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Russia and the West: who is more moral?

Illustration: Vasily Surikov. Boyarynia Morozova. Detail.
Russia and the West: who is more moral?
Article by: Andrey Movchan
Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
It somehow happened that almost at the same time (and without conspiring in advance) with Alexandr Baunov, I decided to ponder over the traditions and morals of contemporary Russia. First and foremost, the morals we don’t have and shouldn’t have. 

“Russia… is a country which strives to build a fair society based foremost on moral values,” said Vladimir Putin seven years ago. Six years later he directly compared Western Europe and Russia in terms of morals in his address to the Federal Council: “The downward destruction of traditional values we observe in many countries is detrimental and is executed in contradiction to the will of the national majority. We are gaining more support in our strive to preserve traditional values (the cursive is mine – author): the values of humanism, the values of the traditional world, the family, and religious values.”

At the Valday Forum in 2013, Putin was even more earnest: “We see that many Euro-Atlantic countries are practically on the path of rejecting… Christian values. They are rejecting their moral roots… What is more evidence to the moral crisis of human society than the loss of the ability to self-reproduct? Today, practically all developed countries are unable to reproduce themselves. Without the values that lie in Christianity and other world religions, without the norms of morals, which had been formed over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and correct to fight for these values.”

These words sound holier-than-thou and attractive, but I would like to check their validity with facts and numbers. Only by doing this can we separate propaganda from real care for the good of the nation.

Let us start with definitions. It would seem there is hope that Vladimir Putin, by saying “Christian morals,” traditionally understands the rejection of what, according to the Gospel of Mark (7:19-7:23) makes a person “unclean”: murder, cruelty, stealing, sexual promiscuity, addictions, envy, deception, greed, evil thoughts and stupidity.

In this case the President would have been definitely right in giving “Christian” morals great significance. Morality is a great factor in a country’s progress. Many economists (e.g., Paul Heiney or S. Michael Craven) write about “the high cost of amorality” for the economy. In an atmosphere of distrust, brought about by amoral behavior, the cost of all transactions increases significantly, the circulation of funds slows down, risks are viewed as higher, and not only the speed of growth, but even growth itself in many regions becomes doubtful. What is more, such actions as crime, adultery, drug use, in themselves have significant economic costs, they increase costs for society. Sociologists directly link social morality to longevity and quality of life. The level of a society’s morals influences all the causes of death, from violent deaths to cardiovascular diseases, the efficacy of all services – from police to emergency medical services, the evenness of income and monetary distribution in society, the subjective perception of the quality of life.

Alas, this is not the definition of morals the Russian government uses.

As to self-reproduction, we can presume that Vladimir Vladimirovich got carried away. First, in today’s world, the leading countries in natural population increase are Niger, Uganda and the Gaza Sector. It is difficult to say that these countries are exemplary in terms of “moral values,” and it is unlikely that even Putin would like to see Russia in the same line as them. Second, in Russia, until 2013, a natural decrease of the population has been observed over 23 years. Natural growth in Russia only emerged in 2013, and it was meager – 1,6 persons per 10 thousand (plus, demographic experts claim this measure is unstable and within three years Russia will once again “fall” into natural decrease). On the other hand, natural growth in the EU-28 countries (without migration) has not been negative since the 1960’s, and today it is twice as high as in Russia. Small declines have been seen in Germany, but only in the past two years; in the UK and France, increase constitutes over three people per thousand, the natural increase of the population in the US is 5,5 people per thousand. True, demographic experts say that in the future natural growth will possibly be replaced with natural decrease in the EU, but if we are to look at current data, there is a big question as to who “is unable to self-reproduce” and who should “preserve traditional values.”

