Staunton, February 12 – Moscow appears ready to use the 2020 census to emphasize divisions within non-Russian nations even as it plays up the unity of the ethnic Russian nation and even more the civic Russian nation, if one takes the words of Academician Valery Tishkov as an indication of the intentions of the authorities.
Tishkov, the former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a former nationalities minister who serves to this day as a close advisor to Vladimir Putin on ethnic and language issues, suggests as much in an interview with Natalya Rybakova of het Tatar-Inform news agency (sntat.ru/obshchestvo/identichnost-cheloveka-toporom-narubit-na-kusochki-neprosto-valeriy-ti/).
The academician says that the upcoming census will report various subgroups within non-Russian nations such as the Kryashens within the Kazan Tatars but goes out of his way to suggest that groups within the Russian nation who view themselves as separate are not only “rambunctious” but ultimately do not believe that they are distinct.
Thus, he says, Pomors and Cossacks identify themselves as distinct even though they are really Russians. “We call them ‘subgroups,’ that is, they exist independently but at the same time are part of a large people.” The Cossacks and Pomors declare they are separate but “when their wives ask: ‘do you want to be apart from the Russians?’ they say ‘no.’”
Non-Russians will see Moscow’s support for “subgroups” within them as a threat to their own numbers and even existence; and they will be especially outraged by the implications of Tishkov’s words that groups within the Russian nation aren’t as real and may not even be coded as separate as a result.
Some of Tishkov’s other comments and his discussion about how censuses in Russia are now conducted may only add to this anger. For example, he says that linguistic assimilation, which he admits is occurring is “voluntary,” and that it is “in favor of the Russian language “not only [because it] is the state language but also [because it is] more prestigious.”
But not all linguistic assimilation in the direction of Russia is “voluntary,” Tishkov’s words notwithstanding. Much of it reflects Kremlin policies that he has advocated that make it more difficult for non-Russians to retain their language and even their national identities. Suggesting otherwise is to distort reality beyond recognition.
Tishkov says that many in Russia are now talking about using the Internet to conduct the census in order to achieve efficiencies and to save money. But he admits that this may introduce new problems as no one knows how people will respond to questions about nationality if no census taker is there to guide the discussion.
In the past censuses, millions of people were undercounted, Tishkov acknowledges, and many of the numbers offered in the reports came not from the declarations of citizens but from official documents that census takers used to save time when they could not make contact with all those on their lists. And many thousands had problems coming up with a nationality.
The 2020 census may be even more inaccurate than its predecessors in 2002 and 2010, Tishkov implies. “The state commission on the preparation of the census has already been confirmed. This time around, we do not see in it any representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences.” Tishkov and his institute were represented earlier; they aren’t for 2020.
That means that the census is far more likely to reflect official views uncontested by academic expertise, and those official views may tilt further against the non-Russians and toward the Russians than even Tishkov does. And he goes very far indeed in stressing just how much in common all the peoples of Russia have, rather than taking note of their enormous differences.
“We have more in common than we differ,” he says. “We speak one language, we sing the same songs, we watch one and the same films and TV broadcasts, we root for one and the same Olympic team. There is much in common in our behavior and our views of the world, common experiences, common history of victories, achievements and dramas.”
“Therefore,” Tishkov says, “the non-Russian Russian people is of course a historically evolved and very powerful people” with “an all-Russian culture.” “Therefore, we speak about the multi-national non-ethnic Russian people as about a polyethnic civic nation,” terminology recalls notions about “a new Soviet people” Moscow tried and failed to impose in the past.