Staunton, January 28 – Like other predominantly ethnic Russian regions, Novgorod Oblast is dying. Its population has declined by 20 percent since the end of Soviet times and will continue to decline unless radical measures are taken, including decentralization and democratization of governing bodies there, Nikolay Podosokorsky says.
The oblast’s loss of more than 150,000 people over the last quarter century reflects, the commentator says in an essay reposted on the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, a combination of demographic factors exacerbated by political developments that have left the region without the ability to act (region.expert/novgorod-death/ and philologist.livejournal.com/10701551.html).
Among the most obvious demographic drivers of this decline, Podosorkorsky says, are a low birthrate, the increasingly late arrival of the first child (now mothers give birth for the first time when they are 28), high mortality rates (with an average life expectancy of only 63), and massive outmigration because of the lack of jobs and low wages.
The capacity of the regional government to do anything about any of these issues is seriously limited: Moscow cancelled direct elections of the majors and heads of regions in this “birthplace of Russian democracy already in 2014” and makes all the decisions for it. The results call into question the Kremlin’s claim of “raising Russia from its knees.”
Moscow is driving down the size of the Russian population in another way, one that is sometimes ignored, Podosorkovsky says. “It is much easier to give birth and live longer when you are surrounded by a collectively secure world than by one where the entire flood of information is connected with risks and negative developments.”
That alone is not enough, the regional activist says. Russians need to feel that the authorities listen to them, and the authorities need to reach out even to their critics. If they do, the critics in almost all cases will make a useful contribution to affairs, the residents of the oblast will feel better, and they will behave positively in demographic and other ways.
Unfortunately, he says, in Novgorod Oblast at the present time, there is no one who could cleverly demand from Gazprom as have the Chechens a write off of consumer debts to the gas company. That absence creates a vicious cycle, one in which people feel lost, behave demographically as they do, and the death of Russian regions looms.
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