The appeal to the Church as a partner in “preserving morals” is even more disturbing. “We have many means of cooperation between the state and the Church. The Church… is a natural partner for the state,” says Vladimir Putin. Economist and political expert Greg S. Paul, in his comparative analysis of religiosity and quality of life in various developed countries (out of the selected countries, in particular, in the US, about 60 percent of the population call themselves religious, 48 percent in Germany, 37 percent in France, 35 percent in Australia), raises concerning issues. It would be nice if our leaders, who view the development of morals and growth of religiosity in the country as correlated processes, to pay him mind. He said that conservative religious ideology is one of the possible reasons for social dysfunction. In particular, the US [from the list of countries under study] is the most dysfunctional in terms of murder, the number of prisoners, child death rates, the spread of gonorrhea and syphilis, abortions, teen pregnancies, longevity of marriage, income disparity, poverty and the average working day length. According to Paul, the measures also rightly testify to the fact  that societies with a high number of atheists are significantly more “functional” in terms of crime levels, asocial behavior, and the level of mutual mistrust.

Pew Research Center, based on a study of over a hundred countries, claims that there is a negative correlation, -0,76, between the percentage of citizens who consider faith in God a basis of morals and GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power. (This theory leads us to believe that China, where only 15 percent say so, deserves fast GDP growth, and the US, where almost 60 percent of the population tie morals and faith together, should expect a fall in their GDP).

According to a study made by Gallup, in 2012 the number of religious citizen surpassed 55 percent only in the countries where the average annual income per capita constituted less than $20 thousand (with one exception). Developed countries in this measure are situated between 20 and 55 percent of religious citizens. In Russia today the annual income per capita is just above $20 thousand – and 52 percent of the population consider themselves religious. The growth of religiosity will either make Russian an exception to the rule, or, what is more likely, will push it towards lesser per capita incomes.

And, finally, how is morality in contemporary Russia, which so many high-standing officials want to protect from the influence of “North-Atlantic states,” qualitatively different from the morals in the countries of Western Europe – not in words, but in numbers?

Alas, according all parameters described in the Gospel of Mark, Russia is not even close to the NATO member countries.

In Russia, there are 10,2 murders per 100 thousand people each year. In the US, there are 4,2. I Germany – 0,8. In France – 1,1. This is a huge difference even compared to the US, which Russian media regularly call a calamitous country with high levels of crime. But the details are even worse. For example, 68 times more adopted children died in Russia than outside of the country within the past 15 years (34 percent of all children in Russia were adopted by foreigners).

Officially, 105 thousand children live in Russian orphanages. (This number is suspicious: according to EMISS, about 88 thousand children are left with no care each year in Russia. Besides, in Russia (according to EMISS), there are over 1340 orphanages. It is unlikely that there are seven children in each orphanage on average.) The UNESCO says there are 700 thousand orphans and children without parental care in Russia. One-third of the children who are adopted in Russia return to orphanages.

The US (which we mentioned before as an example of a dysfunctional society) has no orphanages according to our understanding of the word. They have residential treatment centers with just a handful of children in each one. Overall, these centers house up to 50 thousand children, so 4,5 times less per capita than even according to official Russian reports. In Sweden, about 5000 thousand children are taken care of by the state, which, even according to official data, is 1,7 times less per capita than in Russia. The situation is about the same in Germany – less by half (according to official reports).

On violence in regard to adults: in Russia, there 603 prisoners per 100 thousand people; with 95 in Germany and 85 in France. There is a uniquely high number of prison guards in Russia – 700 thousand people (one per 208 people). In Germany, there are 177 thousand (one per 408 citizens), in France – 159 thousand (one per 400 citizens), in Sweden – 13 500 (one per 750 citizens). In Russia, there are 975 policemen per 100 thousand citizens; in Germany, there are 300.

The sexual amorality of the West, which our ideologists love to cite, is also doubtful when it comes to numbers. Though this definition is quite vague (and significantly dependent on tradition), we may find more-or-less objective parameters here. Here’s one example: in the world, the abortion to birth ratio is about 22 to 100. In Russia, it is 73. In Europe, it is 20. According to relative measures (per capita, per 1000 women, per 100 births etc.) Russia is the indisputable world abortion leader.

