AIM: start

SAT, 28 APR 2001 01:37:16 GMT

A Lesson in Political Mathematics

The data obtained at all population censuses conducted so far in Macedonia varied. However, something always remained the same: the population census is always a first-rate political issue.

AIM Skoplje, April 20, 2001

Early this year the Macedonian Parliament passed the Law on Population Census. Already during Parliamentary debate it could be deduced that the "stock-taking of people" in this country was not just a matter of statistics, but politics par excellence. The original plan was to schedule the census taking for April 1 and end it by April 15. But, the circumstances changed all that.

Two leading parliamentary parties of Albanians - the Government's Democratic Party of Albanians and the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity - jointly demanded the amending of the Law so that it would envisage a possibility that census questionnaires could be printed in the languages of nationalities, of a larger number of Albanians sitting on census commissions and of allowing the registration of citizens who had lived abroad longer than one year. The Albanian parties reminded that the extraordinary census of 1994 was conducted according to the Law, elaborated with the expert assistance of the Council of Europe and funded by the European Commission, which offered some acceptable solutions. Namely, that Law envisaged the use of the languages of nationalities in census procedure. More precisely, the census taker had the obligation of informing the citizens he was registering that they had the right to choose the language in which they would complete their forms in line with their nationality.

The forms were filled in the official Macedonian language and in Cyrillics or (although there was some arguing about this) in the language of the citizens who was being registered (Article 35 of the Law on Census). However, on January 25, 1995, the Constitutional Court of Macedonia revoked this Article of the Law with the explanation that its contents implied that members of nationalities had the right to official use of their language in the overall territory of the country, and not only in self-government units in which they lived as a majority; therefore, the mentioned Article of the Law was proclaimed unconstitutional.

That was just the last chapter of a sad saga on the Macedonian style censuses. The vast majority of Albanian population did not take part in the 1991 census because they considered it to be irregular since the census material was for the first time printed exclusively in the Macedonian language.

The census conducted one decade earlier, was disputable for the Albanians because of the fact that it coincided with the riots in Kosovo and that it took over one year to announce its results which gave sufficient grounds for questioning its objectivity. For all this and because of "hushed stepping on toes" by the international community, an extraordinary census was conducted in 1994 despite much grumbling of the Macedonian political parties. According to the results of that census the Macedonians represented 66 percent of the total population, Albanians 22.9 percent, while other minorities accounted for something less than 15 percent.

Just before the adoption of the new Law, the Statistical Office underlined its readiness to furnish the census takers with questionnaires in the languages of nationalities, which could be helpful in case of language problems. In regard to the census taking of citizens who had been outside the country for longer than a year, the statisticians reminded of the United Nations recommendation according to which persons who had been out of country longer than 12 months should not be included in the total number of inhabitants because there was a risk that countries of their current residence might also include them in their population censuses.

Finally, the new Law was adopted with certain amendments of these proposals. The forms would be printed in Cyrillics in the Macedonian language. The State Census Commission would be ready to give each census taker a copy of the questionnaire in the language of nationalities. It was also envisaged to have an interpreter present to help with the filling of forms.

Preoccupied with the Tanusevac crisis in the north of the country, the public completely forgot that April 1 was the date scheduled for the army of census takers to go out into the field. Instead, in accordance with the Government's decision the Statistical Office started preparing materials so that the census might start on May 15 and last 15 days. At one of his regular press conferences, spokesman for the Government Antionio Milososki said that "it is not possible to change the date since the Government is under legal obligation to conduct it. The census can be conducted under the existing conditions without problem", said Milososki. Not long after that, Zoran Krstevski, Vice Premier who is inter alia in charge of census control, contradicted him: "If the political factors agree, we may postpone the census for this autumn", he said explaining that this would not reduce its importance, but would rather give more space to prepare it better. It is to be expected that the delegates to the Macedonian Parliament will soon discuss the Law on Census once again, if for no other reason then to change the item according to which the census was to be organised this spring. Head of the Delegate Club of the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity, Naser Ziberi, announced his intention to propose amendments to this Law at a coming Parliament's sessions: he would first demand further postponement of the census, and later on, more fundamental changes.

Demographers are of the opinion that it would be much more desirable to have the census next spring than this autumn since, from the professional point of view, the circumstances are similar and comparisons more convincing. Anyway, all censuses conducted so far had been organised in spring.

In the meantime, parties of the Albanians have internationalised the problem of census by winning the support of the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Max van der Stoel. A new argument has been added to the existing ones: during armed operations in February and March a large number of citizens have been displaced and abandoned their homes which is why they believe that it would be impossible to consider the results valid. They also tried to win over the American State Secretary, Collin Powell, who after the last week's visit warned his hosts that "the census must be conducted according to international standards in order to get a clear ethnic picture of the country". For that purpose: "In agreement with some parties, we have proposed the postponement of the census until we get corresponding standards which will provide indicators on the multi-ethnic character of your society" said Powell.

Each new visit of Javier Solana, High Representative for Defence and Social Policy of the European Union, which have become very frequent of recent, is awaited with uneasiness. It is feared that he was the one entrusted with the "ironing" of inter-ethnic dialogue. Census taking is in that context. It has been announced that the census will be on the agenda at the next meeting of party leaders with President Trajkovski, a meeting that for the time being is the place of political dialogue.

Professor of the Faculty of Law at the University of Skoplje Gordana Siljanovska remarks that the international politics attaches great importance to numbers and that "the higher number means greater guarantees, as well as greater threat to peace". Like many of her colleagues, Siljanovska thinks that all nationalities, i.e. national minorities should enjoy equal rights, irrespective of their number.

The institution in charge of the census taking, the Statistical Office, warns that the decision on census taking should be announced at the earliest possible date, because if the previously set deadline between May 15 and 30 is to be respected, then the selection of census takers and their training should start already next week. The State Census Commission warns that in making this decision, care should be taken of the safety of 11 thousand census takers.

And, thus the data obtained at all population censuses conducted so far in Macedonia varied. However, something always remained the same: the population census is always a first-rate political issue.

AIM Skoplje