The Russophobes Were Right… (About The Wrong Country)

After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though anemic, growth returned this year; but little of it trickles down to ordinary Russians. Unemployment is over 16%, birth rates have collapsed, and millions of citizens are voting with their feet and migrating to work as laborers in affluent Western Europe.

This demographic free fall threatens to dash any remaining hopes of Russia ever converging to European living standards. Birth rates have fallen by 25% since the post-Soviet era peak in 2008, and the total fertility rate – the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime – is now one of the lowest in the world, surpassed only by a few small, rich Asian states like Taiwan and Singapore. And with young professionals rushing for the exits, this situation is unlikely to be reversed any time soon. Last year, half a million people out of Russia’s 143 million population left for greener pastures; this figure has already been exceeded in the first half of this year. Already falling at an alarming 840,000 in 2009, population decrease further rose to 1,220,000 in 2010 and on current trends will approach 2 million this year. This demographic death spiral is the epitome of Putinism’s failure. The Leon Arons and Nicholas Eberstadts of this world were correct all along. Having been a Russophile shill all these years, it is time for me, like Johann Hari, to admit to my failures, apologize to the readers I misled, and go back to journalism school.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. I was actually talking about Latvia.

That is, Latvia adjusted for Russia’s population, and replacing “oil” with “cheap European credit” and taking out the arrested economist story and a few other details. All figures are from the Latvian statistics agency.

Above is a graph of the number of births per month in Latvia; note the collapse in the past three years, which shows no signs of abating. Even at its peak in 2008, the Total Fertility Rate – the number of children a woman can be expected to have – was at 1.44, which is well below replacement level rates (but nothing out of the ordinary for East-Central Europe). It fell to 1.31 in 2009, and according to my rough calculations, to about 1.17 in 2010. If the further decline observed in the first seven months of this year continues, then Latvia’s TFR will approach 1.1 in 2011. That would return Latvia to its post-Soviet nadir reached in 1998-99, and if prolonged will put its chances of convergence to West European living standards under serious question. Especially since…

Many more Latvians are leaving the country! As shown above, net emigration is soaring – almost 2,000 are now leaving per month, which is not insignificant out of a total population of 2.2 million. Many of these migrants are young professionals, the people who would otherwise be at the head of modernizing Latvia’s economy. In the past three months, more Latvians have left than were even born!

The contrast with Russia, a frequent object of scorn and ridicule among the Western commentariat, is far-reaching. Russia’s population stabilized in 2009, and has remained flat since. In the first half of this year, it received an influx of 143,000 net immigrants (of whom 498 happen to be from Latvia, incidentally). The migration balance has turned positive even with some rich countries that traditionally took in many Russians, such as Germany and Israel. The only major countries to which Russia is still sending more people than taking in are the US, Canada, and Finland. Not that one would could glean any of this from reading the Western media’s awful Russia coverage.


  1. Yikes, Russia only netted 143k new registering souls in the first 6 months of 2011? They’ll have to ramp up their “We welcome you oh immigrants” program if they want to hit GKS’ rosier immigration outlooks.

    You know, the ones where even the statisticians of the Russian government themselves admit (in even the best of best case scenarios) that “естественный прирост” is going to go negative? (That’s “natural increase” for those of you who don’t sprechen).

    But it’s ok. Immigration will save the day. More than half a million new souls every year. Not migrant workers neither. Nope, tens of thousands will cast off all old bonds in favor of Russian citizenship every month for the next 20 years.

    But Dima Rogozin says no immigrants are necessary. What gives?
    Somebody needs to get that guy on message…

  2. In addition to their other woes, Latvian home-owners are drowning in debt due to some banking scheme that caused their home mortgages to go under water. This is why so many of them have to emigrate — to escape from the banks who own their asses. They are foreclosing with their feet.
    In this New World Order, Debt is the new Serfdom.
    The only hope for smaller countries like Latvia: Either come back to Russia as incorporated republic (I assume majority don’t want this) OR go to Germany with cap in hand.
    In conclusion, Germany must assume leadership of Europe and bail everybody out. There is no other way.
    Up until now Germany, the most beautiful belle at the ball, has been coyly hiding in the corner. But now it time for her to step out onto the dance floor and strut her stuff.

    • “The only hope for smaller countries like Latvia: Either come back to Russia as incorporated republic (I assume majority don’t want this) OR go to Germany with cap in hand”

      A couple of years ago, when things started to go down the toilet, a bunch of Latvians signed a petition requesting Sweden to take over again. Latvia was ruled by Sweden before Russia took over.

      Satirical petitions appear to be a common form of protest in post-Soviet space. A few years ago citizens of Ivangorod (Rus-Est border town) petitioned to join Estonia in a protest against local mismanagement. While I don’t think these petitions express a literal wish, they do give a sense of people’s exasperation.

      As for Latvia, this situation has been brewing for a while. Note this article:

      • “…a bunch of Latvians signed a petition requesting Sweden to take over…”

        The founding document of Russian history, “повесть временных лет” (the Tale of Bygone Years), pretty much begins with the story of some local tribes sending out a message to the Norsemen, saying that their lands were rich and abundant, but that there was no law or order in them, and asking the Norsemen to come and rule over them, so that some order could be established. Of course, this was written a couple of centuries after the fact, and the princely elite that was descended from those Norsemen probably ordered that chronicle to be written, so it’s not an unbiased source.

  3. A while back I brought up some inconvenient truths about the Baltic Tigers and some libertarian started ranting that China’s economic growth is the major economic liberal success story of our times. Arguably in terms of GDP- but it does make a mockery of the economic liberty creates political liberty argument.

    Being honest, Latvia currently has better political freedom and economic liberty than Russia, but it doesn’t seem to have a sustainable economical system: especially if it depresses birth-rates so much.

    • “Being honest, Latvia currently has better political freedom and economic liberty than Russia,”

      Indeed, Putin limits Our power to exercise Our two great principles:
      1. All for Ourselves and nothing for other people.
      2. In a depression, assets return to their rightful owners.

      For this, Vladimir Putin has earned Our undying hatred.

      The Latvian government on the other hand, is in Our thrall. Latvia pays almost 30% of GNP to service their debts to Us.

  4. Alexander Mercouris says:

    The point in this post about the financial transfers to Latvia underpinning its growth is important and one that never gets mentioned even though it is relevant not just to Latvia but to all other East European countries as well. The “economic miracle” that is supposed to have happened in Georgia following the Rose Revolution is I suspect entirely accounted for by such transfers. The amount of money flowing into Georgia over this period has been staggering and has been the single most important factor enabling Georgia to pay its way notwithstanding its large trade deficit. By way of example following the South Ossetia war of 2008 Georgia received a $4.5 billion reconstruction loan, which is a huge infusion of money for such a small and poor country. Following the financial crash of 2008 Latvia was similarly bailed out to the tune this time of a staggering $10 billion. I suspect that whatever “growth” Latvia has been able to show this year is again largely due to this help, which has enabled Latvia to borrow at lower interest rates than would surely otherwise have been the case on the financial markets. Elsewhere capital transfers especially via the EU structural funds heavily underpin economic development throughout East Europe. Estonia, which I notice has now replaced Georgia as the western media’s poster boy in the former Soviet space, is getting around 3.5 billion euros in the period 2007 to 2013, which is again a huge amount for a country with a population of 1.3 million. Poland, which is now the single biggest beneficiary of EU structural funds, will probably get somewhere in the region of $100 billion over the same six year period. The economic picture of East Europe would look very different without these capital transfers. Western commentators harp on endlessly about Russia’s supposed over dependence on energy sales. East European dependence on capital transfers by contrast never gets mentioned. The lesson of Latvia is that these transfers are not a solution to the economic problems of these countries but on the contrary by fostering a culture of dependence and complacency can in the long run make them worse.

