Saturday, September 23, 2006

Some Days the Bear Eats You

An alert reader in Russia drew my attention to a Mosnews article from last week. It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently paid a visit to Chechnya an billed himself as a friend and protector of Islam:

Putin Calls Russia Defender of Islamic World

The Russian BearRussia is the most reliable partner of the Islamic world and most faithful defender of its interests, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Chechnya’s capital Grozny. Putin unexpectedly visited the war-ravaged republic to speak in the local parliament that opened for its first sitting on Monday.

“Russia has always been the most faithful, reliable and consistent defender of the interests of the Islamic world. Russia has always been the best and most reliable partner and ally. By destroying Russia, these people (terrorists) destroy one of the main pillars of the Islamic world in the struggle for rights (of Islamic states) in the international arena, the struggle for their legitimate rights,” Putin was quoted by Itar —Tass as saying, drawing applause from Chechen parliamentarians.

If President Bush is to be believed, Russia is “a reliable partner in the War on Terror.” Do I smell a conflict of interest here? Can a “reliable and consistent defender of the interests of the Islamic world” also combat Islamic terrorism effectively under all circumstances?

A related story reports that the Russian parliament has voted to grant amnesty to Chechen terrorists. If a “militant” quits a recognized terrorist group and surrenders his arms, no further questions will be asked.

The end of the Mosnews story has this little piece of information, which may shed some light on Mr. Putin’s motives:

Russia, a country with a total population of approximately 144 million, has 23 million Muslim residents representing 38 peoples, according to the Council of Muftis of Russia.

That’s 16% of the population, which is a higher proportion of Muslims than in the population of India. And not only that, the population of Christians in Russia is declining much more drastically than that of the Hindus in India.

So Russia has a demographic problem. But the Russian government is aware of it: another news story outlines a state initiative designed to persuade Russians to start breeding again:

In a move clearly aimed at encouraging more births in this country, a top government official has come up with a plan to re-introduce the long-abandoned childless tax in Russia.

Speaking to the press after a seminar that focused on low birth rates in Russia health and social development minister Mikhail Zurabov suggested that childless taxpayers should help the state support families with children and thus at least partially assume the cost of encouraging more births.


In his state of the nation address earlier this year President Vladimir Putin said the most urgent problem facing Russia was its demographic crisis.

That’s one of those rare instances when Vladimir Putin and Mark Steyn agree on something.

Russia’s problem is much more severe than India’s, because the non-Muslim population in India is simply growing more slowly than the Muslim population, whereas Russia’s non-Muslim population is actually declining in absolute terms.

The country’s population is declining by at least 700,000 people each year, leading to slow depopulation of the northern and eastern extremes of Russia, the emergence of hundreds of uninhabited “ghost villages” and an increasingly aged workforce. Official Russian forecasts, along with those from international organizations like the UN, predict a decline from 146 million to between 80 and 100 million by 2050.

But in an exclusive interview to the BBC, Viktor Perevedentsev, who has been studying Russia’s population since the 1960s, said he believed even these figures may be overly optimistic. He said the decline was likely to accelerate and that the Russian leadership should accept the population had reached a “tipping point”, beyond which direct intervention would be ineffective.

The article doesn’t list the growth rate of the Muslim minority, but if Muslims in Russia are breeding like Muslims in nearby countries, a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that in two generations they may well represent more than half the population.

Mr. Putin is a relatively young man, and presumably hopes to remain in power for the rest of his natural life. It seems that he has sensed which way the demographic winds are blowing, and has trimmed his sails to take advantage of this particular breeze.

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The Mosnews article about Russia’s demographic crisis has some additional commentary on the topic. The editorialist does not see Russia as being fundamentally different from the rest of Europe, but merely the worst-off in a set of demographic basket cases:

But, experts see no reason to believe that sanctions against the childless will do much to raise the birthrate. Germany, for instance, already spends more than any other country on family subsidies, and has the world’s second-highest taxes on childless singles (after Belgium).

Russian observers also doubt that such measures as re-introduction of childless tax in Russia will prompt people to have children. While rights activists denounce sanctions against the childless defending their freedom of choice, even those who back the idea in principle are not sure it will work.

These days in Russia many married couples are reluctant about having babies, even if they are well-off and can afford to multiply. Many of the generation of those who are now in their 30s and 40s have already developed a set of personal values and there is hardly a place for a kid in their lives. Maybe, they would not mind a surcharge to exonerate themselves. If, of course, they ever experience any pangs of guilt…


The idea of bribing people into having babies will hardly work for middle class tax payers, who earn well enough not to ask for more from the government. As to fining people for not having babies, international experience shows that such schemes are not effective either. Besides, in a country where many employers are still reluctant to report their workers’ incomes in full to avoid taxation, the plan is even more likely to fail.


