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Macedonia: Albanian Community Awaits Census Results

Recent remarks by the head of Macedonia's State Statistics Office about the soon-to-be-published results of last November's census indicate that while the country's Albanian community is not less than 20 percent of the population, it is probably not much more either. The 20 percent figure is an important marker, since constitutional and legal changes enacted last year as a result of the August 2001 Ohrid Framework Peace Agreement grant additional rights to ethnic communities compromising more than 20 percent of the population.

Prague, 8 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The director of Macedonia's State Statistics Office, Blagica Novkovska, predicts that when the first official preliminary results of last November's census are released next week, the Albanian share of the population "will not be under 20 percent."

She declined to offer a more specific figure.

Members of Macedonia's Albanian community have always maintained that the share of Albanians in the population is more than the official figure of 23 percent, in part because they traditionally have more children.

Novkovska said the rights of Albanians in Macedonia will not be denied, because they still surpass the 20 percent mark.

A leading Western analyst of Macedonian affairs, Brenda Pearson, writing for the U.S. Institute of Peace, recently predicted that Macedonia's Albanian political parties will most likely stage strategic boycotts to dispute the results.

The head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, Mirjana Najcevska, agreed, saying that the census results can be taken advantage of "through manipulation, political marketing, or political horse-trading and, as with the last censuses [in 1991 and 1994], they can certainly result in interethnic tension."

"One side or another can take advantage of the outcome to destabilize the country. Mistrust of the census can upset everything. The Roma are dissatisfied, feeling they weren't adequately counted. The Turks are dissatisfied for the same reason. So are the Vlachs, the Macedonians, and the Albanians. All of them have felt permanently marginalized since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia," Najcevska said.

Novkovska said that the census, conducted from 1 through 15 November, registered 2,040,000 inhabitants. She said the census found that the average birthrate is on the decline among all ethnic groups in the country, although the country's Macedonian and ethnic Albanian populations continue to grow.

According to preliminary census results, the average family has 3.5 members, though the average family among Macedonia's Albanians has 4.2 members.

What this means, Novkovska said, is that forecasts predicting the Albanian population will equal the ethnic Macedonian population within 10 or 15 years are wrong and that the image of the typical Albanian family having numerous children is at least 20 years out of date.

Milaim Ademi, an ethnic Albanian and deputy director of the statistics office, explained Novkovska's statement. "These are only forecasts, so it doesn't mean that the number is more or less than 20 percent. According to unofficial sources, the final number of Albanian inhabitants won't be more than 23 percent," Ademi said.

"The fact that [Novkovska] accepted that the average Albanian family has 4.2 members in itself accepts a natural growth of 7,000 Albanian inhabitants per annum [since the last census in 1994]," Ademi said.

Ademi said the Albanian population in Macedonia grew by between 50,000 and 58,000 since the 1994 census, indicating that the total number of Albanians in Macedonia will be confirmed by the new census at 23 percent.

Demography professor Asllan Selmani is a member of Macedonia's state census commission. He said: "The Albanians not only expect their numbers to be higher than 20 percent, they expect dynamic growth over the number registered in 1994. The growth rate is high: 2 percent for the Albanians, 0.3 percent for the Macedonians. So, if we compare the growth coefficient, we see it is higher than all the other entities in the population," Selmani said.

Selmani noted that the census is politicized and threatens to become even more so once the results are released. "All the statements by Macedonians that the number of Albanians won't exceed 20 percent are politically motivated. It is clear that they are behind this in a bid to influence the public and the Macedonian community's NGOs. In general, the state and political parties don't dare politicize the census because it is a statistical operation. But if they have to, the Albanian political parties will politicize the issue as well," Selmani said.

Xhemail Sahiti is the deputy chairman of the census commission. "It is still a political game in Macedonia being played by the media, NGOs, and the government behind the scenes. So the situation can become even more complicated," Sahiti said.

Sahiti suggested that Novkovska is underestimating and that the final percentage of Albanians will be higher.

State Statistics Office spokeswoman Tatjana Mitevska said foreigners residing in Macedonia for more than one year were counted in the census. This should also include permanent residents, mainly Albanians from southern Serbia and Kosovo who have been living in Macedonia since before it gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 but who still have no citizenship papers.

Moreover, Mitevska said the Foreign Ministry was charged with taking a census of Macedonians living abroad. "Parallel to the census, the Foreign Ministry organized diplomats and consular officials to conduct a census of people working abroad for under one year, and their dependents, in accordance with the census law concerning people required to be counted in the census," Mitevska said.

But the tens of thousands of Macedonian citizens, mainly Albanians, who have been working in Kosovo (10,000) and Western Europe (more than 50,000 in Germany alone) for years, and the many more who have recently emigrated to the United States, have not been counted.