Civic Groups Seek Changes to Bosnia Census

Civil society organizations have asked the Bosnian Statistics Agency to change the 2013 census form and remove what they see as discriminatory elements from questions about nationality, religion and language.Three questions in the upcoming census need to be changed in terms of the offered answers and the formulation of the question, a discussion over the census heard on June 25 in Sarajevo.The Initiative for a Free Declaration, IFD, which gathers a number of non-governmental organizations and individuals, presented the main issues that they see as discriminatory in the form being prepared for use in next April’s head count.

Alen Tatic, of the IFD, said that questions 23, 24 and 25 of the census form are not open enough to allow everyone write down their choice of answer freely.

This is because answers must be contained within 18 boxes – one letter in each. Instead, the IFD advocates an open line where citizens can write longer declarations.

“Considering that these are very delicate issues, some of them concerning identity, which will have significant consequences for citizens and the politics of the country, we want our recommendations respected,” Tatic said.

He referred also to the Conference of European Statisticians, CES, recommendations for censuses in 2010, which advise the need to assure the “free and open declaration of respondents”.

In terms of ethnicity, caution is advised against confusing data on ethnicity with citizenship as well as avoiding use of the term “nationality” in place of ethnicity. In terms of mother tongue, the CES recommends allowing multiple answers.

As it stands, the questionnaire’s 23th question worries the IFD since, when it refers to ethnic/national identity, it offers only three answers on ethnic declaration, or one can declare another answer in 18-letter boxes, which is understood by the IFD as equalizing national and ethnic identity.

Question 24 on religious belief also has offered answers and only a limited number of boxes in which respondents can write an answer.

Question 25, which is obligatory, about one’s mother tongue, is disputed because the IFD says many people might consider two or more languages as their mother tongues.

Zdenko Milinovic, Director of the Bosnian Statistics Agency, said that the pilot census this autumn will show up any possible mistakes or problems.

“Everybody has a mother tongue and everyone can declare freely whatever they feel like,” Milinovic told Monday’s discussion, which was organized by the Association Alumni of the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, ACIPS, in Sarajevo.

The Council of Europe representative to Bosnia, Marry-Ann Hennessey, emphasized the importance of conducting the census correctly, noting many of its likely impacts on various aspects of society.

The European Commission and the Council of Europe have meanwhile established the International Monitoring Operation, IMO, to ensure that the entire process of the census is implemented in accordance with European standards and recommendations.

“The IMO has engaged a number of census experts to asset all technical aspects and every step of the census,” Hennessey said.

“The Council of Europe is confident that with the support of highly qualified and experienced experts the census in Bosnia will indeed follow all the recommendations,” he added.

The census will cost some 20 million euro according to current estimations, the Agency director said, and will be conducted from April 1 to 15 next year.

Some are already calling it an historic census, as it will be the first head count since 1991.

Since then the 1992-5 war took place and hundreds of thousands of people moved or fled the country while tens of thousands of people were killed.

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