As many frequent readers of the Russian media would attest, retrieving accurate data pertaining to any sensitive topic can prove difficult. It is thus reassuring to see that Russia has agreed to hold its census next year, at a cost of 10.5 billion rubles, after initial hesitation due to apparent lack of funds. Indeed, this commentator suggests that whilst the census may go ahead, it will be ‘less comprehensive and less accurate’ than many would wish. Murray Feshbach at RFE/RL argues that a census would allow the country to seriously tackle the issues of demographic decline, its manifest HIV and TB problems, and form policies on how to accommodate its ethnic and religious minorities. Feshbach suggests census-phobia is a long-standing Russia pathology. Perhaps ignorance is bliss after all?
The lack-of-money plea seemed even more unconvincing considering the record of past Soviet and Russian governments in delaying or even canceling censuses. In 1937, a census was conducted, processed, tabulated, and presented to Josef Stalin. He didn’t like what he saw, so he jailed many of those who carried it out and covered up the results. Apparently, the demographic depredations caused by famine, purges, and collectivization were too severe to be made public.
The 2002 census was harshly criticized, particularly forthe nationality data it included. The report was questioned byethnographer Valery Tishkov, demographer Anatoly Vishnevsky, and othersfor purported inaccuracies relating to the numbers of Chechens,Russians, and other nationalities. The government in Moscow needsaccurate information in this area in order to formulate itsnationalities policies.
Another issue of potential concern is the number of Muslims in Russia.Recently, the mufti of the Moscow area issued a report claiming thatthere are some 2 million people of Muslim origin in the capital, aboutone-fifth of the city’s entire population. He used the figure to arguethat there is a severe shortage of mosques in the city.
Overall death rates in Russia have risen to at least three times the rates in Western Europe and North America.
Even Russia’s total population is open to doubt. Some observers havedisputed the official figure of 142 million, arguing that the realfigure is 139.8 million or, in one estimate, 137.8 million. Someanalysts suspect the census could reveal dismal birthrate, death-rate,and migration figures.
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