Translation: Sergey Zhuravlev – The Reversal Of The “Russian Cross”

Sergey Zhuravlev is a Russian economist who runs a wonky but eminently readable and very useful, interesting blog and writes for Expert (author profile), which I may add is an excellent publication. You have met him previously on my blog as the inventor of a clever – if, in my opinion, flawed – argument that the 2011 Duma elections were marred by 5%-6% fraud, but were clean in Moscow; and if you read the Russia blogs, you may also have come across Mark Adomanis’ translation of one his articles about Russian regional inequality. Now I am presenting a translation of his Feb 13 article on what I called as the end of Russia’s demographic crisis: The Reversal of the Russian Cross. In my opinion, it has a few weaknesses; in particular, he is too cavalier about dismissing the “alcohol hypothesis” about post-Soviet Russia’s “supermortality”. But overall it is a brilliant and deeply informative survey of the origins of the Russian Cross – the crossover of the births and deaths graphs in 1992 – as well as of its recent reversal, to the extent that natural population decline is now almost stabilized and the overall population is able to grow due to net migrants.

The Reversal Of The Russian Cross

Last year our country’s population increased, for the first time in 20 years. Although positive growth in aggregate was only enabled by immigration from the Near Abroad, existing trends in rising fertility and falling mortality were maintained.

If we are to go by Rosstat’s figures, in the past year Russia’s population – for the first time in virtually the entire twenty years of Russia’s existence as a sovereign state – increased, exceeding 143 million people. The maximum population size was reached in 1992, at 148.56 millions, and has since decreased at a practically monotone rate. That said, it should be added that small population growth was previously observed in 1994 and 2009, and that the population fall in 2010 was, most likely, explained by cumulative errors over the period since the 2002 Census, and by the abnormal mortality during that summer’s heatwave [AK: There were c.56,000 excess deaths during the anomalous 2010 heatwave, which is basically equivalent to population decline of 48,300. Furthermore, the 2010 Census showed there to be 143.9 million Russians, which was one million higher than projections based on the 2002 Census; this implied that during the period, net immigration was underestimated by more than 100,000 per year. So its likely that even despite the heatwave, Russia’s population still eked out an increase in 2010].

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Russia’s Demographic Crisis Has Ended

I will have a much longer and detailed post on this in the future, with new projections, but this breaking news (at least as far as it comes with dry demographic statistics) so I can’t refrain from writing a preliminary post on the matter.

For all intents and purposes, Russia’s demographic crisis – the infamous “death spiral” afflicting it for much of the post-Soviet period – is at an end.

Here is a summary of the preliminary data for 2011:

1. The population increased by 189,000. The rate of natural decrease, deaths minus births, is now at a mere 131,000; for comparison, it was consistently within the 700,000 to 1,000,000 range from 1993 to 2006. This was more than balanced by an uptick in net immigration, which rose to 320,000 this year. (This has not stopped the hackish Western media from slobbering on about Russia’s “brain drain” at just the precise moment in time that it finally came to a complete halt).

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Maksim Schweiz – It’s Time To Shove Off To Belarus!

National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat'ka are all there is to it?

National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat’ka are all there is to it?

In the vein of my recent posts on the myth of Russian emigration, I am now publishing a translation of Уехать в Белоруссию (“Go Off To Belarus”) by Maksim Schweiz writing for Rosbalt news agency. It is a joint effort by Nils van der Vegte, who blogs with Joera Mulders at Russia Watchers and is now busy propagating Dutch language and culture in the Arctic cornucopia of Arkhangelsk, and myself. Nils translated the section on Belarus, I translated the section on Ukraine.


Many pundits have stated lately that Russia is going to experience (or is already experiencing) a large outflow of people who wish to emigrate to other countries because in contemporary Russia, life is supposedly unbearable. However, by looking at the statistics, which we prefer over random quotes, this is not really the case. Also, like some other people pointed out, Russia is not that unique in that a certain percentage has the desire to leave one’s country. Even Russia’s most anti-Kremlin and pro-Western newspapers are fed up with the continuous desire to emigrate. In a recent interview on Echo of Moscow, Konstantin Remtsukov (the editor of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta) commented: “I would like to ask those people who want to “shove off” the following question: just when was it ever better in Russia?” and “Did they want to leave in 1994 and 1993 as well? What aboutin 1998? Do they think they lived better then than we do today?” Instead of doing a serious/academic post on Russian emigration (to counter all these rants) we have decided to translate a rather cynical post by Rosbalt, in which a Russian journalist advises Russians about emigrating to Belarus or Ukraine. – Nils van der Vegte.

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Time To Shove Off! And What Then?…

Alas and alack, there's only so many grants for foreign "intelligents" at Western think-tanks.

Alas and alack, there’s only so many grants for foreign “intelligents” at Western think-tanks.

If I had a cent for every Russia story from the past week that featured the (conclusively debunked) “sixth wave of emigration” meme…

And if wishes were fishes. Still, the coverage of Russian reactions to Putin’s return does demonstrate the venality and general fecklessness of the Western MSM. As Adomanis correctly noted, it is “negative value added” – you come away from reading them understanding less than you did before.

