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Macedonia: Census Due By Year's End

The political dialogue in Macedonia today continued, with local news media publishing the full text of the framework peace plan drafted by international experts and now under discussion. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that the draft plan calls for a population census -- already postponed once this year -- to be held by the end of 2001.

Prague, 10 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Despite earlier doubts in Macedonia that a comprehensive population count could be conducted this year, the international community's eight-point framework peace document calls for a census to be held in the country by year's end.

Section 3.2 of the document reads: "The borders of the municipalities [districts] will be revised within one year after a new census is held, under international supervision, by the end of the year 2001."

A census this year had been looking increasingly unlikely due to time constraints and an unstable political environment. One scheduled for two months ago, in May, was postponed until October because of renewed fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. Since then, the insurgency has continued to spread, and despite a cease-fire in effect since 6 July, the rebels continue to take control over ever-larger swaths of territory.

Brenda Pearson, a political consultant based for the past six years in Skopje, is currently senior political analyst with the International Crisis Group and author of the ICG's latest report, titled "Macedonia: Last Chance for Peace." At a lecture last month at the University of London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), she noted that the census has become "a difficult issue because of the situation in Macedonia and what it means for the future of Macedonia as a country and who the country is for."

"The results of the census determine the quantitative division of Macedonian governmental largesse, if you will. So much of the census results will indicate how much each of the ethnic groups receives for every aspect of living, almost. It determines how many public sector jobs should be divided. It determines the number of local municipalities -- there are 123 right now."

Pearson notes that the census determines which municipalities -- depending on the size of their ethnic communities -- will be able to adopt a minority language as a second official language. Similarly, the census results will affect the number of schools that will offer instruction in a language other than Macedonian -- such as Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Vlach, or Romany -- and will influence such diverse issues as university enrollment and the number of hours state television and radio may broadcast in languages other than Macedonian.

"The most important [aspect], in my mind, is that if real local government decentralization takes place, the distribution of state funds to local municipalities will also be determined by where the inhabitants of the country live."

Pearson says the census outcome touches the heart of the conflict in Macedonia -- the extent to which Macedonians constitute a majority, and whether the country should continue to be a nation-state for Macedonians.

"Perhaps the concept of Macedonia as a nation-state would have remained an enduring concept except for the fact that Macedonians are probably not destined to remain the majority people in their country for an indefinite period of time. But this only partially explains the chronic controversy surrounding population figures. I found it very strange and somewhat disconcerting that both the prime minister [Ljubco Georgievski] and the NLA [ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, or UCK] in recent weeks have referred to the results of the census in order to gain national support."

Georgievski said in an interview last month that 34 percent of the children enrolled in primary schools in Macedonia are Albanians and only 52 percent are Macedonian.

Pearson says the implications of Georgievski's remarks were clear: "That the demographic advantage of Macedonians over Albanians is shrinking." She says the conclusion she and her colleagues drew from the remarks was that Georgievski was "saying in some way that the state is going to change very much, and that this is something we should be afraid of." She says this was the first time, to her knowledge, that a Macedonian leader has admitted that the Albanian population is larger than the low official figures and actually comes closer to comprising one-third of the total population.

According to the last census, conducted in 1994, ethnic Macedonians accounted for 66.6 percent of the country's 1,945,932 inhabitants. Albanians comprised 22.7 percent and Turks, 4 percent. The Albanian minority dismissed the results as inaccurate, saying many Albanians went uncounted because they lacked Macedonian citizenship documents. Some Albanians boycotted the 1994 census and many boycotted the last Yugoslav census in 1991, three months before Macedonia gained independence.

The UCK has demanded a census be conducted under international supervision -- a call that apparently now has the backing of the international community. The UCK has claimed Albanians comprise 40 percent of Macedonia's population.

Pearson says Macedonians fear that over time they will become a minority in their own country and that they will become disadvantaged in the job market, as more and more jobs may require proficiency in both Albanian and Macedonian. She says many Macedonians worry that the growing numbers of Albanians will lead to a de facto federalization or division of the country:

"Another concern [among Macedonians] is that the increased presence of ethnic Albanians in government institutions would make Macedonians feel that they have another master in their country after several hundred years [under Ottoman Turkish rule and] feeling they were not in charge of their own country. There is a concern that there would be an Islamization of the country."

In contrast, Pearson says the Albanians' greatest fears regarding the census are that the Macedonian authorities will intentionally deflate the number of Albanians in the country and inflate the number of Macedonians. This would deny Albanians their claims to economic, political, cultural, and educational benefits, and would also deny them the right to fully participate in determining their country's future:

"It's about a conflict over ethnicity and the race to see which group will prevail -- in very simple, stark terms. Many Macedonians share the view that Albanian families have six to eight children. And of course this could be true in some places, but the average size of Albanian families is 2.5 [children], which is just slightly over the necessary 2.2 birthrate for a population to reproduce itself. The Macedonian birthrate is much lower -- 1.7 [children per family]."

Pearson says that average Macedonians believe "the Albanians are out-breeding them with the specific intent of taking over the country." But, she says, the statistical data don't support such concerns. She adds that at the current rate, it could take 60 years for the two populations to reach parity.

The Albanian-language magazine "Fakti" recently published statistics showing the proportion of Albanians in various Macedonian professions. The magazine reported that only five of the 265 employees in the office that will conduct the census, the State Statistical Bureau, are Albanian. Albanians comprise 4 percent of the Justice Ministry's employees, and less than 3.5 percent of workers in the prison administration. Less than 2.5 percent of the Defense Ministry's 6,600 employees are Albanian. But 40 percent of Macedonian army conscripts are Albanian.