Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites, Petersburgers Like Slavs, Dislike Central Asians and People from the Caucasus, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Residents of Russia’s two capitals like ethnic Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians but do not care for people from Central Asia and the Caucasus, according to a new poll, findings that help explain why some of the latter appear to have declared themselves to be Russians in the 2010 census.

            The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) queries 1200 Muscovites and Petersburgers about their attitudes toward various ethno-national groups. Both liked ethnic Russians most, 44 and 52 percent respectively, then Belarusians, 17 and 14 percent, and then Ukrainians, 15 and 11 (

            The residents of the capitals disliked people from the Caucasus most of all, 31 percent in Moscow and 28 percent in St. Petersburg, and Tajiks, 23 and 24 percent. Muscovites disliked Azerbaijanis next (17 percent) and then Uzbeks (13 percent); Petersburgers in contrast said they disliked Uzbeks (18 percent) and then Azerbaijanis (11 percent).

            Chechens were the fifth most disliked group in both capitals, 12 percent in Moscow and 8 percent in St. Petersburg. Muscovites then named Georgians (9 percent), Armenians (6 percent), Daghestanis (5 percent), and “Asians in general” and Kyrgyz (4 percent each). Petersburgers said they didn’t like Asians, Georgians and Daghestanis, 7 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent.

            Sergey Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Research, said that residents of the capitals had a positive attitude toward Belarusians and Ukrainians “because they in practice are not distinguished from other Russians.  Caucasians and Central Asians, on the other hand, stand out by behavior many Russians see as alien.

            As a result, parts of these communities, he continued, are organized “into criminal groups and often it is difficult to distinguish between criminal communities and diasporas.” That is especially true in the case of the North Caucasians because they have “the rights of Russian citizens.” Central Asians are disliked because of their numbers and the view that they take jobs away from Russians.

            Given these attitudes and given the current political season, it is no surprise that the Russian State Statistics Committee (Rosstat) says that the 2010 census shows that 91.6 percent of the residents of Moscow are in fact ethnic Russians, a claim that has led some to ask “whom are you going to believe – statistics or your own eyes?” (

            In the current issue of “Argumenty i fakty,” journalist Galina Sheykina explores the reasons that may be behind official claims. First, she provides what the 2002 and 2010 censuses show.  In 2010, the census found 11.5 million residents in Moscow. Some 668,000 did not give their nationality, many more than the 417,000 who had done so in 2002.

            “On the other hand,” Sheikhina continues, “the overwhelmingly number of the rest surveyed, namely 9.9 million, confidently declared that they are [ethnic] Russians,” a figure 1.2 million more than the 2002 census enumerated there. Moreover, the 2010 census found that the numbers of “practically all” nationalities, including Ukrainians, Jews, Tajiks and Azerbaijanis had declined.”

            Natalya Zubarevich, the director of the regional program of the Independent Institute of Social Policy, said that there are great doubts about these official statistics. First of all, she noted, “it was difficult for census takers to work” because of “the high level of distrust of Muscovites to any surveys and visits by those they don’t know.”

            Second, the social scientist continued, “a definite share” of citizens were “counted twice” because “hundreds of thousands of people live at a different place than where they are registered.  And third, the actual share of the total population surveyed was closer to 70 percent than to the 90 percent officials claimed, with the percentage lower for non-Russian groups.

            But there is another factor at work, she suggested, one which may help to boost the claimed share of ethnic Russians in the population relative to other groups.  “Part of the population calls itself [ethnic] Russians ‘in any case,’ fearing xenophobia in one or another of its manifestations.”

            Olga Antonova, head of Rosstat’s administration for statistics on population and health, provided yet another reason why claims about the ethnic Russian population in Moscow are highly exaggerated. She told “Argumenty i fakty” that census takers did not even ask the nationality of those who were “temporarily” in the city.

            Gavkhar Dzhurayaev, the head of the Migration and Law Information-Legal Center in Moscow, offered another perspective:  “Even if census takers had queried all migrants,” they wouldn’t have gotten much information because the gastarbeiters are generally afraid to tell anyone anything. Thus most are quite prepared to say “I am a Russian” to end the conversation.     

            There are “a few more than 200,000 legal migrants” in the Russian capital and many more “illegal” ones. Thus, talk about a reduction in their numbers “does not correspond to reality.” Officials and society need real numbers if they are to address real problems as opposed to living in a situation where “no statistics are equal to no problem.”

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