Friday, January 6, 2012

Window on Eurasia: One Russian Resident in 25 Didn’t Declare a Nationality in 2010 Census

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – One Russian resident in every 25 did not declare membership in one or another nationality during the course of the 2010 census, an unprecedented figure that reflects both the declining importance of such identifications among many and the desire of some migrants not to call attention to their ethnic background.

            According to an analysis of the census reports published on the site, the share of residents who did not declare membership in one nationality was four percent of the total or 5.6 million people, up from 1 percent or 1.5 million in 2002. Moreover, 4.1 million did not indicate their citizenship (

            Although the website suggested that more research was needed on this group, but it is appears that at least in part it includes “migrants, who have obtained Russian citizenship and who are trying not to advertise their ethnic groups.” As such, it may be nothing more than one “variant” of a path to assimilation.

            This is only one of the findings, the website said, that the detailed results of the census suggest for the non-Russian portion of the population living in the Middle Volga, in the republics of the North Caucasus, and in other parts of the Russian Federation as well.

            In the Middle Volga, the two largest Turkic Muslim nations, the Tatars and the Bashkirs, continued to decline in overall numbers, but the census provided other details which may ultimately prove more significant both for the current relations between these groups and the Russians and for the evolution of these Idel-Ural nations in the future.

            The number of Tatars fell from 5.55 million in 2002 to 5.31 million in 2010, the first such intercensal decline of this nationality in the history of tsarist, Soviet and post-Soviet censuses. More immediately significant, the number of Tatars within the Republic of Tatarstan ceased to grow as rapidly as it had, although their percentage in the population rose slightly.

            This reflects, suggested, that “the return of Tatars” from other parts of the former Soviet space had declined, that fertility rates have fallen, and that the assimilation of younger people raised in mixed marriages to the Russian nationality, especially in industrial centers, has continued to increase.

            The Bashirs saw their numbers decline slightly, from 1.221 million to 1.172 million between the last two censuses, but they maintained their lead over the Tatrs, who increased only very slightly, and Ufa’s recent statements suggests that there is little likelihood that the Tatar language and Tatar identity will make inroads anytime soon.

            According to, the explanation for the failure of the two larger Turkic nationalities in that region to grow or grow more quickly lies in the refusal of officials in Kazan and Ufa to support Jadidist traditions and hence provide a bulwark against the expansion of Russian cultural influence in the growing urban areas.

            In the North Caucasus, the indigenous nationalities showed a continuing tendency to grow, although at slightly different rates, and that may affect the ethno-political balance in multi-ethnic republics like Daghestan. But however that may be, “the North Caucasus Federal District has been becoming ever more non-Russian.”

            Elsewhere in the Russian Federation, the census showed that earlier trends for the assimilation of Slavic groups like the Ukrainians and small indigenous ethnic communities continued. But within that pattern, there were some important changes that activists and scholars are beginning to point out.

            In a comment to today, Eldar Idrisov, head of the youth center of the Nogay Cultural Center in Astrakhan, noted that the number of Nogays there had more than doubled between 2002 and 2010, from 3019 to 7589, a reflection he said of increasing ethnic self-identification rather than migration or higher fertility rates alone.

            Earlier, in tsarist and Soviet times, the Turkic Nogays were subject to intense Tatarization, but since 1991, they have been able to focus on their own specific ethnic identity as a result of groups like Idrisov’s and the appearance of Nogay-language radio and television (

            That growth in ethnic self-awareness among the Nogays, of whom there are more than 103,000 now in the Russian Federation, could affect the greater North Caucasus, changing the ethnic balance and possibly leading to new calls, heard at a meeting in the Nogay district of Daghestan in June 2011 for the formation of a single Nogay Republic.

            Such a republic would have to be carved out of numerous non-Russian republics as well as predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays.  And even if such plans are never realized, they will certainly trigger new ethno-territorial disputes in a region that remains the most unstable in the country.

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