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Russia Begins First Post-Soviet Census - 2002-10-09

A nationwide population census in Russia moves into full swing during the next week. The census is the first undertaken since the collapse of communism and aims to provide a road map for longterm economic reform in Russia.

Census takers began knocking on doors in Kamchatka, Russia's easternmost territory, as many people in Moscow 10 time zones away were asleep.

More than 140,000 Russians living in remote regions have already taken part in the "All Russia Census."

Participation is voluntary and everyone from cosmonauts to homeless people will be encouraged to take part.

Even President Putin took time to sit down with a census-taker. The exchange got lots of air time on Russian televison. "The census-taker asked Mr. Putin if he was an employee. He laughed and replied that he was the President of the Russian Federation. He also described his work as providing services to the population," Mr. Putin said.

The questions respondents will be asked to answer cover a broad range from age and gender, to marital status, citizenship, and ethnicity. After some discussion, it was decided people would not be asked their religion.

The Russian government has said all information is confidential. It also launched an expensive advertising campaign to try to overcome people's reluctance to provide personal information to the government.

But not everyone is welcoming the strange knock-at-the-door. A woman screams out that she is unemployed and no one wants to hire her. She says she and her husband can hardly make a living.

Others are refusing to answer at all, fearing the information will be passed on to tax, immigration or legal authorities.

From those who do choose to participate, the government hopes to get a better picture of the make-up of the population for long-term economic planning.

The last national census was carried out under communism 13 years ago. After so many years, government policy planners no longer have reliable statistics on such basic information as how many Russians there are, where they live, and what they earn.

Experts say the census could confirm their worst fears that Russia's population is dwindling.

According to latest estimates, Russia's current population numbers around 146 million people. But the population is believed to be shrinking by as many as one million people per year, due to alcoholism, poverty and a low birth rate.

The first preliminary results of the All-Russia Census are due by year's end. Final results will not be known until the end of next year.