Russia is not the Soviet Union—what are ‘we’ afraid of?

Over a quarter of a century has passed since the Soviet Union dissolved into its constituent republics, and since its satellite countries in Eastern Europe have declared their independence from Soviet hegemony. Yet many in Europe and the USA are acting as if the Soviet Union still exists.

NATO continues to act as if Russia were the Soviet Union. The European Union continues to challenge Russia’s real and perceived interests in Eastern Europe. Some politicians in the USA are preparing to urge the new president to be ‘tough’ with Russia.

What’s going on? And what are the facts underlying the purported similarity of today’s Russia with the defunct Soviet Union that certain politicians and talking heads are promoting?

How strong was the Soviet Union in 1989 before its dissolution? And how strong is its successor state, Russia?

– In 1989 the Soviet Union was the third most populous country, after China and India, with the USA in fourth place.
– In 2016, Russia was the ninth most populous country, after China, India, the USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, with Japan in tenth place.

– The population of Russia today is about one-half that of the Soviet Union in 1989.

– In 1989, The Soviet Union’s share of World Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 13.5%.
– In 2016, Russia’s share of World GDP was 3.3%

– In 1989, The Soviet Union’s fertility rate (births per woman—all women) was 2.4, comfortably above the population replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. Its population was growing at a rate of 0.8%
– In 2016, Russia’s fertility rate was 1.61, well below population replacement rate. Its population was shrinking at the rate of -0.06%

Here are two charts, one for 1989 and one for 2016, which underly the above statements:

screenhunter_459-jan-02-17-47

I offer questions and ideas for discussion on this and related issues:

1. India seems poised to take the path which China has taken in the last quarter century, in terms of population and economic growth, while the other ‘great powers’ are slowing down in these respects. Why are ‘we’ not afraid of China and India, or at least as much as ‘we’ seem to be afraid of Russia?

2. Is it in the nature of the Russian character and its history as a regional power to expand its influence through the use of raw, i.e., military power?

3. I have seen it asserted that China is not ‘expansionist’ in nature, but rather seeks economic strength, and stability in its relations with other entities.We have not seen India as an expansionist entity, but perhaps Pakistan has a different perspective.

4. All European countries, except France and Iceland, are losing population, even with the recent migration waves from Asia and Africa. Eastern European countries are experiencing the greatest reductions in fertility and population. Perhaps this engenders fearfulness for their respective futures which the peoples project toward more powerful neighbors?

5. All four of these ‘great powers’ possess nuclear weapons. Who should be afraid of whom?

Let’s discuss this…

END

Letter from Poland

I recently visited Kraków, Poland, with nine of my writing colleagues, for a ‘writing retreat’ and some minor tourism.

We arrived 10 November, the day before an important national holiday, National Independence Day…

… a national day in Poland celebrated on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic in 1918, after 123 years of partition by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. (Wikipedia)

img_0697

One of the celebrations early on November 11, image taken from our hotel room

In pursuing the tourism, I went to the English language Massolit Bookstore. The fellow at the cashier and cafe desk is interested in the Beat Poets, as I am. He and I struck up a conversation and I promised to send him a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

After returning home, I sent him the poem, along with some personal comments and links to my writing. I received from him a most unexpected response. Here it is:
___

I am happy to read that you enjoyed your stay in Kraków. It is my favourite Polish city and I am happy to have moved here for good. You found it much settled in history and past. The city was lucky, very lucky not to be destroyed much by any war. Even the Communist  regime didn’t crush its beauty and spirit. And seriously, to me Kraków is an escapist city.

In any other Polish city I always feel some destruction. Warsaw was paved to the ground and awfully rebuilt after 1945. Lublin, which I came from is a God-forgotten place suffering from the consequences of a too rapid switch from communism to capitalism. Wrocław, which I lived in is a German town made Polish fifty years ago and still struggling to reinvent it’s identity, a continuing process. Only in Kraków do I feel at home, without all the damage that has been done to this country.

poland-map

I am writing this at age thirty-four, in the generation that grew up seeing the old being replaced by the new Poland after 1989. I was eight when it all happened. My parents would tell me “how it’s been” and why the Regime should “never repeat”. They raised me with this warning. Their parents raised them with the warnings against war. I am happy to notice twenty-year-olds not influenced with this kind of perspective.

