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A tale of two censuses
Author Message
Vasil Sterjovski


A tale of two censuses

Still months away, next year's censuses in Albania and Macedonia are already the subject of hot debate over their fairness and validity.

By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Tirana and Skopje -- 13/12/10

Albania will hold a headcount next year. [Reuters]

Conducting a valid census of any population can be a tricky and expensive proposition. The stakes, after all, can be exceedingly high: a finite amount of resources are divided among various communities, based in large part on their size as recorded in the census.

"The importance of statistics for policymaking and for implementing policy objectives is intuitively obvious," Helmuth Lohan, who just wrapped up four years as head of the EU delegation in Tirana, said during a census workshop held in June.

With so much riding on the outcome, minorities in Macedonia and Albania are scrambling for every possible advantage in the months leading up to their respective 2011 censuses.

In Macedonia, the issue is timing. Albanian political parties argue that the April 1st to 15th timeframe will produce artificially reduced numbers, because many ethnic Albanians are working abroad during that period. They want the census held in July, when expatriates are likely to be home on holiday and able to participate.

In Albania, minorities expect the headcount to provide an exact breakdown of the population by nationality, religion and language. They are demanding that census forms ask about each of these explicitly.

The EU says that the format of a census questionnaire is a country's internal matter.

"Recommendations are very clear when it comes to mandatory and optional questions, especially ethnic, linguistic and religious affiliation," Eurostat Director Peter Everers said.

Concerned they might be massively undercounted, representatives of the Vlach, Macedonian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Roma minorities in Albania signed a joint declaration and sent it to the government.

They say the current version of the census only lists "Albanian" and "Other" as possible answers to a question about ethnic affiliation.

The Roma minority is very concerned it will be undercounted in the upcoming census. [Reuters]

"The Greek, Macedonian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Roma and Vlach minorities -- recognised by the Albanian state in all the international organizations -- are removed," the declaration reads.

The group also accuses Albania of violating the law against discrimination and the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for protection of national minorities.

The Greek minority has yet to react to the declaration. However, organization Omonia has pursued the issue since the early 1990s in order to determine the exact count of Greeks in Albania, which it claims is around 300,000.

Albania's Deputy Prime Minister Genc Pollo says that the government changing the existing form for the 2011 census is an improvement. Citizens are not required to declare their ethnicity, but an optional column is provided for that purpose, he said.

The new census also steers clear of questions about religion. Respondents have three options -- "yes", "no", and "I don't want to answer" -- to the single question inquiring about religious affiliation.

Some minorities complain that the media isn't covering the changes on the form sufficiently.

"The Albanian media does not [report] information about the minorities' reactions even though we regularly send them statements. The media don't respond to our invitations, and the public is not sufficiently informed about the problem," Nikola Gurgaj, chairman of the Tirana NGO Elinden, told SETimes.

Amid concerns, Albania's Statistics Institute Director Ines Nurja said the original form --which lists all minorities -- will be brought back.

Some however, are sceptical.

"If the Albanian government does not meet the promises for the 2011 census form ... we, the minorities in Albania, will boycott the census," Macedonian Association Prespa President Edmond Temelko said.

Turning to Macedonia, the Albanian political parties are concerned that the 2011 results won’t reflect those in the 2002 census, when Albanians comprised 25.17% of the population. The Ohrid Framework Agreement requires the percentage from the Macedonian government to fulfill obligations towards citizens of Albanian nationality.

"Government officials don't want to comment on speculation that the census will reduce the number of Albanians to under 25%, to abolish their rights acquired within the Ohrid Framework Agreement," Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Adam Abdulakim, an Albanian, said.

Edmond Temelko says minorities may boycott Albania’s census. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]

The ruling coalition representatives -- Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, representing the VMRO-DPMNE, and the Democratic Union for Integration's (DUI)'s Ali Ahmeti -- agreed to a compromise solution in which a Eurostat team will monitor the census. But the Albanian opposition in Macedonia, as well as Ahmeti's DUI, say that is not enough. They are calling for OSCE and US involvement.

The concerns add to the widespread debate since the 2002 census as to whether Albanians in Macedonia actually constitute a quarter of the population. The census commission president at the time, Zoran Krstevski, resigned over those results, while Institute of Statistics (SIS) Director Blagica Novkovska was dismissed.

According to Krstevski, the census took place after the 2001 armed conflict, and there were many irregularities in the crisis regions -- for example, in Gostivar, where a significant number of Albanians live.

"I resigned because the [then] government froze the census commission's activities three months prior to the census, and we could not meet. During the [2002] census, the Statistical Institute (SIS) Director Blagica Novkovska was dismissed, and then SIS published the results independent of us, which is unacceptable," he said.

Krstevski said the commission should have determined the final result, but was prevented from functioning. "When irregularities were discovered, there should have been a new count, and the commission could not do it," he said.

"Neither the scientific nor the practical parameters and calculations allow for such a large percentage of Albanians. In 2002, they were under 19% and in 2011 they should not exceed 21%," Geographic Institute Professor Nikola Paunov told SETimes.

As expected, ethnic Albanians disagree.

"SIS, its director and the current government will bear an historical responsibility if truly mutual trust is not positively reflected in the coming months," DUI's Hafiz Aliti said.
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The amendments to the law passed on December 6th. Government spokesman Mohamed Hodza, also an Albanian, said the law ensures transparency and a fair census.

The law stipulates that permanent residents in Macedonia, and Macedonian nationals who have been abroad for up to 12 months, must be recorded. The census will be conducted in Macedonian or in the languages of the ethnic communities where they constitute 20%.

The Census Commission will be multiethnic. Fourteen Macedonians and 11 members of ethnic communities will serve on it, including six or seven Albanians.

The census processes are expected to cost Albania 15m euros and Macedonia 14m euros.

14-12-2010, 01:09 AM