Staunton, June 21 – The Russian Federation has only five years take steps to prevent “a demographic catastrophe” there, according to a group of the government’s own expert aadvisors on this issue; and its neighbor, Belarus, specialists in Mensk say, may have even less time to avoid an even more severe population collapse.
These disturbing conclusions are laid out in two articles published today: one about the situation in Russia by Aleksey Polubota on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal (svpressa.ru/society/article/69771/) and a second by Elena Spasyuk on the Naviny.by news site (naviny.by/rubrics/society/2013/06/21/ic_articles_116_182118/).
Despite upbeat claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin and others, Russia’s demographic prospects are anything but bright, according to the family policy working group of the government’s own Experts Group which told the labor ministry that “Russia has only five years to try to avoid a demographic catastrophe.”
The number of Russian women in the prime reproductive age group (20-29) will decline by almost 50 percent in the coming years. By 2020, the experts sad, the size of Russia’s working age population will fall by seven to eight million and by 2050 by more than 26 million, unless immediate steps are taken.
These declines in turn will affect Russian national security. By 2020 – only seven years from now – “the number of men of draft age will be more than a third less than it is today.” And according to the projections of the experts, that cohort will be “more than 40 percent” smaller, making it extremely difficult to draft as many men without hurting the economy.
The experts said that Russia’s demographic decline will be far more rapid in the Far Eastern Federal District than in other parts of the country. There, by 2050, “the indigenous population will decline almost 40 percent, making it “extremely problematic” that Moscow will be able to keep it within the Russian Federation.
To prevent these outcomes, the experts called for a variety of extraordinarily expensive pro-natalist steps with France as a model, but other independent experts with whom Polubotas spoke expressed grave doubts that these would work or were even possible under Russian conditions.
Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development said that there were no short-term solutions and that Moscow needed to adopt “a 100 year plan,” a measure that “neither the health ministry nor the labor ministry not the inter-agency commissions and councils” was even considering despite the crisis.
Sergey Ryazantsev, head of the Center for Social Demography and Economic Sociology at the Academy of Sciences, said that the experts’ projections were correct although he suggested that it was a mistake to assume that demographic decline necessarily points to the loss of one or another part of the country.”
The most immediate consequences of the projected declines, he said, would be on the size of the workforce. That decline should not be addressed by allowing more immigrant but rather by promoting greater productivity among the smaller number of workers, employing some Russians now classed as invalids, and having older people stay on the job or return to work.
And a third expert, Irina Medvedeva, a psychologist who heads the Moscow Institute of Demographic Security, said that what Moscow had to do first was to make having children fashionable once again by promoting positive images of parenting and large families via the mass media.
Polubota also spoke with Yevgeny Savchenko, the governor of Belgorod oblast, about the demographic crisis. Savchenko, who has promoted a traditionalist Orthodox agenda in his region said that “if he supreme power will conduct such a policy, we will overcome the demographic crisis” and Russia will have enough people.
Unfortunately, he said, Russians have fallen into the trap set by Western culture of focusing on “quality of life,” a term that they like people in the West define in terms of consumption rather than in terms of “interaction among people.” That must change or Russia could follow European countries where there is already “a comfortable Sodom.”
The situation in Belarus may be even worse, Spasiuk says. Government officials frequently point to increases in the number of babies born in the republic in recent years and say that “the depopulation in Belarus” will be stopped by 2015. The expert community, however, doesn’t believe that is likely.
According to Belarusian officials, “about 64 percent of families have only one child, a figure that will not prevent a decline in the population of the country. By 2100, if this continues – and it could get worse – the population of the country as a whole will decline to that of Mensk today (naviny.by/rubrics/society/2010/05/27/ic_articles_116_167984/).
But as Belarusian demographer Lyudmila Shakkhotko has concluded, the number of women in the prime child-bearing cohort will decline so that even if the fertility rate stays the same as it is today, the number of children in Belarus will fall and probably at an accelerating rate (demoscope.ru/weekly/2011/0469/analit01.php).
Sergey Shcherbov, an expert on the Belarusian situation at the Vienna-based Institute of Demography, says that “the process of the depopulation of Belarus can’t be stopped” even if the fertility rate were increased by the amount officials talk about and that the country can perhaps afford.
To reduce the size of this demographic catastrophe, he says, Mensk will have to improve the quality of life of the population now so as to be in a position to “reduce mortality rates” among the working-age population. But neither in Belarus nor in Russia are senior officials talking about taking up that much more difficult task.