My grandfather lost all his family during the war. He never came back to Lviv (today’s Ukraine, yesterday’s Poland). My mother tried to look for our relatives, didn’t meet anyone when she came there. I don’t feel like going there at all. Let past be the past.

This might sound cruel, but… I am sick and tired of war literature, especially the Holocaust kind of literature still being “mass produced” by yet another Jewish person coming to Auschwitz as a part of their “identity trip”. With masterpieces like Ellie Wiesel’s “Night” we don’t need any more Shoah books to understand the trauma.

I spent one year volunteering in Israel, which was a great lesson on complexity and diversity of life in all kinds of meaning. I walked a mile in someone else’s shoes and it was the most precious experience so far.

I came back to Poland and got close to Judaism again. I acted in Jewish theatre groups. I think that if there is any space in which we can work out the demons of all kinds it is art. Only in art and only on the non-personal but emotional and spiritual level of metaphorical language we can “speak with the ghosts.”

Some people now say: “If they chose Trump it means that humankind didn’t learn anything”. Well, a bit overstatement I would say, but I find an answer in Walter Benjamin’s “The Angel of History” essay. He said that all the answers have been given a long time ago and that if there is something like the Messianic times it IS the time of now, and if we can recognise ourselves and recognise our calling in the calling that has been left to us by the late generations to be accomplished, then it means we are doing right at life.

But why am I writing all this actually? Well, I believe life is a journey and I am trying to learn from all the passengers I happen to be travelling with. Sometimes I feel like explaining myself. Maybe that was one of these moments. We, Poles, have an idea of “The Polish complex,” which is an old fear of not being appreciated or never being understood by outsiders. Maybe this is also my complex that keeps me trying to tell this story again and again, come back to past, tell the identity and keep on checking if I have really told “the whole” story…

jakub-wydrzynski

— Jakub Wydrzynski

These Fourteen European Countries are Disappearing

[See end notes for sources, inclusions and exclusions]

These countries are currently losing population (sorted by population growth rate):

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-05

[Note: Fertility Rate is the ratio of ‘total children born’ to ‘all women’ in a given population. In order for a given population to remain constant (not counting net migration) the ratio needs to be 2.0 to 2.1.]

What can we intuit from correlating these figures with what we see happening in the world today?

Intuition No. 1: Germany needs to increase the number of its permanent immigrants in order to maintain or grow its population, despite that it already has a relatively high net migration rate: 1.5 net new migrants per 1000 population. But, politically, there is currently a movement away from increased immigration which has created a problem for the current leadership of the country. Note that Germany records the highest median age and the largest percent of the population over 64, in the list above.

Intuition No. 2: Greece’s high net migration rate (2.3 per 1000) is barely adequate to keep its population stable. But the ability of Greece to accommodate large numbers of new residents and citizens is problematical, given its current economic distress. What is not known at this point, is the long term effects of the tens of thousands of refugees who have recently arrived in Greece. Despite recent waves of immigration, the age measures for Greece are only slightly under Germany’s.

screenhunter_453-oct-16-09-36Intuition No. 3: The three, small Baltic Sea countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are seriously losing population (0.5% to over 1% annually, currently). Further, their fertility rates are low (1.5-1.6), and immigration from elsewhere is not occurring. What can be the future of these countries if they continue to fade away? [Note: they all share a border with Russia.] Despite different cultures and ethnicities in these three countries, their age measures are almost identical. In that they were dominated and occupied by the Soviet Union, I wonder if there is a uniting thread resultant from this. There are no separate measures available for the entity named ‘Kaliningrad’, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, around one-third the size of the neighboring Baltic States. According to the 2010 Census, its population was 431,902

Intuition No. 4: The neighbor countries of Bulgaria and Romania, like the Three Baltic states, are losing population and are not gaining immigrants. Their current populations are much larger than the Baltics, so it will take longer for them to “disappear.” In that they border the Black Sea, Russians flock to these countries during the tourist season and have bought many properties along the coast. Russians are a palpable presence in these two countries, which unofficially affects national politics. Their net migration rates are only slightly negative, but their fertility rates are very low, below 1.5.

