Vienna, May 15 – The 2002 Russian census, the first such count Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union, suffered from significant “technical” and “political” distortions, according to a leading Moscow academic who played a key role in its design and conduct.
But Valeriy Tishkov insists that the enumeration of the population in 2010 will be more accurate and comprehensive and will likely include several new questions, including about religious affiliation, and allow a wider range of permissible answers, such as declarations of mixed ethnicity (http://www.globalrus.ru/opinions/783908/).
In a speech to the Government Club on April 25, a transcript of which was posted online this week, Tishkov, who doubles as director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and chairman of the Social Chamber’s Committee on Tolerance, provides the most authoritative declaration yet about shortcomings in the 2002 census.
“In our view,” he said, “five to seven percent of the population was not counted, including certain residents of major megalopolises, migrants from the former USSR, and residents of isolated districts.” At the same time, “in a number of large and small cities,” officials added to the number of favored groups.
“Certain ethnic groups in the census had their numbers distorted,” Tishkov acknowledges, and “the reasons were various, not only technical but also political.” The count, he adds, understated the number of indigenous peoples of Daghestan, Meskhetian Turks, and “through political manipulation,” the Tatars in Bashkortostan.
But having made those admissions, Tishkov is at pains to argue that even though the total number of Russians in the population declined by three percent between 1989 and 2002, the result largely of the aging of that nationality, “the share of Russians in the population of the country even increased over the same period.”
He explains these paradoxical and by no means indisputable conclusions by pointing a radical shift in identity among Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation. Between 1989 and 2002, he continues, some two million of these people “disappeared” from the census, even though only about 500,000 moved to Ukraine.
Tishkov, who played major role in organizing the 2002 census, then provides some clues about the changes Moscow officials are thinking about for the next enumeration in 2010 – or at least, about what he, a still-influential former nationalities minister under President Boris Yeltsin, is advocating at the present time.
“Questions about language and nationality ought to be improved,” Tishkov says, and a question about religious affiliation ought to be added.” With regard to the first, he suggests that Russian citizens should have the option to declare themselves of mixed nationality, something they have not been able to do in earlier censuses.
While allowing such an answer will both reflect the reality of ethnically mixed marriages, it is certain to be controversial both among those who are likely to view it as a threat to their own ethnic power positions in various regions and as a half-way house to assimilation into the ethnic Russian community.
And with regard to questions about religion, there will be even more disputes. Many in the Russian Federation are likely to view a religious count as a threat to secularism, and still more are certain to fear that the numbers of believers shown by such a census will be far lower for some faiths than they now claim.
Such concerns on both points are even more likely given three other observations Tishkov makes in his recent speech. First, he says that “we must de-ethnicise politics and depoliticise ethnicity,” and thus return all questions of identity “to the internal world” of each individual.
That view, one he has long espoused, will certainly be viewed as threatening by groups like the Kazan Tatars against whom Tishkov earlier worked by seeking to set the Kryashens against the Kazan Tatars. Kazan views them as only Orthodox Christian Tatars, but Tishkov has insisted they are a separate nationality.
Second, Tishkov argues that the country must move from the principle of “friendship of the peoples to a friendly [and single] people.” Again, that will be viewed as undermining the status of minority ethnic groups and of elites who base their power on territorialized ethnicity.
And third, the former nationalities minister says, he is “against a too rapid Islamization of the population, including as a result of immigrants,” adding that “if [he is] speaking honestly, then [he] is in general against all our society becoming increasingly made up of believers.”
His remarks about Muslims may please most non-Muslims in Russia. Indeed, they put in polite language the fears many Russians have about demographic changes in that country. But Tishkov’s comments about increasing religiosity more generally will offend the increasingly influential Russian Orthodox Church.
And consequently, Tishkov’s academic speech at the end of the month is likely to be the opening shot in a new round of controversy not only about how to conduct a more accurate census in 2010 than the one in 2002 but also about what the population of the Russian Federation in fact should look like, whatever either enumeration shows.