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Russia’s First and Most Serious Nationality Problem – the Over-Counting of Ethnic Russians

Staunton, October 30 – An article on Lenta.ru this week about the ethnic backgrounds of Russia’s 200 wealthiest businessmen, one that could have been expected to spark anger among Russians at minorities including Jews, has in fact called attention to something else: As in Soviet times, many who call themselves ethnic Russians in fact are members of other nations.

As during most periods of Soviet time, Russian officials have encouraged such re-identifications in order to suggest that the Russian Federation is more Russian than it is. But a close examination of the situation suggests that there are millions of non-Russians who have made such declarations and that Moscow does not in fact know the facts of the case.

Lenta.ru published the ethnic identifications of Russia’s 200 wealthiest businessmen and then compared that to the number of those groups in the Russian population to suggest that while Russians are the most numerous, they are underrepresented on this list while other groups are over-represented).

That article has provoked a strong reaction but one somewhat different than its authors appear to have intended. In an Ekho Moskvy blog post yesterday, Yury Kanner, the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, says that the problem with this listing arises from the over-counting of Russians and undercounting of others.

The Forbes listing on which the article depends is “more or less” in order, Kanner says. It suggests that there are 22 different ethnic groups represented in Russia’s 200 wealthiest, with Russians in first place, Jews in second, Ukrainians in third, followed by Tatars, Armenians, Mountain Jews, Azerbaijanis, Ingushes, Chechens, Osetins, and Uzbeks.

But the situation with regard to the census figures the article uses is something else. When he saw them, Kanner says, he remembered “as a former Soviet economist, the Soviet saying that “there are lies, …read more

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