The medal of honor was first instituted by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and given to about 400,000 citizens, according to Russian media. The revived award offers Russian citizens a one-time payment of 1 million rubles ($16,500) after their 10th child turns 1 year old — and only if the other nine children have all survived.
No mention of the war in Ukraine was linked to the medal.
However, the Stalin-era award was originally launched as part of a broader social package of “pronatalist” measures introduced towards the end of World War II, according to Kristin Roth-Ey, an associate professor at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies from University College London, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
“It was about service to the motherland,” she said. Its revival is “obviously a conscious echo of the Stalinist past.”
Roth-Ey said the award was created as the Soviet Union sought to “plan for post-war reconstruction” and support families as “the core institution of Soviet society.” Other measures included better health care for women, financial aid and making it more difficult for married couples to divorce, she added.
“The war led to great fear of population loss. … It clearly has resonance with what is going on right now,” she added, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a special military operation.
Last month, CIA Director William J. Burns estimated that about 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed in the war in Ukraine and as many as 45,000 more were injured. He quoted the latest US intelligence on Russian losses.
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Nearly eight decades after Stalin’s decree, having many children is still seen as “part of being a good Russian citizen,” Roth-Ey said, and it’s common in other “authoritarian … nationalist movements that we see in places.” as Hunger and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.”
In Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, World War II remains a big part of the national psyche. The defeat of Nazi Germany is celebrated every year on May 9, Victory Day, a Russian national remembrance day marked by pomp and patriotic fervor.
The revival of the maternity medal is part of a “patriotic campaign” that has been ramped up in Russia since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean region in 2014, Roth-Ey added.
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The original Soviet medal was a gold star atop a silver pentagon and decorated with red enamel that read “Мать-героиня” (Mother Heroine).
Putin, 69, is one of three children, but both of his brothers died in infancy before he was born. He first lent his support to the revival of the award on June 1, Children’s Day. “As a rule, you can really rely on those who grew up in a large family,” he said in a speech on the occasion. “They will not disappoint a friend or colleagues or their motherland.”
Since 2008, the Kremlin has also awarded the “Order of Parental Glory” to parents with more than seven children. They receive 50,000 rubles ($825 today) and a certificate when their seventh child turns 3 years old.
Dina Fainberg, the author of “Cold War Correspondents” and associate professor of modern history, agrees that the revival of the Mother Heroine Prize is part of a similar post-war “drive toward state-led patriotism” by Putin. .
But she said the reasoning is not necessarily the conflict in Ukraine.
“Ukraine is still not called a war,” she told The Post of the nearly six-month-old invasion. “Putin and his team did everything they could 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 old Soviet empire, a bigger problem in Putin’s mind may be demographic decline, she said.
The Russians “of course have a problem with population decline and a demographic crisis,” Fainberg said. But there is a “growing return of the patriarchal state,” she added, with Putin seeing himself as the symbolic male head of the Russian family that everyone can rally to, and the ultimate “protector of the elderly, women and children.” 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 affecting a number of developed countries.
As such, Putin has long sought to increase Russian birth rates.
In June, he called the demographic situation in Russia “extremely difficult” and called for “drastic” measures. Last year, he lamented that “there are not enough working hands” in the country with the world’s largest landmass.
In the first six months of 2022, 6.3 percent fewer children were born in Russia than in the same period a year earlier, Russia’s RBC outlet reported, citing data from Rosstat, a government statistics agency.
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But demographics expert Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, told The Post that government policies to boost populations are rarely successful.
“Demographically, such policies just don’t work,” she said. “The problem is you have a baby now and it will take 20 years for that baby to be productive.”
Such population policies are more common in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes where “strategic planning is long-term,” as opposed to liberal democracies, Harper said. Anyway, she said, in the 21st century, “the quality” of a country’s people is more important to a country’s success than the quantity.
“Boosting 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 take the maternity award incentive.
“I don’t really see today’s young Russian women responding to the call,” she said. “They have other things on their mind.”
Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.