27th May 2019

Macedonia prepares for politically sensitive census

  • Macedonia's census is carried out every 10 years. (Photo: Maja Zlatevska, Dnevnik)

Albanian opposition parties in Macedonia are considering a boycott of the national census next April because of fears that it may misrepresent the real make-up of the country.

In this country of 2 million, where Macedonians and Albanians are the two biggest ethnic communities, the 10-yearly census is a politically sensitive issue.

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In 2001, the country was on the brink of civil war between the government and Albanian rebels who were demanding greater rights. With the mediation of the EU and US, both sides signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) which promised ethnic communities representing more than 20 percent of the population higher education in their language and equal representation in state institutions.

The agreement also stated that any language spoken by over one fifth of the population should be considered an official language on the municipal level – equal to Macedonian.

The census law was passed with support from all parties in parliament except two Albanian opposition parties: New Democracy (ND) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). These two claim the Albanian government party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), and its Macedonian senior partner, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE, will manipulate the census numbers.

They also want the census to take place in the summer, to include the large Albanian diaspora returning home during the holiday season. Without it, they say, the number of Albanians will shrink by about 250,000.

Macedonian mainstream media have contested this argument, because the census is not to intended measure all Macedonian nationals but all citizens living in the country at the time of the count.

Albanians also complain there is no Albanian in a high position in the state statistic office, the main body responsible for the census. This complaint has been taken on board and the statistics office is now looking for qualified Albanians who could take the job.

The DUI also said that mixed ethnic teams will perform the census, that it will be monitored by experts from the EU's Eurostat office and that no manipulation will be possible.

Despite these assurances, ND is still not convinced. The Albanian opposition plans to hold its own census among the diaspora in Europe and the US. The DPA is threatening to boycott the census in April but ND disagrees with this strategy.

"We are aware and deeply convinced that boycotting the census is a way to help anti-Albanian policies pursued by the VMRO-DPMNE and DUI. They want to show that the number of Albanians is lower," said ND leader Imer Selmani. The parallel census would be conducted with the assistance of NGOs and activists in the Albanian disapora, Selmani said. "We will show the institutions that we are many more than they tend to present us," he added.

After the conflict in 2002, a census was conducted which showed that Albanians made up 25 percent of the population. Macedonians stood at 64 percent and other communities represented less than four percent percent of the population, the largest being Turks with 3.85 percent.

A census has to be conducted in Macedonia every 10 years.

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