the 1989 census

Almost 20 years later, the 1989 census is still going strong, despite the precision and timeliness of the Estonian Statistical Office.

Consider this factoid from a piece in the Irish Business News:

In Georgia the issue is Ossetia and Abkhazia, but here in the Baltic the issue is the 40 per cent of the Estonian population who consider themselves Russian.

At first I thought the author David McWilliams was talking about Tallinn, but then I realized that these were the population numbers he was providing for all of Estonia.

He’s not alone. Last year one of my own professors used similarly old statistics to criticize the Estonian government, and said that Tallinn was “half Russian and half Estonian.” Colleagues and friends of mine too rely on this out-of-date information.

The 1989 census was an extremely politicized census. Showing native Estonians as 61.5 percent of the population, its circulation fueled the narrative of being colonized to extinction by Russophone settlers from the east. The frightening juxtaposition of the 1934 census, where Estonians were 88 percent of the population, with the 1989 census, was enough to make anyone ill. It was these numbers that justified a slough of Estonian policies, from language laws to citizenship requirements.

But the reality is that the 1989 census is as different from the 2008 figures as it was from the 1979 or 1968 figures. Demography is always in flux, and if someone had managed to provide the 2008 figures to Mr. McWilliams, he would have painted a slightly different picture of Estonia.

For starters, in 1990 there were 1.57 million people in Estonia. In 2008, there are 1.34 million. In 1990, ethnic Estonians were 61 percent of the population. In 2008, they are 69 percent — which I guess would make McWilliams’ statement erroneous, unless 110 percent equals a whole.

There are ~340,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia today, or 25 percent of the total population. Tallinn is 55.4 percent ethnic Estonian, whereas 36.7 percent of its residents identify as Russians. Of course, we must factor in the Ukrainians, Belorussians, Finns, Jews, Tatars, Latvians, Lithuanians, Germans, Azerbaijanis, and Swedes, but let’s not make this post too complicated.

The Estonian Statistical Office updates this information about population, along with sex, age, administrative unit, type of settlement, and place of residence, every year. And yet, for whatever reason, people still think it’s 1989. Why is that? Why aren’t the most accurate, up to date stats available at McWilliams’ finger tips?


23 thoughts on “the 1989 census”

  1. Because they are not discussing Estonia. The issue is nationalism, regionalism, seperatism, minorities, Europe, ethnic conflicts and many more, but Estonia is not the topic itself. And they need examples not the real thing.


  2. And I think they are going for the same dramatic effect as the Estonians did back in 1989, only interpreting the facts differently – not as “us poor Estonians” but “those poor Russians”.They could’nt possibly sell an article like that based on up-to-date statistics.


  3. To say the least I am disappointed in my fellow countyman. I would have expected more from David. His other other writtings (see Pope’s Children) have all otherwise been fairly good except perhaps for the nonsense about “Gaelscoileanna being only the preserve of the upper-middle class”.


  4. people still think it’s 1989. Why is that?I thought it was obvious, the author had only talked to (got his “facts” from) a Russian girl who “hates Estonians” and no wonder she still lives in 1989. The “good old Soviet times” when the Russian language and the people ruled the land. Instead of these evil Estonian who have made their former masters to learn the language of the slaves. This must be a nightmare, so it’s more like wishful thinking that it’s still 1989. Why did the author only talk to a Russian girl who hates Estonians and not to The Estonian Statistical Office to get his facts and story straight? Well, maybe he is just biased and only wants to see one side of the story.


  5. In a speech this week, Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev warned of a “crushing response” to any country which threatened what he termed Russian citizens.It was strong rhetoric which, at face value, could be read as a warning to those who might try to wrestle South Ossetia back into the hands of the Georgians.In South Ossetia, up to 90% of the population hold Russian passports.That is why Russia has been so vehement in riding to its rescue. It says the people of South Ossetia are more closely linked to Moscow than Georgia.But there is a belief from many in this part of the world that Moscow has a bigger strategy which takes its thinking way beyond South Ossetia.The thinking is that there is a grand plan being developed in Moscow. That is, to try to reclaim the 30 million Russians living on its borders who were “lost” with the collapse of the Soviet Union – in the Baltic states of the old Soviet Republics like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are all now members of the EU and Nato.In Ida Viru county where Narva is, there are 122,000 ethnic Russians, and 34,000 Estonians. Could the Russians see this as a justifiable reason to retake Narva and this county? ? ?


  6. I have to say it was very touching to watch the night song festival yesterday – there is a certain very admirable spirit in the Estonian nation and culture. Well, maybe this a bit overly romantic view coming from an outsider, but it certainly felt like quite a remarkable occassion. Hopefully Giustino will have a post about it…


  7. <>In Ida Viru county where Narva is, there are 122,000 ethnic Russians, and 34,000 Estonians. Could the Russians see this as a justifiable reason to retake Narva and this county?<>Well, more half of those 122,000 live in Narva and its environs, and quite a few are Estonian citizens (I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips). I don’t see a question mark over the county of Ida Viru, but looking 20 years down the road, I can’t predict the future of Narva.


