30 October 2003, Volume 5, Number 35
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 13 November 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.
RFE/RL: A census is scheduled to begin on 1 November in Montenegro, lasting two weeks. The first census since the conflicts of the 1990s has already been 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, Council of Europe, and 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.
The loudest accusations of possible government tampering with the results come from the People's Party (NS). We asked their Vice President Predrag Popovic to explain what they fear.
Do you believe there might be tampering with the results?
Predrag Popovic: Of course. It is telling that a part of the census form concerning one's nationality cannot be immediately computer processed.
It is, however, unlikely to be as blatantly falsified as was the 1991 census. Then, all those who declared themselves as Serbian Montenegrins, Montenegrin Serbs, or Montenegrins of Serbian origin or similar things...were all classified as Montenegrins.
RFE/RL: Who is going to supervise the census, and how?
Srdjan Bogosavljevic (director of the Strategic Marketing Media Research Institute from Belgrade): The Federal Bureau of Statistics is still the main official body whose task is to organize the census in Serbia and Montenegro. It nonetheless lacks the money and staff it once had....
For this reason, the opposition might well insist on Eurostat's permanent presence during the entire process.
RFE/RL: This census will have two crucial questions for determining one's identity as either Serbian or Montenegrin -- namely nationality and language -- even though the "Montenegrin language" will not explicitly be an option.
According to Professor Srdjan Darmanovic, the 1991 census was not falsified in favor of the Montenegrin identity, but the tendency for people to identify themselves as Serbs has simply been on the rise since then.
Srdjan Darmanovic: There has been a decrease in the number of people declaring themselves to be Montenegrins and an increase in the number of Serbs. We show between 20 percent and 28 percent of the population as Serbs (depending on the survey), compared to 9.7 percent in 1991. Obviously, this is a considerable increase, since the number of people identifying themselves as Serbs has almost tripled, while the number of Montenegrins remains roughly 50 percent.
There is no doubt that the Montenegrins remain the majority nation in Montenegro, but something has obviously changed. One should not be surprised that after a decade of rising Serbian nationalism everywhere in the region -- and with it a policy whose results are well-known to all of us -- this shift in national identification has taken place in Montenegro.
RFE/RL: In that case, I mean if the number of citizens declaring themselves as Serbs in Montenegro is actually increasing, why did the opposition announce a boycott of the census? Shouldn't they want to see the Bureau of Statistics officially confirm that increase?
Darmanovic: Well, they probably do, especially after opposition leaders and the Serbian Orthodox Church announced that they want to raise the proportion of Serbs to the point that the share of the Montenegrins falls below 50 percent. That way, they claim, Montenegro will no longer have a majority nation.
As far as the constitution is concerned, that would have no particular impact since Montenegro is defined as a state of its citizens....
However, pro-Serbian parties in Montenegro may still have hopes that if the share of the Montenegrins falls below 50 percent, the pro-Serbian parties can secure a new constitutional arrangement that would establish a system of ethnic quotas and balances to ensure that the leaders of all ethnic groups would be guaranteed a share [of the money and power].
But I do not believe that this will happen. Montenegro will continue to be based on the sovereignty of its citizens, not of nations.
RFE/RL: Statistician Srdjan Bogosavljevic considers the fears of the Montenegrin opposition unfounded.
Srdjan Bogosavljevic: One can hardly carry out a census without an international review. Therefore, everything will be documented, visible, and known to the public.
What might happen, though, is that a lack of information among the public or of proper training among the census takers could lead to intentional or -- more likely -- unintentional misrepresentation of individuals' preferences....
RFE/RL: The opposition said that they want international organizations to put pressure on the government to change its decision concerning the local election commissions. What were foreign diplomats' reactions to this demand?
Predrag Popovic: We are not asking them to support our demands. However, it means a lot to us when they do not openly or otherwise reject them, either. They understand our reasons and why we were forced to choose this way of resistance against authoritarian rule.