Sunday, January 29, 2023

Fewer Russian Residents Think about Their Ethnic Nationality because State Asks Them for It Only Once in Ten Years, Zorin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 25 – In Soviet times, all residents had their ethnic nationality listed in their passports and had to provide that information whenever they applied for anything. Not surprisingly, all knew their nationality. But now, Vladimir Zorin says, the state asks them to provide their nationality only once every ten years. It’s now surprise that many don’t know it.

            The prominent Moscow ethnographer surveys all the reasons many have given for why 16 million residents of the Russian Federation are not listed by nationality in the most recent national census (

            But in addition to pointing out that census takers could not list a nationality for anyone unless they had spoken with him or her, he says that changes since Soviet times have had the effect of reducing the salience of nationality in ethnic terms for large numbers of residents of the Russian Federation.

            There can be little doubt, Zorin says, that “in our time when the majority of people are asked their nationality only once every ten years during a census and otherwise don’t use it, that has the effect of reducing the significance of ethnic identity in the consciousness of a definite part of the population.”

            But he stresses as well that there are increasing debates about just what nationality is and reiterates a point he has made frequently: “a census counts not people by their nationality; it counts responses of the population to that question,” two very different things entirely.

            In other comments, he dismisses the conclusion of Valery Tishkov, former head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, that the 2021 Russian census was a failure. Such a view is “extreme;” and to insist on it requires providing an alternative data set. None exists that is as comprehensive as the census and so the census must be used, albeit carefully. (On Tishkov’s view of the census, see

            And he says that the decline in the number of Tatars in the census both absolutely and relative to other peoples like the Baskirs and Chechens reflects long-standing trends, including most importantly that the Tatars are far more urbanized than those which have seen gains. It has long been understood that ethnicity survives longer in rural areas, Zorin says.

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