The New York Times,
Its Population Falling, Russia Beckons Its Children Home
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: March 21, 2009
They located distant relatives and went to the villages of their forebears, who escaped in the 1920s to Harbin, a major city in China’s northeast that was a center for Russian refugees, before ending up in South America.
Mr. Reutov said he was pleased with the help that he had received from regional officials, who seem equally pleased that he is returning. Russia’s vast and sparsely inhabited Far East has fallen in population to six million, from eight million in 1991. Tens of millions of Chinese are just over the border, but Russia does not want to allow them in.
The program is not open to just any descendants of Russians. In general, applicants must speak Russian and be comfortable with the country’s society and culture.
Mr. Reutov and Mr. Kilin were thus ideal. Russian is their first language — Mr. Kilin said he barely spoke Spanish — and they easily blended in here. Only their beards and homemade white dress shirts, both characteristic of Old Believers , attracted attention.
Still, not all Old Believer communities are as enthusiastic. The Rev. Nikolai Yakunin, a priest who leads one in Nikolaevsk, Alaska, said he was often asked whether he yearned to live in Russia.
“We are not moving back,” he said. “They are still Communists there, even if they call themselves democrats.” Yet, Father Yakunin conceded he was worried that young people in his community were quickly assimilating, failing to learn Russian and losing cultural ties.
Mr. Reutov had lived in the United States for a time before deciding to return to South America, in part because he, too, was concerned about his children.
“It is really hard to keep up the traditions,” Mr. Reutov said. “The young people in the communities in the United States don’t speak Russian at all. And for us, that is not acceptable.”
He said some people in their villages in Uruguay and Brazil considered returning to Russia in the 1980s and 1990s but concluded that the country was too volatile. Now, he and his brother-in-law are reporting more positive impressions to family and friends in South America.
“They are all now calling me and asking me how it is,” he said. “They are saying, ‘If you can find a place for us, we are ready to move.’ ”
A version of this article appeared in print on March 22, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.
27 Readers’ Comments
Frank Peel, naples, March 22nd, 2009, 9:05 am
«Russia is more stable and prosperous than at any time in its history»…….this is a sweeping statement without any foundation. The population is in decline,the health system is failing, the education system is failing, the military cannot recruit enough conscripts, natural resources are being thrown away.
The Times did the same thing in the 1930’s when your Moscow correspondent painted a glowing picture of the worker’s paradise, so that a whole generation of
western intellectuals were totally misled by what communism and Russia were really all about. How many millions were killed by the Soviet state?
Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.
richard Wilson, new york city, March 22nd, 2009, 9:05 am
Married to Russian, we’re actually thinking of going back to Krasnodar; my wife is four months pregnant, what I can’t seem to understand is the falling population…why? Whys it falling?????Perhaps Rus needs to take back Byelorus and Ukraine? Yes, I think so. Besides, it is rightfully Russias, yes????I mean, Rus began in Kiev….what more doth one need????
ivan von zuckerstein, Chicago, March 22nd, 2009, 9:05 am
From the 16th century on, the only manufactured product that Russians were ever able to export, was death and oppression to their neighbors. Their Czar Ivan the Terrible was not called Terrible for nothing, and Catherina the Great was great only in butchering Russia’s neighbors as well. Until Russians learn how to work hard and compete with their products in the global marketplace, Russia will live by the ages old rule that a Russian soldier can loot more in one day in a foreign country than he can produce in his entire life in Russia. Barbaric cruelty, violence a show of force is the only way the Russians know. Until we teach them that there is other ways of making a living than by invading and exploiting their neighbors, Russia will continue to be a menace!!
CR, Montevideo, Uruguay, March 22nd, 2009, 9:05 am
May I address a question to Mr. Reutov and Mr. Kilin?
How do they feel about Uruguay and its people?
Are they thankful to Uruguay, its people and governments for allowing them and their families to wait having the lifestyle of their choice until conditions in their old country became satisfactory for them to return?
KJ, New Mexico, March 22nd, 2009, 9:45 am
There’s a lesson here for the US because we would have a declining population too if it wasn’t for immigration. Presently our birth rate is 75% of deaths, maybe that’s why a record high 40% of all births here are to single Moms. Nature has a way of taking care of itself.
I’ve always wondered about the hysteria about illegals coming into the country giving this trend. We should open up the borders and let the young folks in just so we can tax them to pay for social security and medicare of our aging population.
Dave, Louisiana, March 22nd, 2009, 9:45 am
Hmmmmmm. Looks like those «Siberian vacations» got a little outta hand.
seldon8, Lynbrook NY, March 22nd, 2009, 10:07 am
My grandparents fled Russia in 1913; just before WW1. The Cossacks had burned down the neighboring village; and my Grandparents entire village left for the US!
This isn’t just something out of «Fiddler on the Roof»; this happened many hundreds of times.
The anti-semitism of Czarist Russia; the Stalin purges; Russia has always managed to oppress it’s most talented people — and the lucky ones fled.
This is the result of centuries of ignorance and prejudice; and now without the excuse of Communism it will be Russia that will wither away.
Maybe Marx will have been right after all!
