Sommaire du numéro
N°74 (2-2004)

Recent Evolution of the Population of Russia (1979-2002): interactive cartography

Denis Eckert Laurent Jégou 

Denis Eckert: Researcher, CIRUS-Cieu (Interdisciplinary Center for Urban Studies), French National Center for Scientific Research, Toulouse (Centre Interdisciplinaire d'Études Urbaines).

L. Jégou: Cartographer, Geography Department, University of Toulouse le Mirail.
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The goal of this article is twofold: Firstly, to take stock of population dynamics through the use of interactive maps, which shall be presented further on and directly commented upon in relation to the dynamic SVG map; then, in a separate text entitled “Technical presentation”, to outline the technical aspects using the example of the online cartographic possibilities offered by the SVG format.  

Map 1: Population percent change, 1989-2002

Map 2: Population percent change, 1979-1989

Map 3: Population percent change, 1979-2002

Map 4: Population number change, 1989-2002

Map 5: Population number change, 1979-1989

Map 6: Population number change, 1979-2002

Map 7: Total population in 2002

Map 8: Total population in 1989

Map 9: Total population in 1979

Under the USSR, the population was subjected to censuses one a more regular basis starting at the end of the 1950s. The censuses of 1959, 1970, 1979 and 1989 thus help us to closely follow the general evolution of the population and to appreciate the extremely varied demographic dynamics of different regions. In Russia proper, it has been possible to measure the depopulation of rural areas in central Russia, rapid urbanisation and the population of the pioneer fronts (particularly in western Siberia).

Total population at the time of census:

117 240 000
129 941 000
137 410 000
147 022 000
145 182 000

Source: Goskomstat

Up until 1989, the total population grew at a steady rate. The breakdown of the USSR has been marked by a demographic change as spectacular as its political transformation: the population has begun to decrease year after year, due mainly to the significant gap between a low fertility rate and a very high death rate, particularly elevated among adult men. The country is growing old essentially due to a tangible degradation in the sanitary situation and to the increase in accidental deaths. One cannot overestimate the role of economic factors in all of this: such degradation began well before the end of the Soviet regime (Blum, 2004). The 1990s were marked by significant migratory movements to Russia's advantage (originating in the other former Soviet republics), but they have not compensated for the natural decrease.

In this context of constant upheaval, the new Russian Federation has had great difficulty in organising a census. In accordance with international recommendations and in keeping with former Soviet practice, this project should have been undertaken in 1999 or 2000. The chronic budgetary crisis and the lack of organisation of central power surely explain this delay of several years (Mespoulet, 2004). In the end, the first census organised by Russia took place in autumn 2002, that is, thirteen years since the last Soviet census (Blum and Gousseff, 2003).

This delay means that, during a long decade of social, demographic and political turbulence, civil status and residence registries were used to measure population development on a yearly basis. These estimation techniques were the only source of population yearbooks published regularly since 1993, excepting 1994 when a microcensus was conducted. These statistics yearbooks, of great geographical precision at first glance, gave population figures by rural district, by city and by region: it was thus possible to obtain population charts on a very detailed scale. However, these data have turned out to be more and more approximate the further they get from the census of 1989. The registers for the resident population must be handled with caution, for, in many large cities with residence regulations (propiska), recent migrants generally do not register.

The 2002 census is thus an event in itself. True, the complete publication of results has been slow: its release has been spaced throughout 2004. Yet the provisional data published in 2003 already permits an analysis of the extent of the modifications, which have taken place in the distribution of the population by region.

Upon the initial reading of the data tables, (2002 data tables) ertain results do not come as a surprise, but rather were well anticipated by the usual statistics of prior years. For example, the rapid diminishment of the population in the outlying regions of the Far East or the Great North, obvious in the field, have been confirmed. The extent of change nevertheless sometimes leaves one pensive: The Chukchi Autonomous District has lost two-thirds of its population in thirteen years, whereas, like many Siberian regions, the population was previously on the rise!

As well as confirming such known developments, the census has also brought to light its share of surprises. The most spectacular of these is the rectification of population figures from the city of Moscow. The population of the capital has been estimated up until now at 8.5 million (8.546 in 2001). The census agents in 2002 counted 10,360,000 inhabitants, in other words, a difference of 20%. This result, in total contradiction with data gathered according to strictly administrative procedures (police registers in particular), has been the subject of strong criticism due to the conditions under which the data was gathered. This result is considered unlikely by certain demographers (S. Zakharov, for example). The population of Moscow has surely increased, but not in the proportions suggested by the census.

Another extraordinary result has caught the attention of experts: the population of the Chechen Republic is said to have increased slightly since 1989 despite almost ten years of war punctuated by two military campaigns (1994 and 1999), accompanied by widespread destruction and civilian losses, but above all by a large wave of emigration. The publication of these results, obtained in a republic forbidden to the press and criss-crossed by the troops of the Ministries of Force, has aroused scepticism throughout Russia. Indeed, the exodus of refugees is as obvious in the neighbouring republics (especially in Ingushetia) as it is in much more distant areas, particularly in Moscow. As in other fields (for example, in electoral results), demographic information concerning Chechnya cannot be valuably taken into account. The researchers V. Tishkov and V. Stepanov (2004) have recently called attention to these cases and other controversial elements of the census, while still recognising its value as a whole. (Тишков, Степанов 2004).

In the present article, we shall give an overview of population change in the regions of Russia by using the results of the last three censuses (1979, 1989, 2002). Indeed, one must resituate the latest developments within a longer period of time than the interval between the last two censuses in order to measure the true extent of changes affecting the population of Russian territory. For further reflection on the causes of these movements, one may refer to, besides the bibliography, various demographic information available on the sites listed in the section References.