Russia’s Xenophobia Blends In With Demographic Decline Russia is becoming a country of sick old people who fear the increasing numbers of non slavic immigrants

By Paolo von Schirach

November 6, 2013

WASHINGTON – Xenophobic Russians are open about their plans to send back to the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia, (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the others), unwanted immigrants. Recently an assorted group of nationalists organized a march in Moscow to demonstrate against foreigners.

Xenophobia in Russia and in Europe 

Xenophobia is not new and hardly unique to Russia. There are plenty of similar movements in Italy, Austria, The Netherlands, Scandinavian countries and, of course, France. In different ways the perceived foreign invasions, (Africans, Arabs and Roma people coming to Europe, Central Asians coming into Russia), blend in with an increased awareness of demographic decline in the host countries. It boils down to this: “There are fewer and fewer of us; while plenty of them are coming or want to come. We have very few children. They have many. If it continues like this, we shall be outnumbered in our own country. This will be the end of our identity and of our culture”. 

Large, non slavic minorities

In Russia there is already a built-in problem. Because of its imperial and soviet history the predominantly slavic total population already includes a 20% constituted by ethnic minorities, of which 15% are Muslims. Given this base of non slavic citizens who are already in Russia, for many nationalists it is not hard to imagine a not too distant future in which (because of immigration from Central Asian countries) at least in some regions the dominant slavic ethnicity may become a minority. 

Demographic decline

The real problem is the combination of the perceived dangers represented by immigration and the reality of demographic decline of the slavic majority. Now at 1.6 children per woman, Russia’s fertility rate is not as horrible as Japan’s or Italy’s (about 1.4) but it is pretty low, and definitely well below “replacement level”. But what is really scary is low life expectancy: only 64 for Russian men.

A country of old people

Look, these are self-inflicted wounds. Low fertility rates are a result of choices made by people who prefer to have fewer or no children. Low life expectancy is mostly the outcome of unhealthy life styles: largely the consequence of alcohol abuse and smoking. Still, while it is a lot easier to believe that the foreigner who does not fit in and who practices a different religion is the problem, Russia’s demographic decline is the real issue, and it does not augur well for the future of this nation.

Soon enough, whatever the numbers of immigrants, Russia will be a country of sick and old people relying almost entirely on the wealth generated by oil and gas exports. Not a very inspiring picture.


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