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News 09 Feb 18

Language Feud Delays Bosnia's Answer to EU Questionnaire

Bosnia has finally prepared its answers to its EU Questionnaire after more than two years – but long-standing disputes between the entities over language matters and the census are preventing it from being returned to Brussels.

Mladen Lakic
Sarajevo main street Photo: BIRN

After receiving it two years ago, Bosnia has finally prepared its answers to the lengthy EU Questionnaire, Bosnian authorities confirmed on Thursday.

"It is 20,000 pages long, so we need to go through that before our session next week," Dragan Mektic, Bosnia's Minister of Security, said on Thursday.

However, this does not mean that the answers will be sent on time to Brussels to meet the latest February 28 deadline.

One of the biggest problems is a dispute between the two main entities over the terminology for the Bosnian language.

While the document states that the translation was done in the "Bosnian language", Bosnia's mainly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska insists it should say the "language of the Bosniak people".

The quarrel is rooted deeply in Bosnia's divided society.

Bosnia's state constitution defines the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian languages as the three official languages in the country, into which all official documents must be translated.

However, Republika Srpska officials refuse to use the term "Bosnian", and insist on the use of Bosniak - "Bosniaks" being official parlance for Bosnian Muslims.

The other problem delaying the return of the Questionaire is the country's disputed population census, whose results the Republika Srpska does not recognise.

While Bosnia's state statistical agency used one methodology, that was in accordance with European standards, Republika Srpska has its own methodology for head counts.

This, in turn, has made answering the question about population size in the Questionnaire very difficult.

Marina Kavaz Sirucic, spokesperson for the country's Directorate for European Integration, told BIRN that the answers reflect the reality of a situation in which two different methodologies are being used.

“The real situation is the legally and constitutionally accepted processing of the results of the population census of the Agency for Statistics of Bosnia – as well as the fact that within the institutions of Republika Srpska, the results of the census are used according to the methodology of the statistical office of this entity," Sirucic said.

She said the European Commission was well aware of this problem.

Disputes over the methodology used to determine the number of the permanent residents in Bosnia delayed publication of the results of the first post-war census, conducted in October 2013, for some years.

The results were not published until 2016, but Republika Srpska has remained adamant that it will not accept the methodology of the state agency.

Bosnia formally applied for EU membership in February 2016, but its deep internal political and ethnic divisions are seen as major barriers to membership.

Bosnia was not included among the regional "front-runners" for EU membership in the EU's latest Balkan strategy, defined as Serbia and Montenegro.

Bosnia received the Questionnaire from the European Commission in December 2016.

It consists of 33 chapters and 3,242 questions. Some 1,300 representatives from Bosnia were involved in the process of answering them in order to give Brussels detailed insight into political, social, economy and administrative conditions of the country.

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