AbstractThe first post-Soviet censuses have presented new political challenges to census officials in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Baltic countries. Three issues have dominated the agenda: migration, confidentiality, and ethnic nationality. Overall population figures have officially decreased in all post-Soviet countries, but the Russian state’s incapacity and unwillingness to record unregistered migration is producing a deceptive demographic decline. A general mistrust of the state has made people sceptical of guarantees of confidentiality of census data. The mistrust is greatest in Russia and the census has revealed a post-authoritarian state uncertain about how to approach its own population. Post-Soviet censuses, unlike western ones, have all kept a question on ethnic nationality, since nationality legitimates their sovereignty. The Kazakh census has been preoccupied with producing ethnic Kazakh majorities, at the national level and in gerrymandered provinces.
The Russian Federation, the only federation in the world that links ethnicity to territory, has faced a plethora of claims to recognition of new nationalities in the census, including the Cossack. On language, the Ukrainian and Baltic censuses have attempted to minimize the Russian presence by statistical means, while the Belarusian census aims at underreporting knowledge of Belarusian. The article argues that all these disputed census categories reflect political interests.