Monday, February 20, 2023

Five Percent of Russian Residents Did Not Want to Declare a Nationality in the Census, Ethnographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 20 – Since the release of the nationality segment of the 2021 Russian census at the end of December 2022, many in the Russian Federation, Russians and non-Russians alike, have been troubled by the fact that no nationality is given for 16.6 million of their fellow citizens.

            Most officials and experts have explained this by saying that census takers were unable to contact many people because of the pandemic and therefore had to rely on alternative sources of information that did not provide any data on nationality.  But now a Moscow ethnographer says that is not an adequate explanation of the data.

            In fact, Valery Stepanov, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology who has worked closely with Rosstat on the census, now says that of the 16.6 million where no census is listed, only 9.6 million weren’t contacted. The other seven million did not want to declare a nationality to census takers (

            If Stepanov is correct, that has major implications both for how the census should be read and for how Russian society is developing with regard to ethnic self-identification. On the one hand, it makes it even more certain that those for whom no nationality was given cannot be assigned to nations on the basis of those who declared a nationality.

            And on the other, it suggests that a large swath of people in the Russian Federation no longer strongly identify as members of a particular nation – after all, they are officially asked for this data only during decennial censuses – or have chosen not to give a nationality either because of some kind of official pressure or as a form of protest.

            Thus, among non-Russians, some may have refused to list their nationality because officials have pushed them not to identify in certain ways but only in others; and among ethnic Russians, those choosing not to declare a nationality may either reject ethnicity as a self-definer or want to protest what they see being done in the name of their nation.

            Stepanov offered three additional insights into problems with the 2021 Russian Census. First, he says, many of the difficulties census takers faced were the result of the fact that large numbers of residents of the country don’t live where they are registered. That is especially true in places where there has been outmigration, something local officials don’t want to admit.

            Second, the ethnographer says, a survey he and his colleagues conducted in 40 regions of the Russian Federation found that many people weren’t well informed about the census and therefore didn’t take part. That affected even students who, one might have expected, would have been the easiest to reach.

            And third, not only did the census this time around feature claims of membership in non-existent nations but also it contained reports about knowledge of languages that don’t exist. In 2010, the census processers reported ten such languages; this time, they reported that the number of such tongues had risen to 45.

No comments:

Post a Comment