DavidH, New Jersey, March 22nd, 2009, 10:10 am
#5. You’re right, «we should open up the borders and let the young folks in just so we can tax them to pay for social security and medicare of our aging population». I’m sure young people of color will love paying for rich white people’s retirements and health care. And an ever-increasing population is a good thing. It’s too bad I won’t live to see the day we hit 1 billion, in 2130 or so at current rates of growth. I would love to see the social, economic, and environmental horrors this will bring.
With our low birthrates, the West is committing cultural suicide — like it or not, Pat Buchanan is correct. Our governments need to spend and do more to get us up to at least replacement level birthrates, and make reproductive control the focus of foreign aid.
If Africans were breeding like Westerners, you can bet that Bono and others would host some benefit concerts, because they couldn’t face a world without Africans. But when Westerners die out, nobody (other than xenophobic, nativist, bigoted racists) seems to care.
Irina, St. Petersburg, March 22nd, 2009, 10:17 am
Dear CR — They probably feel the same towards Uruguay as I feel towards the United States. They are likely very grateful that Urugauy gave their families refuge. But «home» — regardless of whether they were born there or not — was always Russia. FYI — I was born in NYC to immigrant parents from Russia and now live in St. Petersburg, my ancestral home.
Alikatze, chicago, il, March 22nd, 2009, 10:17 am
I echo the comments of #7. Is Russia ever going to address its rabid anti-semitism? Or will it continue on its path of extreme xenophobia? You reap what you sow.
Sam M., Washington,DC, March 22nd, 2009, 10:24 am
Most people have no idea how scared the Russians are of losing eastern Russia to China. No, the border is not going to change, but you have so many people on the Chinese side and hardly any one on the Russian side it is only a matter of time before the natural thing happens.
CR’s posting above is right on. What do you think about Uruguay who allowed you to to continue your culture,customs and language without oppression, think before you give those rights away by moving. Don’t think Russia would be so kind, history shows otherwise.
When the Russians invaded Georgia last year, the Russian solders were so surprised how much equipment the Georgians had, they even took the toilets back home!
Wrong RJ. U.S population is sustaining, although many people who have the large families in the U.S. are immigrants. Western Europe is a different story.
L.L., Manhattan, March 22nd, 2009, 10:29 am
They will be sorry very soon. Coming «back» to Russia is a biggest mistake in their (or anybody else) lives.
Paul, Charlottesville,VA, March 22nd, 2009, 10:41 am
«Tens of millions of Chinese are just over the border but Russia does not want to allow them in»
They may eventually come without being invited. Russia is obsessed with the «threat» of the West while their backdoor is unlocked. Mind you the West isn’t helping with their policy of expansion of NATO eastwards to the Russian borders. It would be far wiser of Russia and NATO to team up against the prospect of an expansionist China and unstable Islamic states. The population decline in Russia is quite serious and it is not likely that this repatriation program is going to have any significant effect. At least one of the men in the piece has five children at least bucking the trend of the native Russian population.
Irina, St. Petersburg, March 22nd, 2009, 10:42 am
Dear LL — only a person who doesn’t really know Russia can say that. Please keep your ignorance to yourself.
L.L., Manhattan, March 22nd, 2009, 10:49 am
See Frank Peel’s (March 22) comment and stop to misinform yours readers. Any coming «back» to Russia is a suicide (or a special deal with Kremlin). Don’t try to find something «human» — it has never been there. It would be more helpful for our country to warn our new president against any dangerous trust in Russia.
Freethinker, NY, March 22nd, 2009, 10:54 am
I can certainly understand the parents’ concerns about assimilation and the accompanying cultural destruction. The children of immigrants, unless kept cloistered in an isolated single-ethnicity neighborhood, will learn English and adopt American customs from their peers. This is simple cultural diffusion. Many of those customs are seen as undesirable, resulting in «too Americanized» children who would no longer fit in were they to return to their parents’ home country.
Irina, St. Petersburg, March 22nd, 2009, 11:05 am
Dear LL — I take it that Frank Peel doesn’t currently live in Russia, is not of Russian ancestry and doesn’t speak Russian. He is hardly an authority. I don’t know where he gets his rather sweeping statements from, but people who love Russia, as I do, clearly have a different point of view. As I said, please keep your ignorance to yourself.
Ned Kelly, Frankfurt, March 22nd, 2009, 11:29 am
Given that most of the world’s poorest countries have the opposite problem (ie. destabilising population growth), perhaps we should thank Russia for leading by example.
EDITORS’ SELECTIONS (what’s this?)
Bruce Olson, Houston, March 22nd, 2009, 12:01 pm
It amazes me how many of us who are not physically in today’s Russia, have never been to Russia, at least in the last 15 years and whose only knowledge of Russia has been molded by our western press can make such profound and derogatory statements about it as a place to live.
I once spent a week on business in the city of Novosibirsk. Most Americans have never heard of it yet it is the third largest city in Russia with a population of over 1.4 million. It has subways for public transport, industry, parks and most important, a proud and industrious population. People were generally friendly but understandably were sometimes hesitant when dealing with a person who spoke no Russian. Most striking of all to me was the massive rebuilding of itâ€™s churches since the fall of Communism.