But let’s for a moment ignore that all the demographic statistics indicate that emigration is currently at very low levels, having flattened out in the late 2000’s and stayed down since. Let us ignore the much bigger levels of immigration – and not only from Central Asia or the Caucasus, but the fact that the migration balance even with many “developed countries” is beginning to turn positive.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves two different questions: what kinds of Russians are actually willing to migrate, and where would they go?

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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.

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Nikolai Starikov – How Russian Liberals Create Russophobe Myths

Nikolay Starikov, heroic destroyer of Russian liberal myths!

Nikolay Starikov, heroic destroyer of Russian liberal myths!

Do you remember the growing chorus of voices in the Western media speaking of a “growing wave” of emigration from Putin’s Russia? Those 1.25 million liberal professionals who have fled that neo-Soviet abyss in the past few years? As it turns out, not only are these stories complete fabrications – in a previous post, I revealed that the actual statistics (as opposed to hearsay) indicate that emigration has fallen to record lows – but they originate with the Russian liberal media.

The words of a government official, whose department has nothing to do with migration, was egregiously MISQUOTED to give the impression of a huge outflow in the past few years whereas he had been talking about the entire post-Soviet period! Nonetheless, too lazy and/or ideologically biased to do basic fact-checking, this false narrative spread into the top Russian liberal media outlets and from then on into Western publications (with their equally lazy and Russophobic hacks) such as Julian Evans for Wall Street Journal and Simon Shuster for TIME.

The full meta-story of how the Russian liberals orchestrated this “Second Wave of Emigration” meme is reconstructed in painstaking detail by Nikolay Starikov in his blog post How Liberal Myths are Created. My translation follows:

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Russia’s Brain Drain Abates, Just As Western Media Starts Hyping It

Everything’s going badly in Russia. Medvedev’s reforms are failing. The economy isn’t growing. It is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism (in stark contrast to civilized Western countries), and the motto “We cannot live like this any longer!” once again becomes an article of faith in the land – or well, at least among “the blogs on LiveJournal” and “the sites of the top independent and opposition groups” (who are of course totally representative of Russian public opinion). Citizens are fleeing the country like rats from a sinking ship.

Anyhow, unlike Eugene Ivanov who argues that media coverage of Russia has improved of late, I think the Western punditocracy remains every bit as wrong, idiotic and venal on Russia as it always was, and in this post I’ll use the recent WSJ article “Why Are They Leaving?” by Julian Evans as my foil (it’s illustrated with soc-realist posters of the worker and collective farm girl harkening back to the Soviet era; excusez-moi for crashing the party, but WTF do they have to do with anything in a story about Russian emigration of all things???).

“Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere…” Thus from the get go the author makes the strong impression – and one that is decisively reinforced throughout the rest of the article – that Russia has a big emigration problem that is draining it of brains and talent. But let’s consult the statistics (as opposed to anecdotal evidence and online polls at Novaya Gazeta asking Russians whether they want to emigrate; yes, Mr. Evans cites the online readership of a paper written by liberal ideologues in support of his argument). Too bad for Mr. Evans, the statistics reveal his article for the sham it really is.

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Russia Demographic Update VI

As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

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The Uncertain Future Of Cheap Russian Booze

One thing that strikes you, as you wander the shops of any Russian city, is the sheer cheapness of booze and cigs. As little as 3 years ago, one could buy a pint-sized bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes for just $1, while a 0.5l bottle of vodka cost as little as $3. Prices have since risen, but they remain very low in comparison to incomes.

This happy era was due to come to an end. The Finance Ministry planned to raise excise duties on ethanol products by a factor of 4.3 and by a factor of 15 on tobacco products, in a graduated way through to 2015. The result would have quadrupled the minimum price of lower-range vodkas (105 rules, to 410 rubles) and of the average cigarette pack (24 rubles, to 100 rubles). The practice of selling beer in large, plastic containers is to be forbidden from January 2013. Given that alcohol was found to cause 32% of aggregate mortality amongst middle-aged Russians in 2005, and the high prevalence of smoking among Russian men, these measures are surely long overdue. The plans will help Russia to consolidate the reductions in alcohol-related mortality of recent years.

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Russia’s Population Is Now Growing

The preliminary results of the 2010 Census are out, showing that the population has fallen to 142.9 million. This compares to 145.2 million counted in the previous 2002 Census.

Most headlines have emphasized the falling population aspect of “Putin’s decade”. But the more interesting stuff is in the derivatives. According to state statistics agency Rosstat, the population in 2010 should have been at 141.9 million (after a period of rapid decline until 2007; a small fall in 2008; and stagnation in 2009-10).

However, the Census results indicate that Rosstat may have placed the population 1.0 million people lower than reality, probably by underestimating immigration.

Furthermore, adding in the tendency towards increasing life expectancy and higher fertility rates previously covered on this blog, I can confidently predict that the 2020 Census will show a population bigger than this year’s. Perhaps 145-147 million, as predicted in both Rosstat’s and my own higher scenarios.

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