Addiction is no better: according to a UN report, two percent of adult Russians use intravenous drugs. In this measure, Russia is in second place in the world after Azerbaijan, and sharing it with the Seychelles Islands. Russia is in first place in the world in terms of heroin use. The overall number of drug addicts in Russia is over five million people, or about 3,5% of the population. To compare: in the EU, the level of drug use constitutes 0,51% (0,25% in Germany, 0,44% in France), and this takes into account that drug use revelation in Russia is much less frequent.

In Russia, an average adult consumes 15 liters of alcohol per year, 51 percent of the drinks are hard liquor. In France – 12,2 liters (23 percent is hard liquor), 11,8 liters in Germany (18,6 percent is hard liquor).

In Russia, between one to two percent of the adult population (according to UNAIDS) is infected with HIV. In Germany and France – 0,1-0,5%.

Envy and greed are no better either. The ratio of income of the 10 percent richest and 10 percent poorest people constitutes 6,9 in Germany, 9,1 in France and 12,7 in Russia. One percent of all Russians own 71 percent of the nation’s money. In Europe, the same measure is 32 percent. Five percent of the richest Russians own 82,5 percent of the nation’s wealth; 10 percent own 87,6 percent. Russia is the leader of welfare disparity in the world (even compared to Brunei and Saudi Arabia).

Meanwhile, charity in Russia constitutes about 0,075 percent of the GDP, over half is foreign donations (the foreign agents that our government dislikes so much). In Russia, 59 percent of the population thinks that help for the poor is something the state should do, not them. Fifty-five percent of Russians have no idea about the activities of charitable organizations.

In the US, charity constitutes over two percent of the GDP (120 times more in absolute values). Ninety percent of adult US citizens are involved in charity. The situation is no different in other countries outside the US The leaders in terms of international charity (helping citizens of other countries) after the US ($11,43 billion per year) are  Japan ($9,85 billion), Germany ($4,99), the UK ($4,5) and France ($4,2 billion). To compare: the overall amount of charity in Russia (domestic plus international from Russians plus international to Russians from foreigners) barely reaches $1,5 billion.

In “North-Atlantic states,” the money that goes to charity decreases the tax-deductible base without limitations. In Russia, this only regards the funds given to state-owned organizations.

Greed in Russia manifests even in blood. In Europe, there are 25-27 donors per 1000 thousand people, with 14 in Russia and less than 10 in Moscow.

Let us talk about “evil thoughts.” Russia currently has about 200 organizations that propagate “national patriotism” and “national socialism,” based on xenophobia, hatred of immigrants, representatives of other religions, classes, sexual orientations. According to several reports, the number of radical nationalism supporters in Russia constitutes about two percent of the population (three million people). To compare: in Germany, there are about 220 thousand people who adhere to right-wing radical, especially nationalistic, views (about 0,3 percent of the population).

Fifty-eight percent of the Russian population consider the death penalty just.

Today, almost 70 percent of Russians think that the US and the EU are Russia’s enemies. Over 70 percent of Russian citizens celebrated the annexation of part of another country’s sovereign territory; over 30 percent would support Russia’s armed invasion in Ukraine, which would inevitably lead to murder of both Russian and Ukrainian citizens. To compare: even the officially noble campaign in Afghanistan was supported by less than 50 percent of US Americans.

With this in mind, the last of the sins listed in the Gospel, stupidity, is what the statements about the necessity to “guard Russia from the detrimental influence of the West” look like. According to cold hard data, Russia is significantly behind Western Europe in terms of morality, and it is better to say that Russia today should by all means achieve Western Europe’s current level of morality. Vladimir Putin constantly appeals to the “preservation of traditional Christian values.” According to the Gospel of Mark, two thousand years ago Jesus said: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

It doesn’t matter how much effort we put in to finding a legitimate basis for his words, the nationally elected leader of Russia was not talking about Christian tradition or Biblical values. But let us not completely deny him common sense or logic. There is a serious meaning to his words. The next article will expand on what it is.

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
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