Saturday, March 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Most of Russia’s Smallest Nationalities Declined in Size Between 2002 and 2010

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 9 – Thirty of the 46 numerically smallest nationalities of the Russian Federation declined in size between the 2002 and 2010 censuses, with one disappearing altogether and others threatened with extinction in the coming years, according to an analysis published in Tuva’s “Tsentr Asii” newspaper.

            According to Nadezhda Antufyeva, the total population of these 46 small indigenous nationalities increased overall by 9567 during the inter-censal period to 316,011, and these groups ranged in size from the Nentsy with a total population of 44,640 to the Vod, who had one of only 64 (

            The reason she prepared this article is quite clear: Antufyeva begins by noting that “the largest decline in size was among the Tuvin-Tojintsy,” a sub-ethnos of the Tuvins living in the Tyvan Republic that numbered 4442 in 2002 but only 1858 in 2010, a decline of some 41.8 percent. 

            Her reference to this small community is important for two reasons. On the one hand, it shows the extent to which groups that are closely related to another larger ethnic group are increasingly likely to re-identify with the larger one. And on the other, many of the members of such groups are now unlike in the Soviet past doing that rather than re-identifying as Russians.

            As Antufyeva points out, during these two censuses, individuals were allowed to declare their nationality without showing any documents, thus allowing them relative freedom to say whatever they wanted. But as she does not note, Russian census-takers reportedly refused to record certain groups – such as “Siberians.” 

            But she does observe that “a segment of those surveyed in response to the question about nationality membership gave various exotic names” such as Lesotho, Lichtenstein, Tongan, and the like “and as a result were included in a separate category as ‘persons of other nationalities.’” That category included 17,509 people in 2010.

            Others identified their nationality in geographic rather than ethnic terms: In 2010, there were thus 21,462 Daghestanis, 13,357 [non-ethnic] Russians (the identity Moscow is seeking to promote), 269 Soviets and 257 Yugoslavs.

            “This difficulty in the definition of one’s nationality is not surprising,” Antufyeva says. “In the family histories of [residents of the Russian Federation], there is often such a mixing together of the most varied peoples that to say with precision who we are by nationality is extremely problematic.”

            With regard to the 46 smallest nationalities by declaration, she provides a table which shows that over the inter-censal period, only 16 of the 46 smallest nationalities increased in size: the Abaza, Dolgans, Itelmens, Mansi, Nentsy, Setu, Soyots, Telengits, Tubalars, Khanty, Chelkans, Chukchis, Shapsugs, Evenks, Evens, and Yukagirs.

            The other 30 declined in size with one, the Alyutortsy, a subgroup of the Koryaks who live on the Kamchata peninsula, disappearing altogether. Twelve people declared themselves to be members of that group in 2002 but not one did so in 2010, even though some did tell census-takers even in that latter year that Alyutor was their native language.

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