Hey there, mother of that squabbling brood of eight menacing Russian children: Vladimir Putin wants to take a group photo. In fact, he wants to bestow upon you the Order of Parental Glory, an award given to parents who raise seven or more children (biological or adopted) to be law-abiding citizens of the Russian Federation. The endless child rearing-related expenses, forcing of tiny feet into even tinier shoes, and expectation of boundless emotional support and availability? Here you go, have a shiny medal!
The Russian population is shrinking, and fast. By 2050, the United States Census Bureau estimates that Russia will lose more than 30 million people, a population decline of over 20%. The Order of Parental Glory is one of several incentives President Putin’s regime has introduced to combat the hydra of mortality rates, abortion, and economic hardship that has long been thwarting the country’s growth: Families with two or more kids are offered government-subsidized mortgage interest rates; those in more meager economic circumstances are offered even more cash per kid.
But for those who are really committed, The Order of Parental Glory is the ultimate childbearing honor. Established in 2008, the award is presented at a pomp-laden ceremony on or around International Children’s Day (June 9). Invited families visit the Kremlin for tea and an address from Putin, in which he extolls the virtues of large families and the honor it brings the country.
At this year’s ceremony, Putin announced, “You have chosen (I am speaking to the parents first of all) a happy, noble, but also a very difficult path of great responsibility and worry that demands all of your efforts, patience and strength.”
All that effort seems to have led to a permanent state of facial paralysis in their children, as seen worn by most everyone in the family photos taken onstage at the event. These pictures, available on the Kremlin website, are reminiscent of the American Gothic: Flat, stiff, staring, vaguely hangry. We’ve seen this style of creepy family photos both to acclaim and mockery over the years: Diane Arbus’s Identical Twins, The Addams Family, AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com. But despite the rotation of families featured in the shots, what makes these images so eerie is their sameness. They’re highly stylized stock photos, literal poster children for Russian ideals and anxiety about the future rolled all into one.
Maybe Tolstoy said it best: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But probably Putin said it better: “Have a big family. Come to tea. We’ll pay.”