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Happy Planet Index and 2019 population census: interview with Head of Belarus’ National Statistical Committee

The state strategy and the political tactics will be discussed at the All Belarusian People's Assembly, due presumably in June 2016. But who will propose the right path for the development of the economy, regions, and the country on the whole? Statisticians, of course! The CTV channel interviewed Inna Medvedeva, head of the National Statistical Committee, and asked her about the 2019 population census, personal inflation and even about happiness.

Statistics is not able to give you the figures that you want, is it?

Inna Medvedeva, head of the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus:
Statistics shows objective figures, not those that you would like to see.

There is a famous phrase “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Inna Medvedeva:
Actually, it doesn’t illustrate the situation with statistics, because it shows just some average data. Let’s take, for example, salary figures. Some people say that they don’t get the salary other people do. In fact, these figures are average.

Ms. Medvedeva, you examine the average Belarusian which actually doesn’t exist.

Inna Medvedeva:
Of course, they don’t exist. The data you name are demographic and gender statistics. It is very important for demography prediction, and, relying upon this information, the government makes decisions on the retirement age. We give information about the living standards and the income level. The decisions are made on this basis, how to move on, which measures should be taken for making the quality of life better. We gather information about this average person, how and under which conditions people live, whether they are satisfied with the public health service or not.

Is your organization the one which the government follows when it develops its program? Does your committee give them recommendations on which direction they should follow?

Inna Medvedeva:
We only provide the government with data.

What is the standard of living? This is the most objective index.

Inna Medvedeva:
Speaking about international practice, there is the famous Human Development Index. Belarus takes up a very good position in it. In 2000, the country took up 68th position, and today it is ranked 50th. Belarus is among countries with a high Human Development Index. It means that the social policy Belarus is conducting produces good results. And the index is the result of this policy. The index encompasses a lot of spheres, for example, life expectancy. It means that man should live well, long and healthy, get appropriate educational background, and the quality of their life should be high. We will give maximum information to the government. But the entire work of our committee boils down to identifying tendencies. It is impossible to know everything. But we have huge arrays of information about a lot of spheres of public and human life.

You have a lot of documents in paper form. Some of them are very old and covered with dust.

Inna Medvedeva:
Yes, it’s true. These are raw data, on which basis we form statistics summary and provide the government with it. In 2019, a population census will be conducted with the help of electronic devices.

Why is there such a huge gap between life expectancy of women and men in Belarus? Maybe you know when it will reduce? The gap is practically 10 years.

Inna Medvedeva:
Honestly, if you look at the statistics over the last years, the trend is very good, especially in men’s category. For example, if you compare with 2010, men’s life expectancy has increased by four years, and women’s one only by 2.4. Therefore, we hope that men will eventually catch up with women.

It’s a global tendency that women’s life expectancy is higher.

Inna Medvedeva:
It’s a standard demographic situation. Men belong to a category which is prone to some risks.

And this men’s category spoils the statistics.

Inna Medvedeva:
It doesn’t. Women have something to compete with.

In Russia, they do research how people spend their spare time. Is similar research conducted in Belarus?

Inna Medvedeva:
We did it last year. It is called ‘use of the daily time fund’. It shows very interesting results.

What do Belarusians do in their spare time?

Inna Medvedeva:
You know, they are many-sided, as usual. Of course, they like relaxing and sleeping, lying on a sofa, reading a book or going to the theatre.

There is one interesting option on your web-site. One can calculate their personal inflation. How does it work?

Inna Medvedeva:
There is a particular set of goods which you can input there.

Do you mean the goods I consume?

Inna Medvedeva:
Yes, the goods you have consumed. But it’s better for you to have receipts and remember all the prices, and then you’ll be able to compare them. The set of goods should be equal.

And there is the Happy World Index.

Inna Medvedeva:
There are a lot of indices, the Better Life Index and the Happy World Index. Belarusians take up a very good place in the latter.

Is this index really calculated? Could you tell us more about it?

Inna Medvedeva:
It’s true. International organizations do this. But in fact, it’s their methodology. They use statistics, data of non-commercial organizations. They can interview someone or take some information on the Internet, and relying on these criteria, they arrive at certain conclusions.

It’s an incredibly difficult question. And have you conducted such research?

Inna Medvedeva:
No. It is non-statistical research. Because there are subjective assessments in this case, which are unacceptable for statistics.

Not long ago, you made a report to the Head of State. Will the census be conducted in 2019, or the date has not been settled yet?

Inna Medvedeva:
The President set a task to hold it at a very high level minimizing the costs of the event as much as possible. The event is outstanding, and it requires huge human efforts and labor.

In a lot of European countries, population census is obligatory for every citizen. But in Belarus, it’s very difficult sometimes to reach out to some people. They simply won’t open the door.

Inna Medvedeva:
It’s very hard sometimes, and we may need help of the police, because there are very difficult families. During the first three days, we will be carrying out the census at special census centers, so people who don’t want to see us at their homes come there.

It will be like at the election. Everybody goes to the centers. 

Inna Medvedeva:
There will work people-registrars who will help the citizens to fill in the necessary documents. It will be done with the help of tablet PCs.

Happy Planet Index and 2019 population census: interview with Head of Belarus’ National Statistical Committee