Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Pro-Natalist Policies are Working in Chechnya

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 14 – Moscow’s pro-natalist policies, including subsidies and offers of housing to those who have more children, are proving highly effective in Chechnya, leading even more couples there to get married and have children, thus boosting still further the already high birthrate in that Muslim republic.
There were 16,200 marriages in the Chechen Republic in 2008, 26 percent more than the year before and an increase that officials there say is the result of the Russian government’s effort to boost the birthrate by offering financial and housing incentives to women who have more than one child (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/chechnya/1150008.html).
This result highlights yet another difficulty many governments experience with pro-natalist policies: They often tend to boost birthrates in places where they are already high far more than they increase the number of births elsewhere among groups where fertility rates are low and even declining.
Consequently, as many Russian nationalists argued when Vladimir Putin announced this program several years ago, Moscow’s policies are not solving the demographic decline of the Russian nation but rather increasing the relative growth of non-Russian and especially non-
Christian groups even more rapidly, a trend these nationalists deplore.
Raisa Visantova, the head of Chechnya’s public record office, provided some additional details to these numbers. She argued that Moscow’s pro-natalist policies had led more people to register because such registration is a requirement for government assistance. Earlier, she said, Chechen couples tended to register “only after the birth of a child.”
To the extent that is the case, Moscow’s policies may not be boosting the fertility rate in Chechnya as much as many Chechens hope or as many Russian nationalists fear. But Visantova pointed to another trend that cuts across this one: Chechens are marrying younger than before and are likely to get married even sooner if Grozny cuts the age of consent from 18 to 16.
In addition, the Chechen official said, many of the marriages being registered included at least one partner who was not a Chechen or involved people not residing in Chechnya, the former pattern reflecting the presence of Russian soldiers in the republic and the latter the desire of many Chechens wherever they live to maintain ties “with their small motherland.”
And she added that her office had also registered 907 divorces, but she suggested that that number “did not reflect the real picture. If citizens have begun to more conscientiously approach the issue of registering their marriages, they still only rarely officially register divorces,” another pattern with which Moscow’s policymakers have to deal.

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