Vienna, July 15 – When the Russian government adopted a program several years ago intended to boost the country’s low birthrate, some commentators worried that it would increase that rate among non-Russians where it was already high and do little to raise it among ethnic Russians where the current fertility rate is far below replacement levels.
And while there has been some anecdotal evidence that the “maternal capital” program has led to an increase in the number of births, if not the fertility rate, among ethnic Russians, there are indications the program may be working just as these commentators feared and leading to an increase in both the total number of births and the fertility rate among non-Russians.
Given the increasing acceptability in Russia of openly nationalist arguments, some Russians, including at least one scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences, are now prepared to argue in public and without apology that the Russian government should provide monetary assistance only to women of ethnic Russian nationality.
Were Moscow to follow such advice, it would be violating the Russian constitution and setting the stage for a new and possibly more violent set of inter-ethnic conflicts. But even proposals to take this step from ostensibly “respectable” sources, especially if they are not immediately denounced, will further exacerbate ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation.
Today, Vladimir Lavrov, the deputy director of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told a meeting of the World Russian Peoples Assembly in Yekaterinburg that the government should pay subsidies only to ethnic Russian women who give birth and not to anyone else (www.nr2.ru/ekb/240742.html).
According to Lavrov, “the Russian nation is the state forming state, and its fall threatens terrible conflicts like those which took place in Kondopoga and Kosovo.” The “salvation of the nation,” he continued, requires the saving of the [ethnic] Russian family and boosting the willingness of [ethnic] Russian couples to have children.
The academic historian sharply criticized the current system of giving out what the Russian government calls “maternal capital” to women without regard to their ethnic background. In fact, some of the posters advertising this program feature women with “non-Russian” images. Lavrov said any funds must go “only to mothers of Russian nationality.”
But in other comments, Lavrov appeared to call into question the entire program. He said that there was a danger that using money to stimulate the birthrate was reinforcing precisely the kind of “materialistic” views that Russian families must overcome if Russia itself is to restore its national well-being.
The initial report about Lavrov’s speech by the New Region news agency does not indicate whether others supported his views, but two other reports today likely would have led some others to be open to and supportive of his views, however ethnocentric and even racist they quite obviously are.
Islam News, for example, reported that there has been a demographic boom in Kazan, the capital of the Turkic and Muslim republic of Tatarstan in the Middle Volga, a boom far larger in percentage terms than the recent reported increases in the number of births in some Russian regions (islamnews.ru/news-19612.html).
And “Novaya izvestiya” noted that a Muslim couple in St. Petersburg – the father is from Bangladesh and the mother is an ethnic “Russian Muslim” – have given birth to a child they have decided to name Makhmudakhmadinezhad in honor of the president of Iran, who the mother said “is not afraid of anyone except Allah” (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-07-15/111857/).