In Russia, ‘Death has Become a Way of Life’

Kremlin and St. Basil's

(Window on Eurasia – Paul Goble – Staunton, November 3, 2013) The Kremlin celebrates every temporary uptick in the Russian birthrate, but it and many others typically ignore another deeply troubling aspect of that country’s deteriorating demographic situation: extraordinarily high death rates among adults and especially working-age males.

Indeed, those rates are so high ­ Russia ranks 175th among the countries of the world in terms of physical security and even worse in terms of alcohol-related diseases ­ that one Moscow newspaper earlier this year said in an article that has been frequently reposted in recent days that in Russia today death has become “a way of life.”

Elizaveeta Aleksandrova-Zorina wrote that “in Russia as in a time of war, you leave home and don’t know whether you will return.” Westerners worry about cancer and Altzheimers, she added, but “in Russia, eternally young and eternally drunk, only the hippie slogan triumphs: ‘live fast; die young!'” (mk.ru/specprojects/free-theme/article/2013/05/21/857373-smert-kak-obraz-zhizni.html).

Behind such bold words are accidents, fake medicines, decaying housing, bad roads, drug addition,  polluted water and air, alcoholism, and “the victims of bandits whom even the police fear and the victims of the police whom at times it is difficult to distinguish from bandits,” she said.

In short, Russia as a whole “is not a country but a hospice,” and “Moscow is the Wild East where it is dangerous to go about without a gun and a knife.”

“Cancer at 30? A heart attack at 40? Those who live to 50 in Russia must be given an order, and for men, reaching pension age is more unachievable than the kingdom of heaven.  Male mortality has assumed the dimensions of a national tragedy,” she continued, with Russia having the greatest difference in life expectancy between men and women in the world.

As horrific as the Soviet system was, “in the USSR, people were cogs of the system.” Now, “in contemporary Russia, we are superfluous details,” a change that is only making the demographic situation worse: Why shouldn’t people drink “when there is no work, factories are closed, collective farms disbanded and land bought by Muscovites” and worked by gastarbeiters.

The Russian authorities are celebrating the fact that in the last several years the Russian population has stopped falling, but that positive change is “almost exclusively the result of immigrants who are flooding the country” but who are doing little to revere the depopulation of much of Russia.

Statistics show that in Russia, “automobile accidents carry off each year the population of a small city, just as many die at the hands of murders in white coats [doctors], twice more from the hands of criminals, up to 100,000 go missing, over 20 years almost a million people have killed themselves, and the number of young people who have died from drugs is terrible to even mention.”

An Ekho Moskvy blogger a few days ago extends this horrific list: “Over the past 20 yearsmore than seven million ethnic Russians have died in Russia. Now more die than are born. Every year from vodka die 70,000 people, every year 30,000 die from drug overdoses … Plus 30,000 die on the roads” (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolay_kofyrin/1189702-echo/).

Moreover, Russia occupies first place in the number of suicides among children and youth, first place in the world among divorces and children born out of wedlock, and first place as to the number of children who are discarded by their parents” and become orphans even though their parents are alive.”

There are three reasons why these figures need to be kept in mind: First, they more than eat up any gains from the government’s pro-natalist policies, policies that work far less well than Moscow claims. There have been more births because of a larger cohort of women in prime child bearing ages but that group is projected to rapidly decline in size in the coming years.

Second, super-high mortality among all Russian residents and especially among ethnic Russian men is something that the authorities have done little or nothing to reduce. Not only is making any dent in these tragic numbers difficult and expensive, but efforts to do so can produce a political backlash as the history of anti-alcohol campaigns shows.

And third, this tragic demographic reality helps shape Russia’s increasingly angry and apocalyptic politics.  If Russians face a life cut short by accidents, illness and the like, they are certain to think in short-term ways and thus become even more likely to blame outsiders rather than focus on themselves or their own elites.

Article also appeared at http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/11/window-on-eurasia-in-russia-death-has.html