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news 13 Oct 16

Bosnian Serbs Dismiss Monitors' Approval of Census

Despite their approval by the international monitoring body that oversaw Bosnia’s 2013 census, authorities in Republika Srpska say they will continue to dispute the results.

Eleanor Rose
BIRN
Sarajevo
Pieter Everaers, director of Eurostat. Photo: Anadolu

After the International Monitoring Operation, which oversaw Bosnia’s 2013 census, issued its final seal of approval on Wednesday, the Institute for Statistics in Bosnia's Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, has continued to insist it will not accept the results.

The IMO, chaired by Pieter Everaers, director of the EU’s statistics agency, Eurostat, said the census was on the whole to be considered valid.

“The IMO acknowledges that the final stages of the census were conducted in a satisfactory manner,” it said, noting that the survey was in line with international standards.

Despite that, the Institute for Statistics of Republika Srpska told BIRN on Wednesday that it would still not accept the results.

“The Institute ... does not agree with the view that the quality of the census data is within normal limits,” it said in a written statement.

Authorities in RS long disputed the methodology planned for use in the census, which led to long delays in publication of the data.

They wanted only people who worked or studied in Bosnia to be counted, whereas state-level statisticians demanded the inclusion of non-permanent residents – people who had been absent from Bosnia for 12 months prior to or following the census. 

Bosnia’s State Statistical Agency published the census data in June despite not having reached an agreement with the RS’s Institute for Statistics.

The RS Institute on Wednesday repeated its claim that people were encouraged to move around in order to manipulate the census, which then produced a biased result.

According to the Bosnian Serb news agency, Srna, officials from the Institute refused to attend Wednesday’s meeting with the IMO, claiming they had not received a requested draft of its findings in advance.

The 2013 census, Bosnia’s first since 1991, was a sensitive matter for a country whose institutional framework, as a result of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, rests on the principle of equality between three “constitutive peoples”, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. 

The results published in June showed that Bosniaks now make up 50.11 per cent of the population, Serbs 30.78 per cent and Croats 15.43 per cent.

They were immediately rejected by authorities in RS. Some Serbs claimed the result would encourage Bosniak politicians to push for greater powers, given that their ethnic group now constituted a majority of the population. 

The IMO concluded on Wednesday that although the census on the whole was valid, the data on ethnicity needed to be handled with care and it warned against the future inclusion of such questions. 

“Given the optional character of some sensitive questions and their potential impacts on the census processes, Bosnia and Herzegovina could reconsider using these results, and the relevance and value of collecting such data through future censuses,” it said.

In terms of accuracy, IMO said its post-census research had found that 200,000 people were included in the survey who should not have been, whereas about 40,000 people who should have been polled were excluded.

This constituted a net over-coverage of about 4.6 per cent but was within acceptable limits, it said.

The IMO statement acknowledged that “pressure and resulting discussions on the questions and enumeration data on ethnicity, religion and mother tongue had an impact on the management of the operations” and lamented a lack of “stronger institutional cooperation”.

Bosnian researchers have underscored the importance of reliable census data in a country where statistics are produced infrequently and vary widely from one institution to the next. 

Ismar Hota, project coordinator for Bosnia’s Centre for Civil Initiatives, said: “We often use statistics to make per capita indicators [for research]. For us, the census was very important.”

Hota pointed out that the census was about much more than ethnic data.  It was “not only about the number of people covered, it also included 30 other questions”, he noted.

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