By Paul Goble
For the first time in Russian history, those surveyed by the upcoming Russian population census will be allowed to declare that they are of more than one nationality, Vladimir Zorin says, who suggests that there are likely to be many who do so because of the many ethnically mixed marriages in the country.
But the ethnographer and head of the Social Chamber’s Commission on Harmonization of Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Religious Relations, does not say how their declarations will be reported, raising the possibility that political considerations may drive how these identities are declared in census publications (nazaccent.ru/content/35421-vladimir-zorin-kolichestvo-narodov-rossii-mozhet.html).
One risk is that they will be used to reduce the number of non-Russian groups if the mixed marriages within them are with Russians by the simple expedient of assigning those who declare they have two nationalities only to the Russian nation rather than keeping them in a separate category or including them within the non-Russian group.
But there are others as well, especially in cases where there are controversies between two or more non-Russian groups, such as the Tatars and Bashkirs, each of which includes people who believe that the political elites of the other are trying to reidentify members of their group to boost the other.
Unless and until there is transparency about how the declarations of those who claim two or more nationalities will be treated, there almost certainly will be suspicions that Moscow is distorting the situation to favor ethnic Russians or those non-Russian groups who cooperate most closely with it.
In a related comment, Zorin said that he expects the number of nationalities that will be reported after the upcoming census to rise. In 1989, the last Soviet census, 125 different nationalities were listed. In 2002, that number rose to 182; and in 201, it rose again, this time to 193.
The ethnographer says that the numbers in Soviet times were relatively stable because there was a nationality line in the passport and people declared the nationality listed there. In fact, that is not completely true. Studies have shown that many people had one nationality in their passports but declared a different one to census takers.
Many observers are likely to conclude and certainly to be encouraged to do so by Moscow government media that this increase in the number of nationalities reflects a growing sensitivity on the part of the Russian authorities to ethnic differences. But again, the facts of the case are not nearly as neat as that.
While some of the increase reflects new attention to and willingness to list the smallest groups, some of which many would not view as separate, much of the increase reflects the reality that many people in Russia are uncertain about their nationality at least as far as telling officials about it.
Moreover, for all the much-ballyhooed liberalism of the Russian census, in fact, the authorities work hard to ensure that some groups the authorities don’t want to see emerge aren’t recorded or at least reported even as they promote often much-smaller ones to show how sensitive the authorities are.
Thus, the Russian authorities have worked hard to reduce the number of people who declare themselves to be Cossack by nationality or at least to reduce the number who are reported; and they have also sought to limit declarations or reports about those among the Circassians who want to declare a common nationality in place of the divisions Moscow favors.