«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Very soon a man called interviewer will knock at your door and will ask each of us about our "past and present". The national population census will begin soon. It will give us a unique chance to receive, at last, a precise and objective demographic and sociological portrait of the country. Among problems related to the census, there is one, which is not easy - one should name his nationality and native language.

In view of this, we have decided to ask Yosif Zisels, chairman of Association of Jewish organizations and communities and the executive vice-president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, to clarify the attitude of ethnic minorities to the oncoming census.

- So, why are national communities interested in the census?

- There were considerable changes in the history of Ukraine and its national communities for the last decade. They radically changed the portrait of the country (the collapse of the USSR, intensive migration, social and economic crisis). Nevertheless, we still use for operative planning the 1989 population census figures though they greatly vary in reality. It is clear that under such conditions it is difficult to optimally plan the activities of national organizations (education, social safety, work with youth, repatriation, etc.). During several last years we tried to finance some demographic researches but only the national census can solve all the problems in this area. Having come in contact with the State Committee for Statistics (Goscomstat), we began receiving data on the national composition, migration, birth and death rates. This helps us to monitor processes that take place in our community.

After the decision on the All-Ukrainian census was made, a joint project with the Goscomstat was developed to make additional research conventionally named "Ethnic processes in Ukrainian society".

- Can you tell us more about the additional questionnaire to be filled during the census?

- It contains 40 questions. Some of them duplicate the questions of the title questionnaire. Other questions can be divided into two parts. One part is demographic. It helps to trace the nationality of grandparents and parents, mixed marriages, assimilation rate, as well as how the nationality of children is determined as there is no entry of nationality in the birth certificate nowadays. The second part is sociological. It pursues several trends. First of all, it studies prospects for emigration, participation in the activities of the national community (education of children in national schools, participation in the activities of national communities, societies, as well as in organizations related to the historical motherland, etc.).

There won't be many questionnaires of this kind because such survey is rather expensive. We agree upon a scientifically grounded selection of 5% of Ukraine's population, that is about 2.5 million questionnaires. We don't want the interviewer to ask about ethnic roots. So we understand that most of questionnaires will be filled not by representatives of ethnic minorities but by representatives of the title nation in the proportion which is relevant in Ukraine. This will make it possible to find out the real proportions between the title nation and ethnic minorities.

- What is the cost of the project?

- No doubt, it needs a lot of money to print and process 2.5 million questionnaires. There is still a financial threat to the project. We applied for help to many funds, one of them promised to give 20% of the money needed. Two other funds are considering our application. The decision will be made later on. Of course, we would like to begin the survey now with already available money, because questionnaires have to be printed and interviewers trained beforehand. If questionnaires are filled, their processing can be postponed until funds are available. This is much easier.

- Still, the most difficult question will be the question on the nationality and native language, won't it?

- Nationality should not be proved by documents. Everyone answers this question on his own, how he identifies himself. Of course, there will be respondents, including children, of mixed marriages who will hesitate in choosing the nationality. For example, the father is a Russian and the mother is a Ukrainian. There is a choice between the two. More difficult is when both father and mother are of mixed nationality, that is when assimilation comes from the third generation. That is why we appeal to the respondents to be very responsible for answering this question. In case of hesitation, we advise the method which is widely used in many civilized countries - to identify one's nationality by mother. If she is of mixed nationality, then by the nationality of grandmother from the mother's side. The respondents should not be shy, they should insist upon their answer, if the interviewer tries to get another response.

- Do you think it may happen?

- Of course, any census is influenced by certain conditions. Census experience in Belarus shows the shift of accents and proportions between the title nation and others. I have no proofs (no control surveys were done) but my contacts in Belarus and published census figures say that the proportions have been slightly distorted. First of all, the number of Belorussians was increased at the expense of mixed marriages and, thus, the number of Poles, Ukrainians, and maybe Jews, was reduced.

The census is a very responsible undertaking for the government and there should be some control over the work of agencies conducting it. We hope that there are high-level professionals in the Goscomstat (Committee for statistics) who would like to see the real portrait of the country and will not fall under the influence of so called "ideologists" willing, like in Belarus, to "correct" the results of the census. I think that both the country and the community are interested in receiving the real demographic figures.

- Practically every national community thinks that the number of its population was reduced by the 1989 census. If the results of the census do not meet the expected figures, will it mean a distortion or a result of assimilation and migration?

- If the error is 10-15%, it is not a problem. But if the difference is twofold, then it is an absurd. For example, according to the 1989 census, 487 thousand people identified themselves as Jews. Demographers think that these are people whose both parents are Jews and who register their children as Jews. They constitute the core of the population.

The same situation is with other national minorities. Besides the core there are people called marginal that make up the extended population. If we take our community, the extended population is 3 times bigger than the core. Today the Jewish core is somewhat about 130 thousand people. About half million emigrated, 100 thousands less due to the decrease of the natural growth (difference between the death rate and birth rate). By our calculation, the extended population is about 450 thousand people. The expected census number of the Jewish core is 130 thousand people. For comparison, there were 112 thousand Jews in Belarus according to the 1898 population census. Now they are 27 thousands. It is rather sad to compare these figures. But we have what we have.

Interviewed by Tatyana Khorunzhey

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