Moscow’s CIAC holds its first public meeting in years
M o s c o w -- The topic was demographics as the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) convened on 13 May in the headquarters of Moscow’s Roman-Catholic “Mother of God Archdiocese” for its first public session in 10 years. Yet according to Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, the Protestant representative on the CIAC’s Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant triumvirate leadership committee, the issue for Protestants is not only one of demographics – it is also one of acceptance. It matters to Protestants that they be accepted as a native and positive contributor to the well-being of Russian society. He assured: “The most important matter for us is whether the evangelical churches, which indeed are an integral part of Russian society, can make their own unique contribution in this very complicated realm.” Vlasenko added that the efforts of Russia’s Christian confessions can only succeed if they “learn to speak with a single voice. Otherwise, our proclamations will exist only on paper.”
Speakers mentioned most of the causes of population decline: poor medical care and substance abuse cause the low life expectancy of Russian males, the unwillingness or incapability of the state to support young families, high abortion rates, career orientation and consumerism. Orthodox speakers such as Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeyev), head of the Department for External Affairs in the “Russian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate”, called for the creation of very large – Christian - families. Yet in view of skyrocketing costs in Russia’s larger cities, it would appear to me that only a budding oligarch could afford a 10-member family. Children are expensive and consistently endanger the purchase of a new car or a vacation in visa-free Turkey.
Wikipedia reports that the Russian population is hovering at 142,9 million – up slightly in 2009. In 1991 it had peaked at 148,7 million. The current birth rate is 12,6 births per 1.000 population per year; the death rate is 14.3 per 1.000. In 1929, during the heyday of the communist movement, the birth rate was at 49,6; the death rate, 28.6.
Moral appeals were the order of the day on 13 May, yet it is my belief that appeals to patriotism and conscience can have only limited success. Christian circles – and not just the Orthodox – are pushing for a Christian consensus as the ideological and religious foundation of Russian society. But on the matter of demographics, social insecurity and the all-pervasive goals of the consumer society will remain much weightier factors. In today’s highly-mobile world, the masses will gravitate to where the quality of life is highest. Liberal immigration, a relative high quality of life entailing economic stability and the rule of law, a broad distribution of national wealth and opportunities for advancement in career and business – these factors would solve the problem for Russia automatically. Until Russia meets these criteria, the downward slide will continue. Russia does not have an aggressive, binding ideology as it did in 1929.
The developed, burgeoning societies of Western Europe, North America and Australia have not solved the demographic problem simply by offering a high quality of life. The financial incentive alone did not result in more babies. They have needed to combine that with a liberal position on immigration allowing many foreigners to resettle within their own borders. That is succeeding in Canada, for the arriving masses have included skilled workers and specialists. Canada, a country with geographic and climactic conditions similar to Russia’s, had only 13,7 million residents in 1950. In 1991, the number was 27,9 million. Present population is estimated to be 34,3 million, an increase of 19% over the last two decades. Yet Canada’s birth rate is significantly lower than Russia’s: only 10,28 births per 1.000 in 2009. But its death rate was only half as high: 7,74 deaths.
In his lecture, Metropolitan Ilarion called for “the total mobilisation of all healthy forces in society” in solving the demographic crisis. The sticky point is the word “healthy”. A question not posed at that gathering needs to be asked: Would Russian society accept the impoverished Muslim peoples of Central Asia, the Chinese or the blacks of Sub-Saharan Africa as “healthy forces”? North America, Western Europe and Australia have embraced immigration as a solution for demographic problems even if it meant their once-white societies would become “browner” or “more yellow”.
There is not yet any indication that Russian society is willing to bite that bullet, to solve the demographic crisis by becoming “browner” - even if that only means integrating more Russian-speaking Central Asians. Japan is another country reluctant to permit immigration, and the population of that wealthy, densely-populated, non-White country (126,8 million in 2010) is decreasing slowly. It does in any case appear that a majority-White society unwilling to accept immigrants of colour cannot grow.
Looking at the issue globally, there obviously are sufficient people – and money – to cover the basic needs of all countries. The real problem is one of distribution. The cynical and uncaring could claim that the “wrong” children are being born: children of colour in the impoverished nations of the developing world. For no obvious reason, they are being absorbed most readily by the densely-populated nations of Western Europe as well as North America.
The Christians of Russia need to start considering many more factors. Attempting to boost fertility will not help if other basic social and political issues are not addressed – see the positive example of Canada.
The CIAC was created in 1993 to ease communication between churches in the countries of the former USSR and held major conferences in 1994, 1996 and 1999. Yet its activities were suspended by the Orthodox in February 2002 and not reactivated until October 2008.
The CIAC is oriented towards work within the countries of the former USSR – not in the outside world. Perhaps for that reason, its present status is wobbly among the Orthodox. It does not appear to be an important priority for them. Some of its leaders must remain unsure regarding the best way to further ROC interests.
The third member of CIAC leadership (along with Ilarion and Vlasenko) is the Italian Pavel Pezzi, the Roman-Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Diocese.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 25 May 2011
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