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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

EDITORIAL: Authentic Russian Gibberish


Authentic Russian Gibberish

There is a scene in the Mel Brooks cowboy movie Blazing Saddles where an elder rises at a town meeting to thank a citizen for delivering a motivational speech in "authentic frontier gibberish." But the babbling cowboys had nothing on the modern Russian Kremlin.

In a shocking recent report, RosBusinessConsulting stated:
Russia could face a staff deficit of between 8m and 22m people, according to various estimates, Deputy Health Minister Alexander Safonov told a round table on Russia's employment problems. He stressed that even now, the shortage was considerable, and was not only of a quantitative, but also a qualitative nature. The primary and manufacturing sectors are seeing a steep decline in staffing, while the accident rate continues to soar. According to Health Ministry data, the share of work places that does not meet the relevant standards has reached 25 percent, up from a maximum of 12 percent several years ago. Safonov also noted growing foreign work force problems in Russia, as the number of international workers in Russia stood at between 4m and 12m people, according to different sources. While the quota for issuing work permits stood at 3m people in 2007, only 2m were actually granted.
Russia is facing a massive demographic crisis, suffering a net loss of up to 1 million people from the population each year due to a pandemic health crisis even though it is experiencing record waves of immigration as unwanted Russians return home from the far-flung reaches of the former USSR. Russia doesn't rank in the top 100 nations of the world when evaluated for average male adult lifespan.

So it's hardly surprising to learn that Russia will soon experience a blood-curdling dropoff in the size of its workforce, as it becomes a nation of the old and the sick. What's startling in this report is not that obvious reality, but rather the fact that the Kremlin has no idea what the actual contours of the problem are -- or, worse, it simply won't say.

A deficit of "between 8m and 22m" workers?

"Between 4m and 12m" foreign workers arriving?

"According to various estimates" and "different sources"?

It's doubtful that Federico Fellini could concoct a more insanely disjointed attempt to document the problem. Do you dare then, dear reader, try to imagine the quality of the Kremlin's actual policy response to the problem, if this is their attempt to describe it?

In it word, that policy response is non-existent. The Kremlin is wholly preoccupied with a massive militarization campaign, just as was the case in Soviet times, utterly at the expense of Russia's social and economic fabric. It's spending money on buzzing American cities with nuclear bombers rather than on building the Russian population.

And, as we've said before, we doubt that the Kremlin even wants the people of Russia to be happy, healthy or prosperous. Such people are much harder to govern and control than those who are depressed, sick and poor -- and ease of control has dominate Russian political thought since the times of the tsars. To be sure, one would think that sooner or later Russians would realize the damage this kind of thinking does to the foundations of the country, having already seen not one but two fundamental collapses of their national government in less than a century.

Each time, of course, the collapsed regimes held themselves up to the nation as indestructible -- the words of the anthem of the USSR on that score are enough to induce convulsive fits of laughter. And now, history repeating itself like a pulverizing wheel, Putin's Kremlin says the same, and the hapless citizens of Russia once again go right along.

It would be funny, if it were not so very tragic.

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