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news 29 Apr 13

Bosnian Census Accused of Dividing Bosniaks

Bosniak [Muslim] institutions and organizations have complained to Bosnia's Statistics Agency about fears that the autumn census will divide Bosniaks into different groups.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN
Sarajevo

Five Bosniak Muslim institutions, including the Islamic Community and the Bosniak Cultural Community Preporod, on April 25 sent an open letter to Zdenko Milinovic, director of the Bosnian Statistics Agency, complaining about the upcoming census.

The group says the equal status of Bosniaks will be endangered by the census's confusing questions over ethnicity, nationality, religion and language.

The problem stems from the fact that citizens formerly known as Muslims in 1993 were renamed Bosniaks, a term now accepted in the Bosnian constitution.

But surveys show that many Bosniaks would prefer to say in a census that they are Muslims, not in terms of religion alone but in terms of nationality as well.

The census plans to put all others than Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats into a common group, called "Others", even if they say they are Muslims.

The letter to Milinovic on Thursday said that in order to avoid the division of Bosniaks into several groups, other possible answers should be given to people in the census.

The Bosniak institutions that have complained about the organization of the census said that Bosniaks and Muslims cannot be seen as different categories simply because many of those who were formerly called Muslims did not accept the post-1993 name.

“The integrity of the census is being endangered and the participation of a significant number of people in the census is brought into question,” the letter said.

Milinovic said that the when the results of the census are assembled, people who declared themselves as Bosniaks and those who said they were Muslims would not be amalgamated in the final version unless the state-level government decided to do this.

He explained that every answer given by census respondents will have its own specific code, so that “answers with different codes cannot be calculated together”. 

Milinovic noted that people who declared themselves "Roma" or "Gypsy" would also not be lumped together, nor would people who said they were "Jew" or "Hebrew"; only identical answers will be amalgamated in the database.

Meanwhile, the office of the Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia on Thursday stressed the importance of the upcoming census - the first in 22 years, and the first since the 1992-95 war.

“Since those data will... have the widest social and political implementation, the issue of the preparation and conduct of the census should not be left to political parties,” the Islamic Community said.

It also warned of possible manipulation of the terms "Bosniak" and "Muslim" in putting them in different groups, adding that citizens should declare themselves ethnically or nationally as Bosniaks and religiously as Muslims.

“The Islamic Community is obliged to protect Muslims from a tendentious mixing-up of religious and ethnic or national affiliations,” the statement read.

The issue of the census, which some call historic, was for years the subject of dispute between the political parties in Bosnia.

This is mostly because the results are bound to reveal a very different population structure since the 1990s war, which took more than 100,000 lives. Hundreds of thousands of others have left their old homes, changed residence, or have fled the country.

NGOs launched several campaigns last year, complaining that the questionnaire would set in stone the division of Bosnians into three big ethnic groups, leaving aside a small group of "others".

The landmark census was planned for April and postponed to October due to the technical unpreparedness of the statistics agencies.

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