Friday, January 27, 2023

Many who Didn’t List a Nationality in Russian Census Come from Mixed Marriages and Don’t Fit Easily into Official Ethnic Groupings, Russian or Non-Russian, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 24 – Perhaps the most striking reported result of the 2021 Russian census is the fact that for more than 16 million people, there is no nationality listed, something that has depressed the number of ethnic Russians by more than five million people and the numbers of other groups by comparable percentages.

            Most commentators have suggested that this is the result of the fact that the latest enumeration was undertaken during the pandemic and that census takers didn’t talk to anyone but rather compiled the results using data sets without nationality specified. As a result, they say, it was not surprising so many people in the Russian Federation don’t have a nationality listed.

            All this undoubtedly played a role, perhaps even a predominant one. But Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based regionalist portal Region. Expert points to two others that must be kept in mind as well, especially because they may have politically important consequences for the future (

            On the one hand, he says, many people in many regions are the products of ethnically mixed marriages; and instead of choosing one nationality, they prefer not to identify as any at all, something that many in Moscow may view as a halfway house toward assimilation of non-Russians by Russians or at least smaller nations by larger ones.

            And on the other, the failure to declare a nationality, striking because this time around Russians were allowed to declare more than one nationality and thus could have given the nationalities of their parents in the case of ethnically mixed marriages, may also represent something else, the decay of official nationality and the search for other bases of identity.

            That could affect those historically classified as Russians just as much as those historically classed as non-Russians. Indeed, voting patterns concerning republic declarations of sovereignty a generation ago suggest just that. And it is thus entirely possible, Shtepa concludes, that this “failure” in census reports may herald the rise of new identities, including regional ones.

            Thus, the large number of people for whom a nationality is not listed is not good news either for advocates of a Russian world or for those who promote ethnic movements. But it may be good news for those who would like to see Russia move beyond an ethnically defined space into one where ethnicity would survive but be far less determinative than it has been.

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