Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Daghestanis Promised Census Won’t ‘Create or Destroy’ Nations, Official Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 1 – Daghestanis, the residents of the most multi-national non-Russian republic of the Russian Federation and one where the number of nationalities has varied widely in past censuses, have been told that the upcoming enumeration will not “create or destroy” nations.
Yesterday, Sergey Ilyashenko, the head of the Daghestani statistic committee, said yesterday that the census will only measure the self-declared ethnic identities of the people there, a matter of some importance given that the political system in that republic is based on a careful balance of ethnic groups (
“No peoples in the course of the census will be created or destroyed,” the republic statistics chief said. “The [Russian] constitution enshrines the right of citizens to specify their nationality, and this right is realized during the census. What an individual calls himself, we will right down as his nationality, without any discussion or force from the side of the census taker.”
Because “the census is the single source of reports on the ethnic and linguistic composition of the population,” he continued, “our task is to assemble the maximum amount of correct information and in this way not violate the constitutional rights of the individual.” But he did not mention that the Constitution allows people not to declare their nationality at all.
The 2002 census identified 121 different national and ethnic groups in Daghestan, up from 102 in the 1989 enumeration, the product both of the influx of outsiders like Americans and Arabs and also of the re-appearance for the first time since the 1926 census of sub-national groups which had been included within the larger nationalities.
The return of the latter, of course, had the effect of changing the relative size of the larger groups because the percentage of the members of each who chose to identify not with those nations but with smaller groups varied not only among those nationalities but by region within Daghestan thus triggering political tensions in many cases.
This time around, Ilyashenko suggested, the number of nationalities in Daghestan may increase, a development that if true could further dilute the relative power of the largest groups, the Avars and the Lezgins, and open the way to a new ethnic politics at least in some of the republic’s outlying and often unstable regions.
But that possibility is only one of the issues agitating Daghestanis that Ilyashenko attempted to address. He noted that “among the important innovations” of the 2010 count is that it will be a census “not of families” as was the case in the past but of “heads of household,” something that could also change the counts of some groups.
Moreover, “people will be enumerated on the basis of their place of actual residence and not according to the place where they are registered.” That means that those who have failed to get residence permits will now be counted not where there residence permit was in the past but where they are actually living.
Ilyashenko noted that “an important principle of the census is self-definition.” All the data recorded will be on the basis of oral declarations “without the use of any confirming documents.” That involves not only nationality and native language but also the marital status of those making the declarations.
Another point Ilyashenko made is that the census will be conducted in Russian, but he noted that if someone does not know that language or if the census taker does not know the language of the person he or she is interviewing, then translation services will be offered according to rules already worked out by the State Statistics Committee.
Two other issues involving the census are especially sensitive, Ilyashenko suggested. On the one hand, as he pointed out, the information collected will be both impersonal – that is, it will not be linked to any individual and will not be made available to any official agency be it the courts or the FSB or anyone else.
And on the other, given that many Daghestanis are living outside the republic, Makhachkala is interested in developing ties with them. Students, under the rules of the Russian census, are counted where they are studying rather than where their homes or those of their parents are located.
And the more than 200,000 Daghestanis now living outside Daghestani will be counted where they are living. Census takers are worried about double counting, but Daghestani officials and ordinary citizens are concerned than none of them be lost to the republic lest the republic get less than its due on the basis of numbers.
Such concerns are not unusual either in other regions of the Russian Federation or even in other countries, but they are of particular importance for a place like Daghestan given its complex ethnic mosaic and the way in which positions in the government continue in many cases to be allocated on the basis of nationality.

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