  5. Patrick Armstrong says:

    Thanks for this. Years ago when I was working for the govt I used to collect incidents and periodically put out “It’s not just Russia” with examples of car bombs, sudden murders of biznessmen, corruption, poverty and demographic decline (as I recall the Baltics were always worse than Russia on demographics).
    I also used to tell people that, of all the Former 15, Russia was doing the best/least worse.
    Not that it made any difference in the prevailing prejudice against Russia….
    Cleaning up after communism is the same everywhere.

    • “Cleaning up after communism is the same everywhere.”

      In 1992, before they entered Our service, and were still suffering the horrific effects of Communism, Latvia had a growing population of 2.7 million, and no foreign debt.

      We do not understand why the present 2.2 million Latvians diminish at 1.2% per year, for they pay less than 30% of GNP in debt service to Us.

      The ungrateful wretches! Fortunately, the places they move to, except for Russia, are in Our power as well.

  6. There’s something very Russian about this fascination with Latvia. No offense. But you don’t see American commentators rubbing their hands over the demographic problems of the Marshall Islands, or Brits getting all schadenfreude over economic issues in Belize. Sure, there are historical and cultural reasons why Russians in Russia are all weird and obsessive about the Baltic States. But I’m not sure why a Russian in California has to buy into this.

    Anyway. One issue I’m not seeing discussed: how, if at all, do these effects break down in terms of ethnicity? Latvia is a little under 60% ethnic Latvian, a little under 30% ethnic Russian, and around another 10% Belorussian, Ukrainian and Polish. So, around 3/8 of the population is non-Latvian Slavs. (It’s even more complicated than that, because the Russians can be divided between “old Russians” who’ve been there since the 18th century and “new Russians” who are leftover colonists from the Soviet period. But let that bide.)

    Obvious question #1, is the economic pain being distributed evenly among the ethnic groups? If not, who is suffering worst?

    Obvious question #2, who’s having kids? With a TFR under 1.2, the answer must be “hardly anyone”. But still: how does that break down? It could be roughly equal across the different groups, or it could be drastically different. If it was say, 1.0 for ethnic Latvians and 1.5 for Russians, the aggregate would still be something below 1.2 — but we’d be looking at a very different (and interesting) picture.

    Obvious question #3, who’s leaving? You say that “many of these migrants are young professionals”, but that sounds like an assumption on your part. It’s not an unreasonable assumption — but if it’s really the case, you should be able to come up with a cite. And, again, it would be great to know the ethnic breakdown. If the emigrants are disproportionately from one particular group, then just a few years of emigration at this rate would be enough to noticeably change the country’s ethnic balance.

    This is exactly what’s been happening over the last 20 years, after all. A big part of Latvia’s population “crash” since 1991 was the departure of over 300,000 non-Latvians, mostly New Russians and Belorussians who were first or second generation colonists. It’s one reason Latvians themselves haven’t been too worried about their demographic issues until recently: sure, the overall population of the country was declining, but the number of ethnic Latvians was holding roughly constant, and the proportion of ethnic Latvians was steadily increasing.

    The fact that only small numbers of Latvian citizens have officially emigrated to Russia — 500 in six months — suggests that this time, things might be different. But, again, it would be nice to see some actual numbers.

    Doug M.

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      Russians are not obsessed with Latvia. I know lots of Russians and I have never once heard one of them so much as mention Latvia. It is Latvians who seem to be obsessed with Russia. Anyway the point of this post surely is not to discuss Latvia as such but to make the simple point that many of the critical comments that are made in the west about Russia apply to an equal or greater degree to other countries in the former Soviet space, which get a far more favourable press in the west than Russia does.

      • Well, no. The Baltic States occupy a disproportionately large space in Russian media and the Russian imagination. They’re tiny little countries — all three of them together have a population barely half that of Moscow. But stories about them appear almost every day, and Russian intellectuals and pundits spend a surprising amount of time writing and talking about them.

        — This is testable, BTW; just go to a Russian media site and start searching for terms. My Russian is weak, so I’ll pick “Russia Today” — it may be in English, but I think we can agree it’s a Russian media site, yes? — So, thirty seconds: Estonia has an astonishing 2865 hits, more than double the number for Kazakhstan (1350) or Finland (1265) and more than quadruple those for poor Moldova (615). Estonia has about half as many hits as Germany, and 2/3 as many as France.

        By any reasonable standard, that’s crazy. Kazakhstan is a far more important country than Estonia! Its economy is almost ten times as big, it has a dozen times as many people, and it’s a major oil and natural gas producer in a critical strategic location. But, well, Russians pretty much take Kazakhstan for granted.

        Doug M.

        • @doug: Well, I would have to kind of agree with you that Russian media DOES print a lot of ink about the Baltics. Many Russians were upset with the way Russian ethnic minorities were treated in those countries after they gained their so-called “independence”. There were also egregious trends like rise of pro-Nazi political movements in these countries, etc. And is true that Russian media tended to focus on these negative trends and maybe even hype them a bit to sell papers, until everybody was getting very upset.
          I myself am not really interested in the Baltic countries. In my past I visited Vilnius and Tallin (never been in Latvia, though), had positive impressions, I accept that Balts do not want to be part of Russia any more, and I strive to overcome any feelings of Schadenfreude, because rejoicing at someone else’s misfortune would be beneath my moral standards.
          However, I AM very interested in the economic mistakes the capitalist rulers of these countries have made, and I think it is really good for people to expose the horrific results of neo-liberal Reagan/Thatcher economic dogma, especially on small countries. These policies turn moderately prosperous nations with no debt into economically depressed debtor nations.
          I am also being sincere where I propose that Germany step in and take over. I am kind of a Germanophile and would personally like to see Germany take its rightful place as the leader of Western Europe. I also believe that Balts would accept Germany as their leader, in a way they never accepted Russia. Germany could bail them out, and then teach them how to reform their economies along the German model.

          • Alexander Mercouris says:

            Dear Doug,
            It seems to me that the articles in the Russian media to which you refer are almost invariably a response to some particularly egregious anti Russian statement or action in the Baltic States. Very understandably this raises hackles and provokes a response in just the same way as say American flag burning in Belize would provoke a critical response in the US. For what it is worth I get the impression that Americans are actually far more prickly about these matters than Russians. Consider for example US attitudes to countries like Venezuela and Cuba. As for Kazakhstan the reason it attracts little attention in the Russian media is surely because nothing similar ever happens there as relations between Russia and Kazakhstan are very good. If the Baltic States adopted a friendly tone towards Russia there is every reason to think that the same would apply and that the Russian media would stop carrying stories about them. In a similar way the Russian media has far fewer stories about Armenia, which is friendly to Russia, than about Georgia, which is hostile to Russia. That the Baltic States (or to be precise their political leaders) by contrast are obsessed with Russia scarcely requires comment though if you want an example just consider the recent overblown response of Lithuania’s leadership to Austria’s refusal to extradite to Lithuania the former head of the KGB Alpha force.

