Staunton, October 25 – The just completed 2010 Russian census was "far from ideal,” according to most Moscow commentators, with many census takers again as in 2002 falsifying reports to minimize the size of the decline of the country’s population and to maximize the share of ethnic Russians in the country as a whole and of non-Russians in particular republics.
Today, Anton Razmakhnin of "Svobodnaya pressa” surveys the shortcomings of the just-completed enumeration (svpressa.ru/society/article/32562/), while Russian experts describe similar problems in 2002 (versia.ru/articles/2010/oct/25/vserossiyskaya_perepis_naseleniya-2010).
In addition to failing to include all residents of the country, many of whom appear to have refused to take part, the 2010 census was "far from ideal” with regard to declarations about nationality, Razmakhnin says, noting that many non-Russians feared Russification and many Russians feared both overall decline and declarations of regional identities.
Reports from various parts of the Russian Federation suggest that many census takers recorded what they wanted to or were ordered to rather than what individuals declared. Thus, some enumerators refused to list Cossack or Siberian as a nationality even though that is what people said they were.
In addition to such direct distortions, others were created by language issues. Ramay Yuldash, a Tatar activist, said that individuals declared themselves to be this or that nationality in the language of that nationality but census takers decide that some other nationality is correct. And such changes will only be magnified as the census is processed, he argued
Konstantin Krylov, the head of the Russian Social Movement, told Razmakhnin that he had information that "in the last days of the census,” officials were so concerned about the fall-off in the population they had found and the share of ethnic Russians that orders had come down to "list everyone as a Russian.”
He suggested that one of the reasons the powers that be had decided to take such a step is that "the entire mythology of the state is based on the idea that Russians are despite everything a majority. If it suddenly turned out [otherwise], then the Russians could demand for themselves the right of a minority.”
At the same time, Razmakhnin notes, non-Russian republic leaders have sought to boost the share of their titular nationalities, mayors and regional heads have tried to increase total populations, and central officials have sought to reduce the number of migrants counted, each group for its own purposes.
Reporting from across the Russian Federation is already confirming that pattern, and more such stories are certain to emerge in the coming days and weeks, a trend that will lead many to become even more skeptical about this latest Moscow statistical effort and some to dispute its specific findings.
Meanwhile, "Versiya” provides a selection of expert opinion about the census and its problems. Vladimir Sokolin, who supervised the 2002 enumeration, says that the current census is focusing on migrants because Russia needs to know "where migrants live and work, what they are doing,” and how long they are staying in Russia.
But as he and other experts concede, counting migrants is among the most difficult tasks. Many of them want to avoid being counted at all, numbers are problematic because many of them come and go, and all these figures are highly political with both opponents of migration and supporters having a major stake in the numbers reported.
Problems in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation continue. In 2002, Nikita Mkrtchyan of the Moscow Institute of Demography says that republic elites often manipulated the numbers in order to get more money from Moscow. And Aleksandr Khloponin, Presidential Plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, expects that to continue.
But it is not only the non-Russians who are playing games with the figures. The mayor of Volgograd, for example, openly said that the city must demonstrate that it has a million people in it – even if that is not the case – because its economic and political well-being depends on that number.
Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow Institute of Demography, agreed. "This kind of falsification is connected,” he said, "with chances for budget financing. If the population is greater, one can ask for more subsidies for the region, the republic or the oblast.” He suggested that this time around, Moscow and North Caucasus republics will all falsify their numbers.
Given what happened in 2002, however, many people will be watching Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, where regional elites appear to have done everything they could to boost the numbers of the titular nationalities even at the cost of undercounting subgroups like the Kryashens in Tatarstan or other groups, such as the Tatars in Bashkortostan.
And ethnic Russians are concerned about falsifications of their numbers in the North Caucasus. Some Slavic groups in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, for example, think they will be undercounted because the republic’s head, Boris Ebzeyev, a Karachay, supposedly has given an order to "boost the share of the Karachay population up to 51 percent.”
While some results from the 2010 enumeration will be released within months, the final figures are not scheduled to be published until 2013 – that is, after the presidential elections – and as happened in 2002, officials will again have yet another opportunity to falsify this already "far from ideal” count.