Late last year in a report headed "God's presence in Russia is 'a miracle'," Marco Tosatti, then the Vatican expert writing for the newspaper La Stampa, reported from Rome the comments of then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, who believes the revival of Orthodoxy in Russia in the last twenty years is "a miracle".
According to Tosatti's report, Prime Minister Medvedev said, "If we look at what has happened over the last twenty years, in terms of my experience as an Orthodox Christian, it is a miracle. Frankly, 15-20 years ago, I could not have imagined that the recovery would have happened so fast, with so many citizens finding their faith again."
Mr Medvedev also noted that today the Church cooperates with the government and with society: "I am very happy that the State and Church's initiatives could progress together," he declared, underlining the importance of Orthodoxy in young people's education and for the defence of society's spiritual and cultural values.
He gave instructions to the Ministry of Defence to actively develop the clergy's presence within the armed forces and in July 2009 the then President decided to bring back to life the military chaplaincies that had existed in the armed forces between the 18th century and the Red Army era.
In September this year, following the Ulyanovsk Demographic Summit which was also a World Congress of Families regional event, WCF and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of the Russian Region of Ulyanovsk signed a historic "Protocol of Intent," pledging to work together to support the natural family, support children and provide solutions to Russia's well-below replacement fertility rate.
The Ulyanovsk region has a population of 1,382,000 with its capital situated 555 miles east of Moscow, along the Volga River. Under the pioneering leadership of Governor Sergey Morozov, the regional government has undertaken important steps to strengthen the family and improve the demographic situation. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of births in the region increased by 19.5%, marriages by 24% and abortions declined by 40.5%.
Among other programs to raise the region's birth rate, Governor Morozov has increased financial support for families with children, assigned land for housing construction to large families and introduced a regional standard of financial support for pregnant women.
Ulyanovsk is also the first regional government in Russia to host a demographic summit. Speakers at the Summit included Governor Morozov, World Congress of Families Communications Director Don Feder (who also signed the protocol for WCF), Alexey Komov (WCF Representative in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States), John Mueller (of the Washington, DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, a WCF Partner), and Pavel Parfentiev of the "Family Policy.ru" Advocacy Group. Komov and Parfentiev also signed the protocol on behalf of their respective organisations.
Don Feder commented: "This is the first time World Congress of Families has agreed to work directly with a Russian regional government to increase fertility and strengthen the natural family – the essential building block of society."
World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs said: "We are grateful for the vision of Governor Morozov, who was presented with a WCF International Leadership Award in the course of the Summit. The Governor told us he wants the Demographic Summit to be an annual event and we look forward to working closely with him to make that a reality. Government institutions can't solve the social and demographic problems alone. But, good government policies and programs can encourage the involvement of religious, business, media, entertainment and cultural leaders who can affirm and defend the natural family restoring a prosperous, stable, and free society."
Komov was also the coordinator of the World Congress of Families Moscow Demographic Summit at the Russian State Social University on 29-30 June 2011, the first international gathering devoted exclusively to examining the challenge of rapidly falling fertility worldwide, and which attracted more than 500 demographers, economists, scientists, physicians, and political and religious figures.
Russia's population peaked in the early 1990s (at the time of the end of the Soviet Union) with about 148 million people whereas today it is approximately 143 million. The high incidence of abortion is a major contributing factor in the decline as is the low life expectancy for men at 59, due mostly to an epidemic of alcoholism. Life expectancy for women is 72.
The Madrid Declaration of World Congress of Families VI (25-27 May 2012) observed: "Human aging and depopulation are the true demographic dangers facing the earth in this new century. Our societies need more people, not fewer."
Steven Mosher, head of the Virginia-based Population Research Institute (PRI) argues we need larger families to help address the current financial crisis, given that higher birth rates and a revised tax code favouring children would do much to stimulate depressed economies. Every child is born with a mind capable of being educated and myriad talents that can be developed. This combination of qualities can easily be put to use to solve problems and boost productivity.
Alexey Komov, WCF Russian Representative can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org For information on pro-family activities in Russia, go to www.FamilyPolicy.ru.
World Congress of Families VII, "Happy Families, Healthy Economy", will be held in Sydney from 15-18 May 2013 (www.worldcongress.com.au) while World Congress of Families VIII is planned for The Kremlin Conference Centre in Moscow in 2014.
Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc, a partner of the World Congress of Families.