By Paul Goble
Faced with population losses in World War II, Stalin in July 1944 created the Hero Mother order which over the next 47 years was given to 430,000 Soviet women who gave birth to at least ten children each. He also created the Maternity Medal for women with five children and the Order of Maternal Glory with seven. Five million received these.
Now faced with a worsening demographic situation, Vladimir Putin is trying the same tactic. He has called for a similar set of awards with cash benefits attached, and the Duma is currently drafting legislation to restore Hero Motherhood to the Russian landscape (stoletie.ru/obschestvo/zhila-byla_mat-geroina_300.htm).
But Putin’s ability to use the system in the way Stalin did after the war is limited by the fact that at present, the average woman has only 1.6 children per lifetime, a figure that has not changed significantly even with the pro-natalist policies Moscow has adopted over the last dozen years. (When Stalin created this order, fertility rates were several times higher.)
Efforts to increase fertility rates in Russia by providing maternal capital and other subsidies have not worked as intended. They have changed when Russian women choose to have children but done little to affect the number of children they prefer to have. And that raises the possibility that what Putin has done may prove counterproductive.
In the minds of many Russians, given the history of the order in Soviet times, this latest ploy is going to look like an act of desperation rather than a policy that will work; and that in turn may push down the fertility rate still further rather than raise it to new heights as Putin clearly wants.