Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Counting Russian Federation’s Nationalities Far from an Exact Science, Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 6 – Russian experts and statisticians have worked hard to ensure that the question of national identities in the upcoming census will not be as controversial and politicized as it was in the 2002 count, according to Academician Valery Tishkov, director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.
But that does not mean, Tishkov says in an article in today’s “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” that all problems in this area have been solved –the enormous complexity of the situation means there will always be disagreements on which groups to include or exclude – or that the census later this month will not spark controversy (
In 2002, the academician recalls, then-Patriarch Aleksii asked then-Russian President Vladimir Putin to add to the nationalities list the Kryashens, a sub-group of Tatars who practice Orthodox Christianity. Tishkov’s institute agreed, and then-Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev accused Moscow of trying to “split the Tatar nation on religious lines.”
Following that and other controversies, Russian scholars and officials agreed on “a compromise in the form of dual ethnic membership according to the principle of ‘group-sub-group,’” that Tishkov says corresponds to “the real presence among part of [the residents of Russia] of a complex ethnic self-consciousness.”
Even that compromise, however, has not made everyone happy, he continues, because activists in many groups are certain that this arrangement is intended to reduce their number to the benefit of other groups, something that they believe threatens the status and income of their own nationality.
This time around, Tishkov argues, “it is important to rein in political ambitions and ethno-centrism,” saying that the latter is “the more scandalous” because promoting one identity necessarily has the impact of reducing another. Thus, those who say “describe yourself as a Tatar” are in fact saying “don’t be a Kryashen.”
The history of Moscow’s compilation of lists of ethnic groups extends back to the 1920s when the Commission for the Study of the Tribal Composition of the Population of the Soviet Union first compiled them. Its list was used in the 1926, 1937 and 1939 censuses. For more recent ones, in 1959, 1970, and 1989, his institute drew up the lists.
There can be no final list because ethnic self-consciousness is something changeable for any number of reasons as well as being subject to multiple interpretations both by those making declarations and those recording them, Tishkov says. Instead, the lists are going to constantly change, something some will see as politicized even when it is not.
In 1989, the list included 128 “nations and peoples.” In 2002, there were 142 “basic” ethnic names and 40 “sub-groups” included within those. Some of those changes reflected changes abroad – the breakup of Yugoslavia – and others domestic concerns – Daghestani fears of upsetting the ethnic balance there.
Because approximately 40 non-Russian peoples have some form of administrative-state status within the Russian Federation and because more than 40 have the status of “numerically small indigenous peoples,” the census must count them as accurately as possible so as to provide the basis for the distribution of funds.
Doing so, however, is not always easy, Tishkov points out. Within the districts where they have such official recognition, officials are careful to count them, but when representatives live beyond the borders of those entities, officials there may have less experience with and interest in counting them, something that can be a source of problems.
That can affect large groups like the Tatars and Bashkirs but it can also affect small ones like the Nivkh. Moreover, this pattern can sometimes take the opposite form: In 2002, for example, the Botlikhs, a numerically small ethnic community in Daghestan, were counted as a nationality in Moscow, Rostov, and Chelyabinsk but not in their home republic.
As Tishkov’s extensive discussion of these and other issues makes clear, it is probably unrealistic to expect that the findings of the 2010 census on nationality will be accepted as absolutely accurate by everyone. Instead, this enumeration like its predecessors almost certainly will revive old disputes and provoke new and unexpected ones as well.

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