The census results announced on June 30 – more than two and a half years after the October 2013 enumeration process – were never going to enjoy public confidence. Too much time had passed; there were too many reports of irregularities during data collection; there were several unsubstantiated “leaks;” there was too little explanation of why questions were being asked or how that data would be used; and there was much too much politicization of the sensitive “identity” questions from beginning to end. (Even though these sensitive identity questions were never needed for BiH’s EU accession path in the first place.)
At least now the country has a number it can put on its EU questionnaire: How many people live in BiH? 3,531,159. (There were 4,377,033 people recorded in the 1991 census.) And genuinely useful public discourse has already begun as the high reported number of illiterate persons has brought shame to a country that had an education system of which they could be proud a generation ago.
However, there is reason to be skeptical of the apparent political convenience of some of the numbers, and as such there should be continued resistance to blindly using such numbers to make policy based on the stated ethno-national breakdowns. (In any case there is still no clear policy on how census data may be applied). The differences with the numbers in the 1991 count in some categories are not as great as one would expect; 15.43% Croats (vs. 17.38% in 1991) and 30.78% Serbs (vs. 31.21%) seems striking in light of wartime displacement and migration to Croatia and Serbia.
Number crunching – including comparisons of this data with other data such as past voter registry information and voting patterns, CIPS registration, school enrollment records and other indicators – will be useful to either corroborate data or provoke needed additional analysis. Alternately, the identity data could be simply discarded as unreliable for serious policymaking.
As this is the first post-war census data available, I will admit to being sucked into the same “so what did the war really do to the country” vortex, focusing on these identity issues initially rather than on household size, utility access, housing data, and other such indicators of socio-economic development. Unfortunately, this does reflect the reality of the moment, where constituent peoples do enjoy more rights and access than the Others, and where policies are made for peoples and not citizens. However, for now, looking just at the responses for “ethnic/national affiliation”, these are some things that caught my eye:
1 . The overall and much anticipated ethnic breakdown seems to be almost exactly what any political strategist would want to see if the goal was to maintain the status quo in perpetuity. This is particularly the case as issues related to Sejdic-Finci reform options, Mostar election reform and Federation electoral unit gerrymandering remains front and foremost on domestic party agendas.
2 . 50.11% Bosniaks gives this constituent people an absolute majority by just a hair, after expectations that they would enjoy a larger majority margin. Instead, the majority is symbolic, and conveys no constitutional or legal advantage.
3 . The announcement of 15.43% (544,780) Croats was stunning, following years of HDZ leadership and Catholic Church protests about the exodus of Croats, who have enjoyed Croatian passport possession rights which only became more valuable when Croatia joined the EU. As recently as December 2015, Bishop Komarica said the absolute highest number of Catholics in the country was estimated to be around 420,000. (For comparison, the 1991 census reported 17.38% Croats.)
4 . Even with the campaigns, pressures and two decades of ethno-national brainwashing, the announcement that only 3.68% of respondents identified into the broad “Other” category (adding up other/do not declare/don’t know) seems just low enough to ensure there is no possible future for an alternative “fourth voice” in the political system. This is a result that serves all leaders with a vested interest in the tripartite status quo.
5 . Numbers in Mostar (44.19% Bosniak, 48.41% Croat, 4.18% Serb, 3.22% Other) leads one to question why Bosniak parties have been so against direct election of a single mayor or government, a resistance that has always been explained by the assumption that there was a much stronger Croat majority that would make Bosniak representation at city level more difficult to attain.
6 . Numbers in Brčko (42.36% Bosniak; 20.66% Croat, 34.58% Serb; 2.39% Other) seem to challenge anecdotal evidence suggesting a) much fewer Croats, and b) a much closer balance between Bosniak and Serb residents.
7 . The fact that 1 in 5 people in the RS is identified as a non-Serb (81.51% Serb; 13.99% Bosniak; 2.41% Croat; 2.09% Other) leads one to wonder why there have not been better results for non-RS based parties and candidates in elections – local and general. Overall, Serbs comprise 30.78% of the population of BiH, compared to 31.21% in 1991.
8 . The total number of people noted in Srebrenica (13,409) belies the fact that people on the ground doubt there are more than around 6000 people residing in this poor, rural and troubled town that has become synonymous not only with ethnic cleansing but also brain drain. The reported population breakdown in Srebrenica (54.05% Bosniak, 44.95% Serb) suggests the impact of efforts such as Prvi Mart and “I Will Vote for Srebrenica” in mobilizing census participation as well as past election participation.
9 . The final tally was different than the preliminary count of 3,791,622 forms collected during enumeration, reflecting still unresolved differences among the parties on which forms should be considered to be valid. However, the RS continues to claim that there are 200,000 Bosniaks more in the results even after the reduction of over 260,000 forms from the preliminary count. A simple explanation of this process and the law and reasoning behind it is needed to enhance confidence in this not-unsubstantial number of missing enumerated persons. The donors that provided significant funding for the census activities (primarily the EU and Sweden) should not only have an interest in ensuring that such explanations are clear and public, but that statisticians and independent experts are engaged making this case.
10 . And for a closing fun fact, the following locations had the highest numbers of “Others:” Centar Sarajevo 14.43%; Novo Sarajevo 13.25%; Tuzla 10.30%; 17.51% Velika Kladusa. I just found this to be interesting.