            • Well, no. Anti-Russian stuff happens in other places too — but it doesn’t attract the same level of attention. The Russian media is just way more sensitive to stuff that happens in the Baltics.

              And saying “no, LATVIANS are obsessed with RUSSIA” is just silly. Obviously the little countries with one or two million people will be interested in their neighbor with 140 million people. That’s a pretty ridiculous ‘tu quoque’.

              The US attitude towards Cuba is indeed in some ways comparable. And if Anatoly were an American expat living in Vladivostok, and he started writing articles about the economic and demographic collapse of Cuba, I’d have the same reaction: dude.

              Doug M.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                Dear Doug,
                Anatoly’s article is not about Latvia, it is about Russia. I say again that what Anatoly is doing is simply using the example of Latvia to make a point, which is that things that Russia gets criticised for happen to a much greater degree in other places in the former Soviet space such as Latvia, which get a much better press. Latvia is topical because of the particular way the financial crisis has worked out there and because of the elections that have just happened there.

                As to your other points I would just quickly say this:

                1. Of course anti Russian manifestations happen in other places and when they happen in those places they also attract Russian attention. This has been true at various times of Georgia, the Ukraine, Moldavia and Belarus not to mention the northern Caucasus and other places further afield. A short while ago there was for example a notable spat between Russia and Japan over the Kurile Islands. I do not think anti Russian behaviour in the Baltic States attracts more attention in Russia than it does when it happens in these other places. At government level it certainly does not. The Russian government has engaged in far tougher quarrels in recent years with the governments of such countries as Georgia (with which it has fought a war), the Ukraine and Belarus to name just three, than it has done with the Baltic States. The trouble is that in the Baltic States anti Russian statements and behaviour happen very often and to me at least at times they look very like state policy. Given that this is so it is scarcely surprising that in Russia this attracts negative attention.

                2. That the Baltic States are obsessed with Russia is a fact. They may have excellent reasons for this but that is not my point.

    • The Latvian government do indeed share Ou objective concerning Latvia: to turn it into an ethnically-pure Galt’s-Gulch-on-the-Baltic. A wonderful place to have a business, especially a bank!

      “What will you use for a labor force?” you might ask. “Who will be your customers?”. Rest assured. The traitorous wretches who are leaving, except those fe escaping to Russia, merely trade one place under Our power for another. Wealth is concentrating nicely in Our hands. Wages, pensions, and other wasteful expenditures on trivialities are dropping gratifyingly. And Our austerity-obsessed politicians in the United States and Europe are reinforcing these trends assiduously.

      All is well. Very well.

      • @a Ha, I get it! You are speaking in the voice of GOD, that to say AYN RAND! Actually, nice point made, I suspect the Randites are behind much of the evil forces operating here… Also answers the question: why do people keep doing the same thing over and over even though it doesn’t work? Is it insanity? No, it’s because it actually DOES work … for Galt (Soros?) and his tiny clique.

    • If you don’t mind, I’ll leave the observation that I’m obsessed with the Baltics unanswered. Psychoanalize away! 😉

      I don’t know the answers to #1 and #2. I cannot find any regional data. If I had to guess, I’d say the ethnic Russians are doing a bit worse because many are middle-aged and the aforementioned discrimination issues (so, if a Latvian company had to fire some workers, all else equal who’d be going first?). But I doubt there are very major differences in fertility, etc.

      In response to #3, again – no statistics – but that they tend to be young and more educated than not is something that’s frequently mentioned in media mentions. If you want a cite, there’s this BBC article from 2010: “Mr Neimanis lost his job in 2008 when the economic crisis struck. And although he is an experienced civil engineer, he will probably end up picking strawberries or packing vegetables in England…. All of the applicants here today are young and well-qualified – exactly the people Latvia can least afford to lose. “Very often we have school teachers with a high education and reasonably good English, and they will end up simply sorting or picking fruit or vegetables,” says Ginters Purins, director of GP Recruitment.”

      While Googling, I also found this article from the Economist blog. It suggests the emigration situation is far worse than presented in Latvian statistics as many emigrants don’t register. I find this plausible. I was looking at Lithuanian emigration statistics when writing this piece, and I noticed a sudden step increase from c.1000/2000 per month to 10,000/15,000 per month in mid-2010 that continues until today. I Googled it, and apparently it coincided with the introduction of a tax that only affected Lithuanians officially resident in the country. So, many more people started registering their departure (cf. the statistics: 83,157 left in 2010, up from 21,970 in 2009).

      The two biggest emigration destinations are the UK and Russia (I assume that almost 100% of those going to Russia are ethnic Russians). According a poll in Latvia, 44% of Latvian youth are “confident” that they will leave, with the most popular destinations named Russia, the UK, and the US in that order. One curious finding of that poll is that the lower the incomes, the more Latvians feel that it is “their country.” Circumstantial evidence that emigration is more popular among the richer (and hence higher-skilled) parts of the population.

      According to a Regnum piece, the majority of Estonian emigrants are in the 20-30 year age range. According to Lithuanian stats, 45,615 of the 83,157 emigrants in 2010 were in the 20-34 age group. I don’t see why the pattern for Latvia should be different.

      • Eastern Estonia is overwhelmingly Russian, and that is where they cut all the healthcare first in the 1990s. Drug use and HIV that resulted is still viewed as a Russian problem that will sort itself out by the Estonian population.

        • Just for completeness it should be noted that eastern Estonia used to be part of Novgorod around 1100. So the Russian population there is not some collection of communist invaders. The EU are hypocrite scumbags who claim to uphold human rights and various liberal values but look the other way when Estonia abuses the local Russian population.

          • kalevipoeg says:

            Just to be clear, that south eastern Estonia was taxed by force by Novgorod around 1030-1054. I would be very surprised if the taxing was regular during that period – it usually happened to send off current invader troops.

            No immigrant russian population can be connected to those raids. If anything, 3/5 of the Novgorod + Pskov state were native finno-ugrians, thus anyone migrating to Estonia from the east around 1100 were finno-ugrians who were fed up with the slavs and russified varjags who had violated the original treaties of Novgorod state.

            The Russian old-believers only came to the western shores of Lake Peipus around the 16th century or later, and much of them are also of a former finno-ugric origin (votjaks, isuris, setos, etc.).

          • Bringing up events that occurred c. 1000 years ago is a dubious way to argue about current affairs. Some of my ancestors were living in England and Germany in the 11th century, but it doesn’t mean I can get an EU passport out of it.

