Thursday, April 27, 2023

Moscow Official Says Capital is Still More than 90 Percent Ethnic Russian but Provides Reasons for Not Believing That

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 24 – The share of ethnic Russians in the population of the city of Moscow has remained virtually unchanged since the end of Soviet times, according to Russian census figures. In 1989, 89.7 percent of its residents described themselves as Russians; in 2002, 88.3 percent; in 2010, 91.6 percent; and in the most recent 2021 census, 90.2 percent.

            Residents and visitors to Moscow find such figures hard to credit given the massive influx of Central Asians and Caucasians to the capital city over the last 30 years. But the Kremlin has obviously decided that its Russia must have an ethnic Russian capital and sent out its spokesmen to claim what people don’t see with their own eyes.

            The latest of these is Yury Moskovsky, head of the commission on migration of the Moscow city government’s Council on Nationaltiy Affairs and director of projects at the Good Neighborliness Foundation for the Development of Inter-Ethnic Relations (

            He dutifully fulfills his task but then in the course of the discussion he provides reasons why no one should take his or the Kremlin figures all that seriously. First, he stresses that the censuses and nationality declarations in them are not really comparable given the changing role of nationality and the way the censuses were conducted.

            Second, he says that the number of people declaring a nationality is now only a fraction of the total population, 11.5 million out of 13 million, and points out that in the latest enumeration the number of Russians in Moscow declaring themselves to be ethnic Russians actually fell from 9.9 million to 9 million.

            Third, he discounts the number of non-Russian migrant workers by saying that most of them ar unregistered and therefore were not counted by the census. Their real number, he says, is at least 20 times the number recorded. If that is so, then they amount to more than the total number of those not declaring a nationality and necessarily push down the Russian fraction.

            Fourth, he says that most in-migration to Moscow came from ethnic Russian regions rather than elsewhere and that, in any case, the non-Russians who do come will be indistinguishable from ethnic Russians in a generation or two and so any remaining differences at present aren’t that important.

            And fifth – and this may be his most important comment – Moskovsky says that nationality data are far from the most important kind gathered in the census and that in fact nationality data are a survival of the Soviet need to prevent ethnic minorities from having a disproportionate number of offices in local and regional governments.

            Specifically, he declares that “the column ‘nationality’ appeared precisely in Soviet times, and there were reasons for that then including to prevent local elites from overreaching so that situations could not arise when representatives of a nationality numbering five percent of a district’s population occupied half of the posts in the bureaucracy.”

            That turns history on its head, of course; but it may be a bellwether of plans to do away with ethnic questions in future Russian censuses. 

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