Russian census starts – no Jedi expected

The nationwide census began in Russia on Thursday. Over 12 days, hundreds of thousands of clerks will be ringing people or visiting homes to gather fresh statistics.

Some 500,000 Russians living in remote settlements have already been accounted for, during the pre-census period, which started in April.

The last census in Russia was taken in October 2002, showing the country’s population to be 145.2 million. The estimated number today is 141.9 million.

Before 2002, Soviet authorities carried out seven censuses. In the tsarist Russian Empire only one was taken. It is famous for Emperor Nicholas II choosing to write his occupation as “Master of the land of Russia.”

The current census has a budget of US$350 million. An extra $215 million will be spent over the next two years to process the gathered information. The first results are expected in April 2011, while the final report will be ready in late 2012.

The census aims to record age, family status, nationality, spoken languages, living conditions, work and household income. The information will be used to plan budget support programs and city development plans, among other things.

The “religion” field has been left out off the form. It seems Russians with a spark of creativity and overwhelming sense of humor will have to resort to indicating their nationality as “elf” or “wookie”, instead of claiming to be Jedi believers.

The upcoming census has become one of the top discussion topics in the Russian blogosphere.

Some of the most popular posts call for people to ignore the census or to partially misreport the requested data. The authors do not trust local authorities and believe there may be corrupt census workers who will not honor the anonymity of the form and may misuse the data.

Other critics of the census have been targeting its enormous cost – 17 billion rubles ($550 million) – which they argue could be used in many other ways.

Furthermore, Russian students have been complaining about being pressed into working at the census in exchange for good marks.

For their part, the organizers of the census are calling on people around Russia to give the initiative their full support. They say that among the main aims of the census is tackling the problem of unemployment and providing the population with better education facilities.

“There is no source of information about the Russian population other than the results of the census,” said Aleksandr Surinov, the head of the Federal Statistics Service. “And it’s not just about the number of people living in the country; it’s also about qualitative aspects of the nation. This has one of the main influences on the state budget.”