Staunton, Jan. 23 – Many have focused on the Russian census report that 16 million people did not have a nationality listed as a reflection of the fact that during the pandemic, many residents of the Russian Federation were not contacted by census takers and thus did not have the opportunity to declare their nationality, something not readily available from other sources.
At the very least, that introduces distortions in the census findings concerning the ethnic self-identification of the population. But the actual situation regarding the census is much worse, independent demographer Aleksey Raksha says, because in fact, 40 million more people were not contacted by the census but had their nationality assigned (idelreal.org/a/32227478.html).
He draws that conclusion on the basis of a Levada Center poll which found that 41-42 percent of the population, some 56-57 million people, was not contacted by census takers (levada.ru/2021/12/21/uchastie-rossiyan-v-perepisi/). That means that the nationality listed for them was assigned on the basis of name or residence, highly unreliable means.
That pattern makes the 2021 Russian census almost entirely unreliable especially because it is unclear whether the percentage of those not contacted was roughly similar across the country or much higher in some areas than others. In either case, the data Moscow has released cannot be used as a reliable measure of how many people identify in each particular case.
What is certainly the case is that census takers in a particular place are likely to have used the possibility of assigning nationality to those not directly contacted to the titular nationality given that many of the census takers themselves come from that group and are interested in boosting its size.
That would go a long way to explaining why the number of Tatars fell so much within Bashkortostan, a neighboring Turkic Muslim republic which also saw the number of Bashkirs increase by more than data on natural increase or migration would suggest was likely, Raksha continues.
And at the same time, ethnic Russian census takers likely would have assigned many people who are not Russian to their nation because Moscow would like to see many other groups assimilate to them, thus limiting the decline of the Russian nation to five million in the census reports. In fact, this assignment process likely means the decline was far greater.
The best one can say about the 2021 Russian census in this regard is that this was the poorest quality census in the entire history of the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. “Never before was there a census of such poor quality.”