Sunday, October 28, 2018

Allowing Russian Citizens to Declare Dual Identities Could Cut Size of Some Nations by 9 to 11 Percent, Drobizheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Former Nationalities Minister Valery Tishkov is calling for the 2020 Russian census to allow people to declare more than one ethnic identity and more than one native language, a development that Moscow ethno-sociologist Leokadiya Drobizheva says could have far-reaching consequences for some regions and republics. 

            Academician Tishkov made his proposal this week at a meeting between Russia’s ethnic specialists and Vladimir Putin about the new nationality strategy document now up for approval (; cf.

            Drobizheva, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Inter-Ethnic Relations of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology who also attended that meeting, has commented on Tishkov’s proposal in an interview with Gulnaz Badretdin of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta portal (

            If Tishkov’s proposal is accepted, the ethno-sociologist says, it would permit recording in the census data not now collected. Someone could say that he or she identifies as a Tatar or Bashkir but by culture “more Russian,” or alternatively, that he or she is “basically a Russian but has traditional Tatar/Bashkir culture.”

            These are, of course very different things and part of the multiplicity of identities people actually have, Drobizheva continues.  Tishkov wants this diversity to be recorded in the census [but] whether that is possible and to what degree is something which is still being discussed.”

            Asked if this change in the census could lead to conflicts because some national groups will fear that “by this bureaucratic means,” their numbers will be reduced and thus their power and influence along with it, Drobizheva responds with words that deserve the closest possible attention for what they say about how Moscow views ethnicity and ethnic activism now.

            “If you consider people who are ethnically active,” the ethno-sociologist continues, noting that she “does not want to call them nationalists although the term ‘nationalism’ with us is becoming ambiguous. Earlier a nationalist was someone who poorly related to people of other nationalities; but no even the president uses the term ‘nationalism’ in the civic sense, to designate an individual who is concerned about his nation, his people and his ethnic group.”

            Consequently, Drobizheva says, “people whom we could call nationalists in this way are those who are concerned about this and who consider that their people should have more rights or they will suffer.” And for such people, the issue of the size of a nation is critical because size matters.

            Identification by people with more than one nation will have an impact on the size of some peoples. “Therefore, for them,” she says, “this will be viewed as a loss of what they have achieved in history.  That is certainly possible.”  And “for certain territories, of course, this could have even more importance than for those republics” named for the main nationality.

            Even for them, this reduction in numbers would be relatively small, perhaps “9 to 11 percent of their population,” a figure that could be really important for some of the smaller nationalities in the Russian Federation, Drobizheva says, but not for larger nations like the Tatars because the latter “have very stable self-consciousness.”

                The Moscow ethno-sociologist does not address the following issue, but it is one that is certainly on the minds of many non-Russians.  If Tishkov’s proposal is accepted and if residents of Russia can declare more than one ethnic identity and more than one native language, Moscow will be able to decide how to allocate the results.

            Almost certainly in the current environment, the Russian authorities will use such reporting to boost the number of ethnic Russians who have been declining in size relative to other national groups and boost the number of people who speak Russian while reducing the number who speak non-Russian languages.

            The Putin regime beyond doubt would use the first tactic to suggest that it had solved the demographic problems of the ethnic Russian nation and the second to call for a further contraction of schools and institutions in non-Russian languages. And it would likely use both to push for an end to the non-Russian republics or at a minimum further reduce their special rights. 

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