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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Toll Is Shock, But Not Therapy

As shocking as it is to hear that the death rate in Russia has risen by 18 percent in a single year, as we reported Wednesday, it should not come as a surprise. Growing poverty, deprivation, homelessness and alcoholism all must all take their toll in these hard times. If 18 percent sounds clinical, official statistics show that this translated as an additional 300,000 dead people in 1993. This, surely, should set alarm bells ringing. According to those who should know, it means that Russians are dying at a rate unprecedented anywhere in the world outside times of war and famine. When the figures are broken down, they show sharp increases in infant mortality, cardiovascular disease and deaths from accidents, murders, suicides and alcohol abuse. The largest increase apparently has come from heart and trauma-related deaths, suggesting that the cumulative stress of post-Soviet life is exacting a heavy price. This is not to say that there were no frustrations under the old regime. Suspicion, fear, restrictiveness, incompetence and gross inefficiency played on the lives of almost everyone to some extent. No one liked living with the consumer shortages, the overcrowding and the ever-hovering stukach, or informer, whether real or imagined. But only for a vociferous few did such frustrations dominate. For the vast majority, it was just a matter of shrugging off the irritations and plodding on. Now, however, life has not simply become harder, but the immediate future has become uncertain. Who is not worried about the rise in crime and violence; who is indifferent to inflation; who can say that their families have not been affected in some adverse way by the new economic conditions? And even for the entrepreneurial -- and the criminal -- minorities who have succeeded in enriching themselves, life is far from trouble-free. Intimidation, extortion and violence are always around the corner, whichever side of the legal fence you sit. Perhaps most debilitating of all is the unpredictability of life in Russia, where perhaps the only certainty is that life will no get any easier in the near future. All this gives pause for thought about the costs of shock therapy, although it does not mean that the reform process should be stopped. The fact remains that there is no viable alternative on offer. It also makes one stop to think about ourselves in Moscow's foreign community, with our tendency to gripe about the many inconveniences, discomforts and irritations that form an undeniable part of life here. Russia is a country in a state of general trauma. And for most Russians, unlike for foreigners, there is no escape.