On November 9, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website reported the Russian statistical service’s intention to double check the October 2010 census results for Chechnya and Ingushetia. The process will take place hundreds of miles away in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and is projected that it will only be completed by May 2011. The official explanation for the announcement is that the Rostov-on-Don statisticians are better prepared and equipped to analyze the data. However, some observers view this as the evidence of Moscow’s misgivings about the data gathered in Chechnya and Ingushetia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 9).
Many experts have expressed doubts about sudden population increases in the North Caucasian republics over the past 10 years. For instance, Ingushetia’s population officially increased from just under 190,000 in 1990 to a whopping more than 455,000 in 2002 and 516,000 in 2010. Chechnya’s population, following two devastating wars that displaced hundreds of thousands people and virtually eliminated the large ethnic Russian minority in the republic, also increased from 1.1 million in the 1990 to an estimated nearly 1.3 million in 2010, according to the official statistics (www.gks.ru, accessed on November 14).
According to Russian demographer Dmitry Bogoyavlensky, the 2002 census results were clearly manipulated in the North Caucasus. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million non-existent people were added to the actual population of the region. Another Russian demographer, Anatoly Vishnevsky, pointed out that according to the 2002 census, some age groups, like those born in 1950, appeared to be larger in 2002 than in 1989. Earlier in October, the Chechen authorities reported that 100 percent of its population was covered by the census, something that experts say is not feasible (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 9).
The demographics of Chechnya are a politically sensitive topic, as the population of the republic was significantly reduced by the two wars and the accompanying destruction of its cities and villages in the 1990’s and again in the 2000’s. Because Ingushetia and Chechnya formed a single administrative entity until the disbandment of the USSR, Ingushetia’s population also had to be manipulated to cover up the real losses among the locals.
The prominent North Ossetian sociologist Aleksandr Dzadziev estimated that Chechnya lost at least 455,000 of its prewar population from 1989-2002, as a result of both migration and casualties. Just before the 2002 census, estimates of Chechnya’s population varied significantly, from 650,000 by the Russian statistical committee to 850,000 by the pro-Moscow Chechen government and Dzadziev’s own estimate of 820,000, all of them much lower than the officially announced results of the 2002 census –1.1 million people (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/analyticstext/analytics/id/765541.html).
It is understandable why both Moscow and its puppet regime in Grozny were interested in exaggerating the population numbers for Chechnya in 2002. Moscow wanted to show there were not too many casualties and that the refugees had returned to Chechnya, while the local authorities wanted to receive more funds and thus needed a higher population to justify their demands. However, it is less clear as to why other North Caucasian republics overstated their populations in the 2002 census. Dagestan’s official population was put at 2.6 million, while according to the year-to-year estimates of the Russian statistical service and Dzadziev’s own estimates it should have been only about 2.2 million. The expected population of Ingushetia in 2002 was 430,000, but came out as 469,000. The expected population figure for Kabardino-Balkaria was about 780,000, but it jumped to over 900,000.
The official explanation for the rapidly increasing populations of the North Caucasian republics is that they have higher birthrates. This is especially applicable to Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. Still, it is doubtful that the people of Chechnya possess the highest fertility rate in Russia –one that is at the same level or exceeds Saudi Arabia’s and Iraq’s fertility rates.
The latest move to check the results of the 2010 census for Chechnya and Ingushetia might point to an attempt by Moscow to determine the real population of these republics. The last census’ results are especially important, as they supposedly should inform the development strategy for the North Caucasus that the Russian government officially adopted this September. It was assumed in the strategy that the population of the North Caucasus increased by 1.7 million in 1990-2010 (www.government.ru, September 6). As the Kremlin’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, has responsibility for implementing a program for the region’s economic development, his administration has to have real, not politically charged numbers. So the government is probably gradually moving in this direction.
The preliminary results of the 2010 census in Kabardino-Balkaria actually showed a drop in population size –from 900,000 to 850,000. As the birthrate in the republic did not decrease in this period of time and the death rate stayed about the same, the only explanation for the population drop is a conscious correction by the authorities (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 12).
The census also has an additional political dimension for the North Caucasus that other parts of Russia normally do not have. In the multiethnic republics of the region –especially Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia– government positions are distributed among the ethnicities according to their ratio in the general population. So ethnicities are zealously guarding their numbers in order not to be outnumbered by others and thereby left with less representation in the government and the local economy. As a reporter from Karachaevo-Cherkessia put it, “The local expert community agrees that there is no reliable measure in the republic to define its real population numbers and ethnic makeup. The only way out is to retain the falsifications at the previous level, which everybody became accustomed to” (www.ekhokavkaza.com, October 7).