            • kalevipoeg says:

              I was just correcting kirill.
              Over 95% of the russian speaking people in Estonia at 1991 were soviet colonists or their offspring.
              The share of estonians in Estonia immediately after WWII at around 1946 was the highest in 8 centuries – around 98%. And that was not only because of the holocaust, but also because of the exodus of baltic germans, and because of the Stalinist approach to repress Estonian russians (and jews) even more harshly than Estonian estonians. You know, communists killing socialists and social democrats, that stuff. Stalin practically killed off most if not all pre-WWII Estonian communists, because, obviously, they had failed their duties in 1924.

              Kirill has some nerve to claim that eastern Estonia was part of the Novgorod state around 1100 AD. It is all about semantics, of course. I may as well declare that because of some successful estonian raids to Pskov or Novgorod, that those regions were part of a greater Estonia. Estonians do not use such rhetorical tactics when discussing about the 1919 campaigns, for example. It simply shows the continuity of a derzhavist mindset through the last millenium.

      • Obsessed, no. But you seem to be buying into the standard Russian fascination with the Baltics.

        On the plus side, you’re not implying that they deserve it (because they oppress Russians, because they’re witless tools of the West, because they’re really NAZIS).

        Seriously: a lot of Russian intellectuals respond to the Baltics as if they were, collectively, the ex-girlfriend who said “and also you were never very good in bed”.

        Doug M.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Doug, I don’t think this is a proper comment.

          • Alexander, I agree with you re: “not a proper comment.” On the other hand, there is something interesting in Rus-Balt relations – different layers of ambiguity, attraction, and loathing that strike one as unusual given the extremely disproportionate sizes of the polities involved.

            I think a more useful analogy than the above Belize or Cuba would be a hypothetical one: what if Texas and Hawaii regained independence? After all, they were independent once, and still maintain an independent spirit. I submit that if that happened, Americans would observe them in much the same way that Russians observe the Baltics.

            The analogy would further hold if, for instance, Hawaii made knowledge of the Hawaiian language a condition to gain citizenship and banned English-language signs in Honolulu, and if Hawaiian officials started celebrating the Japanese as the good guys in WW2. While Hawaiian historical grievances may be legit, I think plenty of “lower 48” Americans would be taken aback by that.

            • I’m honestly not sure what’s improper about it. A lot of Russian commentary on the Baltics involves various levels of resentment, sulky self-pity, snide trash-talking and (when things go badly there) lip-smacking, hand-rubbing schadenfreude. There’s an underlying bitterness that is really rather striking sometimes.

              (N.B., I don’t include our host here. Anatoly shares the Russian interest in the Baltics, but he doesn’t seem to be tapping that deep vein of nationalist weirdness.)

              Most post-colonial relations don’t involve this level of intensity. The French do not get that excited about anti-French demonstrations in, say, Senegal. Even when they’re intervening militarily — as in the Ivory Coast earlier this year — they’re just not that emotionally engaged as a nation. Les noirs, they like us, they don’t like us, who really cares?

              The Hawaii analogy is interesting, but too far-fetched to have much punch. The internal structure of the US is so different from that of the fUSSR that there really isn’t any good or close comparison.

              There is the US relationship with Cuba, of course. But Cuba is sort of a perfect storm — you had a revolutionary government that was ferociously anti-American, you had US anti-Communism, you had the sudden creation of a huge and influential Cuban-American diaspora, and you had (briefly) a real, major strategic threat to the US. Even so, while Americans can be totally irrational on the subject of Cuba, it’s just not the same kind of emotionally charged weirdness that I see sometimes in Russian commentary on the Baltics. Frothing irrational hatred, yes, but not wounded, sulky vindictiveness.

              The closest comparison I can think of — and it’s not very close — is the Serb attitude towards Kosovo. If you could somehow subtract the creepy race-hatred for Albanians.

              Doug M.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                I do not think it is proper to use sexual imagery when discussing countries.

              • Alex, the referent was not “Russia” but “some Russian intellectuals”.

                But if it makes you more comfortable, then substitute “the ex-girlfriend who posts on Facebook what a relief it is to have finally broken up with you, because you were incredibly self-centered and had no sense of humor, and dumping you was the best decision she’s ever made”.

                Doug M.

              • Doug: Regarding Russian intellectuals specifically – some have made the point that they felt screwed, having supported (at least verbally) Baltic independence, when the Baltic leaders turned out to be unfriendly to both Russia the country and Russian people & language within their borders. Also, the image within the CCCP was that the Baltics were the most “civilized, Western, sophisticated” part. Russian intellectuals probably expected them to act more like W. Europeans and less like tribal nationalists.

                Note: Not saying I support this view necessarily; it’s just something I’ve heard more than once.

                By contrast, where ordinary Russians are concerned, my impression is that they have a hard time telling those 3 countries apart.

              • Re: Russian obsession with Baltics.
                Isn’t it because Baltic states have joined NATO, no other ex-USSR country has done this. So they sort of … betrayed the Motherland.

                Russians will be naturally more interested in Europe than Kazakhstan.

              • I think @grafomanka has it mostly right, although Balts joining NATO cannot really be considered “betrayal of Motherland”, since Balts never considered Russia to be Motherland. A lot of the bitterness is actually fear and dread: because Balts joined NATO, they would be used as staging area against Russia in future wars. This makes them an enemy in a future war, so Balts’ negative views of Russia gain in importance (=they would be fierce, ideologically-driven enemy in a future war).
                On Hawaii/Texas analogy: I don’t know anything about Hawaii, but I know a lot about Texas, as I have close relatives who live there; and trust me, there is a real chance that Texas would secede from union. Secessionist sentiment in Texas is very popular (I haven’t seen any scientific polls, but I would guestimate around 40% if you went around asking people), especially when there is Democratic administration in Washington. Current governor of Texas, Rick Perry, threatens secession every other day (although he is also running for President of Union, go figure). If under some bizarre set of future circumstances Texas really did secede, then rest of America WOULD probably react with same resentment and Schadenfreude as Russia did to Baltics.
                And, by the way, Doug is not the only one who uses sexual imagery to describe these difficult international relationships. I have read some Russian commentators who talk about Gruzia in precisely those terms: Used to be Russia’s “favorite wife”, then found another beau (=USA), etc. Is just a figure of speech that tries to score a point via metaphor, and I don’t really see anything improper there, although I don’t necessarily agree with Doug about the specific points.

              • kalevipoeg says:

                To elaborate on the couple(ing) metaphor, Russia thinks that they married the Baltics for eternity (an empire always marries for eternity), while the Baltics consider that they were raped by Russia. Thus, Russia and many of its citizens may consider the Baltics as independent, but not as REindependent states continuing their pre-WWII existence based on legal continuity.

                The second angle might be that large parts of the northern Belorus and the area from Lithuania and Latvia to Moscow used to be a mix of finno-ugrians and balts, while the lands to the north and to the east of it were populated by finno-ugrians. Genetics shows that all those regions are genetically similar and current residents are mostly the descendants of finno-ugric hunter-gatherers. The switch to eastern slavic dialects only happened during the last 15 centuries or so. Thus the ongoing quarrel is also about the remaining non-russian identity mindset still lingering on the shores of the Baltic Sea, refusing to die out and refusing to become russified.

                One should also remark that those to the east of the Baltics mostly represented the so-called continental finno-ugrians, while the Baltics was home to a mix of maritime and continental finno-ugrians (racially western and eastern Baltic “races”).

