Russia Shrinks

Unlike any industrialised country in the world, RussiaÂ's population is falling during peacetime, reports CBS Radio Reporter Phil Ittner.

The reasons for the decline -- which Moscow on Friday said was accelerating this year -- are a rising death rate and a falling birth rate combined with an increase of emigration and a decrease in immigration.

The poor state of the Russian health service contributes most significantly to the increase in the death rate. The economic hardships in the country make proper medical care a rarity. Add to that a staggering amount of alcoholism and the sum is an average life expectancy for a Russian male of only 54 years.

Russia is a country that has historically taken care of its ill through socialized medicine. That still holds true. The problem is that the state cannot maintain the medical facilities it needs to do the job. Nor can it provide the ill with proper medicine.

Adding to the population shrinkage, a post-Soviet influx of Russians from outlying former republics has ended and many Russians are losing faith in the country and fleeing.

Economic hardship is not the only factor driving the wave of emigration. Many of RussiaÂ's disenfranchised have taken to finding scapegoats in the countryÂ's minorities. Chechens, Georgians and others often find themselves targets of hate crimes.

While economic prospects in Moscow are stronger than those in some outlying ex-republics, many are returning to their ethnic homelands because they fear hate crimes.

Leading the outflux are Jews headed for Israel. Better economic opportunities and rising anti-Semitism are cited as the spark.

Russia's current population is estimated at 146 million. However, no census has been conducted for many years and a new count is repeatedly put off. Despite MoscowÂ's explanations, many suspect the government refuses to conduct a tally because they will not like the numbers.

Written by Phil Ittner
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