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'Voters I Shrunk the Nation' ­ A Slogan for Russia's Elections?

File Photo of Crowd of Russians, One Waving Russian Flag with Two-Headed Eagle
file photo
James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR.

My Russia Watch on the plight of Tajik migrant workers in Russia earned me grumpy emails, many from Russian nationalists. This Friday, November 4, is National Unity Day in Russia, the annual holiday that nationalists celebrate as their own.

After dressing up on Friday for National Unity Day, why not undress after the parade? Russian nationalists despair falling birth rates of the nation's core Slavic population. Here they carry the historic flag of the Russian empire during a demonstration on the outskirts of Moscow on November 4, 2009, National Unity Day. REUTERS:Denis Sinyakov

So, in honor of Unity Day, I devote this column to you, Russian Nationalists. Right-thinking guys and gals, after the rally, after raising a ruckus on the metro, why not go home, fold up your Czarist banners for next year, unlace the storm trooper boots, have a glass of wine (one), relax, and, you know, maybe procreate a bit. Create cute little baby nationalists.

Modern young Russians have no aversion to sex.

It's the reproduction part that seems to be a problem. Abortions outnumber live births in Russia.

You may have seen the demonstrations of frustrated grandmothers who march into the metro, corner fertile younger women, and wave signs reading: "Have a Baby!"

So, guys, step up to the plate. Do your patriotic duty: Be a Dad!

In Japan, they used to say, young women prefer the (designer) handbag over the baby. In Russia's consumer-crazed society, many couples choose a Turkish vacation over changing the diapers.

With no mindset change in sight, Russia's population shrinkage is slowly moving through society.

The latest victim is the nationalists' favorite institution: the Russian Army.

In fall 2009, the Russian Army drafted 305,000 young men.

In fall 2010, the Army drafted 280,000 men.

In fall 2011, the Army is drafting 136,000 men.

Get the trend? Forget about the million man army.

Part of that drop is because draft dodging is such a national sport in Russia it could be included in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Depending on the region, a false medical exemption costs between $4,000 and $7,000.

After five years in Moscow, I can count on my left hand the number of Russian men I know under 35 years of age who have performed their obligatory military service. (When Muscovites hear that one of my sons, now in university, aspires to be an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, they think that he -- and I -- have holes in our heads.)

Faced with a dwindling number of healthy young Russian men interested in military service, Russia's Defense Ministry now is debating forming a French-style "Foreign Legion." Under this scheme, foreigners who sign up for five year contracts would be eligible for Russian citizenship after three years.

Guess where foreign volunteers will come from?

The same Central Asia nations that now provide about 10 percent of Russia's workforce of 74 million people.

Take Tajikistan. Before independence , about 10 percent of the republic's population was ethnic Russian, Ukrainian or German. In the 20 years since independence, Tajikistan's total population has increased by 40 percent. (De-colonization can have unexpected benefits.) As a result, half of Tajikistan's population of 7.5 million tis now under 21 years of age. Guess who is going to be looking for work in the 2010s?

Contrast that with Russia.

According to preliminary results of the Russia's 2010 census, there are 142.9 million people living in Russia ­ a 1.5 percent drop since the previous census, in 2002.

But, last July, the CIA's World Factbook published a lower population estimate ­ 138.7 million. This would represent a 4.4 percent population fall in one decade. This loss of 6.4 million people during the 2000s is comparable to the loss of Russia's entire population between Lake Baikal and the Pacific Coast.

More dramatic than contraction is the aging profile of Russia's population. Russia, like Japan and Europe, is moving steadily toward a world where there will soon be one retiree for every two workers.

With the ranks of Russian pensioners swelling by the day, authorities pray for continued high prices for Russia's oil and gas. That way Europe will keep shipping truckloads of money east, covering the Soviet generation's massive, unfunded pension liabilities.

For months, rumors have circulated in Moscow that the 2010 Census results would not be rosy.

In mid-October, Rosstat, the Federal Statistical Service, scheduled a census press conference ­ for mid-December. Conveniently, this will take place after people cast their ballots in Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.

Two decades ago, the American comedy movie, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" was funny.

But this week, it would not be a great vote getter for Prime Minister Putin to review his decade running Russia, and then announce on National Unity Day: "Voters, I Shrunk the Nation."

Russia, Population Disaster, Demographics - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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