Staunton, November 19 – Sometimes simple statistical figures say more than any prolix analysis, not only because they more adequately reflect where a country has been and where it is heading but because they define how the population at large of that country views itself and its place in the world.
Three such statistics have emerged in the last few days about Russia. They include the finding that the Soviet Union lost 50 million dead in World War II, not the 28 million Russians have long been accustomed to cite; that for the first time since the tsarist period, Russians earn less than the Chinese; and that 90 percent of Russia’s population growth comes from migrants.
But as with all such statistics, the situation is not necessarily as simple as a first glance might suggest; and consequently, each of these three deserve closer examination before they enter popular and political discourse and provoke changes in Moscow’s policies or dissent from their obvious meaning.
First, Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, a former Russian deputy prosecutor general who is now vice president of the International Association of Prosecutors, says that the Soviet Union suffered “on the order of 50 million” dead in World War II, if one adds to those who died during the war, those who succumbed later from wounds and those not born as a result of the loss of potential parents (interfax.ru/russia/537682).
In remarks to a Moscow conference on the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg tribunal, the Russian prosecutor said that these losses “are comparable to the entire population of a number of European countries, from Scandinavia to the Baltics. Here is the price which our people paid for the victory over fascism.”
Zvyagintsev continued that many in Europe don’t know about this Soviet and Russian sacrifice. According to a recent poll conducted in European countries, he added, “only 12 percent of those surveyed named the USSR as the country that was the victor over fascism in Europe.” Thus, he says, this victory is being “stolen.”
On the one hand, because he adds those who died of wounds after the war and those not born to the losses the USSR suffered, Zvyagintsev is not really breaking new ground. Others have offered similar figures, which in the nature of things are problematic because the Soviet Union did not conduct a census after the war until 1959. As a result, losses from the war and losses from Stalin’s terror are difficult to sort out.
But on the other, given the increasing centrality of what Russians call “the Great Fatherland War” and the growing sense many of them have that their contribution in that war and otherwise is not appreciated in the West, this new figure may soon displace the more conventional one of approximately 28 million Soviet dead from the conflict.
Second, analysts at Renaissance Capital have concluded that “for the first time, pay in Russia as measured in dollar equivalents” has fallen below that of pay in China. Russian pay measured in this way has fallen 30 percent since 2011 while that in China and elsewhere has risen (charter97.org/ru/news/2016/11/19/231584/).
Citing research conducted at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, Russians now make on average 558 US dollars a month; Chinese workers in contrast make 740 US dollars monthly at the current rate of exchange. Russia is also behind the figures in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
Russians have long accepted the idea that they are not making as much money as people in Western countries, but they are less likely to be comfortable with the idea that they are now paid even less than the Chinese. Consequently, this report may very well provoke a political firestorm among those already unhappy with Vladimir Putin’s economic policy.
And third, using statistics from Rosstat, the Nazaccent portal reports that since the beginning of this year, immigrants have been responsible for 91.5 percent of the increase in the population of the Russian Federation. Without them, the Russian population would be barely growing (nazaccent.ru/content/22414-bolee-90-obshego-prirosta-naseleniya-sostavili.html).
Again, these figures are not entirely new: Russian birthrates are low and its mortality rates high, and without immigration, Russia would have at best a stable population but more likely, others suggest, suffer a significant decline in the coming years. Given Russian hostility to migrants, however, that leaves the country between a rock and a hard place.
If Moscow permits more immigrants as it has this year, the population of the country will increase but so too will social tensions. But if it restricts immigration, population and the workforce component of it will decline, reducing still further the prospects for any economic growth anytime soon.