Thursday, September 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Admits Those Identifying as Siberians were Counted as Russians in Census

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 5 – Russia’s regional development ministry says the 2010 census counted as ethnic Russians those who declared themselves to be Siberians, even though the enumeration is supposed to record declarations rather than official nationalities, presumably to keep that identity from strengthening and to boost the numbers of the declining Russian nation.

            That admission confirms what Siberian activists have long suspected and is another way in which the number of the ethnic Russians was falsified to suggest that that community forms a larger share of the population than it does. (Other studies have found that local Russian officials boosted the Russian figure in 2010 by at least two million to get more aid from Moscow.)

            And while the ministry statement does not address any other community, it is likely that Moscow also grouped as ethnic Russians those who now identify as Cossacks, Ingermanlanders, or other groups of that kind, a practice that could also have helped to push up the Russian numbers.

            At one level of course, what the ministry has said reflects international practice: Almost all census operations have rules that specify how various declarations about identity or other things are to be grouped under a single rubric. But at another, in the Russian case, it is a deeply political one because it is being used to boost only one approved identification.

            On Tuesday, the news agency reported that Yevgeny Mitrofanov, a longtime Siberian activist who has promoted the “Sibiryak” identity, received a letter from the Ministry of Regional Development of the Russian Federation concerning how declarations of “Sibiryak” identity were treated in the census (

            During the enumeration, the regional news agency says, “thousands of Siberyaks” declared that to be their national identity, only to learn that the census takers and then the census processors counted them as ethnic Russians. They protested at the time, but Rosstat’s director Aleksandr Surinov refused to answer their questions.

            Now, the Russian Ministry for Regional Affairs has. In a letter to Mitrofanov, the ministry reported that his letter had been “reviewed and a query sent to the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences” for evaluation and comment.

            The institute said, the ministry recounted, that “the data of the All-Russian census (which allowed thousands of Siberians to identify themselves as such) is not an official determination of the legal status of ethnic communities.”  Such declarations, it continued, “only reflect the distribution of responses of the population to the corresponding uestions and give an idea aobut the variety of such answers.”

            “Various combinations and groupings of such answers and their interpretation and analysis is the task of experts,” the institute added, saying that the latter “carefully consider each particular case.”

            For its part, reported, the ministry “acknowledged that in the publication of results of the census, the Sibiryaks were grouped with other responses into the common category ‘Russians.’” That was done, the ministry said, because longtime ethnic Russian residents of Siberia call themselves “Sibiryaki” but “retain a north Russian culture.”

            This answer will not satisfy many Siberian activists who now are likely to use it to suggest that the community they speak for is in fact larger than a honest handling of census declarations would have shown and to press Moscow to treat their group differently when the Russian authorities conduct the next census.

And perhaps even more important, the ministry’s statement about the ways in which Moscow unilaterally and behind the cover of expertise groups declarations about national identification is certain to provoke questions among other groups about just how the central government has counted and possibly manipulated figures about them.

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