Staunton, June 25 – Moscow has not yet reported ethnic data from the 2021 census; but people are wondering not only on how this or that nationality will have changed in number and in its relation to other nations inside Russia but even on how many nationalities people will have identified with and how many the government will in the end report.
In the 2010 census, people declared about 800 nationalities, but ethnographers eliminated many identities people had declared as non-ethnic and suggested there were about 180 nations in all. In the end, Rosstat reported 193 (gorod-812.ru/s-kazhdoj-novoj-perepisyu-narodov-v-rossii-stanovitsya-vse-bolshe/).
Today, many experts say that officials are likely to report the same number this time around, lest they spark questions about why there had been changes either as a result of the dying out of this or that small group or a decision by the regime to treat this or that group as present or not.
Those predicting continuity between 2010 and 2021 on this statistic almost certainly have the better argument given Vladimir Putin’s desire to highlight continuities rather than changes; but the bigger questions are this: Will the authorities release the raw number? Will scholars have a voice? And will the final number be more or less close to reality than it was in 2010?
It is important to keep such questions in mind when census data is released. All too often analysts, commentators and following them ordinary people assume that the numbers they are shown are somehow “real” rather than the result of decisions the powers that be about what they think various categories mean and how much information they should share.
This kind of manipulation of categories may be just as consequential as the falsification of numbers that attracts more attention. That some observers are now writing about it suggests that an increasing number of Russians are aware of that fact and will be watching, making the likelihood of more conflicts about the latest enumeration ever greater.