Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Likely to Disintegrate as Result of Demographic Decline, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 17 – The Russian Federation is likely to break apart into as many as 30 pieces by the middle of this century as that country’s accelerating demographic decline leads some of its smaller nationalities to take steps to try to ensure their own survival, according to a leading Moscow scholar.
In an interview posted online today, Anatoly Antonov, a professor of sociology, the family and demography at Moscow State University, says that widely believed assertions by government officials that Russia has been able to increase the birthrate “do not correspond to reality” (www.utro.ru/articles/2009/03/17/803591.shtml).
On the one hand, he continues, these assertions reflect the fundamental ignorance of many in government and out of the nature of demographic trends in Russia. And on the other, they serve as a self-serving justification for not doing what the country must do if it is to avoid disaster in the relatively near future.
Antonov says that the recent uptick in births reflects the echo of the baby boom of the late 1980s but that beginning in 2010, the number of women entering the prime child-bearing age cohort will decline significantly because far fewer were born in the 1990s. And as a result, the decline in the country’s population will begin to accelerate.
He argues that if nothing is done – and because the Russian government has no one in it who understands the need for action now, including the compelling need to make housing more available to young married couples, that possibility strikes him as unlikely – the population of the Russian Federation in its current borders will fall to 38 million by 2080.
Instead, what is likely to happen, the Moscow demographer continues, is that in 2015, five years after the collapse in the number of births begins, “bureaucrats will recognize the extent of the catastrophe and begin to shout that this financial crisis undermined the realization of all their plans.”
But by then, he suggests, it may be too late: “From 2010 to 2025, every succeeding generation of people entering marriage age will be ever smaller in comparison with the preceding one,” and “all this will produce an unbelievable contraction in the present coefficient of births” so that by 2025, half the population will not want children, and only 15 percent more than one.
Such declines will lead to the depopulation of the country, and “when depopulation begins, a desire will arise among smaller peoples to separate themselves from larger ones” in order to survive. “The Udmurts, the Komi, the Chuvash and many other small peoples do not want to disappear from the face of the earth,” Antonov says.
And consequently, these peoples will see as “their man task” separation from Russia and thus the prosecution of their “own struggle for survival and for their own national uniqueness.” At least some of these peoples – and there are 190 nationalities in the Russian Federation – may even begin thinking in this way very soon.
At the present time, Antonov says, he and his colleagues are “attempting to calculate” at what point in Russia’s demographic decline will some of these nations be likely to begin to seek broader autonomy or even independence. “And we think,” he says, “that this will take place [when the country’s population falls to] between 75 and 65 million.”
Antonov argues that everyone should “now try to imagine what would be the situation if Russia were to divide for example into 30 parts. And this is not a myth. The cause of such a possible disintegration is that under conditions of depopulation, every people will strive to preserve itself from others.”
And to that end, many of these nations will be hostile to Russia, in much the same way Antonov suggests as the residents of the Baltic countries already are, united “on the basis of hostility to Russians.” Such a prospect ought to lead Russians and their leaders to recognize the importance of demographic trends and the need to do something about them now.

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