Monday, 12 March 2012

Russians, be horrified at yourselves!

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Russia’s problems are many and varied – low life expectancy and falling population figures, soaring rates for crime, alcoholism and drug abuse, not to mention ubiquitous corruption. In a country rich in natural resources, half the population lives in poverty. Andrei Konchalovsky takes us through the horrifying facts and figures and argues that things can only change when Russians themselves learn to be horrified by them.


I chose my title for a reason. There’s a famous saying by Marx, that ‘to inspire courage in a nation, you have to make them horrified at themselves’. For many years now I have been appealing to my fellow-Russians to be horrified by many facts and conditions of Russian life, in order to gain courage and the desire to desire. To desire to change oneself and the life around oneself. I have long since been dismissed as a Russophobe who holds his people in contempt. That is nonsense – if it were the case then you could apply the name of Russophobe  to Chekhov, Gorky, Herzen and Chaadayev – great Russians who wished to awake Russia from its sleep, and not just constantly find others to blame for its own woes. The Russian people are not a corpse, to be spoken only good of. They are a living people, full of energy and talent, who have just not yet completed the historical journey that leads to wellbeing and success for each individual. So let’s look for a moment at what is horrific in Russian life today. And anyone who wants to hear good things about themselves can go and read President Medvedev’s speeches or Afanasyev’s folk tales. Today I would like to remind you of a few startling facts and figures showing that according to many social indicators Russia is on a par not with Europe and not even with Asia – in terms of levels of corruption, life expectancy, investment in science etc. we are comparable to Africa! I will go further and say that it is not we that should feel insulted by such a comparison, but the Africans. They at least have an explanation for their lack of development: they had four centuries of exploitation and extermination by racists and colonisers, whereas over the last three centuries who colonised us Russians and treated us with contempt but ourselves? We often ignore statistics, and it is true that it can be difficult to grasp the reality behind dry figures. But the scale of the tragedy being played out in our country is so great that I urge you to give it your full attention. Russia’s death rate: the last 20 years saw the deaths of more than seven million Russians. This converts to a death rate 50% higher than in Brazil and Turkey, and several times the rate for Europe. In terms of population, Russia loses each year the equivalent of a district similar to Pskov, or a city the size of Krasnodar. The figures for suicide, poisoning, murder and accidental deaths in Russia are comparable with death rates in Angola and Burundi. Global tables of male life expectancy put Russia in about the 160th place, below Bangladesh. Russia has the highest rate of absolute population loss in the world. According to UN estimates, the population of Russia will fall from its present 140 million to 121-136 million by 2025. Other statistics reflect the crisis of the family in Russia. Eight out of ten elderly people in residential care have relatives who could support them. Nevertheless they are sent off to care homes. Between two and five million kids live on our streets (after World War Two the figure was around 700,000). In China, a country with a population of 1.4 billion, there are only 200, 000 homeless children – 100 times less. That’s how important children are to the Chinese! And surely the welfare of children and the elderly is the foundation of a healthy nation. Eighty percent of children in care in Russia have living parents. But they are being looked after by the state! We head the world for the number of children abandoned by their parents. All these figures bear witness to the erosion of the family in this country. ...

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