An ethnically diverse country, most people in Russia are ethnic Russians living in European Russia. Many non-Russians have formed independent countries or seek autonomy since the breakup of the Soviet Union, which had replaced centuries of czarist rule. Today religion and the arts are making a comeback, while education and the healthcare system are struggling.
Population Patterns More than 100 ethnic groups live in Russia, making it a country with one of the widest varieties of ethnic groups. More than 80 percent, however, are ethnic Russians, part of the larger ethnic group of Slavs. Other families of ethnic groups include Turkic and Causasian peoples. Many non-Russian ethnic groups have formed independent countries or have begun to seek independence or self-rule since the Soviet breakup. Most of the population is concentrated west of the Ural Mountains, while parts of Siberia have a population of less than 1 person per square mile. The population of Russia began declining after the Soviet breakup because of inadequate health care.
History and Government Slavs settled near the waterways of the North European Plain by A.D. 600. They incorporated Scandinavian Varangians during the 800s. Muscovites ended 200 years of Mongol control in the 14000s and began to expand their control over the area that became known as Russia. Under Czarist rule, over the next five centuries Russia continued to expand its borders into Siberia in the east and toward the Black Sea in the south. Growing discontent with Czarist Russia's strict governmental controls and social and economic inequalities finally culminated in the Russian Revolution in 1917. Forty years of Cold War, the overthrow of communist rulers in Eastern Europe in 1989, and a weakening economy led to the collapse of Soviet control. Nationalists in the non-Russian Baltic Republics declared independence, eventually leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1991. After transforming from a command economy to a market economy, the Russian economy is slowly improving. However, Russia today is still threatened by separatist movements and ethnic conflict.
Cultures and Lifestyles The Eastern Orthodox Church, Russia's dominant church until it was banned during the Soviet era of atheism, is enjoying a resurgence. Other religions are also growing strong, although only Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism are considered traditional religions and have full liberties. During the Soviet era, mandatory education was focused on technology. Today curriculums are more objective, but school budget limits and a lack of regard for education still pose problems. The health care system also is lacking because of government inefficiency in running clinics and hospitals and low pay for doctors and nurses. The arts, however, which enjoyed a long tradition but were severely limited under Soviet rule, are making a strong comeback.