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 Colleagues and friends of mine too rely on this out-of-date information.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?