Saturday, May 12, 2018

‘Imperial Ethnography’ – Might Moscow Drop Census Question on Nationality Entirely?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Some Tatars and Bashirts have reacted negatively to suggestions Moscow may allow non-Russians to declared that they are of mixed nationality in the 2020 census rather than forcing them to choose one or another as has been the case up to now (

                Now, the After Empire portal has recalled that the same Moscow scholar who has pushed for that, Academician Valery Tishkov who serves as a senior advisor to Vladimir Putin, has also been one of the leading opponents of allowing groups like the Pomors to declare that they are a separate and distinct nation (

            According to Tishkov, “the Pomors are not a separate ethnos but a sub-group of ethnic Russians alongside the Ustintsy and Kamchadals.” He and other Russian officials have routinely denounced efforts by these people to define themselves as nation as efforts to split up the Russian nation and thus “extremist” by definition.

                On the one hand, Moscow’s opposition to any suggestion that there are nations within the Russian nation and its support for divisions within non-Russian nations may be nothing more than a traditional defense of the imperial center combined with a divide-and-rule approach to all non-Russians.

            But on the other hand, in the current context of Putin’s hostility to the non-Russian republics and their languages, the promotion of these ideas could be part of something larger and more ominous -- an effort to downgrade the importance of ethnic identity among non-Russians even as Moscow promotes it among those it classifies as the ethnic Russian nation.

            And that could point to the possibility that Moscow will simply dispense with a question about nationality altogether in the 2020 census, a step that the Kremlin could use against the non-Russians and their republics even as it seeks to hide the continuing demographic decline of the ethnic Russians.

            Such a move would deprive analysts and policy makers of important information, but it may be so attractive to Putin and his team for political reasons that the objections from them and from the non-Russians will be ignored.  That this is possible will only add fuel to the fire of non-Russian anger and possibly power the rise of more nationalist movements as well.

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