Saturday, September 28, 2019

Belarus Census to Focus on Nationality and Language but Not Religion, Belsat Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – Belarus will conduct its decennial census next month and will focus on national identity and native language but, on the advice of demographers from other countries, will not ask questions about religious affiliation, Zhanna Vasilevskaya, deputy head of the National Statistical Committee says. 

            In addition, the Belsat official tells a press conference in Minsk today, the new census will seek to identify how many people are cohabiting without official registration, where Belarusians are working and what education they now have (

            Vasilevskaya explains that the census is designed to guide the development of official policies, noting that the 2009 enumeration which focused on age structure and declining fertility rates among Belausian women was used to come up with ways to boost the birthrate and to identify where hospitals and other infrastructure should be located. 

            Participants in the census will not be required to show their passports when asked about their nationality and they will not be asked which language they consider to be their native one, she continues. “They will have the opportunity to respond only as to which language they mastered first in childhood and which one they use in everyday life.”

            In one aside, she said something that could dramatically affect the results. The Belsat official said that campaigns to get people to declare this or that language “have the right to exist,” although she added that “how much they will influence the outcome will depend on how the campaign is conducted.”

            That suggests that Belsat apparently expects that either officials or opposition groups plan to try to boost the share of those declaring this or that language – and quite possibly nationality as well – with some interested in having the share of Belarusian be larger and others in contrast plunking for Russian.

            On the one hand, that could make the census results a test of political intentions; on the other, it could mean that results at least in this area may be far less reliable than many might hope for. Preliminary results, Vasilevskaya says, will appear in February 2020; final results only in July 2021.

            Apparently to save money, the census will be conducted in the following way. Between October 4 and October 30, Belsat will set up about 700 enumeration centers to which residents are to come and make their declarations. Between October 4 and October 18, residents will also be able to go on line to do so.

            Then, between October 21 and October 30, Belsat will dispatch census takers “to those who have not used the previous methods.” How such people will be identified – and their numbers could be quite significant -- is something Vasilevskaya did not discuss at her press conference.

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