The Medal of Honor was first introduced in the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin and was awarded 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 – and only if the other nine children all survive.
No mention of the war in Ukraine was associated with the medal.
However, the Stalin-era award was originally created as part of a broader social package of “pronatalistic” measures taken towards the end of World War II, according to Kristin Roth-Ey, associate professor in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of the University College London, the Washington Post said on Wednesday.
“It was about serving the fatherland,” she said. Its revival is “obviously a conscious echo of the Stalinist past”.
Roth-Ey said the award was created as the Soviet Union attempted to “plan post-war reconstruction” and to support families as “the core institution of Soviet society.” Other measures include better health care for women, financial aid and making it harder for couples to divorce, she added.
“The war led to great fear of population losses. … It obviously has resonances with what’s happening right now,” she added, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin describes as a special military operation.
Last month, CIA Director William J. Burns estimated that about 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed and another 45,000 injured in the Ukraine war. He cited the latest US intelligence on Russian casualties.
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Nearly eight decades after Stalin’s decree, having many children is still considered “part of a good Russian citizen,” Roth-Ey said, and it’s common in other “authoritarian … nationalist movements that we see in places like Hungry and others.” 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 each year on May 9, Victory Day, a Russian national commemoration holiday marked by pomp and patriotic fervor.
The revival of the Maternity Medal is part of a “patriotic campaign” that has been intensified in Russia since Ukraine’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Roth-Ey added.
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The original Soviet medal was a gold star resting on a silver pentagon and decorated with red enamel with the inscription “Мать-героиня” (Mother Heroine).
Putin, 69, is one of three children, but his two brothers died in infancy before he was born. He first supported the revival of the award on June 1, Children’s Day. “You can usually really rely on those who grew up in a large family,” he said in a speech. “They will not let down a friend or colleague or their motherland.”
Since 2008, the Kremlin has also awarded the “Order of Parental Glory” to parents who have more than seven children. They will receive 50,000 rubles ($825 today) and a certificate when their seventh child turns 3.
Dina Fainberg, author of Cold War Correspondents and associate professor of modern history, agrees that the revival of the Mother Heroine award is part of a similar post-war “push for state-led patriotism” by Putin.
But she said the rationale was not necessarily the conflict in Ukraine.
“Ukraine is still not labeled as a war,” she told the Post of the nearly six-month-old invasion. “Putin and his team were very careful 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 eyes may be demographic decline, she said.
Russians “obviously have a problem with population decline and a demographic crisis,” Fainberg said. But there is an “increasing return of the patriarchal state,” she added, with Putin seeing himself as the symbolic male head of the Russian family for all to rally around and the ultimate “protector of the elderly, women and children.” Russia enemies.
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Russia’s population, now estimated at fewer than 145 million, is declining due to low birth rates and an aging population – problems affecting not just Russia but a number of developed countries.
As such, Putin has long sought to increase Russian birth rates.
In June he described the demographic situation in Russia as “extremely difficult” and called for “drastic” measures. Last year he lamented that there “are not enough workers” in the country with the largest landmass in the world.
In the first six months of 2022, 6.3 percent fewer children were born in Russia than in the same period last year, the Russian newspaper RBC reported, citing data from Rosstat, a state statistics agency.
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But demographic expert Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, told the Post that government policies to increase population are rarely successful.
“Demographically, measures like this just don’t work,” she said. “The problem is, you have a baby now, and it’s going to take 20 years for that baby to be productive.”
Such population policies may be more common in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes where “there is long-term strategic planning,” as opposed to liberal democracies, Harper said. In any case, in the 21st century “the quality” of a country’s people is more decisive for a country’s success than quantity.
“Increasing the population is very, very difficult,” she added. Immigration remains a key factor, but it brings with it its own set of political “tensions,” making it a less popular vehicle in Russia and elsewhere.
Whether modern Russian women embrace the appeal of the maternity prize remains to be seen for Roth-Ey.
“I don’t see modern young Russian women really responding to the call,” she said. “You have other things on your mind.”
Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.