                The importance of Estonia in particular is its location as the southernmost outpost of remaining culturally baltic finns, who have refused to become balts, refused to become swedes and refused to become russians. The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most, perhaps partly because the old finno-ugric identity has still not completely faded away from the minds of russified peoples (or at least there are some who believe so) and because Kremlin fears about a revival, or more likely cultivates the fear to complete the russification process.

              • kalevipoeg says:

                As another analogy, Russia can be viewed as the Borg, the Baltics and especially Estonia are the starship Enterprise, and there is a Picard somewhere (not Putin, that’s for sure).

              • Well if you want to think of things that way Kalevipoeg shouldn’t you be describing any empire as a Borg?

                The Romans “Latinized” almost the entirely of the northern Med. The British Empire “anglicized” a whole bunch of places from Scotland and Ireland to India and (indirectly) North America.

                The only problem is that the Finno-Ugrics weren’t as successful as some of the other tribes, hence why today their geographic scope is limited. But you have plenty of other peoples for company in this respect: the Basques, the Greeks, the Manchus, etc.

              • kalevipoeg says:

                Yes, any empire acts as a Borg.

                And yes, in some sense finno-ugric tribes were not as successful. But it all depends on what values one values. We prefer to be spiritually free and not be absorbed into the Borg. And that is what this quarrel is all about – about the last parts of a former whole resisting the spread of the Borg. And I can imagine that the Borg does not feel as a whole until it has successfully absorbed all its former finno-ugric self.
                And that is why the relative success of Estonia irks so many in the Borg collective.

              • I assure you, even among Eurasianists and Soviet nostalgists, there are very few who want much to do with Estonia or the Baltics in general. Certainly there is no desire whatsoever to conquer them.

                The Borg would appreciate you cutting down on the widespread ethno-linguistic discrimination but is otherwise largely indifferent.

              • Kalevipoeg above (below?) states: “The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most” – I really don’t see any evidence for this; I just see arguments about politics.

                BTW, you brought up a point above that is frequently overlooked: Estonian Russians (the “traditional Russian minority”) were persecuted worse than ethnic Estonians when the Soviets first took over. This was for political reasons, as they came from groups that were “politically incorrect”: Old Believers, White emigres, remnants of Tsarist officialdom.

                This treatment is an item of evidence against the common Baltic claim of Russo-supremacy in Soviet policy, is it not?

              • kalevipoeg says:

                Re: About the “Russo-supremacy in Soviet policy”.

                No, I don’t agree with you, Scowspi.
                It is consistent with the claims from the Baltics. The primary political reasoning of Kremlin is to spread the Borg collective by absorbing neighboring native peoples.
                Kremlin punishing russians in near abroad for failing their duties to the prime directive of Kremlin is very much consistent with the claims from the Baltics.

                You not seeing “The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most” is an indication of a short-sightedness common to ALL indo-europeans in Europe and in the Americas – you don’t see what you don’t want to see or admit.

                The evidence is in the way indo-europeans treat native peoples and their culture, even when those indo-europeans happen to have those same native peoples and cultures as their ancestors.

                Russians see estonians and baltic finns and balts as future russians.

                Estonians and finns see boreal zone russians and balts (and more and more swedes as well) as former finno-ugrians.

                Russians deny what estonians see.
                Estonians deny what russians see.

                Those boreal russians are taught by Kremlin to demean their ancestral finno-ugric (and the intermediate baltic) culture and those who still keep that culture.
                Finns and estonians and hungarians have shown in PISA and TIMSS tests that a language switch to indo-european dialects was really not necessary at all and that the old cultures are very competitive. Kremlin (Borg) does not like open friendly competition, even if it comes from a small Estonia.

              • kalevipoeg says:

                AK, you can start your assurances by recognizing contemporary Estonia as a legal continuation of a pre-WWII Estonia. Estonia was and still is a national state, with the primary directive written into our constitution to keep estonian language and culture within Estonia.

                If Kremlin does not recognize contemporary Estonia as a legal continuation of a pre-WWII Estonia, then there are really no assurances that Kremlin wiould not try to replay the events of 1939-1940 in the future. Legal continuity of Estonia is a necessary (but not sufficient) prerequisite for assurances to be taken seriously.

                And that also means that you take legal continuity and a nation-state into consideration when you look at the situation in Estonia.

                Unfortunately, Amnesty International reports concerning Estonia have been error-prone. Even the Estonian Amnesty group has criticized the reports for mistakes. And Amnesty International seems to be an organisation disrespecting the legal continuity of Estonia with pre-WWII Estonia, and thus violating the Hague and Geneva conventions on the issues of occupation, colonization and genocide.

                Based on PISA tests, young russians in Estonia are given the best russian language primary education in the world – even besting the primary education given in RF.

                There are about 370 000 russians living in Estonia. There are still some finno-ugric nations living within RF with a similar or larger population size, but there are no news about them besting Russian russians in PISA tests using their finno-ugric language based education. In fact, as I understand, they are not allowed to take PISA tests in their own language at all. And I have not heard about ukrainians in RF being allowed to take PISA tests in ukrainian language as well.

                Amnesty International does not give such comparative overviews.

                The only real issue with the russian culture in Estonia concerns with the creation and registration and recognition of a russian cultural autonomy in Estonia. The problem is that there is a group who claims to represent the local russians in this issue, but there is little evidence that most of the local russians have given them the necessary mandate. I am sure that after this has been sorted out, and the cultural autonomy has been granted, there will be no real lingering issues.

                Thus, there is no wide-spread ethno-linguistic discrimination of russians in Estonia.

              • kalevipoeg says:

                From the Amnesty International report:


                /* This report focuses on barriers to full and effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights for members of the Russian-speaking minority who had become settled in Estonia prior to that country’s independence in 1991. Given this focus, it will not seek to discuss in detail civil and political rights or citizenship requirements and naturalization processes in detail, except where these affect ESC rights. The report is also not intended as a comprehensive overview of issues faced by all persons in Estonia who are not ethnically Estonian, including those of migrant communities who arrived after 1991, or of smaller minority communities such as the Roma community, the Tartar community, the Jewish community or Finno-Ugric communities. */

                So, in short, the AI report only zeroes in on the issues concerning soviet colonists and their children in Estonia, and disregarding any comprehensive search for a right balance between the rights of a native majority, regional native minority, nonnative minority of former colonists and regional nonnative majorities of colonists.

                The AI report is concerned that of the 46% russian speaking persons living in a bilingual capital of Estonia, about 60% have NOT learned the state language, even after 15 years of reindependence and despite of the almost perfect bilingual environment. The AI report is concerned about those 60% of monolinguals, but is not concerned that the 54% of natives still have to endure those monolingual colonists, who have refused to learn estonian language even after 15 years of independence (not even mentioning the many years of occupation).

                The AI report is concerned about the 80% of monolingual colonists in Narva, but is NOT concerned about the few estonians who managed to stay in Narva during the soviet occupation, or dared to move back to Narva after reindependence. AI report finds it perfectly OK that natives still have to be bilingual to survive, but that soviet colonists can stay monolingual even in a public office job.

