I'm back in Moscow and on the same time clock, finally! I have lots to write about from my trip to the US, but first here's a funny bit from our English language paper.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007. Issue 3721. Page 4.
Region Aims for Patriotic Conceptions
By Liza Kuznetsova
The Associated Press
The Kartuzovs driving away from the hospital in the SUV they won after being chosen from among 78 other couples.
A region best known as the birthplace of Lenin has found a novel way to fight the nation's birthrate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and is giving couples time off from work to procreate.
The hope is for a big brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities will win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.
Ulyanovsk, a region on the Volga River about 900 kilometers east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.
Alexei Bezrukov and his wife, Yulia, won a 250,000 ruble (about $10,000) cash prize in June after she gave birth to a baby boy, Andrei. Bezrukov said patriotism wasn't their motive for having a child, their third, although the money was welcome.
"It was a patriotic atmosphere, you know when everyone is celebrating, but I wasn't thinking of anything but my son," he said. "The whole thing is great, it's great to get 250,000 rubles when you have a new baby to take care of."
Russia, with one-seventh of the Earth's land surface, has a population of 141.4 million, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. Due to a low birthrate and very high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.
It is now falling by almost half a percent each year. Demographic experts estimate that Russia's population could fall below 100 million by 2050.
In his state of the nation address last year, President Vladimir Putin called the demographic crisis the most acute problem facing Russia and announced a broad effort to boost the birthrate, including cash incentives to families to have more than one child.
Ulyanovsk Governor Sergei Morozov has added an element of fun to the national campaign.
When he held the first competition in 2005, 311 women signed up to take part -- and qualify for a half-day off from work. In June 2006, 46 more babies were born in Ulyanovsk's 25 hospitals than in June of the previous year, including 28 born on June 12, officials in the governor's office said.
More than 500 women signed up for the second contest, on Sept. 12 in 2006. Exactly nine months later, 78 babies, triple the region's daily average, were born. They were welcomed into the world as the national anthem was played, the officials said.
Since the campaign began, the birthrate in the region has risen steadily and is up 4.5 percent so far this year over the same period in 2006, according to the regional administration's web site.
Everyone who has a baby in an Ulyanovsk hospital on Russia Day gets some kind of prize. But the grand-prize winners are couples judged to be the fittest parents by a committee that deliberates for two weeks over the selection.
The 2007 grand prize went to Irina and Andrei Kartuzov, who received a UAZ-Patriot, an SUV made in Ulyanovsk. They told reporters that they were planning to have another child anyway when they heard about the contest.
Irina Kartuzova had to have a Caesarian section to deliver the baby and it was scheduled for June 12.
The selection committee chose the Kartuzovs from among the 78 couples because of their "respectability" and "commendable parenting" of their two older children, a spokesman for the governor said.
Other contestants won video cameras, televisions, refrigerators and washing machines.
Under the federal program, women who give birth to a second or subsequent child are to receive certificates worth 250,000 rubles, which can be used to pay for education or to improve the family's living conditions.
Monthly support payments were raised this year to 1,500 rubles (about $60) from 700 rubles.