Although it is a city I would not want to live in, it is easy to understand why people with cultural, traditional and familial ties would consider it as much as they would any one of a number of places outside of their homeland. They are already or more easily assimilated. The fact that the country is encouraging them to return, with their foreign influences and experiences is itself an indicator of the massive change that continues to occur in Russia.
My own experience made me conclude that what little we as Americans really know of Russia is inaccurate, largely influenced by past fears and not accurately reported by our own press.
Bruce Olson, Houston
Jasna, New York, March 22nd, 2009, 12:01 pm
The Old Believers were tortured from the 17th through early 20th centuries and it was during that period that they escaped to Eastern Siberia, then Alaska and Canada. There are many categories of Old Believers (or Raskolniki) be they Popovscy or Bezpopovscy, etc. and this article fails to describe the group from Uruguay. To describe them as similar to Amish is similar to saying that break dancing is similar to Paul Taylor in that both do not use pointe shoes.
However, the most important factor is that the Staro Viery have always been considered anathema by the Orthodox Chorch. In light of the fact that only faiths which are officially recognized by Moscow as a «Traditional Religion» can legaly function in Russia, and since the Orthodox Church has asked Moscow to delist the Old Believers from that group, their return to Russia places them at risk of arrest.
I wonder why the author of the article did not attempt to present this issue.
In response to Ms. Skidan, LL may certainly not be ingnorant, he may in fact be as Russian as you, perhaps, however he recalls the earlier Times articles which precisely described the situation of «non-Traditional» Faiths in Russia.
KS, Brooklyn, March 22nd, 2009, 12:01 pm
«With our low birthrates, the West is committing cultural suicide — like it or not, Pat Buchanan is correct.» — #8, DavidH, New Jersey
You confuse culture with heredity, just like Palin, noted Germans, and other nationalist myth makers do. Being born American doesn’t make you a better exponent of the parts of American culture that have improved the world. People who appeal to «nativist» fears are promoting tribalism on a mass scale; what makes America great is the ideals it’s based on, not the blood of people born here.
A human being is a human being, no matter where they’re born; culture is something you are born into. You can only take credit (or blame) for the culture you are building.
Look at the culture built by the champions of nativism at the GOP — who believe their kind of «real Americans» are born great, who believe that spreading bitterness, cynicism and hate to win elections is more important than solving our common problems — and the way it has brought this nation to its knees.
What makes anyone think their values even *allow* for a future, much less enhance it?
Jasna, New York, March 22nd, 2009, 12:01 pm
Addendum to my original comment — I did not mean to indicate that the Old Belevers were not tortured and imprisoned under the Bolsheviks or the Soviets, rather, I wanted to indicate that they were oppressed for several centuries.
Samantha, Boston, March 22nd, 2009, 12:36 pm
Several comments about the virtues of a large national population are confused:
1. Quantity and quality are not the same. And we have the potential to breed or grow ourselves into poverty for the average person, just as other countries do, even if we are starting at a higher level of living.
2. With immigration we are one of the fastest growing countries in the world. Without a single net migrant we would still grow for a considerable time (over a decade) due to population momentum. At a time when we are failing to adequately pay for health costs, education, maintenance of vital infrastructure, and many other things, we are nonetheless adding about 3.3 million people a year to our population in an uncontrolled way. Good news if you are a corporation looking for cheap, disposable workers. Bad news for everyone else.
Colin, USA, March 22nd, 2009, 1:41 pm
Russia needs to invite Chinese people in to develop its Eastern parts, to the benefits of both countries. The two countries have their border demarcated. What is Russia afraid of? Both Chinese and Russians are God’s childrens afterall!
George, DC, March 22nd, 2009, 3:20 pm
This along with the article on illegal immigration makes one important point. America is the land of opportunity. We are the country of the middle class. Who wants to be poor? Who really needs to be wealthy? Your lifestyle determines the extent of your happiness, not your money.
I have always wondered why a Russian would immigrate in these times when their country is improving at a rapid pace. They don’t have a system in place that gives the majority of their citizens personal opportunity. In this respect, they are no better off than Mexico. Smart people vote with their feet. Everyone else plays the system. Until this changes, Russia, Mexico, Africa,and India will all have trouble repatriating their citizens.
Flaerloo, florida, March 22nd, 2009, 4:38 pm
I was in Vladivostok in June 2006…..there was still snow on the ground…and I felt as though I had stepped back in time to the late 1940’s’ in Newark N.J. There were overhead wires connected to the buses, and trolley tracks in the street…the shops,the buildings, the clothing that the people wore were all reminiscent of the late 1940’s…it was truly odd
Ned, NYC, March 22nd, 2009, 6:01 pm
Encouraging expatriates to return will never reverse these demographic trends. Because of alcoholism and smoking the life span of a Russian male is about 64 years. Russia needs to reform its health care system and adopt a system based a Western prevention model. This may help but it still will not reverse these population trends. Another strategy, which applies to all industrial economies, is to innovate and adopt automation technologies wherever they can be applied.