Tony Wood writes about the country’s demographic crisis
A huddle of elderly people trudge through ankle-deep snow, pushing a wooden freight car along a barely visible set of tracks. The women are wrapped in headscarves, the men wear fur hats and thick gloves. These are the last remaining inhabitants of Workers’ Settlement No. 3, and the subjects of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s remarkable 1998 documentary Bread Day; the freight car is bringing the weekly delivery that helps them survive. The village itself consists of little more than wooden sheds or barracks, interspersed with small garden plots. Many of the buildings have collapsed into themselves; others have been taken over by goats or stray dogs.
Vol. 35 No. 1 · 3 January 2013
From Blaine Stothard
An aspect of the decline in Russia’s population that Tony Wood doesn’t mention is the significant flow of younger Russians out of the country (LRB, 6 December 2012). The living conditions at home are surely one of the main reasons: for many, the claims of Russian progress have yet to be matched in reality. And, as is so often the case, those who can leave do, taking with them the knowledge and skill gained in what continues, so far, to be an admirable education system.
An ideological factor emerging, or re-emerging, as a result of the population decline is the apportioning of blame to ‘foreigners’ and ‘the West’ by Russia’s leaders – for example, when attacking sex education programmes for young people. Such attacks are made on two principal grounds: that this kind of teaching goes against Russian (and, increasingly, the Russian Orthodox Church’s) culture and ethos; and that sex education programmes based on Unesco and other ‘Western’ curricula are somehow part of a plot to suppress the Russian birth rate.
From Constance Blackwell
One factor Tony Wood misses out in his discussion of Russia’s demographic decline is the lack of space in Moscow apartments, which has discouraged parents from having more than one child. There was a substantial government building programme in Moscow between the 1950s and the 1970s, but these apartments usually had only one bedroom. Either the children or the parents had to sleep in the living-room. Since the 1970s, big business has taken over the building of apartments, and these are very expensive. The modest apartments of fifty or sixty years ago are coveted, but their price is out of reach for nearly everyone. According to current statistics, one square metre in such an apartment costs no less than $4000; you would need at least $300,000 in order to buy one. The salary of an average Russian citizen is 20,000 rubles, the equivalent of $700.