Thursday, April 14, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Census Didn’t 'Create' Siberians, Rosstat Head Says on His Blog

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 14 – Whatever some in the media or the population may think, Aleksandr Surinov, the head of the Russian State Statistics Committee says, the recent 2010 census did not create any new nationalities such as the Siberians but only held up a mirror to the identities the residents of the Russian Federation currently have.

Surinov, who has been under intense criticism since his statement that those who identified as Siberians should be allowed to declare that as their nationality and that the census would record that fact, has now posted on his blog ( a denial that this has created or promoted such an identity.

The press service of the All-Russian Census has picked that post up in a release entitled “The Census is Not Creating a Nationality” which decries “the incorrect assessment of the list of answers of citizens on the question of [their] nationality” and in particular the supposed “appearance of a new nationality, ‘Siberian’” (

The census press service did not reproduce all of Surinov’s arguments, but the portal has and they are given below:

“Some consider that the 2010 census has made the discovery that the population of Russia has declined. This is very strange since all our assessments of the population over the course of the last eight years have given the very same picture. Some others doubt the results since they were not personally counted. And some are arguing about ‘the Siberians.’”

“About the last question,” Surinov said, “I want to say the following. In the census of the population, Rosstat and all the census takers are OBLIGATED to follow the Constitution and other laws of the Russian Federation. Therefore, in the census forms answers to the question ABOUT NATIONALITY are written down STRICTLY ACCORDING TO THE WORDS of the individual questioned. NO ONE has the right to prompt people for an answer on this point, to show doubts about any answer or to insist on a particular answer. If it were otherwise, and complaints suggest that this happened but rapidly, then we census takers will correct ourselves and do apologize. To assess the actions of people we do not have the right, and this is correct. An individual may not have a single drop of Russian blood but be raised in Russian traditions and Russian culture. And he may call himself a Russian if he wants. Or he can refuse to answer this question.”

“Statistical workers must assemble information, process it, and present it to the user in order that he in the first instance can correctly interpret it. And we shall see how will be interpreted the population of Siberians, Pomors, Russians and others by ethnographers. Science does not stand without moving, and there are many scientific schools. Today may be one interpretation, and tomorrow another. But the main thing is that all users have equal access to information and this means equal opportunities for interpretation.”

“For the conduct of the 2010 census, the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences developed a list of possible variants of answers of the population for coding the answers to the question on the census form about nationality by taking into account the self-designations which appeared during the 2002 census. There were more than 1800 such self-designations. But how many nationalities are there in the Russian Federation?”

“This enumeration is needed exclusively for the machine processing of the materials of the 2010 All-Russian Census and the organization of its results on the question of nationality. Each position in this list has its own code number. In this list, a new self-designation may appear on the basis of the results of the last census. Thus, in the 2010 census appeared the Bulgars.”

“In many countries,” Surinov continued, “questions about nationality are not given. And they live no worse than ours. Rosstat will publish the results about the numbers of individuals counted in the census according to their self-designations. But tables about questions of census forms will be published by nationalities. The algorithms of the transition from self-designation to nationality have been worked out by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Rosstat does not aspire to do this. This is not our task.”

“Now, preparations for the machine processing of the materials of the census are going at full speed. Soon we will begin to process them. I hope our internal resources will be sufficient and we will put out the results according to our plans. Then we can talk about the Siberians. How many of them there are, where they are, and where they live. About unisex and polygamist marriages. [And] about populations of gnomes, elves, and other curiosities.”

In reporting this blogpost, which itself appears likely to give rise to further debate – although possibly shifting its focus from Rosstat to the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and its oft-criticized director Valery Tishkov, also queried experts there and elsewhere about the lists of nationalities.

Officials at the Institute pointed out that the list of names developed by its scholars was “not handed out to the census takers” and is needed, as Surinov said, “only for the processing of materials of the 2010 census and the reporting of results on the nationality composition” and other “demographic and social-economic characteristics of the peoples” of Russia.

Vladimir Zorin, deputy director of the Institute, said that “such a new nationality as ‘Siberians’ could not appear as a result of the census.” Censuses by themselves are not the basis for “creating or destroying a nationality. The task of the census is simply to record accurately the answers, and that is all.”

Meanwhile, however, Leokadia Drobrizheva, the head of the Center for Research on Inter-Ethnic Relations of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (who earlier worked at the Institute of Ethnology), focused on the causes of the appearance of “the Siberians.”

She suggested that there could be several, including “fear about unification and a seeking to distinguish oneself among others, an expression of protest attitudes, and evidence of the development in Russia of regional identities.” But she too said that “the chance of the appearance of a new nationality as a result of the census was ‘not realistic because there are no objective scientific bases for this.’”

Those who identify as Siberians are unlikely to be satisfied with any of this. Some Siberian activists have already complained to Surinov that many census takers refused to write down their self-designations as Siberians accurately or even insisted that “there are no Siberians” and that census takers have been “prohibited” from writing “Siberian” in the form.

Surinov has dismissed their complains and called on those making them to provide specific instances, but neither his response nor his latest post nor the press release from the census appears likely to calm debate on the issue of Siberian identity and hence on the future meaning of Russianness and of Russia itself.

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