  8. <>Statistikakogumiku „Narva arvudes 2002″ kohaselt elab Narvas 69 816 inimest, neist eestlasi 2926 (4,2%), venelasi 60134 (86,1%), ukrainlasi 2021 (2,9%), valgevenelasi 1692 (2,4%), soomlasi 690, tatarlasi 396 ning muude rahvuste esindajaid 1957. <>Eesti kodanike osatähtsus Narva elanike hulgas on 36,2%<> (25323), Venemaa kodanikke on mõnevõrra vähem – 20 401 (29,2%). Suur on ka määramata kodakondsusega inimeste arv (19050 ehk 27,3%).2000. aasta rahvaloenduse andmeil on Sillamäe 17 199 elaniku hulgas eestlasi 719 (4,2%), venelasi aga 14756 (85,8%). Eesti kodanikke ja Venemaa kodanikke on elanike hulgas peaaegu võrdselt (21,3% ja 23,2%). Määramata kodakondsusega inimesi elab Sillamäel koguni 54,1%.<>


  9. <>Hopefully Giustino will have a post about it…<>I was there.<>on jälle aeg …<>Seriously, the best song is “Ei ole üksi ükski maa.” I could sing that one over and over again …


  10. <>The 1989 census was an extremely politicized census.<>Are you suggesting that the census was inaccurate because politicized, or that the presumably accurate census was politicized — or both?At least in Latvia, the census reflects self-identification that is rather dependent on somewhat narrow, sometimes archaic definitions and no multiple choice. The 1935 census was influenced by the Ulmanis regime, under which a Latvian self-identification was sometimes prestigious… I say “sometimes” because there are civil parishes that shifted from Russian to Belarusian and back again, or to whatever, without any physical demographic changes.Daugavpils has become a lot more “Latvian” since 1989 — some of that is real, in that many Russians left (including many a military family), but a share that is difficult to measure is based upon shifting identity. I know numerous “Latvians” who don’t speak Latvian, don’t identify with Latvia, and just ticked off the box, sometimes at the suggestion of the registrar. I know a Jew from Odessa who is “German” because “repatriation” money was available and an uncle was an ethnic German. There’s a German saying aimed at some of the Wolgadeutsche — “my great-grandfather owned a German Shepherd, so I’m German.”A majority of those who self-identify as anything other than Latvian or Russian (except for the Roma), though they may retain some sense of another identity, are more or less russified. On the one hand, it is incorrect to consider the many russified Poles here (not to mention the considerable number of Poles who still speak Polish) as “Russophones” — on the other, the many people of mixed ethnicity get to pick one, and the picture is accordingly skewed. Most Belarusians are entirely russified, for instance (and have been for some time — some of the “Belarusian schools” in prewar Latvia were actually Russian-language schools). There is no “Latgallian” option, and “Jewish” is an ethnicity whilst “American” is not.


  11. <>Are you suggesting that the census was inaccurate because politicized, or that the presumably accurate census was politicized — or both?<>I mean that many arguments are based on the 1989 census. I hear criticism all the time based on the fact that Estonia is “one-third Russian” or Tallinn is “half Russian.” And the reality is that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that discussing minority rights isn’t a valid discussion, but don’t make bold generalizations like “Russians are 40 percent of Estonia” and expect to get away with it. 9 percent of Denmark is foreign-born. If I wanted to scare people, I could tack 15 percent onto that number too. But it’s very hard to get people to see that. The 1989 census is stuck in their heads. Even Estonians think this way. They are so afraid of these hordes of Russians — but look at the data. Look around. It’s not 1989 anymore. Estonia has lost 40,000 ethnic Estonians since 1989. Ethnic Russians declined by 135,000 people.These things are in flux. In 1934, Estonians were 88 percent of the population. In 1959, they were 75 percent. In 1979, 65 percent. In 2008, 69 percent. <>A majority of those who self-identify as anything other than Latvian or Russian (except for the Roma), though they may retain some sense of another identity, are more or less russified.<>Several minorities have “Estofied” as well. The Estonian Swedes are basically contiguous with the Estonian community, as are the Ingrian Finns. I would also add the Estonian Jews here too. I mean Yuri Lotman moved to Estonia in 1954, and his family must be among the more influential in the country.


  12. Followed closely by Eri Klas and clan. The guy holding the baton at the Night Song Festival considers himself ethnically a Jew above all. The Russophone Lotman Sr. and folks like Klas and the late Eugenia Loov to me demonstrate that being Estonian is more than language or ethnicity; it’s about a nation-state and pursuit of happiness.


  13. <>Seriously, the best song is “Ei ole üksi ükski maa.”<>They should do the new version with young singers. Vaiko Eplik singing the part of Karl Madis, Tanel Padar the part of Riho Sibul etc. Only one rule – no “superstars” or Mari-Leens are needed. I’d rather have Lenna Kuurmaa sing all female vocals.


  14. I don’t quite get the point, other than the inaccuracy, which is a significant one. On the other hand, there are few nations in the world which have been colonized so rapidly and dramatically, roughshod. Don’t forget the killing fields in which a quarter or fifth of the Estonian population was killed or forced to flee or depopulated to Siberia. While an 8% increase in the number of ethnic Estonians is a significant shift, absolute numbers are in fact down and the demographic tree looks poor.Almost dismal. Lots of elderly people, and Estonia is hemmoraghing young people to other countries. The true Estonian ethnic democraphic is far from promising, the future prospect is, well, not so hot. And what remains the same in ESSENCE is that the number of Russians settled in Latvia and Estonia as a result of overthrow annd conquest of parliamentary European democracies remains huge. Not significantly changed. Which wouldn’t matter that much if they had all pledged allegiance to their new homelands, once conquered or not. But that just ain’t so.


  15. I wonder, is there any way of telling how many Russians were actually brought here without asking them (even against their will), how many were encouraged to come and how many just moved in “za produktami”, to take advantage of Estonias higher living standard? I’n not sure if it would explain anything, it just would be interesting to know.


  16. <>How are mixed Russians/Estonians counted in terms of ethnicity? I imagine there have been more mixed children produced since 1989.<>It’s self reported, so there are Russophones who say they are Estonians and vice versa.Somebody — the media? the government? — should really introduce that concept of “new Estonians” so that the country can move beyond these narrow definitions.


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