                I guess this is perhaps the partiality one has come to expect from Amnesty International.

                And how on earth is it possible to provide jobs anywhere without any language discrimination, is beyond me.
                Do all 200 world states provide jobs for livonians who only speak livonian?

                So, in conclusion, such rights are often in contradiction with other rights, and one could only strive for a proper / right balance. But that is an impossible task if one only concentrates on one group of people.

        • Okay, let it be fascination then. 😉 But there are a few concrete reasons for it.

          1) As already pointed out, the visible contrast with Russia, and issues with their respective media coverage.

          2) The fact that for years Latvia, along with Estonia and Lithuania, were touted as Baltic tigers and praised for their neoliberal economic reforms (which were very unfavorably contrasted with “statist” Russia). But now, once again, we see that radical neoliberal reforms may be good for growth in the short-run, but aren’t the panacea ideologues present them as in the long run. Nonetheless, bizarre as it seems, there are still many influential economists (e.g. Anders Aslund) actually arguing for Latvian-style solutions to the economic crisis.

    • Doug,

      some comment on your #2. If I understand it correctly, TFR is higher for ethnic Latvians than for Russian speakers. At the same time, those speakers tend to be concentrated in major cities (all 7 of them), while many Latvians live in rural areas. As everywhere in FSU, rural population tends to have higher TFR. And be poorer.

      I have no data on how the pain was distributed between rural and urban areas in relative terms, but usual history is cities having it harder than villages.

    • Your question #2:

      According to the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia between 2000-2010 the number of ethnic Latvians has been declining on average about 3000 every year. Same figure for ethnic Russians is about 4500, Belorussians 1000, Ukrainians 300, Poles 200.

      Statistics also indicate that ethnic Latvians have a significantly higher birth rate than ethnic Russians. In 2010 ethnic Latvians were 59.5% of total population, but about 68% of all children born were ethnic Latvians. Russians make 28% of Latvian population, but only 23% of all children born were ethnic Russians. There is also significant difference in the number of deaths.

      I suppose both of these numbers can be explained by the fact that the average age of ethnic Russians is much higher than that of ethnic Latvians. Generations that emigrated into Latvia during occupation years are now getting old and dying away.

  7. Situation with students/professional s wanting to immigrate is worse in many post communist countries than in Russia, and a certain proportion of those countries are in the EU – for example Bulgaria, Poland, and Latvia, Lithuania… I think it’s still worse even if you adjust for people wanting to merely work abroad vs people wanting to ‘leave forever’.
    This is what commentators miss when they discuss ‘the mood in Russia’ – the crisis is still felt and the ‘mood’ is pretty down everywhere in Eastern Europe!
    Saying this, Russia’s situation is not rosy. Some people I know who have a very good life in Russia think about immigration. Somehow I doubt that 6 years of United Russia dominance will help to reverse this trend.

    • The Czechs appear to be doing something right – are they an exception in the post-commie sphere? The Czech Republic attracts immigrants, including plenty of Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles:

      • Well, the language is close enough that a Russian, Ukrainian or Pole can pick it up pretty easily.

        Doug M.

      • I think it’s because Czechs are most germanized… They can organize themselves well ))
        It’s always easier with little countries – easy to get things right, easy to get things wrong – Estonians are doing well too, aren’t they? I always thought comparing Russia to Estonia and proclaiming the former a failure because it’s not doing as well as the latter was completely off base…

        • Maybe the Czechs were smart enough to NOT listen to the neo-liberal economic advisors? Everybody knows that Poles are doing okay too. I think in the early post-Soviet days Poles listened to the IMF “austerity” jackals and had some very bad years, but eventually they got smarter. The key is good government and putting smart people, not ideologues, in top posts.
          Any country, big or small, can do well or badly. USA is huge country, but is on a very bad track right now and heading for big huge collapse, mostly because of dysfunctional government, and Americans electing stupid people into government.

    • If they had a clue about Canada, they would think twice. If you immigrate to Canada, you start from scratch. All of your credentials are ignored as “inferior”. I believe the same applies to the USA, etc.

  8. Alexander Mercouris says:

    The following article about Latvia appeared first in the Guardian and now on Counterpunch. You can make of it what you will.

  9. I note in passing that Belarus’ demographics are just about as dire as Latvia’s — Belarus has had a very low birthrate for a long time now — and Belarus is currently undergoing an economic crisis very different from, but nearly as nasty as, the one that’s currently enveloping the Baltic States.

    Now, Belarus is under a very different political system (authoritarian and illiberal vs. parliamentarian and progressive) and a very different economic system (everything still state-owned or state-run). Nonetheless, it has followed a remarkably similar path — a decade of good to excellent growth, followed by a sudden drop off a cliff. As recently as March, the IMF was projecting 8% or better growth for Belarus for 2011. It now appears that growth has pretty much stopped dead, and the economy is expected to contract in 2012. Meanwhile, inflation for 2011 is going to approach 100%, interest rates are approaching 30%, and basic goods such as bacon and yogurt have disappeared from the shelves.

    Belarus’ crash comes a couple of years later than Latvia’s, and it’s likely to be less severe — the current forecast is for negative growth in the range of 5% next year, not 25%. But the fact that two adjacent countries are on broadly similar trajectories, despite their seemingly dramatic differences, should give the casual analyst pause.

    Doug M.

    • Latvia’s parliament has public approval ratings of roughly 5-15 percent. Yeah, that’s some nice “parliamentarian and progressive” system you’ve got there.

      • …that would be the Latvian Parliament that just got replaced last week by a new Latvian Parliament, in peaceful, orderly and fair elections whose results were promptly accepted by all parties.

        Try to keep up, A.

        Doug M.

        • Fortunately, the parties owned by Us still retain the capacity to prevent Harmony Center joining the government and impeding Us in our extraction of wealth from Latvia.

          All is well.

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      I am afraid that I do not believe the statistics that were previously coming out of Belarus. I think the high growth rates that were being claimed were if not fantasies certainly exaggerations. The financial collapse that has happened this year shows how fragile the system in Belarus always was. I remember how just over a year ago the authorities in Belarus became furious when the Russian Finance Minister Kudrin warned that Belarus was heading for financial collapse. That of course has now come to pass. I would add that the collapse would presumably have been averted if the project to build a union state with Russia with a single currency (presumably the Russian rouble) had been implemented but for whatever reason it did not happen.

      • …actually, customs union with Russia has been making the economic problems worse, at least in the short run.

        Belarus devalued its currency (suddenly and without notice, of course) in May, and it is still falling against most other currencies. A Russian ruble in Minsk is worth about double what it was a year ago.

        So, Russians are pouring over the border and buying anything that will move, from groceries to televisions. Which sounds great… except that (1) it’s causing massive shortages of all sorts of things, as everything from socks to bacon gets sucked over the border into Russia; and (2) it’s dramatically contributing to inflation, as retailers raise their prices in the face of demand.

        Currency union with Russia would have produced a different set of problems, but likely just as bad or worse.

        Doug M.

      • As to statistics in Belarus: I’m inclined to agree. Anatoly has discussed on this blog why Russian statistics are (probably, mostly, more or less) trustworthy. Most of those arguments, alas, do not apply to Belarus. If the numbers try to make Batka look bad, one suspects that the numbers will suffer the consequences.

