By Medina Malagić – Sarajevo
It took nearly five years for politicians in BiH to agree on the adoption of a Census Law for the country. The last census was held prior to the war in 1991, and BiH will be the last country in the Western Balkans to hold a census. The first questions that arise are why it took more than 20 years to hold the next census in the country and why a routine head-count remains a contentious issue.
BiH Census: Center of Contentious Debate
The census has been the center of heated debate and numerous disagreements over technical aspects that revolve around issues of religious and ethnic identity. As it stands, the census is scheduled to take place in October 2013.
The questions that will be included in the census on demographics, economic, educational structure and the like could be seen on a census form in other countries and are not viewed as charged questions. One of the optional questions will be the declaration of a national or ethnic origin, religious beliefs, and a question regarding mother tongue will not be optional. Compliance of BiH legislation with EU standards is an ongoing and arduous process in the country, and the EU does not consider the optional questions as necessary nor as a requirement to fulfill the criteria for the accession process.
The EU stresses that such sensitive questions need to remain open-ended, thereby reducing the importance of these questions to the overall goal of the census and its importance for the future of the country and eventual EU integration.
BiH Census is Vital for European Integration
The census was originally scheduled to take place in April 2013, but now it will be pushed to October 2013 due to delays in areas such as the revision of the census questionnaire, field staff training, registration, infrastructure, garnering political support, etc.
The delay was welcomed by the EU because vital modifications and additions still have to be made for BiH to be fully prepared to carry out a census that is in line with EU standards. According to the EU Spokesperson in BiH Andy McGuffie, “Reliable and comprehensive state-level statistics are essential data for governance in BiH” and, “To get access to this data, a countrywide population and housing census is required”. Thus, the census has been delayed for six months to make final preparations.
While it can be continuously mulled over as to why it took so long to reach an agreement, the adoption of a Census Law can be seen as one of the first vital steps for the country to move forward. The most important aspects of making the final preparations for the scheduled BiH census in October 2013 is to align the BiH census with EU standards, which would serve to accelerate BiH’s eventual path to EU integration.
For the EU, the statistical data that is gathered from the results of the eventual census would be used to assess the development of the country and to monitor its path towards EU integration. Here is where the economic indicators are crucial, since it would allow the EU to have reliable and up-to-date information on planning for financial aid and to assess BiH’s compliance with accession criteria, especially the requirements of the SAA and the Copenhagen economic accession criteria.