Monday, September 14, 2020

Moscow Failing to Address Rising Mortality in Villages Comprehensively, Threatening Russia with Depopulation, Zhuravlyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 13 – Moscow has completely failed to address rising mortality rates in villages, the traditional “demographic locomotive of Russia” and thus is threatening “the depopulation of the entire country, according to Dmitry Zhuravlyev, director of the Institute of Regional Problems.

            While the central government has taken steps to boost birthrates, it has not worked hard to reduce death rates which now exceed the former. Instead, Zhuravlyev says, it has taken some steps which have made the problem worse and failed to do anything about the many other causes of this disaster (

            On the one hand, it has in the name of “optimization” made it more difficult for rural Russians to get the medical care they need in a timely fashion. And on the other, and more seriously, it has failed to address the underlying economic, cultural and behavioral problems in rural Russia that have sent  death rates skyrocketing.

            In Russia as in all other countries at all times, the village has been the driver of demographic growth. If it ceases to be that, the demographic future of the countries where that has happened has been dire. That is explicable on the basis of both economic and cultural factors, the regional expert says.  

            In traditional village life, having more children not only helps increase production (as well as covering the relatively higher death rates) but also is typically viewed as something positive and a source of dignity especially for men, Zhuravlyev continues. But modernization has changed these perspectives.

            The city has come to be viewed as the center of progress, and young people leave the villages as soon as they can; and the costs of having children in the villages have risen while the benefits of doing so have declined as agriculture has been mechanized. Not surprisingly, birthrates which earlier were high have now fallen.

            Since 1992, the rural population of Russia has declined, the result of outmigration and fewer births relative to a larger number of deaths.  Moscow has sought to promote more births, but it has done little or nothing to prevent more deaths in part because of optimization and in part because it has failed to treat the issue in a comprehensive fashion.

            More health care could help with some of the problems rural people suffer from but far from all. It wouldn’t by itself stop suicides and accidents which account for many of the deaths. Suicides arise “not because of illness but because of a sense of hopelessness,” and accidents are often the product of alcoholism which is a product of the same feelings.

            If these phenomena are to be addressed and reversed, the government must recognize their social foundations and address those, something that Moscow has not done perhaps in part because doing so is both extraordinarily complicated and even more extraordinarily expensive compared to boosting birthrates.

            “An additional indication of the social roots or mortality in the village is super-high mortality among men,” Zhuravlyev says. “Male mortality from external causes is almost four times higher than among women,” and male deaths from many diseases ranging from pulmonary to cancer is almost as excessive.

            In large part, the regional expert says, these health outcomes reflect “mass alcoholization” of the male population, something that in turn reflects the sense of desperation many men feel when confronted with the flight of young people to the cities and with the demise of the old values which held the village together.

             If the situation is to be improved, Zhuravlyev says, rural residents are going to have to recover the conviction that they “will live better in the future than they do now. that they are needed, will be successful and respected.” At present the government is developing agriculture by backing major producers. What it must do is support ordinary people.

            If it doesn’t, Russia will suffer demographic decline because the traditional source of demographic growth will have been killed off. 

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