Bosnia Census Might Be Postponed, Experts Predict

Census scheduled for April could be postponed, experts say, if the ruling ethnic parties suspect that many citizens do not wish to line up as members of the three main ethnic groups.The upcoming census is likely to reveal a much bigger than expected group of people who do not wish to declare themselves as Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats, the European Academy round table in Sarajevo heard on November 19.

Nedim Ademovic, a legal expert for the Sarajevo-based Academy, on Monday said the census currently intended to group all citizens into four groups – Bosnia’s three constituent ethnic groups and a fourth category called “others”.

“The ‘others’ will be people not declaring any ethnicity, ranging from national minorities to citizens not wishing to declare their membership of the [three main] groups – people who have been stripped of their rights,” Ademovic explained.

Ademovic said he believes a significant group of people from all the main ethnic groups will decide to declare themselves as “others” because they are tired of what they see as artificial divisions in society.

He referred to unofficial data from the October 2012 test census, which reported that up 35 per cent of citizens, mostly younger people, declared themselves as “Bosnians and Herzegovinians”.

“That [large] percentage worries the [main] ethnic groups’ leaders,” Jakob Finci, diplomat and leader of Bosnia’s Jewish community, agreed.

Finci added that he would not be surprised if the census was postponed in order to give political leaders more time to persuade people to declare themselves as members of the three main ethnic groups.

“Since we are experts in slowing down processes, especially related to legal issues… the political parties may decide to wait with the census,” Finci said.

Finci said that if the authorities do postpone the census, the politicians will probably say they could not agree on the questions in the census or think of some other technical reason.

Finci is one of two plaintiffs in the Sejdic-Finci case on which the European Court For Human Rights issued a landmark ruling in 2009.

The ruling told Bosnia to change its constitution in order to allow ethnic minorities to run for top governing posts that are currently reserved for the three largest ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Bosnia’s last census took place in 1991, when the republic was still a part of Yugoslavia. It listed a total population of a little less than 4.4 million.

Around 43.5 per cent declared themselves as Muslim [nowadays Bosniak], 31.2 per cent were Serbs, 17.4 per cent Croats. Yugoslavs numbered 5.5 per cent and others around 2.4 per cent.

But estimates suggest only around 3.8 million people remain in the country following the 1992-5 war in which thousands of people were killed or fled the country.

The 2013 census aims to determine the exact number of citizens that are left and the country’s new ethnic and national structure.

Mostar-based Sociology Professor Slavo Kukic told Balkan Insight that if a large percentage of people do not declare themselves as members of one of the three main ethnic groups, it will force politicians to pause for thought.

He hoped that the number of “others” in the census may outnumber at least one of the three main ethnic groups, which would encourage demands to change the constitution and the system of power sharing between the ruling ethnic parties.

“There is a theoretical possibility of this but it is not realistic. We need a serious campaign to explain people what is happening… how to declare,” another professor, constitutional law professor Kasim Trnka, agreed.

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