Sunday, April 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Claim of ‘Demographic Breakthrough’ Overblown

Paul Goble

Baku, April 26 – The birth of two million people in the Russian Federation between April 1, 2007, and April 1, 2008, is not “the demographic breakthrough” Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova claimed yesterday or the product of President Vladimir Putin’s recent pro-natalist policies.
Instead, critics say, it is simply the echo of a “mini-baby boom” of the 1980s, whose members are now of child bearing age. But their contribution will not be sustained: In 2010, there will be only half as many new entrants to the prime child bearing cohort, and as a result, the number of their offspring will decline as well (
Indeed, some of them say, over the next five to ten years, Russia can expect a 50 percent decline in the number of young people of reproductive age, something that will compound the current demographic decline.
But the situation is even worse than that. As Golikova herself admits, infant mortality has risen in almost half of the country’s federation subjects over the past year, something that not only means the number of survivors from the two million birth she mentions will be lower but calls attention to other problems in Russia’s maternal support system.
The OrthoMed portal, which is linked to the Orthodox church and distributes stories on health issues, said in response to reports about Golikova’s statement that “unfortunately, we have underestimated the depth of the demographic crisis [in Russia] and the problems which not only have not been resolved but are not being resolve” at the present time.
Even though President Vladimir Putin has talked a lot about boosting the birthrate in the last two or three years, the site says, “many social problems” – including “poverty, which in the conditions of a cold climate are much more difficult to bear” – “still have not been addressed. And at present there are still places without electricity or roads.”
Especially troubling, it adds, is the absence of any roads, let alone paved ones between where people live and hospitals and birthing facilities in many parts of the country. Nor has much been done to push down super high mortality rates among adult males or, claims by the government notwithstanding, to attract more “compatriots” from abroad.
On the one hand, OrthoMed concludes, Golikova’s “declaration about a non-existent demographic breakthrough may create the illusion of well-being, a well-being that does not exist. But on the other, it says, any discussion of demographic problems is useful if it forces Russians to work harder to “strengthen families and increase the birthrate.”

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