Russian census takers refusing to enter ‘Siberian’ as a nationality

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Oct. 18, 2010, 11:47 a.m. | Op-ed — by Paul Goble

Russian census workers in many cases are refusing to record as “Siberians” those who declare that as their identity, even though “Siberian” is listed as one of the possible identities in the official protocols.

Paul Goble

Russian census workers in many cases are refusing to record as “Siberians” those who declare that as their identity, even though “Siberian” is listed as one of the possible identities in the official protocols and even though Rosstat head Aleksandr Surinov had promised there would be no problems in that regard. But now, only three days into the 2010 census, violations of the rights of residents of Siberia to make that declaration have been so frequent and their complaints so vocal that Surinov has been forced to promise that he will look into the matter and ensure that the identities people declare are properly recorded.

Unfortunately, many of those affected are unlikely to be convinced that either he or anyone else in the Russian Federation statistical administration is really interested in ensuring accuracy on this point and thus are certain to believe that the census results Moscow will publish will be unreliable, especially regarding national identities.

During the first two days of the census operation, reported on Saturday, dozens of residents of the Russian Federation east of the Urals reported that census takers were violating the law and filling in blanks without asking or ignoring the declarations of citizens, particularly on questions of nationality.

One Irkutsk resident said in his blog that when he called himself a Siberian, “the census taker responded that ‘there is no such nationality’ and wrote down Russian. I forced her to write ‘Siberian,’” he continued, but she changed it so that the individual involved became “a Russian Siberian” and will undoubtedly be counted as an ethnic Russian.

Dmitry Osipov, a Novosibirsk resident, reported something similar. In his case, the census taker did not even ask his nationality but simply wrote down “Russian.” “I forced him to correct that,” but he tried to answer that “there is no such nationality, but without fanaticism and with a smile.”

Residents in Bratsk, Tomsk, Omsk, Kemerovo and other Siberian cities reported similar situations. All of them were forced to include “Russian” in their declaration of nationality, although one Tomsk blogger said that while he “of course is a Russian,” he wanted to call himself a Siberian, not a “Russian” Siberian. If blocked, he said, he would be “a Martian.”

This pattern has been so widespread, continued, that it suggests census officials had told their workers how to act. One census taker admitted as much. He told a resident of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka that his bosses had told him that anyone who is a Russian citizen is thus a Russian by nationality.

Mikhail Maglov, an Omsk blogger who has been involved in the campaign to promote Siberian identity, assembled these and other cases and sent an email to Rosstat head Surinov demanding that he take action so that the census results with regard to national identity would be accurate.

In his message, Maglov suggested that failure to allow people to declare their nationality represented a form of ethnic discrimination and thus could be punished under the terms of Article 136 of the criminal code by massive fines and imprisonment of up to two years, something the blogger suggested Rosstat should keep in mind.

According to, Surinov responded immediately, thanked him “for the signal” and “promised that ‘we will get to the bottom of all cases.’” The Rosstat head asked that those who felt their declarations were not being handled correctly should turn directly to him and he and his staff would take action.

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, he can be contacted directly at You can read all his blog entries at
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