Sunday, September 4, 2016

Post-Soviet Russian Censuses Significantly Undercounted Number of Jews, Israeli Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 4 – Both the 2002 and 2010 Russian censuses undercounted the number of Jews remaining in the Russian Federation either because data about them was taken from government files rather than census reports or because they were listed as persons “who had not indicated their ethnic membership,”  according to Mark Tolts.

            A senior demographer at Jerusalem University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry, he says that his projections show that there were about 254,000 Jews in Russia in 2002, not the 233,600 the census reported, and that, using the same methodology, there were some 200,000 in 2010 and not the 157,800 Moscow said, in that case almost a quarter less than in reality.

            Tolts’ comments, which of course raise the possibility that Moscow has an interest in reducing the reported number of Jews in order to boost the number of Russians come in a special issue he prepared on the demography of Jews in the post-Soviet space for a special issue of Moscow’s “Demoscope Weekly” (

            In the 1990s, he begins, the number of Jews in the former Soviet space fell dramatically largely because of dramatic increases in out-migration.  There were 1,480,000 Jews in the USSR, according to the 1989 census.  By 2000, their numbers had fallen by 995,000, more than the 799,000 who had left over the previous 30 years.

            By the time of the second round of post-Soviet censuses, conducted in most but not all of the countries of the region, the number of Jews living there had declined still further, Tolts says.  According to the Israeli demographer, the total number of Jews in the former Soviet space fell from 485,000 in 2000 to 326,000 in 2010.

             In addition to his observations about the Russian numbers, Tolts discusses the changes elsewhere. In Azerbaijan, between 1999 and 2009, the number of Jews fell by 27 percent to 9100. The number of Jews in other predominantly Muslim countries also fell dramatically, In Tajjikistan, there remain only 36.  In Belarus, their numbers fell by 54 percent to 12,900.

            Tolts devotes particular attention to the number of Jews counted in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  Their number fell by 38 percent in Latvia to 6400 and by 24 percent in Lithuania to 3050.  In Estonia, the number of Jews fell by only eight percent, to 2,000. There too, he says, the number may be higher given that the census there counted religious belief and nationality separately.

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