TBILISI, DFWatch–In 2014, Georgia will conduct its first population census in 25 years.

This was decided by the State Coordination Commission on Tuesday. Head of the commission is Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The last census was conducted in 1989 and found that 5 443 000 people were living in the country, including the population of the breakaway areas Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

According to the population data from 2002, which were published without a census, 4 601 500 people were living in Georgia at the time. Official figures from 2012 show that the population in territories controlled by the Georgian government was about 4.5 million, while it was 4 479 000 in January, 2011.

Many people have left Georgia after the country gained independence, due to difficult social and economic situation. Some have left legally to work or study, but many are living illegally in different countries around the world. This is a controversial issue. In previous years, it was argued by opposition groups that the Saakashvili government was exploiting the high uncertainty about the exact population numbers to manipulate elections through various creative methods akin to the «dead souls» described by Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol, and that that was the reason the long overdue census was postponed.

Another important consequence is that media, organizations and governments around the world have not been aware of the high uncertainty surrounding official population figures for Georgia, which may have led them to draw erroneous conclusions about a wide range of issues, such as the level of unemployment. Particularly media have tended to accept the official figures as authoritative, and therefore been easy prey to PR efforts by the Saakashvili government.

The UN requires each country to conduct a population census at least once every ten years. Georgia was supposed to have conducted a census in 2010, but the Saakashvili government postponed it due to the global economic crisis.

Georgia’s National Statistics Department a few years ago started preparations for another census, including the drawing of maps of each region. According to GeoStat, at least 11 000 people are needed to carry out the census. It is unknown how much money it will cost.