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News 17 Mar 16

Bosnia Serbs Accused of Skewing Demography

Republika Srpska decision not to consider people who do not work or study in the entity as permanent residents is an attempt to skew Bosnia's demographic picture, an expert says.

Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Sarajevo
The President of RS Milorad Dodik | Photo: SNSD

The decision of the authorities of Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, not to consider people who do not work or study as permanent residents may have a major impact on Bosnia's demographic profile, experts claim.

"The RS authorities are preventing some 300,000 to 400,000 mainly Bosniak residents from being registered as residents, which could have a big impact on Bosnia's demographic picture," Tanja Topic, an analyst from Banja Luka, told BIRN on Wednesday.

"The decision not to include these persons as permanent residents is important, especially if it prevents Bosniaks from becoming an absolute majority in Bosnia," Topic noted.

"If Bosniaks succeed in proving that they make up more than 50 per cent of the total population, this will probably lead to them questioning the current legitimacy of the [1995] Dayton deal," Topic argued, referring to the agreement that split the country into two entities.

Disputes on the methodology used to determine the number of the permanent residents in Bosnia have been one of the main reasons for delaying publication of the results of the first Bosnian census, conducted in October 2013.

Authorities in Republika Srpska insist on considering as permanent residents only those who work or study in a specific place, contradicting article 7 of the law on the census.

The Institute for Statistics of Republika Srpska told BIRN that considering only those who effectively work and study in a determined place as residents will help ensure better, more accurate, data on Bosnia’s population.

"We insist on giving the status of residents only to persons who really reside on our territory", the Institute for Statistics of RS said.

"This simply means that we want to have the most real and accurate data about our population, which our authorities will employ to design the most accurate economic, social, education and development policies” the Institute said.

While this decision will affect the demographic picture of the country, it will have only a limited impact on individuals who declare themselves residents of the RS, without working or studying there, especially when it comes to their right to vote.

"People who are not considered residents in a specific place will still be allowed to vote there, since the register of voters and the census are separate lists," Dario Jovanovic, project manager at the coalition Pod Lupom, which deals with monitoring the electoral process in Bosnia, told BIRN.

March 15 was considered a key date to approve a shared methodology to assure the publication of the census before July 1, which is the legal deadline for the release of the data. However, no agreement has been reached so far.

Mirsada Adembegovic, spokesperson of the Bosnian Statistical Agency, told BIRN that the three agencies involved in compiling the data will intensify talks during the coming weeks.

If still no compromise is found, the Statistical Agency will seek the intervention of the Council of Ministers - the government.

"We still hope the results will be published on time but if we don't find an agreement, our agency will ask the Council of Ministers and [the EU statistics agency] Eurostat to find a solution," Adembegovic said.

Sources from the EU delegation in Bosnia told BIRN on Wednesday that EU representatives are engaged in talks, hoping to reach a compromise and finally release the data.

On Wednesday, the Bosnian Prosecution announced an enquiry to assess whether any officials working on the data bore any criminal responsibility for the delays that have occurred.

"The census is a project worth 50 million marks [25 million euros] and if it fails ... we will investigate whether there is any criminal responsibility on the part of the persons who have been involved in the process," the Prosecution said on Wednesday.

In an interview with the RS news agency, SRNA, on Tuesday, the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, said that if no agreement is found, the entity may publish its own results.

"We will find a way to publish those data in future only for Republika Srpska - we're not interested in what Bosnia does," Dodik said.

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