Russia to kick off 2010 census amid demographic decline

13th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Census takers armed with whistles and flashlights will knock on doors around Russia from Thursday in the first census since 2002 as the state is trying to reverse the country's population decline.

From October 14 to October 25, about 650,000 census takers will canvas Russia asking people over a dozen questions about their household, birthplace, nationality and other personal details.

Russia's population is estimated at about 142 million people, down from about 148 million during the collapse of Communism in 1991 due to high death and abortion rates, and economic turmoil.

The government is spending some 17 billion dollars on the process, which it briefly considered moving to 2013 last year due to the economic difficulties. Results will be available at the end of next year, the state statistics agency said.

The state faces an uphill battle as Russians are often not inclined to give out personal information believing it will be used by swindlers.

The government has tried to promote the census on national television and popular daily newspapers to convince Russians to cooperate.

Eager to popularize the census among younger people that don't watch television, the government has commissioned a "census anthem" set to fast-paced rock tunes that was played at youth "census" festivals over the summer.

"Called by your heart and soul / record yourself in history / in this piece of paper: / Everyone is important for Russia," are just some of the motivational lyrics, posted on the Census 2010 website.

Internet users could rock to the same tunes while playing the special "Help the census worker" online game, where the worker has to be guided around town streets and poll a drunk and an overzealous housewife armed with a rolling pin, while escaping baseball bat-yielding hooligans.

To set pollsters apart from fraudulent impersonators, the government is equipping them with blue caps and scarves and a blue briefcase. They will also be given flashlights for dark stair wells and whistles to ward off hooligans. The census is the only way to gather information from migrants with questionable legal status, experts say. That will not be an easy task however as illegal migrants are frequently afraid to give out information, said demography expert Anatoly Vishnevsky.

"Migration is still an issue, many are not accounted for, but they are also most likely to decline to give census data," Vishnevsky, who heads the demographics department at Moscow Higher School of Economics, told AFP.

The 2002 census results were dramatically different from demographic estimates in some regions, especially in labor magnet Moscow, where population was previously underestimated by 2 million.

Other large cities with population hovering about a million would be inclined to tweak their data upwards to retain their millionaire status which gives access to better funding and salaries, Vishnevsky cautioned.

"I am afraid the statistical offices will engage in some number crunching in order to deliver the needed figures," he said.

Partly due to people's unwillingess to release personal details, the government stopped asking for people's first and last names in 2002, which experts call a mistake. "The census should be confidential, not anonymous" to have reliable results, Vishnevsky said.

Opposition coalition The Other Russia said it would boycott the census until free elections were held, the group's member Alexander Averin said on Tuesday.

In another initiative, Internet users in Siberian regions have campaigned to get people to mark their nationality as 'Siberian'. "Tell the census taker - I am Siberian," say the banners displayed on some Russian blogs.

The Russian government boasted last summer of the first year-on-year population increase from 1995 and is hoping to increase the population to 145 million by 2025.

© 2010 AFP

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