Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin

By Padma Desai | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
Anatoly Vishnevsky
Demographic Dilemmas

DECEMBER 2003

In the last twenty-five years of its existence, the Soviet Union lagged behind the rest
of the developed world in enforcing measures for fighting mortality. As a result, Russia
began its transition in 1992 as a laggard. That was its Soviet heritage. To this day, no
changes have occurred to alter the situation, so high mortality and low life expect-
ancy continue to be predetermined by the strong inertia of the Soviet days.

Excessive mortality due to external causes is a Russian problem, but it is also an
old problem. The gap between Russia and the Western countries has been in-
creasing for decades.

The current contraction "of population", the fourth since 1913, differs signifi-
cantly from the previous three, which were caused by extreme social shocks—
World War I and the civil war, famine, the repressions and purges of the thirties,
and World War II. In contrast, the current loss is conditioned by stable changes
in the demographic behavior of Russians. That is why one should not expect
that it will be transitional and that a positive natural growth in population will be
reestablished in the near future, leading to an increase in the number of the
country's residents. The Russian population will continue to decline in the fu-
ture. All of the demographers agree on this prediction.

"Russia" needs immigrants. Its demographic situation with the continuing popu-
lation loss is extreme. It is also experiencing migratory pressure from the outside.
Its labor market does not welcome foreigners…. The immigrants feel excluded
and unassimilated.


DECEMBER 2003

DESAI: How serious, in your view, is the Russian demographic situation, which analysts attribute to a sharp rise in the mortality rate and a decline in the birthrate in the nineties?

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