Staunton, September 5 – Rosstat’s request, one that the Russian government has approved, to change the law on censuses making participation mandatory, requiring that individuals give their names, and allowing for data collection other than by face-to-face contact will, if adopted by the Duma, make future Russian censuses even less reliable than earlier ones.
While it is likely that most distortions in the Russian census come during the collation rather than the collection of data, these new demands by the Russian state statistical agency will have negative and likely unwelcome consequences that will make future census reports even less reliable than those in 2002 and 2010.
On the one hand, making participation obligatory does not mean that those who take part will not lie, as experts are already pointing out (echo.msk.ru/news/1832582-echo.html). Indeed, it increases the likelihood that they will do so, especially if they are required to give their names and addresses to census takers or via the Internet as Rosstat wants.
And on the other, because the Russian constitution specifies that no one can be required to declare his nationality, the Rosstat requests exclude compulsion on that question. But both that exclusion and the fact that census officials will now have the names of those who don’t give their nationality are likely to mean that there will be more distortions there.
Indeed, the most likely consequence of all this are that the number of people who will decide to give the “politically correct” answer that they are Russians will go up, something that the Kremlin of course wants but also that non-Russians will view this as an another attack on their status and seek other means of redress.
In an article in today’s “Kommersant,” Natalya Gorodetskya says that Rosstat’s requests to make participation obligatory for all residents of Russia and the government’s approval of them reflects the concerns of officials that the 2010 census was anything but complete given than many refused to take part or answer particular questions (kommersant.ru/doc/3081342).
Indeed, she continues, in 2010, more than a million Russian residents refused to take part at all and another 2.6 million avoided contact with census takers forcing the latter to use other official sources of information about them. In addition, many refused to answer particular questions. For example, 4.6 million did not answer about their economic “activities.”
Rosstat and other government agencies have been discussing the idea of making the census obligatory, imposing fines on those who refuse to take part or answer questions, and eliminating the anonymous quality of census returns for the last 18 months. The new decision brings those discussions to an end.
According to the VTsIOM polling agency which has close ties to the Kremlin, 77 percent of Russians support making participation in the census obligatory while only 22 percent are against, although it is far from clear that all of them appreciate what these changes, so at variance with international standards, will mean.
Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the Presidential Council on Human Rights is among the opponents, Gorodetskaya reports. He says one can hardly call something a census if people know their names are linked to their answers. Instead, the new rules will simply lead to more lying: “If an individual wants to conceal something, he will simply risk a 300 ruble [5 US dollar] fine.”