The most important thing is not to panic. Most developed countries are facing the same problem
: natural ageing and population decline are occurring throughout all of Europe. To some extent, this is a normal process: a decline in the birth rate is a side effect of improved quality of life, particularly for women. Nevertheless, Belarus and Belarusians ought to take several important steps in order to mitigate population loss.First
, the country should support childbearing. Existing measures to support motherhood in Belarus focus on the poor; however, little attention is devoted to the problems of modern working women, for whom the main obstacle to raising a family is their career
. Such Belarusians and their partners are not poor in money terms—they just don’t have enough time. Therefore, their time is what ought to be subsidised.
To this end, the state could make efforts to build a convenient daycare system where children can be sent at earlier ages. It could also introduce legislation that offers more flexible employment terms for young parents, promote paternal leave, and invest in infrastructure that would be more conducive to combining parenthood and an active lifestyle.
Another thing Belarus in particular should consider is reducing the length of maternity leave. After the fall of the USSR, our country introduced a three-year maternity leave, which is currently the longest paid maternity leave in the world. Formally, no one is forcing mothers to sit at home with the kid this whole time. But in practice, most women are pressured into taking all three years. There are two main reasons for this:
- Such legislation creates confusion, as it implies that this three-year period is somehow vital for the child’s development. And women who go back to work after only a year of maternity leave can sometimes face social stigma for being ‘bad mothers.’ However, there is no scientific evidence for a three-year maternity leave; it may seem hard to believe, but this number is totally made up. It is not clear whether children whose mothers returned from maternity leave before the three allotted years are any different from kids whose mothers took a full leave.
- Long-term maternity leave creates a self-perpetuating cycle: since women choose to stay by their kids’ side until they turn three, the government does not invest in daycare or preschools, meaning that other women have no choice but to follow the majority.
In addition to supporting parenthood, there is one more effective way to increase the population: attracting migrants to the country. This brings us to our second point.
It is worth noting that Belarus has never taken any measures to counteract emigration or increase immigration at the government level. Since 2020, according to BEROC estimates (the research is soon to be published), around 150,000–250,000 people have left the country. Although there has always been a steady stream of emigration, before it was much smaller.
Meanwhile, if a foreigner wishes to move to Belarus, they are met with numerous bureaucratic obstacles, which require considerable efforts to overcome. The only exception here is the High Tech Park, which has managed to negotiate simplified conditions for its foreign residents.
However, it is safe to assume that the lack of migrants on the streets of Belarusian cities is not only due to the government’s best efforts to restrict everything. There is another reason, which is rarely spoken about in society: Belarusians are not a tolerant people, even if they sincerely love to call themselves so. According to available opinion polls
, our fellow citizens are wary of different cultures.