Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"Zaire with Permafrost"

Abiola writes on the death of Russia: He may not realise exactly how aptly this describes the future of that miserable country.

The political situation is dreadful. By now, nobody can realistically give the benefit of the doubt to Vladimir Putin and assume that he intends to rule as a reformer, democrat or even an authoritarian technocrat in the mold of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore or Alberto Fujimora of Peru or Mohatir Mohamed of Malaysia.

Russia has now become, in most respects, a typical failing state like those found in southern Africa, with a predatory government, an economy based on plunder of natural resources and a new factor not before seen in Europe: demographic catastrophe.

Regular readers will now how much I despise apocalyptic environmental scare-mongering. Well, this time, I've come to believe the story that Russia faces that characteristic third-world problem, a catastrophic health crisis, with pervasive AIDS infection and resulting social collapse. A vivid reportage in the New Yorker brings to life the prognosis made by American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt:

The economic future of a sickly nation with a shrinking population cannot be bright. "Russian health statistics are so bad that we have all run them, many times," [Eberstadt]told me. "They never get better. The country just keeps going down—in numbers, in health, and in its possibilities for the future. It seems to get worse every year, and I don’t see even the slightest suggestion that that is going to change. Russia, like Africa, I am very sorry to say, is taking a detour from the rest of humanity as far as progress is measured by improving general health."

This means that apart from a blighted economy and fractured society, that Russia will have an available population of military-age men of about 6 million, or almost as many as are already under arms in China.

My residual sense of Irish Catholic conservatism wasn't surprised to see that part of this is down to looser social mores - a decline in marriage and STDs spread by promiscuity together with frequent abortion causing serious problems with Russians' reproductive health - a surprising vindication of the Pope's rhetoric on "the culture of death". Evangelical Protestantism or indeed of Catholicism - for the US seems to have been to stitch the social fabric back together after a period of turmoil, an unlikely prospect in Russia.