Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Villages No Longer Russia’s Demographic Reserve and So Moscow Wants to Let Them Die

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 – Many Russians assume that the Kremlin has compelling demographic reasons to try to save the villages of their country, but that is no longer the case, given that in ethnic Russian areas, villagers have long ceased to have large families and instead increasingly have fewer than two children – the replacement level, Sovershenno Sekretno says.

            And almost one in five rural families in Russia today do not want to have any children at all, government statistics show, a pattern that means the villages aren’t contributing to the growth of the Russian population but in fact are helping to push it down further (sovsekretno.ru/articles/-unichtozhenie-dereven-pochemu-gosudarstvu-eto-vygodno/).

            Because that is so, Russian villages are no longer cost effective as far as the government is concerned – it is expensive to service them – and so Moscow is only too happy to take steps like closing schools, stores, government offices and transportation and communication links with them in order to save money.

            That reinforces the pattern in which younger people flee to cities and older people die out, leading to the demise of the sector of the population that only a generation or so ago was where most Russians lived or were from. (The situation in non-Russian areas is different, but that is hardly something positive for the central authorities, the magazine says.)

            Another reason pushing down fertility rates in the villages is that only 6.1 percent of residents in ethnic Russian villages continue to work in agriculture where having extra hands is useful. Most work in the service sector, trade, or communal services; and an increasing number do not have any jobs. They subsist on private plots around their homes.

            The destruction of sovkhozes and collective farms in the 1990s did not lead to the rise of a population of farming but rather to commercial agriculture which had little place for peasants. Most of the industrial farmers who came in were concerned only about profit and brought in workers from the cities rather than used villagers. The former were easier to manage.

            Zhana Toshchenko, a candidate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, points out that as a result, incomes in rural areas fell even further behind the cities, medical services collapsed, and schools closed. Half of all rural schools have closed since the 1990s, and there are 37 percent fewer pupils, an indication of the decline in the next generation.

            But it is more than that: it is a measure of growing social tension. Parents fear for the security of their children who now have to travel enormous distances to go to the remaining schools, and those who had been teaching in rural schools increasingly find themselves unemployed and even unemployable.

            As Toshchenko says, “if in a population point, there is no hospital or school, then sooner or later the residents will leave, and that village will disappear from the map.” Preserving them should be a priority, but doing so is expensive. And that is a price the central government is no longer willing or able to pay.


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