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A group of intellectuals has called for Albania to scrap census questions about ethnicity and religion, days after the government announced that the controversial survey would be postponed.
On Monday, 52 intellectuals, among them former presidents Alfred Moisiu and Rexhep Meidani, sent a public letter to President Bamir Topi asking for the census questions about religion and ethnicity to be scrapped.
They argue that in the current tumultuous political situation, the self-declaration of ethnicity and religion could be “dangerous and does not bring any added benefits” to the country.
Their letter was sent several days after the government announced that the census would be postponed to allow the country to concentrate on upcoming local elections.
“The postponement of the census is due to the fact that municipality workers are currently busy dealing with the upcoming [May 8] local elections,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Innovation said in a statement on Saturday.
The census, which was scheduled to start on April 1, has been the target of outrage from an amalgam of civil society groups and politicians, which are concerned about calculating ethnicity through self-declaration.
Critics say that question that asks for the voluntary declaration of nationality, in the census form, would artificially increase the numbers of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania.
They argue that Athens has been offering pensions and travel benefits to Albanians in the country’s south, in order to augment the size of the Greek minority in a plan to extend territorial claims.
Greek minority politicians and activists have argued that the ethnicity question in the census is the only way to measure the real size of their community and reject accusations of being Athens’ pariah.
Albanian MPs have called for the removal of Greek Consul Theodhorus Ikonomus, who reportedly called on Albanians and Aromanians in the city of Korca to register as Greeks in the upcoming national census.
In the Vellusha area of Prishtina, men in beards and women in full veil are a common sight, as hard-line Muslims stake a claim to part of the Kosovo capital.