Staunton, January 10 – Many look back at the 1990s as a horrific time, but in fact, demographer Anatoly Vishnevsky says, there were a great many positive developments at “a time of great hopes” just like the period of the New Economic Policy between the end of the Russian Civil War and the beginning of Stalinist collectivization.
In that earlier period, the director of the Institute of Demography at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says, “everything was overthrown and the word ‘nepman’ became a term of abuse,” even though the NEP like the 1990s was “a path which wasn’t realized then but which perhaps could have been extremely successful” (polit.ru/article/2016/01/08/gloss_vishnevsky/).
Many of the negative things Russians have come to believe about the 1990s simply aren’t true or better aren’t true for the entire period, Vishnevsky says; and many of the positive developments of that decade are ignored altogether, with people choosing to remember only what they think went wrong rather than what in fact went right.
The demographic situation is a case in point, he continues. “Mortality sharply rose in the early 1990s and reached a peak in 1994, but already from that year began the rapid restoration of the former level, which unfortunately broke off in 1998 as a result of the default and economic crisis.”
“No less important,” he observes, “are those changes which took place with regard to birthrates and which also are understood by few even now.” In the early 1990s, there was a shock and birthrates plummeted, but when times started to improve, Russians began to have more children, often when they were older than had been true earlier.
That aging of new parents had happened across Europe in the mid-1970s, but it did not happen in Russia until the mid-1990s. And that lag led some to overstate the changes in Russia in ways that ignored the more general pattern. In all advanced economies, people are choosing to delay having children beyond what had been typical.
Indicative of an even more fundamental change, Vishnevsky says, is what happened with regard to abortions. In the 1960s, there were 300 abortions for every 100 births. That figure had fallen to approximately 200 for every 100 by the end of the 1980s. In the 1990s, the numbers of abortions fell radically and now there are only 50 abortions for every 100 births.
The demographer says that in his view, “this happened because contraceptives became available. The state did not play any role, but people themselves obtained the chance to make decisions” on their own. And “the reduction of the number of abortions is one of the very most important achievements of the 1990s.”
Another major development in the 1990s that was far more positive than many now think, the demographer stresses, was migration. Much of it consisted of ethnic Russians returning to their homeland and thus boosting the Russian component of the Russian Federation. It did not place the burdens on other Russians that many now appear to believe.