16 October 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 30 October 2003.
CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS MONTENEGRO'S CENSUS.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.
A census is scheduled to begin on 1 November in Montenegro, lasting two weeks. The first census since the conflicts of the 1990s was already postponed twice in the past two years, both times due to elections.
The Montenegrin opposition -- which was against the postponements and demanded the census be held this fall -- nonetheless announced that it will boycott the survey, charging that the government may try to manipulate the results by pressuring people to declare themselves Montenegrins rather than Serbs or members of other ethnic groups.
The Montenegrin Bureau of Statistics announced on 2 October that everything is ready for the census. The opposition said they will demand that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Agency for Development require the Montenegrin authorities to eliminate all the alleged problems. So far, the European agencies have shown little sympathy for the opposition's demands.
A census is always good for controversy, even the latest census in Britain. There is a quite similar situation in Montenegro this fall. The opposition has already accused the government of intending to manipulate the results. The loudest accusations come from the People's Party (NS). We asked their Vice President Predrag Popovic to explain what they fear.
The government has undoubtedly started forcing people to declare themselves Montenegrins, which is what the government wants.
The government's intentions became obvious when they decided to change the decree regulating the way the census commissions are set up. The point is that the new decree ensures that the DPS [ruling Democratic Party of Socialists] will have a majority on all commissions.
The deputy director of the Bureau of Statistics of Montenegro, Rajko Lakovic, told RFE/RL that the changes are legal and aimed at ensuring that the census is carried out well.
Census commissions were reorganized according to the law adopted by the parliament of Montenegro on 28 March 2003.... We decided to expand the commissions and put people from the Central Real Estate Office and Employment Office on them to ensure the necessary support for local census commissions.... The mechanism [is foolproof]. Local mayors will chair the commissions to ensure that they have the authority to do their job.
The director of the Strategic Marketing Media Research Institute (SMMRI) from Belgrade, Srdjan Bogosavljevic, says that it is, of course, possible to doctor the results.
As a former director of the Statistics Institute of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, he knows all the details of previous censuses in former Yugoslavia. According to him, the most drastic cases of abuse were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, although he does not think that this is possible today, even with the changes within the census commissions in Montenegro.
One can always manipulate data. We had a very unpleasant experience with the census data in Bosnia-Herzegovina, some of which were even doctored to misrepresent the relative size of the respective ethnic groups.
Now, however, none of the former Yugoslav states would dare to do anything but follow the instructions of Eurostat and the UN Statistical Division. There is no more opportunity for significant abuse.
What do you consider necessary to avoid the possibility of abuse?
The most important thing is to ensure the anonymity of each provider of data, which leaves no room for major abuse. However, what remains the main problem throughout former Yugoslavia is the lack of professionals necessary for the census to be properly carried out and ensure that all the relevant questions are included.
The Montenegrin opposition claims that the government has packed the local commissions. Does this invite abuse?
I don't know all the details, but a census is essentially a nonpartisan, governmental activity. Anyone who tries to doctor statistics risks wrecking his political career.
What I really fear is that some important questions will not be asked. For example, if not enough questions are asked about religion and how observant one is, the results could create the impression that the entire population is very religious. If enough professionals are trained and on hand, this sort of thing can't happen.
However, the Montenegrin opposition is still concerned that the government will use the secret police to intimidate people.
We already have some indications of this. People tell us such things, but, in view of the character of the regime, they prefer to remain anonymous. We do not want to make their situation even more difficult by making their names public.