Staunton, August 20 – There is a long and continuing debate about whether the Cossacks are, as many of their number say, a separate nation or whether they are, as was the case in the Russian Empire, a social “stratum” consisting of those who served in one or another of the 12 Cossack “hosts” and their families.
In the last two all-Russian censuses, the authorities have included “Cossack” in the approved list of “nationalities.” But the numbers reported for the Cossacks are far smaller –67,000 in 2010 -- than most Cossacks and researchers on the Cossack movement believe to be the case.
Speculation has been rife as to why this is so, with some insisting that census takers and/or processors were deliberately reducing the number of Cossacks so as to boost the number of ethnic Russians. There is precedent for such manipulation: Russian census takers are known to have boosted the number of Kryashens in order to reduce the size of the Volga Tatars.
But now there is new evidence about how and who manipulated the data on Cossacks, evidence that raises broader questions about official census returns more generally and control over the accuracy of ethnic and other data in them. At the very least, it will spark new arguments about how many Cossacks there really are and what Moscow’s attitude to them really is.
Vladimir Voronin of the Federal State Statistical Service told Denis Kurenov of Yuga.ru (yuga.ru/articles/society/7524.htmlthe following:
“In the course of the all-Russian census of 2010, the Cossacks were counted as a nationality. I note that all the census forms were filled in according to the words of those questioned, there was no intervention on the part of interviewers. An individual himself must define what is written in this paragraph.
“After all the information was collected it was sent for coding and grouping to the Mikhluko-Maklay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology. According to their methodology, only Russian-speaking Cossacks were considered in the results of the census – they were listed as an ethnographic group of the Russian population.
“That is,” Voronin says, “only those who declared they are Cossacks and at the same time say that Russian is their native language are included as Cossacks. If, however, a Cossack indicates that his native language is Ukrainian, then he is simply included among the Ukrainians, without a separate indication that he is a Cossack.”
Given that many Cossacks speak languages other than Russian – in the Transbaikal host, for example, many would likely list their first language as Buryat – that alone could lead to a serious undercount of Cossacks and a consequent boost in the number of other nationalities and of Russians in particular.
But as Kurenov points out, there are other problems with the Russian census that likely depressed the number of Cossacks counted. He spoke with sociologist Viktoriya Mukha who highlighted several of these which in fact have far graver consequences than just for the Cossack nation.
Mukha pointed to two major problems with the 2010 census: According to polls, “only 67 percent” of residents of the country said they had been counted on the basis of a face-to-face interview. Census officials took data about them from interior ministry files. That opens the way for undercounts, which she says, amounted in 2010 to between 15 and 18 million people.
The second problem with the census is the more serious: Many residents of Russia have multi-ethnic identities or have confused understanding of what “nationality” means and this opens the way for distortion in the shares the census takers and ethnographers give to various ethnic groups.
She says that it is entirely likely that “about four percent” of the total population – some 5.6 million people – did not give a nationality at all, about four times more than she says was the case in the previous census in 2002. Their assignment to various groups thus is at a minimum problematic.
“These are far from all the problems” that the 2010 census presents, Mukha continues. They must be corrected, and in that process, some groups will “grow” in number while others will “get smaller.” The Cossacks are likely to be among the first; the ethnic Russians among the latter.