Thursday, October 6, 2016

Russians’ Incomplete Transition from Rural to Urban Life behind Many of Russia’s Problems, Vishnevsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 6 – During the 20th century, large numbers of Russians moved from villages to the cities, but as of now, many of them have not completed the psychological transition from rural to urban life; and that has given rise to marginal groups who represent a threat to the country, according to Anatoly Vishnevsky.

            In an interview with the news agency, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demography says that most commentators typically “do not look at the events of Russia’s 20th century through the prism of the conflict between modern and traditional culture, but that is exactly what it was” (

                The revolutionary “cataclysms” the country passed through “liberated the enormous energy of peasant Russia which had its own culture and its own traditions … but in the process of modernization and urbanization, which took place very quickly, there appeared tens of millions of people who were no longer peasants but who were not yet urban.”

            These people can be described as “marginals,” Vishnevsky says, and “they are easily subject to various manipulations and constantly go to extremes. Look at our communists who not long ago were blowing up churches but today go to church as if nothing had happened carrying candles.”

            The demographer says that in his opinion, “the majority of the problems of contemporary Russian society are connected precisely with this: up to now, we have inherited many of the aspects of marginal Soviet society” which were not overcome during the forced march transition from village to the city.”

            Many Russian thinkers at the start of the 20th century expected Russia to have a demographic boom over the next hundred years, but that “didn’t occur as a result of the enormous demographic losses which Russia suffered in the 20th century – two world wars, a revolution, the Civil War, emigration, collectivization, famine, and mass repressions.”

            “We suffered a most genuine demographic catastrophe,” he says; and had those events not happened, Russia would not have approximately twice as many people as it does.  In this way, Russia “forever missed its demographic chance;” and it will not get a second one. That is “very sad” because it means that there are too few people for the size of the country.

            Not only are there now only about as many people in Siberia as in Moscow and St. Petersburg alone – and the two capitals have “twice as many” residents as does the Far East—the country doesn’t have the major cities it should have that could serve as points of development. “Only Moscow and St. Petersburg play this role” for Russia.

            Unfortunately, Vishnevsky says, this is not Russia’s only demographic problem. It also faces a unique kind of aging of the population.  In most developed countries, “there is ‘an aging from above’ given declines in mortality rates among the elderly, but [in Russia], there is ‘aging from below because of low fertility.”

            Life expectancy among Russians is “significantly lower than among those in the developed countries,” the product of Russia’s failure to complete the “’second epidemiological revolution’” which sent longevity up in many countries, insufficient investment in health care, alcoholism, and “the low value” Russians place on individual human life.

            (For a detailed discussion of just how incomplete the psychological transition of Russians from village life to urban existence has been, see the article by Aleksandr Nikulin and Ekaterina Nikulina, “Moskva: Iz ‘bolshoy derevniy’ v ‘megaselo,’” in the current issue of Druzhba narodov (

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