With citizens refusing to answer census takers' questions and officials busy forging fake answers, our Observers doubt the latest Russian census will tell us much about the real state of the population.
The 2010 census, the second in Russia’s post-soviet history, took place between October 14 and October 25. Except that this time, unlike previous years, a significant segment of the population has reportedly refused to open their doors to the census takers. Others chose to give information that was obviously incorrect. There are many reports of made-up or ludicrous census answers: one blogger wrote that his neighbour, a Russian named Dmirty, told takers he was an ethnic Kirghiz called Sommerset Moem.
There are two main reasons for why Russians may be reluctant to give the state information about themselves. Firstly, because the information is poorly protected: burned DVDs containing official police data (including citizen’s full names, addresses, car license plates, document numbers etc.) are one sale at any Russian street market. Secondly, the authorities sometimes misuse the information and the census procedure: this year, police in the industrial city of Surgut used the census to uncover and raid drug dens.
On the other hand, local authorities are tempted to over report the number of people living in their district. The higher the population in a district, the more subsidies it will receive from the state. This has lead to two kinds of malpractices: reports have emerged that police officers have accompanied the census takers and threatened people who refused to open the door, which is completely illegal, and of census takers filling out the questionnaires themselves with imaginary people.
In the video below: Sergey Yezhov, from the town of Ryazan, refused to let the census takers in the first time they came, so they came back with a police officer. What follows is a tremendously absurd dialogue, which Sergey recorded on video. (Warning, the first part of the video is entirely black, until Sergey opens the door).
Video posted on YouTube by ezhovs.
"We had no choice but to fill out questionnaires ourselves for virtual people"
Marri is a university student in Moscow. She prefers to remain anonymous.
I'm a university student, and like almost every third year student, I had to take part in the census as an information taker. I believed that the Census would be real, but, after working as a taker from October 14th to October 17th, I was severely disappointed.
Before we started, we were given quotas of the number of people we had to question and count. I was supposed to count twice as many people than there really were in my district! We had no choice but to fill out questionnaires ourselves for virtual people. I’m still young and it’s the first time I’ve seen authorities and the media lie so blatantly. It’s all fake! At best 30% of the census information is accurate, maximum!
"At best 30% of the census information is accurate"
We were told that we had to question every person in every housing unit, but only about 40% of people actually opened their doors. Some were away, others just refused to let us in. Supervisors tell us that it doesn’t matter. “Use your imagination”, they said!
We information takers worked form 9am to 9pm every day. All we were given to eat were dry biscuits. We were assigned to far-off locations, which sometimes took three hours to reach. And after that, we had to go to the main census office and forge data, inventing fake names, fake families, etc. The chief of operations woman told us barefacedly that no-one needs the work we’re doing.”
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.