Staunton, September 17 – If an ordinary Russian doesn’t know the exact population of Moscow, that is a shortcoming, but not a tragedy. However, if the Russian government “doesn’t know how many people live in a small village,” that is a tragedy because as a result, “doctors, teachers, policemen and then, the entire population itself disappear.”
That is the sobering conclusion offered by Nadezhda Petrova in the current issue of Kommersant Dengi where she shows that the Russian statistical agency Rosstat frequently does not know such things and that Russians are suffering both immediately and over the longer term.
Petrova gives as an example of this a rural settlement in Vologda oblast where there are two nurses stations, two libraries, one school, five stores, 2.4 kilometers of paved roads, and 566 residents in 57 villages spread over a territory of 461 square kilometers.
According to local officials there are in fact about 100 additional residents but because they were not counted by the census and recorded by Rosstat, the district’s aid from the center is based on the smaller number and the services available to the population are thus significantly smaller than they should be.
Moscow experts say that for every 100 people not counted, districts are not given on average one million rubles (25,000 US dollars), a figure that may seem small but that cuts into all public services and leads private firms to pull out of these regions as well. And this combined trend continues to further push down population in Russia’s rural areas.
These experts say that in their experience, “there is no case when the data Rosstat provides coincide with the data gathered by local officials,” typically in the form of economic books which were introduced in 1934 and largely used until 2010. But there is also no case where decisions are made by Moscow on the basis of the latter rather than on the former.
In that latter year, experts and officials say, Moscow decided to ignore the economic books and rely on Rosstat alone.
This pattern is having a “multiplier” effect, driving down resources for rural areas and “forcing the process of the depopulation of rural localities,” experts say. That is because “in all cases,” Moscow provides aid that leads to cutbacks in basic services greater than the current declines in population.
Some in rural areas suspect that Moscow wants to depopulate the countryside and thus is quite content with this arrangement, and they point out that the inability of local officials to cope with the existing level of population given that the center says it is lower allows Moscow to claim that local governments are incapable of managing the situation.
In the words of one, “in this way, the authorities continue to centralize” everything.
There are only two ways out of the situation, Petrova says: change the way that money is allocated to the localities or improve the quality of statistics. The first is almost impossible given that the country is so large, but improving statistics may be almost impossible, at least given the attitude of Rosstat.
The statistical administration’s solution to undercounts? Impose higher fines on those not counted by the census even though Rosstat can’t say either who they are or how many they are with any degree of accuracy.