Friday, February 14, 2020

Arrangements for Upcoming Russian Census Will Exacerbate Ethnic Tensions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 7 – What questions are included in a census and which ones are not are among the most politically sensitive issues in any country. They are especially so when they involve the counting of immigrants and declarations about ethnicity or religion.  The Russian census scheduled for later this year is a case in point.

            There have been discussions about what questions should be included and how the census should be conducted more or less constantly since the last census in 2010. But only now, less than nine months before the enumeration is to take place are the Russian government’s decisions becoming known – and they will do nothing to calm the situation.

            Among the decisions that have been announced this week are the following:

·         Like its predecessors but over the objections of the State Statistical Committee (Rossta), the census will be voluntary, an arrangement that means many immigrants and others will be undercounted, something that worries both officials and scholars (

·         Despite pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church, there will again not be any questions about religious affiliation, thus allowing that church and other faiths to continue to make claims about membership without being challenged by more official tabulations (

·         Census documents will be available only in Russian and in six non-Russian languages (Bashkir, Buryat, Chuvash, Sakha, Tatar and Tuvin). For all other non-Russians, local translators may be supplied, an arrangement that will offend those who feel they aren’t being recognized as they should (

·         Residents of the Russian Federation can declare any nationality they want. They won’t be asked leading questions, but it is likely that when the results are tabulated, some declarations may be grouped in larger or different categories if past practice is followed (

·         Moreover, residents may declare two or more nationalities and two or more native languages (, , a major victory for Academician Valery Tishkov and an even larger defeat for the country’s non-Russians (,, and

·         Rosstat officials say that they will publish only the first nationality respondents declare or the first language but will provide to scholars and officials the complete list. That means ethnic data will be heavily processed and won’t be released when all the other data are (

·         Ethnographers are being invoked to justify this arrangement. They are quoted as saying that 15 percent of all marriages in the Russian Federation are ethnically mixed. (The share in Moscow is said to be higher, “about 25 percent”) (

·         Regional Rosstat offices will have the power to decide whether to include representatives of the titular nationality as census takers or not thus determining in an important way the answers many surveyed provide the census (

            Even Russian experts are expecting the census to exacerbate problems. One says that there are “three threats” likely to arise from this enumeration: the use of the census for ethnic mobilization, and double counting” to boost the number of those groups officials want to benefit (

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