Bosnia political divisions laid bare in census row
The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina has declined by 20 percent in the past 25 years, the biggest drop in Bosnia for more than a century, according to leaked data from the first census since the 1992-1995 war.
However, loss of overall population does not seem to worry the ruling elites. Instead, they fear that the results could influence the power-sharing government structure put in place by the peace accord at the end of the war.
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The current system divides power among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – leaving all the others who do not belong to one of the groups without political rights.
Government jobs and positions in institutions like the Central Bank have to be divided among these three ethnic groups. The current source of data used for the quotas is the 1991 census.
Any change in the ethnic make-up also means new quotas for all these institutions.
As a result, politicians have spent the past three years arguing about methodologies or trying to ensure that the census, which was carried out between 1-15 October 2013, is never published.
According to Bosnian law, the process will be considered invalid if the results are not published by 1 July.
The director of the state statistics agency, Velimir Jukic, made a unilateral decision in mid-June that the results would be published by the end of the month. But so far, the only data to reach the public has been in the form of leaks in local media.
State minister of the civil affairs Adil Osmanovic expressed his hope that the data would not be invalidated, saying: “If that happens, it will mean that we tossed €25 million, that was the cost of this census.”
Adding to the complication, Bosnia formally applied to join the European Union in February. EU officials made it clear that the census was one of the conditions for applying.
Jamila Milovic Halilovic at the EU office in Sarajevo stressed to the EUobserver that Bosnia had received “considerable financial and technical assistance from the EU” for the census, which she described as “essential for the country's economic and social planning”.
Pieter Everaers from the EU's statistical agency Eurostat believes timely publication of the census results "is crucial considering the relevance of the population figures for planning and policy purposes in Bosnia and Herzegovina".
In accordance with EU rules, headcounts should be conducted every 10 years.
Against this background, the two political entities that make up Bosnia have shown little willingness to compromise.
Politicians in Republika Srpska, where the population is mostly Serb, insist that people who are living abroad for work or education purposes should not be counted, even if they have a permanent address in Bosnia.
Analysts believe this methodology would discount many thousands of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats from Republic Srpska.
The other political entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where most of the population is Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) or Croat, opposes this methodology.
However, Republika Srpska politicians warned that if the results were published without their methodology, they would not be recognised and could lead to a boycott of state institutions.
Darko Brkan, from the Zasto ne (Why not) organisation, which monitored the census, fears the final results will not be accurate.
“At the end, the entire process could be seen only as something that was done in order to fulfil the EU criteria,” he says.
“We will probably get very questionable results that have to be used with a great caution.”
Dalio Sijah, also from Zasto ne, believes everybody loses from the census dispute.
“The census issue was taken away from the professionals and became a matter of political disputes and different interests. Statistical agencies are now subject of political manipulation,” he said.
The last census was taken in 1991, a year before the war began. It found that 43.5 percent of the population declared themselves Bosniak, 31.2 percent Serb and 17.4 per cent Croat. The rest were bunched into the “others” category.
During the war, around one million people left the country and more than 120,000 were killed. Afterwards, many people left because of economic reasons and political instability.
According to the preliminary results of the 2013 census published in local media, 50.2 percent of the population described themselves as Bosniak, 30.6 percent Serb and 15.5 percent Croat.
Overall, 3.52 million people live in Bosnia today, some 875,000 fewer than in 1991.
Bosnia has the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe at over 65 percent. It means that just one in eight people aged between 16 and 24 has a job.
While the topic is hardly ever considered by the country's politicians, Bosnia is becoming an impoverished, half-deserted country of old people.