Another reason why bribing people into having babies or forcing them into it through sanctions would not work is that our reluctance is rooted in our consumer mentality. We are no givers, but a generation of egoists whose choice between a screaming infant and a Zermatt ski vacation is easy to guess…

A childless tax? Well, perhaps, it is not such a bad idea, after all, as long as its size is reasonable. For, if it is not Russian taxpayers will not pay it. Instead, they will rather pay a doctor who will confirm their infertility. [emphasis added]

As Mark Steyn has frequently pointed out, it is a mistake to view demographic issues in purely economic terms. According to classical economic analysis, in earlier days couples had large families in order to assure themselves of financial security in their old age; that is, the explanation for high birthrates was purely an economic one.

By this argument, socialism and the welfare state have removed these incentives by providing lifelong security even for the childless. Hence people stop having babies, and the demographic crisis ensues.

But what if there are other non-economic reasons for having children?

There’s a well-established correlation between strong religious beliefs and family size. And it’s not just that the Bible says “be fruitful and multiply”, and the faithful behave like mindless automata and obey.

Having kids is an exhausting, thankless, and expensive task that takes up the most productive and energetic years of your life. If you believe there’s nothing to life but this material world and your own desires and pleasures, why would you decide to undertake such a burdensome effort? Better to enjoy the moment, not think about death, and live the good life while you can.

In the absence of a belief in something larger than oneself, no amount of state subsidy or punishment will be adequate to reverse the demographic disaster that is looming before the end of this century. Russia and Japan are simply worst-case scenarios; the same fate awaits the rest of Europe, Canada, China, and maybe even the United States.

The new generation that greets the dawn of the 22nd century will believe in something. The only question is whether it will be Allah or something else.

Hat Tip: commenter npabga.

As a matter of interest, I figured out the origin of the nickname “npabga”: it’s a visual simulacrum of the Russian word “правда”, or “pravda” (Russian for “truth”). Instead of transliterating the word, he has made the closest approximation to it in appearance, using lower-case Latin letters. Very clever.

Update (from Dymphna): I’d just like to mention — casually, of course — that on Mark Steyn’s mailbox page THERE’S A LINK TO THIS GATES OF VIENNA POST. Oh. My. God! Look on the right sidebar, under the headline “Russia: Bear Necessities”.

Better go look now; who knows how long it’ll be there? Just casually, though…


Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Putin never has a conflictof interest. He always does or says what is in his own interests.

But demographics in Russia are potentially even worse than that The rate of decrease of ethnic Russians is so large, the population structure is already very old, there is exponential AIDS spread among the young and the Muslim growth rate is so fast that Paul Goble predicts that Russia will have a Muslim majority in 30 years (that is 25 M muslims double to 50M, and 100 M non-muslims (essentially ethnic Russians) halve to 50M).

Zerosumgame said...

People are forgetting an important fact about Russian Islam vs. the Western European variety, and that is that most Muslims live in distinct geographic areas, usually at the periphery of the country, that could be spun off as independent states; reducing the overall area of Russia by a small amount by postponing an day of reckoning for a long time.

Spin off Chechnya, Daghestan, Bashokortostan and a few other nominal "republics", and the Russian core would remain nominally Christian. This is a far cry from the problems of France, Holland, Belgium and Sweden where the Muslims are widely dispersed in their own fiefdoms in towns and cities all over those countries.

For Russia, it would be stage 2 of the Islamic devolution; stage 1 having been to spin off Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tadzhikistan, Azerbaijan, and Kirghizia.

buddy larsen said...

USSR, oops, Russia, would be better off Islamic than spin off its Caspian oil. And Mr. Putin surely knows he's balding and would turbanize well, so long as he can afford the wrap.

Excellent, comprehensive, post & comments--would add a small note, that the welfare state that removes the need for large family as a pension plan, also taxes young couples to pay for it, to the point that many simply do not feel they can afford children--the direct costs, often the income loss, plus the need created for family-friendly housing. Look at the average age of first-home purchasers in Germany--I think its 93 or something.

Epaminondas said...

I have seen some craven shit since 9/11, but Putin has lodged near the top of a massive manure pile at $2/lb.

Does he really THINK what he says about that will even be noticed except for laughs?

Can you imagine what Qaradawi, Jannati, Yazdi, and Tantawi think of this?

Baron Bodissey said...

Buddy! Long time no see. I see you over at Wretchard's, arguing with Doug etc. Some things never change...

Yes, you're right -- the tax behemoth of the welfare state does provide a severe disincentive for couples to produce large families. But I submit that, even if Europe were to go Milton Friedman on us, drop the tax load, and provide baby bonuses, the demographic situation would still tank.

The sea of faith has already ebbed there, and it's ebbing here in a lot of places. That's the problem.

Average Family Guy said...

Oh Yeah. That is "wonderful". Gog and Magog, anybody?

Bubba's Pravd

buddy larsen said...

The enemy does have a good--hopefully not decisive--weapon: Obliviousness. Darken and fret the future to where the aware worry about putting children into it, while at the same time keeping the chadored chattel property in the kitchen pregnant pretty much continually.

