Census of Russians begins amid Orthodox Church criticism
by Nina Achmatova
Data collection starts in far eastern regions. Results expected in March. The Orthodox Church complains about the lack of "faith” option in the questionnaire to gauge religion in society. But real issue is the low birth rate.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The second national census started yesterday in the regions of Primorye, Kamchatka and Magadan in Russia’s far eastern. The initiative however, has met with the staunch criticism of the Orthodox Church. The collection of data will take ten days, and preliminary data on the total Russian population will be published in March 2011.

The census has been criticized by the Russian Orthodox Church and the political opposition, which has highlighted the high cost of collecting and analyzing the information. The economic cost had threatened the cancellation of the entire project, but eventually the government found the funds and justified the initiative as "necessary for the development of social programs."

The Orthodox Church, however, complains about the lack of a"faith" option in the questionnaire that will be submitted to the people. "They are afraid to know the extent of the spread of religion in our society," said Vladimir Vigilyansky, spokesman for the patriarch of Moscow Kirill. According to data collected the last time in 2002, the Russian population is made up of 145.2 million people. For the Swiss Federal Institute of Statistics, however, the Russians are currently about 142 million.

The problem that is gripping political power and the Orthodox Church is the steady decline in the birth rate in the country. According to experts' forecasts, the population of the Russian Federation could drop to just one hundred million by 2050, the majority of whom may be Muslim. The causes are well known: a low birth rate, also due to alcoholism among men and the widespread practice of abortion, which in 2004 exceeded the number of births (1.6 million versus 1.5 million).