(AFP) – Sep 12, 2007
ULYANOVSK, Russia (AFP) — Officials in the Russian province of Ulyanovsk urged residents on Wednesday to take the day off work and make patriotic love, with prizes for producing a child on the country's national day nine months hence.
Sergei Morozov, governor of this province 900 kilometres (560 miles) east of Moscow, dreamt up the idea as a way of helping to pull Russia out of its demographic crisis.
"It is a wonderful idea to make September 12 a holiday," he told officials. "People can spend more time with their families, communicate, go to the cinema and direct their energies along the needed course, not least for the prosperity of Ulyanovsk."
"Family Contact" day, dubbed "Conception Day" by locals, is not Morozov's first such scheme.
Prizes including fridges, televisions and an off-road vehicle were offered to anyone who gave birth on the last Russia Day holiday on June 12.
The governor's slogan runs: "Give Birth to a Patriot on Russia Day."
The day kicked off with parties in kindergartens, the first stage of an action-packed programme promoting love, family and babies.
A competition was held for the best young family, schools held classes "on the family and sex" and libraries displayed reading material for future parents.
A post office held a "best love letter" competition in which participants could post their messages anywhere in Russia free of charge.
Employers were encouraged to grant a discretionary day off.
"The purpose is to improve the demographic situation and support family values," a spokeswoman for the administration told AFP earlier.
But some residents were sceptical, including 16-year-old Dmitry Fyodorov.
"When one teacher started talking to us about sex this morning I asked her what there was left for us to learn," he told AFP.
Nineteen-year-old student Nadezhda Teryokhina objected that "the governor can't push us to make love when he wants. It's up to free people to choose."
The tradition of awarding prizes for giving birth dates back to Soviet times, when women could be named "Hero Mothers" for having many children.
But boosting the population has grown more urgent as Russia's population has slumped from 149 million in 1992, just after the Soviet collapse, to just over 142 million today.
President Vladimir Putin has made fixing the problem a national priority, signing a law recently that grants mothers 250,000 rubles (about 9,555 dollars, or 7,000 euros) for having a second child.
Officials have trumpeted an increase in birth rates registered this year.
But demographers criticise the emphasis on birth rates, saying the main problem is Russia's dismal life-expectancy, with men dying on average at 58, 16 years earlier than in western Europe.
Human rights activist Alexander Bragin dismissed the event.
"This is all for show, an effort to solve the demographic problem by giving out cars," he told AFP.
The city of Ulyanovsk has a special place in national mythology as it was named after the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, whose real surname was Ulyanov.
Next year's prizes have not yet been announced, but authorities have promised that patriotic parents will be rewarded.
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