Yep, Wretchard chased us off the chit-chatting, which moved to the Elephant Bar, and I think opened up comments at Belmont a little more, with the less chit-chat. And Doug can still be a hopeless idiot, at the offshoot, only now without offending millions anymore.

Profitsbeard said...

How much vodka is produced in Russia?

And how much more must they be importing to end up with this captain at the helm of their drifting Titanic-ski?

Spasiba, Vlad!

We can guess the new name of the Russian capitol:


hank_F_M said...

Of course Russia is the friend of the Moslems. And will be as long as they sell them reasonably modern weapons at cut-rate prices. The question is do the Moslems agree? Excuse me if I have some rather large doubts.

Don’t cut the Russians out yet. Like in the rest of Europe there seems to be a core that is coming back. The problem is when the excess eventfully drops off how large will this core be? The reports I read are antidotal but seem reliable, but it is not yet showing up in the larger statistics.

Maybe for a change Russia will be Autonomous Republic in Ukraine.


Unknown said...

So, it's a no-go for my Russian mail order bride?

Profitsbeard said...


I think you mean the reports you read were "anecdotal", but I like "antidotal", under the circumstances, too!

Have a good weekend.

Papa Ray said...

When I first read Mark Steyn's piece on his view of demographics, I got a cold chill, because I have been thinking the same thing for years. I am sinking in a mass of brown flesh, and most of it is illegal. It's gotten worse, faster. I can't spell that long word that starts with exp, which describes growth rates, but that is what is happening in my little part of the world.

As far as Putin, I don't know but what I hear at the coffee shop and that is that he is no friend of the "west" and that he didn't survive being in the KGB and the President by being stupid or honest.

We can still keep our missiles (several) pointed at Russia, because I think we will be needing them someday soon.

If I were a Russian I think I wouldn't want to have kids either, unless I were a member of the Russian Mafia or their Security forces.

When almost every poor family that has female children, uses those children by prostituting them (just like in Iran)that is not conducive to having more kids.

Russia will have more money, (other than arms sales) now that they have got their oil industry on line and pumping. I would watch what that money is spent for, and it won't be for the betterment of it's citizens.

Papa Ray
West Texas

X said...

Off topic (though slightly related, as the Swedes very nearly whupped Russia's arse at one time): an interesting article about Sweden.

Always On Watch said...

Considering what happened at Beslan, this dhimmitude on the part of Putin is egregious. He's allying his country with and defending child murderers!

buddy larsen said...

To me, the most haunting image of the 21st century, so far, comes from Beslan.

Here "haunting" means "painful", but "painful" doesn't quite fit because, I think, of the expression of love that shines above the horror. Not to trivialize, just to offer the thought.

npabga said...

The situation in Russia, in my opinion, is pretty much a lost cause. That's it. The systematic problems are too deep to be solved with pitiful benefits to be given to new mothers.

There are some constrictions on having children:
1) Poor schools due to poorly paid teachers $150 a month in an average provincial city of a million leading to the buying of grades. Also drug use, poorly disciplined children, the pressures of popular culture, and children with only one parent (due often to early death of one parent) play a role.

2) Poor salaries across the board for most Russians, that makes it difficult to pay the bribes to get into school, kindergarten, or university.

3) A housing crunch that has caused an increase of 25% a year for the last 6 years in most cities in Russia- Russia is now the most expensive city in the world.

4) Most newly weds, unable to buy their own place, live with their parents. They usually only get their own place after their grandmother dies.

5) Food prices have been increasing higher then the rate of inflation.

6) Many others!

Kind of hard to raise a kid in such an environment!

Just some quick thoughts:

The Russian government will do what is has been doing for the last century, meddling abroad, realpolitik, and neglecting its people. The increase in the price of oil enables this behavior, giving them a false sense of strength.

This sense of strength is false, Russia suffers from some internal weaknesses to be a danger for the future of the Russian people and culture. For example by 2010, many experts believe that 10% of the adult population will have HIV (!)

Russia just can spin of more Muslim places, as there already many Muslims who live in the larger cities, many illegally. They also have far more children. Some say that 10% of Moscow maybe nearly 20% are foreigners or, if Russian, then not Slav.

I remember reading in a Russian newspaper an article by a Russian with a Muslim name saying, with regards of the riots in the French suburbs by immigrants, that if Russia does not find jobs for the new Azeri immigrants in Moscow in the aviation industry, Russia can expect it’s own riots in 20 years time. I thought, what the hell!! First Russia needs to find jobs for it’s own native born population. The Russian government hasn’t done anything for the average Russian at all yet, how can he expect Russia to do something for the immigrants!

I met a member of Hamas studying in Russia.

Most Russians don’t follow political correctness, and are pessimistic about Russia’s future, and are xenophobic.

Many have very few kids (only my opinion) because after the collapse of one social system, Communism, western pop culture became for many a valuable context in which to live.

and on and on.....