        That said, a lot of the growth was real. Anyone who has been to Minsk will tell you it’s a clean, well-run city with a lot of new construction and (until recently) a tangible air of modest prosperity.

        Doug M.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Russia did not cause Belarus’s problems. Blaming Russia for them is a cheap shot. What caused Belarus’s problems was unrestrained state spending just as what caused Latvia’s problems was a credit boom that got out of control.

          • Alex, I’m honestly not sure what you’re talking about here. I did not blame Russia for the current crisis. I said “customs union with Russia has been making the problem worse, at least in the short run”. That’s an obviously true statement. What are you objecting to, here?

            — But if you want to apportion blame, I’ll cheerfully agree that most of it lies on the Belarusan side. Both sides agreed to the customs union, but in retrospect, it was very poor timing on the part of the Belarusans. Devaluation would have been a major shock anyway — it’s inflationary, especially in a relatively small open economy like Belarus’. But devaluation plus customs union at the same time has moved the needle from “difficult transition” to “crisis”.

            Doug M.

            • Alexander Mercouris says:

              I cannot agree with this. The Customs Union has barely started to work and cannot be responsible for consumer goods shortages in Belarus or for Belarus’s financial collapse. Nor does it make sense to blame goods shortages on incoming floods of Russians. Goods shortages are a classic symptom of hyperinflation, which is what Belarus is experiencing now, as buyers try to hoard at the same time as sellers withdraw goods from the market and turn to barter.

              • No offense, but you’re wrong. Russians are flooding into Belarus and buying everything they can. This is a fact; you can find news stories about it in Russian, Belarusan, and foreign media, along with videos of empty store shelves, long lines, and happy Russians with cars full of cheap food and consumer goods.

                And why not? The devaluation means that the entire country is having a 50% off sale. Everything, all across Belarus, is suddenly half price. I’d be driving across the border, too.

                This is great news for wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets, drugstores, hotels, spas, casinos, and prostitutes. It’s bad news for ordinary people (who are looking at empty shelves, or bidding for goods and services against Russians who are suddenly twice as rich) and for anyone who relies on imports (which is a lot of people, since Belarus is a fairly open economy, and also an economy that imports most of its energy).

                I’m not saying the customs union is responsible for Belarus’ problems. It’s not. Most of them would have happened anyway. But by implementing customs union simultaneously with a major currency devaluation, the Belarusan government has made a bad situation worse.

                — BTW, Belarus isn’t experiencing hyperinflation… yet.

                Doug M.

    • @doug: Good point about Belarus. They had a great run as a neo-socialist state, but now their economic crisis is mostly caused by Russia raising energy prices on them. Belorussians simply cannot afford to pay market price of gas, they really need the discount. Belorussian “economic miracle” was ALWAYS premised on discounted energy supplied by Russia. But then Russia decided to screw them over. (Long story.)
      The difference between Belorussia and Latvia is that Belorussian working people and middle class will not feel the collapse as severely, because of social safety net.
      In summary: Between systems as politically and economically disparate as Latvia and Belorussia, what is the common denominator of their economic woes? The answer: lack of money.
      Definition of povery = Lack of money.
      Cure for povery = Infusion of money from some outside source.

      • “Between systems as politically and economically disparate as Latvia and Belorussia, what is the common denominator of their economic woes? The answer: lack of money.”

        Try this simple experiment. Take the 15 republics of the fUSSR, and plot them on a scattergraph. On one axis, plot estimated GDP growth for 2011. On the other, plot energy exports as a percentage of GDP. (If the country is a net energy importer, this will be a negative figure.)

        Graphed like that, do you see a correlation? How obvious is it?

        Doug M.

      • This whole “Russia raising energy prices” is BS. Energy prices are rising because oil and gas production is stalled and preparing to decline rapidly while demand will keep on rising. If Belarus can’t factor energy costs into its economic model then that is a clear failure of its planners.

    • I have my doubts about Belorussian statistics too. For instance, they are currently claiming a GDP growth rate of 9.1%, which I think is extremely unlikely to be the case in the light of recent events.

      That said, I really don’t think the demographic situation in Belarus is worse than Latvia’s. It’s TFR was 1.50 in 2009, and unlike in Latvia there was no major collapse (birth rates declined by a bit but I think much of that can be attributed to the decline in women of child-bearing age that is now becoming evident throughout the Slavic lands). It also does not have the major emigration crisis afflicting Latvia and Lithuania. Their stats indicate that it remains a net immigration country.

      • Belarusan growth numbers have been a rapidly moving target, changing almost day by day over the last six months. But you can’t find any estimate from the last 90 days that isn’t negative for 2012. (Well, other than the official Belarusan one.)

        Doug M.

      • …the thing about TFRs is that they have their effect over time, not at once. A country can have a very low TFR for a few years and then rebound. A low TFR that’s sustained over a decade or more, though, will have deep long-term effects.

        “Better than Latvia” is a very low bar, since Latvia is either one of the worst or *the* worst, depending on which period you choose. Belarus’ TFR is very low, and has been very low for a long time. They haven’t come close to 2.0 for a full generation now. Over that whole period of time, they’ve consistently maintained one of the lowest TFRs in the world.

        I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: the real crunch in post-Communist Eastern Europe is just about to arrive. The empty birth cohorts of the 1990s are now entering their peak childbearing years. From Russia to Hungary, countries are going to face a one-two punch: very few women of peak childbearing age /and/ very few children per woman.

        But this is a conversation for another thread. The point here is that Belarus’ demographic situation, while not quite as awful as Latvia’s, is still pretty dire.

        As to Belarus getting more immigrants than emigrants… well, as noted, Belarusan statistics are a little on the dubious side. Belarus is poorer than all its neighbors except Ukraine; it’s a bit hard to imagine Poles or Russians moving there in large numbers. I’m sure there was a wave of emigrants from the Baltics and Central Asia (as with Russia, just on a smaller scale), but that should be pretty much done by now. Ukrainians? But why would a Ukrainian move to Belarus instead of Russia?

        I do suspect that emigration from Belarus has been kept fairly low, as Belarusans do not have easy visa entry into the EU. (Also, to be fair, up until six months ago Belarus was relatively prosperous and stable. If you didn’t mind living under a highly illiberal authoritarian government, you could have a perfectly pleasant life there.)

        Doug M.

  10. About emigration from Latvia. Nowadays EU is more and more like US and at some point there will be states not countries. Similarly like US, states will have their own laws (and some EU). And similarly like US where younger people from middle states tend to “emigrate” to coast states, same is happening with Latvians. If you know English well enough to work in English speaking country where living is better, it would be stupid not to do it. One could ask himself, if your children could grow up in better place, wouldn’t you want that?
    And for low birth rate, people just getting smarter and don’t fuck around. People think that there is some unwritten rule that you need big family, there is not. If I don’t want any children, that’s my decision and government can’t tell me what to do.

    • Oh people do ‘fuck around’, they just can’t afford a baby.

    • Well, yes, but it’s not that simple.

