Monday, February 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: North Caucasus 2002 Census Data Almost as Fraudulent as 2007 Vote Totals

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 25 – Officials in the North Caucasus inflated the number of members of non-Russian groups reported in the 2002 census almost as much as they inflated the number of voters and backers for United Russia in the December 2007 elections, according to a new analysis of the earlier data.
In the current Demoscope Weekly, demographer Dmitry Bogoyavlensky examines the 2002 data and compares it to estimates at the time based on age-specific figures as part of a more general effort to explain overcounts in that enumeration of Russia’s population (
“Neither migration, nor ethnic processes, nor birthrates can account” for the 15 to 30 percent increase in the number of people in all age groups among the peoples of the North Caucasus between 1989 and 2002 – a figure that is three to six times as great as that for other nationalities and regions of the country, Bogoyavlensky says.
Birthrates among these peoples are indeed much higher than the country-wide figures, he notes, but they cannot explain increases in the number of people in older age groups. The assimilation of other groups or immigration might, but neither of those trends appears to be a major factor in these cases.
And consequently, there is only one explanation: “the artificial raising of the numbers” through fraud by “at a minimum” several if not all of the governments of the North Caucasus. The situation in North Osetia and the Adygei Republic appears less bad in this respect, the demographer says, but even there, some fraud is evident.
The actual numbers from such over-counts are difficult to establish, but Bogoyavlensky suggests that it is on the order of 820,000 – some 400,000 among the peoples of Daghestan, slightly more than 300,000 for the Chechens and Ingush and “no less” than 100,000 for the other peoples of this region.
(Bogoyavlensky points out that there were distortions elsewhere in the Russian Federation as well, although he insists that the situation in the North Caucasus was far and away the most extreme example of this unfortunate development, one that makes any unqualified reliance on the 2002 data problematic.)
If these figures are taken into account, then the actual growth rates of the peoples of this region are one to two percent rather than the three to four percent that officials reported, significantly higher than the all-Russian average but not something that strains credulity.
Given the political benefits to various officials of claiming higher numbers – more money from programs allocated according to population size and less criticism for losses in military conflicts and from outmigration – it is not surprising that at least some political leaders were tempted to falsify the census returns.
“Politics is one of the significant aspects of our life,” Bogoyavlensky says, “and it would thus be surprising if, given the complete lack [of government measures to prevent it], this did not enter into the census as well.” And it is likely that some will view this demographer’s criticism of the 2002 numbers as “political” as well.
After all, if Bogoyavlensky’s analysis is correct, then the numbers of various non-Russian peoples are smaller than the census reported, and the total percentage of ethnic Russians and other groups is that much larger, a picture many in Moscow would prefer to see.
But such distortions and the difficulty of assessing them impose real costs, he notes, and “one would like to hope that in the mirror of future censuses, the population of Russia will be reflected with fewer distortions. For the time being, however, those results which the last census gave are all that we have. There are no others.”

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