The honorary medal was created by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and given to around 400,000 citizens, according to Russian media. The revived award will offer Russian citizens a one-time payment of 1 million rubles ($16,500) after their 10th child turns one – and only if the other nine children all survive.
No mention of the war in Ukraine was attached to the medal.
However, the Stalin-era distinction was originally launched as part of a larger social set of “pronatalist” measures taken towards the end of World War II, said Kristin Roth-Ey, associate professor at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. , told the Washington Post on Wednesday.
“It was about serving the country,” she said. Its revival is “obviously a conscious echo of the Stalinist past”.
Roth-Ey said the prize was created when the Soviet Union was trying to “plan for post-war reconstruction” and to support families as a “central institution of Soviet society”. Other measures included better health care for women, financial assistance and making it difficult for married couples to divorce, she added.
“The war created great anxiety over the loss of population. … It obviously has resonances with what is happening right now,” she added, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a special military operation.
Last month, CIA Director William J. Burns estimated that around 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the Ukraine war and up to 45,000 others injured. He cited the latest US intelligence on Russian casualties.
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Nearly eight decades after Stalin’s decree, having many children is still considered “part of being a good Russian citizen,” Roth-Ey said, and it’s common in other “authoritarian nationalist movements that we see in places like Hungary and other parts”. of Central and Eastern Europe.
In Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, the Second World War remains a large part of the national psyche. The defeat of Nazi Germany is celebrated every year on May 9, Victory Day, a Russian holiday of national remembrance marked by pomp and patriotic fervor.
The revival of the maternity medal is part of a “patriotic campaign” that has intensified in Russia since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, Roth-Ey added.
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The original Soviet medal was a gold star superimposed on a silver pentagon and decorated in red enamel reading “Мать-героиня” (Mother Heroine).
Putin, 69, is one of three children, but his two brothers died in infancy before he was born. He first lent his support to the relaunch of the award on June 1, Children’s Day. “Generally, you can really count on those who have been brought up in a large family,” he said in a speech marking the occasion. “They won’t let down a friend or co-workers, or their homeland.”
Since 2008, the Kremlin has also awarded the “Order of Parental Glory” to parents who have more than seven children. They receive 50,000 rubles ($825 today) and a certificate when their seventh child turns 3.
Dina Fainberg, author of ‘Cold War Correspondents’ and associate professor of modern history, agrees the revival of the Mother Heroine award is part of Putin’s ‘similar post-war drive toward state-led patriotism’ .
But she said the reasoning was not necessarily the conflict in Ukraine.
“Ukraine still doesn’t qualify as a war,” she told the Post of the nearly six-month invasion. “Putin and his team were very careful not to portray it as a war. If you start calling it a war, you undermine stability and make people panic.
More than just “nostalgia” for the former Soviet empire, a bigger issue on Putin’s mind could be population decline, she said.
The Russians “have a problem with population decline, obviously, and a demographic crisis,” Fainberg said. But there is a “growing return to the patriarchal state”, she added, with Putin seeing himself as the symbolic male head of the Russian family around which everyone can gather, and the ultimate “protector of the elderly, women and children” of Russia. enemies.
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Russia’s population, now estimated at less than 145 million, is declining due to low birth rates and an aging population – problems not unique to Russia but plaguing a a number of developed countries.
As such, Putin has long sought to increase Russian birth rates.
In June, he called Russia’s demographic situation “extremely difficult” and called for “drastic” measures in response. Last year he lamented “there is not enough manpower” in the country with the world’s largest landmass.
In the first six months of 2022, 6.3% fewer children were born in Russia than in the same period a year earlier, Russian outlet RBC reported, citing data from Rosstat, an agency government statistics.
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But demographics expert Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, told the Post that state policies aimed at boosting population rarely succeed.
“From a demographic perspective, such policies simply don’t work,” she said. “The problem is you have a baby now, and it takes 20 years for that baby to be productive.”
Such population policies may be more common in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes where “there is long-term strategic planning,” as opposed to liberal democracies, Harper said. Either way, she said, in the 21st century, “the quality” of a country’s population is more crucial to a country’s success than quantity.
“Increasing the population is very, very difficult,” she added. Immigration remains a key factor, but it comes with its own political ‘tensions’, making it a less popular remedy in Russia and elsewhere.
For Roth-Ey, it remains to be seen whether modern Russian women will accept the incentive of the price of motherhood.
“I don’t see young contemporary Russian women really answering the call,” she said. “They have other things in mind.”
Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.
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