Russia Society and Human Rights

Population and society

In recent decades, the demographic trend has often recorded negative values ​​(-0.4% between 2005 and 2010). The country has dropped from 148 million citizens in 1990 to 140 million in 2010. It is estimated that, despite attracting immigrants seeking employment, Russia could face a profound demographic crisis (the population could shrink to 116 million by 2050), accompanied by progressive aging. With the unilateral annexation of Crimea, the Russian population would potentially increase by 2.3 million people. The mortality rate has increased compared to the 1990s (15.1 people per thousand between 2005 and 2010, 8.9 in 2012) due to various factors, including environmental degradation and the worsening of the obsolete health system. Furthermore, the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes is a factor that seems to have had a strong impact on the difference between male and female life expectancy: in 2012 the latter reached 76 years, while the former stopped at 65. One law restricting the consumption of cigarettes, on the European model, was adopted in 2013.

While three quarters of the population lives in European Russia, in some areas, notably Siberia and the far east of the federation, the population density is very low (up to 1 person per square kilometer). Although there are no univocal projections on the issue, this factor has been considered for several years one of the possible future sources of tension with Beijing, since the Chinese population boom could theoretically lead to an increase in emigration to the Russian Far East, a region bordering China and rich in mineral resources.

The population of the Russian Federation is mainly composed of Russians (82%), Tatars (4%), Ukrainians (3%), Chuvashians (1%), Bashkirs (1%), Moldovans (1%) and Belarusians (1%)). The majority of the population is Christian Orthodox, but only 5% of Russians declare themselves observant, while Muslims live mainly in the Caucasus northern and in the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan. Since 2009, the Russian Orthodox Church has been governed by Patriarch Cyril, a leading political figure who exerts a great influence on other Orthodox churches. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution, but is in fact subject to some limits. Particular religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are considered religious sects, are discriminated against. In 2009, then President Medvedev introduced religious education in public schools, a decision that is still contested by part of civil society.

The number of Russians abroad is high, concentrated in particular in some countries once belonging to the USSR: in Kazakhstan and Estonia there is a greater percentage of Russians (about 15%) in the former Soviet bloc, even if in absolute terms the largest community is the one residing in Ukraine.

The level of education is high, but the succession of economic crises has had a negative impact and worsened educational standards compared to the Soviet era. In universities, state funds come to finance about one third of the costs, the rest of which is covered by student fees.

Freedom and rights

In November 2013, for three years until the end of 2016, Russia joined the UN Human Rights Council, together with China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, according to an orientation that favors the inclusion of important partners. although not very credible with respect to a delicate issue such as that of respect for human rights. The objective is obviously to induce an improvement in their internal political situation in this way. On the occasion of his admission to the Council, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, Vitalij Čurkin, announced that Russia’s priorities will concern the fight against racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.

The seat obtained clashes with the reality of a nation that was in the eye of the storm in June 2013 for a law approved unanimously by the 436 deputies of the Duma, with only one abstention, and which promotes repressive measures against homosexuals. The law punishes the promotion of “non-traditional sexual orientations” among minors under the age of 18 and provides for high financial fines for those found responsible for “homosexual propaganda”. The UN Human Rights Council itself had highlighted the concern over civilian abuses in South Ossetia, Georgia, during military operations in August 2008 and had denounced the cases of torture, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions in the Caucasus in the north, committed by military and security service personnel.

More generally, according to the index of democracy drawn up by the British weekly The Economist, Russia would fall within the so-called “hybrid regimes”, in 107th place out of 167 countries. The electoral moment remains delicate and not entirely transparent: in the 2008 elections the OSCE decided not to send an election observer mission to monitor the elections, due to the stringent constraints imposed by the Russian government. During the 2012 presidential elections, OSCE representatives reported numerous frauds.

Although the functioning of the judicial system has greatly improved since the end of the Soviet Union until today, the principle of independence of the judiciary, especially in the case of processes of political importance, is often not guaranteed. Full freedom of the press, although enshrined in the Constitution, is in fact hampered and limited, and the country ranks 180th out of 197 in the Freedom House Press Freedom Index. The government directly or indirectly controls television networks, while journalists and human rights activists are victims of pressure and violence, so much so that in many cases they fuel self-censorship. According to the 2015 statistics of the Committee to Protect Journalists (Cpj), Russia is 10th in the world for the number of killings of journalists that went unpunished. The best-known case in the West is that of the journalist Anna Politkovskaja, author of numerous reports on the violence committed by Russia in Chechnya. A 2006 law allowed greater discretion for the public administration to obstruct the activity of nongovernmental organizations critical of the government, and a 2012 law further aggravated the situation by declaring foreign funding to NGOs illegal.operating in Russia, and forcing them to register as “foreign agents”. With the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s political isolation led to stiffening of state propaganda and further restrictions on press freedom. The law banning foreign participation in Russian media was recently passed, followed by several government decisions aimed at limiting or sanctioning national newspapers and news sites for expressing positions not considered acceptable by the Kremlin.

Corruption has traditionally been widespread in public administration and law enforcement agencies: in Transparency International studies, Russia ranks 136 out of 175 countries in the perceived corruption index. The government has formally committed itself to fighting the phenomenon on several occasions, among others by launching a national plan in 2008: but corruption seems so deeply rooted and the link with organized crime so strong that a too restrictive policy could cause unrest. As regards the index of economic freedom, the protection of private property and intellectual property rights is weak and the case law on the subject is often unpredictable; legislation also suffers from a lack of transparency.

Russia Society and Human Rights