While Russia’s demographic outlook has improved in recent years, the country continues to struggle to reverse negative population trends.  Since 1992, about 12.5 million more Russians have died than have been born.  Thus, Russia’s population has fallen every year since then except 1993 and 2010, the decline softened only by immigration. 

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently called on lawmakers to ensure that traditional moral values are safeguarded in the country’s legislation in his first-ever address to the Russian State Duma, his reasons in part demographic.  According to the Moscow Times, the Patriarch commented that:

“One of Russia’s main misfortunes is the high number of abortions … If the number of abortions was halved, we would have steady and strong demographic growth.”

In 2010, 1.2 million abortions were carried out in Russia, according to the federal state statistics service, the terribly high number still a vast improvement from the 2.1 million recorded a decade ago in 2000.  The Patriarch proposed that abortions should no longer be covered by state medical insurance, which he said was “supported by taxpayers, some of whom are categorically opposed to abortion.” 

The Russian state continues to uphold conservative moral values.  According to the Patriarch, the political sphere is secondary to the sphere of values and “no Russian political party should destroy these primary values because [if one does], there will be no Russia.” Kirill added that the current composition of the Duma “implements on a practical level” the duty of protecting the country against “modern pseudo-values that are an offense to the identity and humanity of civilization as a whole.”

In a poll last year conducted by the Levada Centre, Russians were asked about what they considered to be the most important things to achieve before turning 30.  Most female Russians chose getting married, giving birth and receiving an education (in that order) ahead of other options such as starting a business and travelling the world.  The three top priorities for men were receiving an education, getting married and serving in the military.  The poll was conducted among respondents from 46 Russian regions.  The results seem to bode well for the country if it is to recover from its historically dire birth rates, and reflects the trend towards more Russians embracing traditional family values. 

Olga Isupova, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Demography, opined that the results are due to the government’s agenda in recent years, in part aimed at improving negative population. She comments that “[Russian] people are open to these influences”, stating that conservatism has “never been as [strong] as it is presented to now.” She considers that the number of people holding traditional values has increased because those who always held conservative views but doubted them, no longer do, and those who disagree are not so inclined to talk about it openly.

However, she also comments that government advertising and ‘propaganda’ doesn’t have absolute power because the declining birthrate in Russia doesn’t correspond with most men and women naming having children as a top priority.  Instead, she considers that people must really believe the message for themselves and be willing to change even if it means sacrifice for real change to occur.  Women may claim that their calling is to become mothers because they are unable to resist the pressure from the society, but this pressure will not make them do what they don’t want to do.  “If people are used to a particular lifestyle, they will not change it in a matter of seconds because of propaganda … It’s impossible to motivate people to do something because someone else wants it for them.”

There are four categories of values societies all over the world share, according to the World Values Survey (a research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, carried out by a worldwide network of social scientists since 1981): traditional values, secular-rational values, survival values and self-expression values.  The latest cultural map created by the scientists involved in the project places Russia and other Christian Orthodox countries somewhere in the middle between traditional and secular-rational values.  However, it seems that Russian society is becoming more interested in traditional family values, rather than drifting away from them like much of the world.  

While it is hard to agree with Russia’s intense nationalism and repressive political culture which can extend to hate crimes against those who disagree with the State, the positive promotion of family values bodes well for future birth rates, unborn babies and families.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...