Friday, February 1, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Commit Suicide Far Less Often than Slavs, Finno-Ugrics

Paul Goble

Baku, February 1 – Muslim nationalities in the North Caucasus have far lower suicide rates than do ethnic Russians and Finno-Ugric groups, an indication of both the continuing influence of Islam on the behavior of the former and the decline of religion and other sources of traditional moral prohibitions among the latter.
Yesterday, officials at Moscow’s Serbsky Institute said that “the ethnic factor plays far from the last role in the desire [of individuals] to end their lives.” Among the peoples of the North Caucasus, they said, the number of suicides is “minimal” -- only one per 100,000 in Ingushetia, for example (
That figure is far lower than the country-wide one of 30 per 100,000 annually, itself the product of significantly higher rates among Russians and other Slavic groups whose behavior in this area is no longer affected as much by religion and among the small Finno-Ugric groups whose communities face the threat of dissolution.
The Serbsky’s Boris Polozhiy pointed out that in the final years of Russian Empire, there were only 3 suicides per 100,000 each year, far lower than the 30 per 100,000 Russian officials say take place now but more than the 24.5 per 100,000 who killed themselves in the USSR in 1985.
The reported increase from 1985 to 2001 in the Russian Federation, of course, is in part an artifact of the demise of the USSR. The lower rate in the former year reflects the dramatically lower numbers in traditionally Muslim republics that are now independent and not included in the more recent Russian calculations.
The Moscow institute, notorious for its involvement with the use of psychiatric tools against dissidents, staged this press conference to focus on attention on what its officials said was a dramatic decline in the number of suicides in the Russian Federation since 2001.
Between that year and 2006, they said, the figure for the country as a whole fell by 30 percent, although they acknowledged that Russia still ranks second among countries of the world in terms of suicide rates and that the number of “psychically ill people” in Russia had increased to 368 per 100,000 over the same period.
In reporting this press conference, ANS Press provided some additional details on suicides. As is the case elsewhere, it reported, almost twice as many people kill themselves as commit murder, making suicide one of the leading causes of death overall and the largest from violence of all kinds, including military conflicts.
In other comments, the Serbsky Institute officials pointed out that Russian men kill themselves six times more frequently than Russian women, with the average age at death 43 among the men and 52 among women. And they blamed the Internet for some of these deaths in recent years (
Each of these suicides is a tragedy, but the Serbsky report is a reminder of the dangers of using statistics for the Russian Federation as a whole to draw conclusions about any part of it, exactly the same danger that both Moscow and Western observers had so much difficulty avoiding at the end of Soviet times.

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