Friday, October 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Multitude of Problems’ Ahead for Upcoming Russian Census, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 8 – The 2010 Russian Census which will take place October 14-25 in most places – a few distant locations have already been surveyed – is going to suffer from “a multitude of problems,” experts say, some of which are likely to undercut public confidence in its results and possibly, as happened after the last count, force officials to issue corrections later.
In “Novaya politika” today, Mikhail Diunov recalls what happened during the last census (in 2002) in order to highlight some but far from all of the problems that the current census seems certain to encounter, including official interference, corruption, and both bureaucratic and practical shortcomings (
The 2002 count, he reports, found that “the size of the population did not correspond with the officially declared numbers.” In the Far East and North, officials had overstated the numbers, while in Moscow and Chechnya, they had understated them, differences that led many to conclude that officials had played with the figures.
That some regional officials may have overstated the numbers in order to get more assistance from Moscow, however, was not the only problem. In some places, such as Bashkortostan, the republic leaders actively worked to boost the number of ethnic Bashkirs relative to Tatars for their own nationalistic reasons.
Such divergences generated enormous distrust in the 2002 census results, distrust so deep and widespread that four years later, the Russian statistical agency, Rosstat, was forced to issue corrected data, although in the view of many people the changes were insufficient to overcome “the contradictions between census data and current reporting information.”
Russian statistical officials began planning for the 2010 enumeration in 2007, at least in part out of the hope that such lengthy preparations would allow them to conduct a better and more authoritative enumeration than they had been able to carry out the last time around and thus avoid the embarrassment of having to issue corrections.
As part of this process, Diunov continues, they conducted a preliminary mini-census in the fall of 2008, trying out various survey methodologies on some 300,000 people in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha, the Petrograd district of St. Petersburg, and Khabarovsk, a major city in the Russian Far East.
Then, he notes, the financial crisis hit, and many officials wanted to delay the census until 2013, a move that appeared likely as the government cut back on funding for the enumeration and one that led some to conclude that the upcoming count would show such a decline in the country’s population that Vladimir Putin did not want it to happen before the elections.
But then, either to silence such suggestions or out of a belief that going ahead would ultimately same money, Moscow decided to retain the original schedule, even though it cut financing from its own budget and shifted much of the burden for the count to regional and city governments, whom the center will reimburse only over the course of several years.
“In addition,” Diunov notes, “the central government placed on the organizers of the census limitations which have a perfectly anecdotal character.” It has prohibited local officials from hiring guards for census offices unless those guards are specially certified even though in most parts of the country, there are no such people available.
As a result, many offices where census data are assembled will not be guarded, a situation that almost certainly guarantees that many will suspect that the data on numbers or nationality composition or something else will be falsified by officials or others who have a vested interest in the outcome.
Moscow officials have acknowledged these and other problems and are trying to deal with them and with the problems censuses encounter in every country, and consequently, there is some hope that the results this time around will be accepted more readily than were those from the 2002 enumeration.
But however that may be, there is already a rising tide of complaints about two aspects of the census: its failure to ask about religious affiliation, something that has been done only in two previous censuses (1897 and 1937), and its list of national self-identifications which many see as a form of manipulation as well (
With regard to the former issue, Experts like Vladimir Zorin of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology argue that it would be a mistake to ask about religion because that would lead to “an excessive politicization” of the question, but others argue that not asking does the same thing, albeit in a different direction.
And with regard to the latter, many non-Russians complain that the Moscow list of more than 1800 ethnic self-designators is designed to divide their communities and thus reduce their power, although increasingly it appears that such multiple listings may affect the ethnic Russian community at least as much, with Cossacks, Siberians and others insisting on their identities.
Russian officials counter that the list of 1800 names is not a list of nationalities, but their arguments on that point trouble many who thus feel that some unknown bureaucrat will group the answers and thus be in a position to determine the size of the various nationalities of the Russian Federation with all the consequences that would have on budgets and politics.

No comments: