13 November 2003, Volume 5, Number 36
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 began on 1 November in Montenegro, scheduled to last 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 was ready for the census. The opposition said they will demand the that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), 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.
Representatives of the OSCE were recently in Podgorica, as well as the U.S. ambassador. If tricks are possible, as you claim, and if the government is stage-managing the census, would not it be logical to expect those representatives to say something? As far as I know, they did not.
Predrag Popovic: They did not say anything explicit but they did offer the sort of support they provide for elections. If the other opposition parties do not join our boycott, we will find some other way to make our views known....
RFE/RL: If the OSCE and international monitors were present during the census, like they were during the elections, would you still boycott?
Popovic: The matter is still open....
Srdjan Darmanovic: Foreigners really don't appreciate the idea of a boycott....
RFE/RL: Predrag Popovic of the People's Party claims that in addition to the nationality, religion, and language questions -- which are the focal points of the census -- the government might cheat on some other points as well.
Popovic: In addition to focusing on the balance between Serbs and Montenegrins, the government's goal is to hide its enormous wealth from the eyes of the public.
Obviously, part of that is abroad, but the part that is here in Montenegro might become visible through a thorough analysis of the census results. We might realize how much property has been registered in other people's names. We might see how many apartments there are in Montenegro and who their owners are.
We might even realize that there are more apartments than "homeless" people here. One will have to ask: "Who then owns those apartments? How did they get them?" [The government will have much to hide.]
RFE/RL: Statistician Srdjan Bogosavljevic says that things like that usually happen during censuses. The government decides which data to make public.
Srdjan Bogosavljevic: I have no firm knowledge of what the Montenegrin Bureau of Statistics is able to do. It has never been a bureau that could do [a complete census] on its own, it has always needed help. Therefore, if they get help from the Federal Bureau of Statistics and Eurostat, the data processing might be over in a couple of months....
Some people are always left unlisted [in the results], and a control sample must be made to determine the percentage of the unlisted people and the extent of the error. One percent [left] unlisted is not a big error, but 3 percent might give a wrong picture, and this is what makes control so important.
To control the data processing is an easy thing to do; the hardest thing to do is to control the publishing of the results. That is what every government is capable of doing: simply making public only the favorable results and hiding the rest, without making it evident that there was a deception.
RFE/RL: If the census is such a transparent process, why does the opposition want a boycott?
Darmanovic: I think that the problem lies not with the census but with the opposition and its political strategy..... This just another issue that the opposition has latched onto now that they are boycotting the parliament and have decided to move their political activities out of the legislature..... Sooner or later the opposition will have to return to the parliament.