      (1) The EU may be becoming more and more like the US, but that doesn’t mean that it will ever get there or that the process will not reverse. Where would a country like Latvia be then?

      (2) The other, more immediate point, is the sheer magnitude of Latvia’s demographic, in particular fertility collapse. No other country comes close. Not Estonia, not Lithuania. The speed with which the TFR dropped in 2008-2011 can only be compared with what happened in 1990-95. It indicates that living conditions for a whole lot of folks there went drastically down, far more so than anywhere else in the EU or the former USSR.

      • Irrelevant. Because the Latvian government implemented the proper policy response to the global financial readjustment, Our Nordic colleagues enjoy bonuses, not haircuts.

        All is well, except for the European Court of Human Rights refusing Our $98 billion Yukos payday. Damn that Putin! However did he get to those judges?!

      • But 1990-1995 was a change from a communistic birth profile (2 kids at a young age, early 20’s) to a capitalist birth profile (2 kids at an old age, early 30’s) so it wasn’t only economic reasons for the very low birth numbers in those years unlike now

  11. Mr. Karlin,

    While Latvia has been making great strides towards becoming a delightfully Russenfrei beacon of economic freedom, We must confess the most bitter disappointment in how Russia has developed the last fifteen years. The high hopes We had for Russia then is illustrated by this short excerpt from an article by the wise scholar Richard F. Starr “Russia and the West”, Mediterranean Quarterly, Fall 1995 pgs 76-77:

    The Most Hopeful Scenario

    This would include a genuine transition to democracy and economic relations, based on private enterprise. A ten-year projected decline of the Russian population by 16.5 million to 131.5 million by the year 2005, coupled with about four hundred thousand tons of grain exported for 1996, suggests that the country finally would become able to feed itself. The military-industrial complex is closed down and the armed forces reorganized into a constabulary force, without offensive combat capabilities.

    After the young economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky has been elected president and proclaims a Compact with Russia, an enormous rescue operation is mobilized by the industrialized world. It dwarfs the Mexican bailout. Moscow offers as collateral its natural resources, valued at $29 trillion. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the G-7 organization of seven leading economic powers, and (a – We especially loved this part) private banks in the West and Japan all join in support of this largest assistance program in history.

    The new leadership in Moscow proposes to transform the Federation of Russia, with its twenty-one republics, into a United States of Russia that would encompass forty-six territorial units. Five of the latter are Cossack republics, named after historic military settlements along the border of the former tsarist empire. A continental congress, convened at St. Petersburg, drafts a new constitution and a bill of rights.


    From Our perspective, the important points of this plan were:
    1) Decline of Russia’s population to ~130 million.
    2) Elimination of Russia’s military-industrial sector.
    3) Elimination of Russian military capabilities.
    4) Western control of Russia’s then-$29 trillion natural resources sector, at a price of ~$100 billion (The Mexican bailout Our good Professor Starr referred to came to about $50 billion).
    5) The multiplication of territorial units in Russia, to ensure when that ramshackle country fell apart there would be as many small pieces as possible.

    As you can clearly see, Our hopes high hopes for Russia have been deeply, bitterly disappointed.

    • Well, obviously that was theWest’s plan for Russia in the 90’s. The fact that it did not completely come to fruition (thanks, Putin!) should not make us (Russians) complacent. The plan is still in place, just delayed. One only needs glance at Libya to see how quickly, and how completely, NATO can plunder and de-fang a competitor nation, once it sets its mind to it. You think the Libya scenario could never happen to Russia? Think again, my friends….
      Russia has all the conditions that Libya had: natural resources, wealth, a debt-free economy, lots of money in the bank… combined with a small but potentially violent political minority (including criminal jihadist element) willing to collude with the West in order to gain power.

      • Libya was a small state with a dictator who overstayed his welcome. You simply cannot scale Libya to Russia. Do you expect there to be an uprising by *millions* against Putin. Not a bloody chance in Hell. Even all the jihadis and fifth columnists couldn’t muster a force of 50,000. Also, Putin is a *popular* leader who is *elected*. No matter what the colonialist west yaps about Russia, the Russian (including minorities) people actually have a voice and there is no hint of massive discontent where people would take up arms against the government they voted for.

        If some wishful thinking nut from the west wants to claim that economic conditions will trigger a revolt, then they need to get off the crack. Conditions in 1998 were much, much more ripe for revolution than 2011. Back then there were still many communists around (their numbers have dwindled due to die off) and the standard of living was dramatically worse than today. In addition, Yeltsin stole the 1996 election which was clearly won by Zyuganov.

        • Right on! The more the West (and their paid Russophobic mouthpieces) yaps about Russia, the more I begin to doubt them, even though I know fully well Russia has plenty of problems it has to deal with before reaching its fullest potential!

          • Indeed Russia has serious problems. But in this propaganda windstorm from the west one has to take an opposing stance. The professional Russia haters will use whatever scrap of information to bash Russia. Arguing against this tide of BS is not the same as apologizing excesses and ignoring real problems.

  12. I must have missed the “plundering” part. Libya’s current government is (so far) honoring all its pre-existing contracts, which means that Libya’s oil is being purchased by exactly the same people as a year ago.

    “De-fang” means to render harmless. Libya was already pretty harmless — Qaddafi had given up supporting terrorism and abandoned his nuclear program. His military was a joke; Libya lost a war with Chad, for goodness’ sake. (Actually, it lost a war with Tanzania, and /then/ lost a war with Chad.) So, the intervention wasn’t to deal with a threat, real or perceived.

    Doug M.

    • Clarification: by “plunder”, I wasn’t talking about the oil. I was talking about the billions of dollars in cash that Libya had in Western banks. Libya was a debt-free nation with a cash surplus. I predict one year from now it will be deeply in debt to the IMF. If it turns out I am wrong about that, then I will buy a tie and eat it, I promise!

      • …except the money hasn’t gone away. It’s been handed over to the NTC.

        Debt: I doubt it, but it’s not impossible. The war destroyed a lot of infrastructure — for instance, much of the city of Misrata, with almost half a million people, was reduced to rubble. Reconstruction costs will run to tens of billions. That’s roughly the same order of magnitude as Libya’s foreign currency reserves (~$136 billion).

        So it’s conceivable, though IMO pretty unlikely, that they could go into the red for a while. Basically it’s going to be a race between how fast they rebuild, and how fast they can pump oil. The oil infrastructure was only lightly damaged, so my money is on the pumpers. I think you’ll probably end up at least nibbling on that tie.

        — The Russian discourse on Libya is pretty interesting. Obviously the Russian media are going to take a dim view of NATO stomping a government that’s traditionally been friendly to Russia. But I do wonder if that’s all there is to it.

        I note in passing that Russia has several Central Asian client states run by aging autocrats who’ve been in power for decades, very similar to the guys who’ve been overthrown or threatened by the Arab Spring.

        Doug M.

  13. alexander mercouris says:

    For anyone still interested here is a further piece about the Baltics in Counterpunch

    It would seem that Lithuania’s population has also fallen since independence from 3.7 million to just 3 million again largely due to emigration. I believe I am right that Lithuania never had a significant Russian speaking minority so in this case the bulk of the emigrants presumably are ethnic Lithuanians.