Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: New Russian Laws Make Distortion of Nationality Data Easier in Upcoming Census

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 3 – President Dmitry Medvedev has signed into law amendments to two laws that will make it easier for officials to distort or even falsify nationality data and more difficult for individual citizens and especially national groups to challenge whatever figures the census decides to release.
These changes could contribute to a further overstatement of the percentage of ethnic Russians in the overall population, a continuing understatement of the share of non-Russians and especially Muslim groups there, and far less information about shifts in identities among various groups, including the weakening of ethnic attachments in many cases.
Under the terms of the amendments just signed into law, census takers will not have to secure in written form agreement from citizens for the processing of their personal data concerning nationality and will be able to accept oral declarations of nationality rather than be required to have individuals write down their nationality (www.rus-obr.ru/days/7462).
As a result, individual census takers will likely have the option of deciding how to code certain declarations of nationality at the initial stage of the census process rather than having that decision made by more expert census processors, and there will be no record other than that of the census takers of just what an individual has declared.
Given that the census has already come up with a list of more than 1800 different “nationalities,” including many variants for each of the commonly recognized ones, the consequences of these two apparently small changes could be large, particularly if census takers are given informal guidance on just how to record what they are told.
One area where that could be important would be the assignment of individuals to one or another nationality even if they chose not to declare their nationality at all – as the 1993 Russian Constitution allows – or their membership in any one of the “accepted” list. Such reassignments could be significant both among national groups and within particular regions.
But the most serious consequence of the measures Medvedev has now signed into law is that anyone who wants to challenge what the census reports will have a far more difficult time than would have been the case if the older rulers, requiring personal written declarations, had remained in force.
And given both the cynicism of the Russian public about much that the powers that be say and the very real budgetary allocations affected by the size and composition of populations in various regions, these changes guarantee that, just as was the case after the 2002 enumeration, the 2010 census will be disbelieved even if those affected will find its results hard to challenge.

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