival of Russian families, the paper suggested, comes even before the holidays formally begin at the increasingly widespread practice of company parties. The informality of such gatherings, the large amount of alcohol consumed, and “the common interests” of the people involved often leads to adultery.
Aleksandr Poleyev, a psychotherapist who specializes on relations between the sexes, said that “75 percent of all sexual liaisons” arise in the workplace, with the increasingly common end-of-the-year parties increasing the risk of infidelity and betrayal “several times over” what it is the rest of the year.
But the second challenge to marital stability, the paper said, is far more significant: a dramatic increase in the sustained consumption of large amounts of alcohol. Because only about three percent of all Russian families travel far from home over these holidays, both husbands and wives have time to drink heavily not just once but over a week or more.
That leads to fights and those in turn often start couples on the road to divorce. Indeed, according to one recent poll, more than half of all divorces in Russia occur because one or both partners in a marriage drink too much. The extended holidays guarantee that the number of husbands and wives who do so is larger than in the past.
In addition, such widespread consumption of alcohol, combined with the increasingly intense holiday rush often leads to a decline in interest in sex among married couples, Russian sociologists told Novyye izvestiya. And that too can spark conflicts that often end up in the courts.
And finally, given both the number of holidays over this period might be expected to present gifts and the increasing spread of incomes that leads some to compete over who can give the most expensive present, there is often either anger over what someone bought -- “how could you waste money on that?” -- or a letdown if the gift is not what was expected.
None of these problems is new, of course, but as the newspaper points out, the relatively new longer holiday period has intensified all of them. And in a country already suffering from a high divorce rate and a low birthrate, some officials and politicians have begun to think about reducing the number of days off Russians have at this time of year.
Much of the pressure for such a reduction comes from those who represent rural areas, where residents have fewer things to do and may be even more inclined to drink. But the dominant mood in the Russian parliament was summed up by Duma deputy Andrei Isayev who said cutting one or two days might be possible but cutting more would not.
Consequently, as all the experts Novyye izvestiya surveyed pointed out, Russia will undoubtedly see another increase in the divorce rate during the first months of 2008, a development that will make the realization of President Vladimir Putin’s demographic plan even more difficult than would otherwise be the case.

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