Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"The Dying Russians"

That's the title of a very interesting article in the New York Review of Books.  Here's a brief excerpt to whet your appetite.

Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. “Vadim is no more,” said his father, who picked up the phone. “He drowned.” I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, “But he is dead, don’t you know?” I didn’t. I’d seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. “A helicopter accident,” she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.

The deaths kept piling up. People—men and women—were falling, or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartments with jammed front-door locks; getting hit by cars that sped through quiet courtyards or plowed down groups of people on a sidewalk; drowning as a result of diving drunk into a lake or ignoring sea-storm warnings or for no apparent reason; poisoning themselves with too much alcohol, counterfeit alcohol, alcohol substitutes, or drugs; and, finally, dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes.

Back in the United States after a trip to Russia, I cried on a friend’s shoulder. I was finding all this death not simply painful but impossible to process. “It’s not like there is a war on,” I said.

“But there is,” said my friend, a somewhat older and much wiser reporter than I. “This is what civil war actually looks like. “It’s not when everybody starts running around with guns. It’s when everybody starts dying.”

. . .

Why are Russians dying in numbers, and at ages, and of causes never seen in any other country that is not, by any standard definition, at war?

In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.

There's much more at the link.  It makes interesting, thought-provoking and recommended reading, particularly in the light of Russian President Putin's expansionist and interventionist tendencies.  Is he trying to ignore the demographic chaos unfolding in his country's interior?  Or does he prefer to get involved in adventures on the periphery because they're the only success stories still available?



Rolf said...

My WAG? It's the post communist hang-over. I'm wading through The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Grim stuff. That nation and its people were steeped in utter insanity that slaughtered and imprisoned tens of millions, and deliberately targeted the smartest, the most independent, most stable, reliable, thoughtful people in their nation for seven decades! Seriously crazy incentives and mental gymnastics in support of the party were institutionalized. I'm surprised it isn't more of a wreck than it is. I'd be surprised if three generations of psychotic control stabilized in only a single generation. Two or three at least.

Judy said...

Who says Putin and Co. aren't behind the deaths?

Anonymous said...

Yes, if the happiness / satisfaction in your life does not come from within, you aren't truly happy.

I know some people who make very high salaries and have the big house, late model cars and nearly everything they desire. Their complaint - no time to enjoy it. They work high pressure jobs, staying long hours and they are miserable.

They can afford to get off the train, but they don't. They are afraid if they give up, they will lose everything they have.

Conspicuous Consumption is a disease - it can be treated but the patient has to decide if its worth living for.

Anonymous said...

Defenestration, drowning, various "accidents" .....alcohol poisoning, suicide ..... these are all tools thugs can use to cover murders used to be that the Soviet goverenment arrested people and took them away to do away with them .... now people that give the goverment or the russian mafia (one and the same, oftentimes)trouble just "have an accident" .......

Dennis said...


"particularly in the light of Russian President Putin's expansionist and interventionist tendencies."

Peter....what are some examples of Putin's expansionist and interventionist tendencies?

And don't site Crimea...please.

Also compare Putin's interventions with those of Bush & Obama.

August said...

I don't think Putin is particularly expansionist at all, especially compared to the U.S.
John Durant did a good piece a while back on how Putin tries to deal with the demographic train wreck: Why Westerners Misunderstand Vladimir. Additionally there is the Order of Parental Glory.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Putin realizes something is wrong, and he is trying to give Russians a goal?

A purpose to live.
A goal in life.
Something to believe in.