Is the 2024 Census to Reveal Moldova’s New Face?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Since the last census ten years ago, Moldova has undergone a major transformation, and as a result we may see a completely new picture of the population
The third population and housing census will take place in Moldova from 8 April to 7 July. Its main goal is to collect the most accurate and relevant data on the population size, its structure, characteristics, the socio-economic status of each citizen, the state of the housing stock and other important indicators. The preliminary results will be made public by the end of the year, while the final results will be published on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics by 31 December 2026. The first national census conducted under the supervision of the Council of Europe took place back in 2004. The international monitoring revealed a lot of errors, which the authorities had to take into account when conducting the next national data collection. However, it seems that our statisticians always face some obstacles, and the political factor is most likely the first and foremost one. Nowadays, all macro-social indicators and statistical data of Moldova are based on the results of the census of ten years ago. Interestingly, they were made public only three years later, and two heads of the main statistical agency resigned in 2016, after failing to take stock of the results. The state spent about 4 million euros on the 2014 census, using both state budget funds and external resources. According to it, the population of Moldova in ten years (since 2004) decreased by almost 400 thousand, and the total number of citizens was about 3 million. The gender structure remained virtually unchanged: 48.2% of men and 51.8% of women (48.1% and 51.9% in 2004). Three quarters of the total number of citizens lived in rural areas. At the same time, the proportion of the able-bodied population decreased, while the number of elderly people increased. Tendencies towards a change in the ethnic composition of the population, as well as a decrease in the number of citizens who considered Russian to be their native language, became increasingly obvious. In 2014, 75.1% of citizens were ready to recognize themselves as Moldovans, 7% - as Romanians (although more than 20% said Romanian was their mother tongue at that time), 6.6% - as Ukrainians, 4.6% - as Gagauz, 4.1% - as Russians, 1.9% - as Bulgarians, 0.3% - as Roma, and another 0.5% classified themselves as belonging to other ethnic groups. Compared to 2004, the number of people who considered themselves Moldovans decreased by 1%, while the number of Romanians increased by 4.8%. Of course, both in 2004 and 2014, there were dissatisfied people, primarily among the unionists, who did not like the statistics and the obscenely low number of people identifying themselves as Romanians. Therefore, they did not recognize the census results and accused state structures of deliberate falsification in favor of Russia. Some even called the announced data the result of political collusion between President Dodon and Plahotniuc. We’ll see how satisfied the unionists will be after this year’s census. There were also critics outside Moldova. In 2017, the Council of Europe’s advisory committee produced a report mentioning that the census took place amid criticism of the data collection process. In particular, the Council of Europe reported that there was information that a substantial part of the population had not been enumerated at all. Indeed, the Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics later admitted that some 41% of the population had never participated in the procedure. To have a full picture of the overall socio-demographic situation across the country, statistics collected on the left bank should be considered as well. The last census in the region took place in October 2015. According to local statisticians, in 2015 the local population was 475.6 thousand people, a decline of 80 thousand people (14.3%) over the previous eleven years. The number of men was 45.4% and women 54.6%. The number of populations living in urban areas was 69.9%, in rural areas 30.1%. It is necessary for any modern state to have detailed information on the ethnic composition of the country, the main language groups, geographical settlement, as well as demographic trends and problems. In addition, on the basis of indirect indicators it is quite possible to specify not only the key needs of the population, but also to identify the political preferences of citizens. An objective understanding of the socio-demographic situation makes it possible to determine the long-term development strategy of the state and regions, as well as to properly adjust the work of the state system, including the optimal allocation of funding for certain goals and priority areas of society. The classical description of the goals and multitasking of the census cannot be conducted in isolation from the domestic political context, and especially from the upcoming presidential elections in autumn and parliamentary elections next year. First of all, Moldovan sociologists expect that the next census will resolve the long-standing paradox that the electoral base significantly exceeds the official static data on the population, questioning the objectivity of electoral cycles. Unlike the previous ones, the census of 2024 will have a much more important significance for the country in terms of policy and identity. There is no doubt that the structure of modern Moldovan society that has emerged over the last decade will be the object of numerous interpretations and speculations. Since 2014, Moldova has indeed undergone a major transformation, and as a result we may see a completely new population. The expectation is that this time people will be more unambiguous in their views and self-identification, given that the authorities have casually closed the language issue and offered citizens the only true and possible vector of foreign policy development. The eagerness with which various government representatives and the loyal non-governmental sector are agitating citizens to participate in the census shows, among other things, the obvious political background of the in-depth data collection that has started this week. Undoubtedly, the in-depth data collection will give the ruling regime a clearer socio-political picture of the country, as well as an opportunity to adjust its electoral tactics and communication strategy with its fellow citizens. As for the state, despite the demographic disaster and the critical drop in all indicators that force citizens to leave their homeland, Moldovan statehood will not collapse overnight. Over the last three decades, according to the 2004 and 2014 census results, despite all the linguistic and religious disputes, nationality has been the key state-forming element – 75% of citizens perceived themselves as Moldovans. Currently, there is no certainty that an overwhelming number of Moldovans still identify themselves in the same way. Therefore, changing the basic parameters that underpinned independence and held the society together all these years may become a certain challenge for the current elites, as it will require not only a rethinking of the society structure, but also a search for new components capable to ensure a firm bond between every citizen and the country.