MOSCOW, 2 May 2004 — Anna, a 35-year-old divorcee and mother of two living in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, spends her days surfing the Internet, looking for the man of her dreams — and he is not Russian.
“I have more than a hundred virtual contacts, from Britain, Norway, the United States... the choice is huge,” she says.
“Some are prepared to come to Russia immediately to get married,” adds Anna.
Disillusioned with life in Russia, many women here long to marry foreigners, generating a profitable business, with hundreds of specialized marriage bureaus and Internet services, but some eventually find out their dream is not all it is cracked up to be.
With a reputation for being more attached to family values and less career-oriented than their Western counterparts, Russian women attract many foreign men, psychologists here say.
As a result, the number of mixed marriages, which were exceptional in Soviet times, has exploded since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the last 10 years, some 75,000 women have left Russia just to marry American men.
In fact, says Olga Makhovskaya, from the Russian Institute of Psychology, “for many, the desire to leave Russia is the only reason they marry foreigners.”
Divorce lawyer Roman Stepanov concurs: “Living standards are low in Russia, and many women think that marrying a foreigner is like winning the jackpot, particularly those who live in the regions and have not been successful in their careers,” he says.
“They are convinced they will live like queens when they are abroad. However, reality is often a far cry from this, and they often have a hard time adapting to their new lives and coping with cultural differences,” Stepanov adds.
As a consequence, divorces are not rare, and some have even made international headlines.
In 2001, Russian actress Natalya Zakharova sued her French ex-husband over the custody of their daughter, a problem that made its way into the agenda of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac.
The following year a seven-year-old Russian girl, Emilia Garmin, was abducted in Moscow by her US father, who had divorced her Russian mother.
Yet since the collapse of the Soviet Union, marriage bureaus specializing in matching would-be Russian brides and single Western men have mushroomed all over Russia, like Moscow-based “Inter-Nuptial,” run by 28-year-old Maria Zvedre.
“Our catalogue includes some 700 women, most aged 27 to 46, who dream of marrying a foreigner,” says Zvedre. She should know: In search of a Western Mr. Right herself, she has included her own name into her company’s database.
To have her photos in the catalog, each woman must pay around $100. As for foreign men, “Inter-Nuptial” offers them a 10-day trip to Russia, including 20 dates, for $2,500.
The desire for a better, wealthier life, is not the only reason why so many Russian women try to marry foreigners. Russia’s gender gap, with females exceeding males by 10 million, is another powerful cause.
Another reason is that many women are totally disillusioned with Russian men. In their view, Russian men are “spoiled and infantile.
This is a consequence of the past, particularly of the period following World War II, when (because so many men had been killed) each man was invaluable,” Makhovskaya says.
But marrying foreign men is sometimes hardly better, she adds. “Unfortunately, Russian women often marry foreigners that have not been successful in their lives and unable to attract women from their own countries, and who think that Russian women are easier targets and are more docile,” she says, adding that marriage bureaus should check the backgrounds of their male, Western clients, more thoroughly.
“We have lapsed into market values. We have forgotten that love and happiness cannot be purchased,” Makhovskaya says.