Thursday, May 28, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Leads Moscow to Cut Back on 2010 Census Plans

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 28 – The economic crisis is forcing Moscow to cut back on the number of questions they will ask and languages they will use in the census scheduled for October 2010, reductions that will mean officials and scholars will have significantly less data on a range of demographic questions.
Irina Zbarskaya, the Russian State Statistics Committee official responsible for the census, said this week that the government had reduced the amount of money available for the census by 30 percent despite pleases by census officials who “attempted to show that the census is ‘a sacred cow’ which must not be touched” (
Instead of the “long” and “short” forms of the census questionnaire, she said, census takers will now use only one, which will not include many questions that take the most time because people find them the most difficult to answer and census takers find the most difficult to record and code.
Among the questions which will be dropped will be those concerning the branch of economic activity in which the individual surveyed works. Many find it difficult to specify that, she continued, and consequently, her committee will do without this sampling, relying instead on other sources for this information.
By reducing the size of the questionnaire, she continued, census takers will not be able to talk to 450 people over 12 days rather than the 370 to 380 they had been slated to query. That will allow Rosstat to cut the total number of census takers from 700,000 to 600,000, for a savings of more than 577 million rubles (18 million US dollars).
Additional savings, Zbarskaya said, are to be achieved by the elimination of plans to pay for the remodeling of buildings in cities and towns that were to be used by census takers and by cutbacks in advertising promoting the census and in translations of both the ads and the census forms themselves.
The Rosstat official said that “in a multi-national country like Russia it is impossible” to prepare special advertising for each of the national republics.” And she said that the census forms themselves will be printed only in Russian, although Zbarskaya suggested that census takers will be able to translate them into national languages.
These changes alone will mean that the results of the 2010 census will not be as comprehensive or reliable as many had hoped. On the one hand, many citizens of the Russian Federation who do not speak Russian well may not even learn that a census is being conducted. And on the other, those who are questioned may not be able to answer correctly.
Even more serious is the possibility that funding of the census may be cut back still further. As Zbarskaya noted, Rosstat’s current plans have been reduced twice so far this year, and the census itself is 16 months away. If the economic crisis does not ease, the Russian government is likely to cut the census budget again.
But even if that does not happen, the 2010 census now appears likely to collect far less information about many sensitive issues – including the relative size of the populations of different regions on the basis of which funds are allocated and the even more sensitive issue of the size of Russia’s various national groups – than many had hoped.
That is especially serious given the shortcomings of the 2002 census when officials, pleading poverty at that time, stopped doing the survey in many areas and relied instead on interior ministry files, a choice that overstated the size of declining regions and nationalities (including the Russian) and understated that of growing ones (including many Muslim groups).
And that in turn will mean that the Russian Federation will not have had an accurate enumeration since 1989 when it was part of the USSR, something that will allow officials and others to make claims not based on fact but that will make it more difficult for Moscow to respond to social change and far more difficult for others to know what is happening there.

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