CATASTROIKA: Ex-Socialist Countries Teeter on the Verge of Collapse

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According to Russian analyst Igor Gashkov, some Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics are now on the verge of catastrophe: their populations have persistently continued to decline since the collapse of the USSR, reaching the minimum indicators. Gashkov has discussed with various analysts the causes, consequences and possible solutions to this problem.

Devastating statistics

The data are not encouraging: the birth rate has declined twice over the last 30 years, and demographic experts predict that by 2050 the number of inhabitants in Latvia, Bulgaria and Moldova will decrease by 25%.

Latvia is in the most critical situation. Since independence in 1991, the country has lost a quarter of its population which now constitutes a mere one million people.

Concern over the situation in the country has been expressed by Latvian journalist Otto Ozols. According to him, Latvia is losing 1% of its population annually.

“In 50 years we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the country … with a reduction of 50% of the population”, lamented the journalist, doubting that this process will slow down.

Even the former Soviet republics that led birth rates, for example Moldova and Tajikistan, now find themselves on an opposite trajectory, says Gashkov.

According to Moldovan Deputy Vlad Batryncha, about one-third of his compatriots live abroad “and do not intend to return.”

“I would even say this is a tragedy. To have a future, the country needs human resources,” said the politician.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria, which was not part of the USSR but was under its influence as part of the socialist bloc,  now boasts the most rapidly declining population in the world. In 1989, the country had 9 million inhabitants, which fell to 7 million in 2017. Demographers predict that in 2015 only 5.5 million Bulgarians will remain in the country.

The consequences of population loss

The decrease in population implies detrimental results for both the economy and the social character of a country. The same Moldovan deputy commented that “the lack of human resources is a serious obstacle from an economic point of view”. According to him, investments are impossible if there are no people.

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Latvia, meanwhile, needs to import a workforce to boost the economy, needing at least 400,000 people, according to Latvian MEP Andrei Mamkin.

In addition to economic losses, these “endangered countries” risk suffering irreparable damage in the social sphere. According to Ozols, the decline in population “means in fact the disappearance of the Latvian language, its culture and traditions” and this may occur in the near future, without being an exaggeration, stressed the journalist.

The reasons for the catastrophic situation

According to Gashkov, one of the main causes of the poor demographic situation in some countries is the decay of social infrastructure.

Plummeted standards of living, coupled with a lack of job opportunities following the collapse of socialism meant that the inhabitants of these countries chose to emigrate. Namely, Moldova is now a country with a population of 3.5 million people with more than one million people having emigrated to improve their quality of life.

However, the situation may worsen even more. If Moldova becomes part of the European Union and borders are opened, emigration will grow even more and no birthrate will be able to neutralize the effects of such.

Another reason for the population to decline is migration policy, Gashkov believes. Eastern European countries cannot prevent their citizens from leaving, but are struggling successfully against the entry of foreigners onto their territories.

What is being done to reverse this situation?

Some of the countries concerned are aware of the imminent catastrophe and are attempting to take corresponding action. Thus, Bulgaria has developed certain programs to encourage the birth rate.

But other countries seem to have accepted the situation.

“In Latvia and Estonia they are more concerned about the struggle for power […] and confrontation with Russia and not with the population’s recovery,” said Russian political scientist Aleksandr Nosovich.

In Moldova, analysts say, there are neither plans nor programs for recovering the population, and so it remains a country where more people die than born.

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