Streetwise Professor

March 5, 2008

Abandoned Lands

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:16 am

Sources from the time of the Mongol (Tatar) Yoke refer repeatedly to the “pustoshi” –the abandoned lands. According to Blum’s Lord and Peasant in Russia, “in document after document in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries much land and villages are described in this manner.”

The Mongols are gone, and the driving forces are different, but the pustoshi are returning. In Mongol times, the scourge was external. Today, it is homemade. Russia recovered, in a long and torturous process, from the legacy of Tatar domination. Will it rebound from its self-inflicted decimation? The omens are not favorable:

Even as Russian officials celebrate and Western media report a small uptick in the number of births in the Russian Federation, demographers in that country’s Academy of Sciences are predicting that life expectancy among Russian men will continue to fall over the next four decades, possibly to below 50 years from birth.
If these projections are correct – and they are based on internationally accepted models — they mean that any demographic gains for the country from declines in infant mortality and from any increase in the birthrate will be more than wiped out, with all the economic, political and military consequences that entails.

And that in turn suggests that the Russian government will need to devote at least as much attention and resources to the far more intractable problem of male mortality as it is currently giving in its efforts to boost birthrates by providing new benefits to women and families who have more children.

In an article in the current issue of Demoscope Weekly, Yevgeny Andreyev says that current research suggests that in the best case, male life expectancy will fall another year or so by the middle of the century, with the possibility that it might decline as much as eight or nine years (http://demoscope.ru/weekly/2008/0321/tema03.php). Such declines not only would wipe out most if not all of the benefits of the pro-natalist policies that Moscow is currently promoting but would also, because the incidence of male mortality is higher among ethnic Russians than most other groups, contribute to an even more rapid shift in the ethnic balance in the population.

It should be noted, moreover, that the uptick in births trumpeted by the Russian government probably has little–if anything–to do with “pro-natalist” policies. Instead, it is the cresting of a demographic wave 20-odd years following the last crest in Russian/Soviet birthrates in the early-to-mid-1980s–a crest that is smaller than its predecessor.

Post-modern attitudes towards family combined with pre-modern medicine and personal behaviors is a toxic demographic mixture. No amount of chest thumping and strutting in the Kremlin is going to change that, not today, and not tomorrow. That is, if there is a tomorrow for Russia.

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