Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Quote of the Day (Masha Gessen, on How Midcentury Totalitarianism Led to Unusual Soviet Population Policies)

“For decades now, the Soviet Union had been trying, and failing, to recover from the catastrophic population loss caused by the Second World War and the Gulag extermination system. The thrust of the population policies initiated by [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev was to get as many women as possible to have children by the comparatively few surviving men. The policies dictated that men who fathered children out of wedlock would not be held responsible for child support but the state would help the single mother both with financial subsidies and with childcare: she could even leave the child at an orphanage for any length of time, as many times as she needed, forfeiting her parental rights. The state endeavored to remove any stigma associated with resorting to the help of orphanages, or with single motherhood and having children out of wedlock. Women could put down a fictitious man as the father on the child's birth certificate—or even name the actual father, without his having to fear being burdened with responsibility.”— Russian-American journalist, author, translator, and activist Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (2017)

The massive Soviet casualties in WWII (27 million) and the Gulag, labor colonies, and prisons from 1931 to 1953 (1.7 million) are only dimly known to the wide American public. Even less understood are the consequences of this for subsequent government policy.

Masha Gessen’s careful analysis of all this, in the broader context of the broad-based psychological despair experienced by so many in Russia, reveals something eye-opening about how totalitarian rule (in the form of one country waging war not only on another but even on its own citizens) creates ripple effects that need to be analyzed and absorbed. 

It may be some time before we can fully grasp what is going on now in Russia under Vladimir Putin and China under Xi Jinping. But it is surely not the "strength" that they proclaim or their acolytes in the West blindly accept.

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