Staunton, June 19 – Census takers in Russia next year will be allowed to prompt those who have difficulty specifying what is their native language by asking them what language they learned first in their childhood, but they won’t be allowed to ask leading questions about ethnic identity or allow respondents to give more than one nationality.
Sergey Yegorenko, the acting head of Rosstat, the Russian government’s statistical agency, made that announcement on Monday to a meeting of the Interagency Working Group on Issues of Inter-Ethnic Relations (nazaccent.ru/content/30165-perepischikam-zapretyat-zadavat-navodyashie-voprosy-o.html).
He also announced that the census this time around for the first time will allow residents to “independently fill in” the questionnaires electronically. Yegorenko’s remarks suggest that the census forms and procedures are not almost completely set, a requirement if the authorities are to be ready for this massive effort next year.
At the meeting, Academician Valery Tishkov, the former nationalities minister and ethnography institute director who has served as a close advisor to Vladimir Putin on ethnic issues, made two interventions, one of which did not draw a response from the Rosstat head but the second of which was rejected by Yegorenko out of hand.
On the one hand, Tishkov said that “nationality may not always correspond with native language and therefore questions must be asked so as not to confuse those being enumerated.” Just how this might lead to changes and whether they might be a backdoor for the introduction of leading questions was not reported.
And on the other, the academician repeated his call for the offspring of mixed marriages to have the opportunity to say that they were members of several ethnic groups. Yekorenko “categorically” rejected that idea, Nazaccent reports, saying that the proposal at least for now is “inexpedient.”
From the point of view of many minorities, the real problem with the upcoming census will not be the presence or absence of leading questions from census takers or the ability or inability to declare more than one ethnic identity. Instead, it will be how Rosstat will group or report responses on the most sensitive questions of identity and language.
In all censuses, people respond variously to questions and officials who process their responses group them according to often unpublished rules. Thus, it is still an open question whether those who declare themselves to be Siberians or Cossacks will be counted as such or whether those who respond in that way will be listed as Russians as has happened before.
And it is also an open question whether the authorities will allow those who are members of the subdivisions of the Circassian nation (the Adygeys, Cherkess, Kabardins, and Shapsugs among others) to declare themselves to be Circassians or insist that they be listed separately on the basis of their place of residence.
Those issues are likely to become the subject of controversy as the census proceeds, controversies more serious than the ones Yegorenko appeared to have put to rest this week.