Saturday, June 9, 2018

There are Fewer ‘Rossiyane’ in Russia than There are Chukchis, Census Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – In the 2010 Russian census, commentator Mikhail L. says, only 13,357 residents listed Rossiyanin, the term for “non-ethnic Russian” that the Kremlin wants to promote as their ethnicity, fewer than the more than 15,000 who identified as Chukchis and 8300 times fewer than identified themselves as Russkiy, the term for “ethnic Russian.”

            Moreover, he points out in a comment on the communist-oriented Forum-MSK portal, Russian census takers did not even include Rossiyane as a subgroup of ethnic Russians but rather listed them among the large number of people who identified themselves in unusual ways such as elves or gnomes (

            That arrangement suggests, Mikhail L. continues, that the authorities viewed them as some kind of “ethnic renegades, most likely of all consisting of former [ethnic] Russians.” What makes this important, he suggests, is that the Russian media talks about them all the time even though 99.99 percent of the population of the country “ignores” their existence.

            Advocates of having all residents of the Russian Federation identify as Rossiyane, that is, civic Russians, such as Academician Valery Tishkov who has led the charge for making this change will reasonably counter that when Russians are asked about their ethnicity, they would not naturally give such a non-ethnic identity as a response.

            But the fact that the census takers grouped the Rossiyane not as a subgroup of the ethnic Russian nation but as a separate national identity is interesting. On the one hand, it is no more than a consistent application of the principle that ethnic Russian identity and non-ethnic Russian identity are two very different things.

            On the other, however, this treatment shows just how problematic the census reports are. Obviously, someone has to decide on how to group responses – Tishkov in fact has played that role in the past – but deciding to separate Russkiye and Rossiyane in this way underscores just how ideological this all is, something certain to offend ethnic Russians and non-Russians alike. 

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