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Analysis & Opinion
17.11.09 A Russian To Marry
By Svetlana Kononova

A recent poll has dispelled the stereotype of the Russian mail order bride after finding only a small percentage of Russian women interested in marrying a foreigner. However, dating agencies dispute the claim that the popularity of foreign husbands is falling, and say that the number of Russian women seeking marriage abroad has grown since the financial crisis set in.

The results of the poll, conducted by the recruitment Web site SuperJob, surprised sociologists and the public by debunking the myth of “the foreign prince.” Only seven percent of Russian women aged 18 to 60 said “yes” to the question of “would you like to marry a foreigner?” However, 23 percent of respondents said “no” because they are already married to a Russian, and others said they do not want to marry at all, regardless of their suitors’ nationality.
Women over 55 are the most interested in marriage to foreigners, according to the poll. Twenty five percent of women in this age group would like a foreign husband. This trend is probably explained by the shortage of Russian men of the same age: the average life expectancy for Russian males is just 60 years.

Young women are far less likely to embark on the search for a “foreign prince,” saying that “foreigners have another culture and mentality,” or that they did “not want to marry at all.” Those women who do want to marry a foreigner mostly cite economic reasons - “residents of Western countries are more successful than Russians.” Others, however, said they were simply “looking for a decent husband.”

The dating agencies that specialize in introducing Russian women to foreign – which almost always means Western – men, dispute the findings, however. “These statistics seem to be controversial,” said Andrew Sokolov, the director of a Moscow marriage agency Semeyniy Uyut. “We have a lot of female clients aged 18 to 65 who are looking for foreign husbands.” And the number of Russian women who are interested in marriage to a foreigner has grown during the crisis, according to Sokolov. “Women are looking for safety and security. When the country is going through hard times, a happy marriage is a good solution to many problems,” he said.

Semeyniy Uyut’s clients include women of varying incomes and social backgrounds. “We have a lot of businesswomen who are ready to leave their business and the country to move to the European Union or the United States,” Sokolov said. “All our clients are interested in places like Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia,” he said. “Nobody wants to marry men who live in Latin America or Africa.”

Semeyniy Uyut helps to arrange about 100 marriages to foreigners each year. It usually takes around 12 months from registering with the agency to finding a husband. “The search time depends on the woman’s needs,” Sokolov explained. “Residents of big cities are interested in husbands who have an annual income of more than $100,000. So girls from Moscow and St. Petersburg have to wait much longer than women from small towns.”

Girls from small Russian towns and villages are much less choosey. Poverty, domestic violence and lack of good marriage and job prospects push them to emigrate as soon as possible. Normally it takes them three to six month to find a foreign husband, according to Semeyniy Uyut’s statistics. Often, that means agreeing to marry the first foreigner who is ready to buy them a ring.

Sokolov is proud of his agency’s work and his clients. “Russian women are still popular spouses. Millions of European and American men are interested in wives from Eastern Europe,” he said.

Olga Nasarova, the head of the London-based Harmony dating agency, agrees. “Girls from the former Soviet countries are in high demand,” she said. The Harmony agency holds “Lubov Red” parties in London twice a month to help Eastern European women and British men meet each other in person. The women at these events are nationals of former Soviet states who already live, work or study in the UK, or who have traveled to London especially for the party.

And the men? “We have three basic types of males who use our service,” Nasarova explained. Firstly, she said, there are those who regularly travel to Russia on business, like Russian culture and tradition and admire Russian women. Then there are men who have friends or relatives married to Russians, and, having seen the benefits of family life with an Eastern European woman, want to find a spouse with those characteristics of kindness, tolerance and ability to care for a husband and children.

The last group includes men who have difficulties in relationships with British women. Finding British women too selfish and feministic, they are interested in building a relationship with a girl from a different background. “Most of our male clients are successful professionals,” Nasarova said. “All they need is love.”

About 7,000 people, mostly women, leave Russia annually to marry foreigners, official statistics show. But this figure does not include the large number of women who leave Russia using visitor, student or work visas, and then register their marriage abroad.

Russian men, however, are not particularly pleased with this “marriage emigration” trend. Asked what they thought of women who wish to marry abroad, 59 percent of male respondents to the SuperJob poll called them “traitors” and declared that “our women should live where they were born.” Younger men appear to be slightly more tolerant. Most of those under 35 year said that “every person should have the right to choose where to live and whom to marry.”

However, “marriage emigration” remains an almost exclusively female phenomenon. Marriage and dating agencies do not work with Russian male clients who wish to emigrate. Even male ?migr?s from the former-Soviet countries who live in Western Europe, the United States or Canada prefer to date female compatriots. “I used to date a British girl,” said Victor, who has lived in the UK for more than ten years, “but she always asked me to go out and never did any housework. Now I only date Russian and Ukrainian girls.”

But while Russian men abroad may not be too keen on foreign girls, male immigrants to Russia are more than happy to marry locally. Thousands of marriages between foreign men and Russian women were registered in Moscow in 2008, according to the Moscow Civil Registry Office. Most of the bridegrooms were from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
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