screenhunter_452-oct-16-09-36

Intuition No. 5: Five of the six former provinces of the united Yugoslavia, which have reverted to their former independent states, are losing population: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The other, Macedonia (not in the above chart), is slowly growing due, apparently, to positive net migration, despite its fertility rate being 1.6. The bottom line: the former Yugoslavia is slowly fading away, as are Bulgaria and Romania, above. [Note: The present day state of Kosovo was, until recently, a province of Serbia. We have no data for Kosovo, other than population: 1,883,0189]. The population of these five seems to be slightly younger than others on this list, but they are not reproducing. Their fertility rates are at or near the bottom of the list.

Intuition No. 6: The remaining two states in the above chart are Hungary and Poland. Both are currently aligned politically to resist immigration from non-European countries. But, unless they reverse this position, they will fade along with the others mentioned here. Hungary’s fertility rate is 1.44 and Poland’s is a very low 1.34.

On the other hand: These 13 countries in Europe are currently growing at an annual rate between 0.5% and 2.0% (sorted by population growth rate):

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-08

Why are these countries not fading away like the others?

The quick answer is: immigration. The Net migration rates for all are relatively high, ranging from 2.5 in the United Kingdom to 16.3 in Luxembourg. The highest fertility rates are in Sweden and Ireland; the are lowest in Austria, Cyprus and Spain. In the latter three, if their current fertility rates and immigration rates continue, the native born ethnic Austrians, Cypriots, and Spaniards will be in the minority within a lifetime. Is this a problem? I guess it depends on the person viewing the situation. Such things have happened many times in the past, peacefully and otherwise.

Not Reproducing

Only two European countries in the forty studied have a positive fertility rate:

screenhunter_453-oct-16-10-09

I intuit that France is the picture of the future for most European countries. France has had waves of immigration of people from North Africa in the past and, more recently, from the Near East whose birth rates are higher than the indigenous population.

rvxnf4bujdek3kcm2dwdq6jy These people, in my intuition, are responsible for France’s high fertility rate, compared to other European countries. Nonetheless, France’s annual population growth rate of 0.41% is not remarkable or significantly different from other European countries. The non-immigrant residents are reproducing at a much lower rate than the immigrant population. The accompanying chart was for the year 2004, and the ensuing twelve years have seen a significant rise in the immigrants from ‘Asia.’

Iceland seems to be a special case about which I have no useful remarks.

WHY are European countries Not Reproducing?

The answer is given by Col. Robert de Marcellus (Ret.) in an article “Falling Fertility: The World at the Tipping Point,” in the online magazine of the Population Research Institute:

  • The great increase in the number of wives who must work in the paid economy to help support the family due to the loss of the “family wage” concept
  • The increasing cost of raising children
  • High taxation that reduces family disposable income
  • Educational debt
  • Lifestyle changes that increasingly cause luxuries to be considered necessities
  • More years spent by young people in higher education. delaying family formation
  • Older average marriage ages, which greatly reduce wives’ childbearing years
  • Less family support as young couples relocate at a distance from family members

Please read the entire article for a lucid discussion of these and other factors.

My Final Intuitive Statement

The spirit of ‘Europe’ is depressed. Depressed spirits decline to reproduce.

Perhaps there is no more ‘Europe.’ It seems to be an idea, an abstraction, without a basis.

We can point to European Culture, starting from its putative origins in Ancient Greece and Rome, then The Renaissance, then The Enlightenment, and so on—Art, Music, Literature, Philosophy, Science… and the relationship of the Church to any of these.

It seems all a museum now.

The European ‘Union’ is reeling, nationalism on the rise, tribalism more evident.

Popular arts are declining, public figures ever more ridiculous.

BUT…

Perhaps the above is necessary for a rebirth of something more beautiful?

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

The data are taken from the current listings, by country, in the CIA World Factbook.

I analyzed all countries in Europe (40), not just those in the European Union (28)

I excluded Russia and Turkey, even though some parts of these nation-states are in what is recognized as Europe, geographically.

I excluded five other “European” countries because they are dominated politically and/or economically either by Russia or Turkey: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine.