A number of Balkan countries were scheduled to run a census this spring: Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Local observers link the ability to perform this operation to viability and maturity of a state.
When the ‘census season’ was announced in 2010, Dzhaman did a test press clipping [MKD] from various countries. At the time, Macedonian bloggers were mainly discussing the situation in the neighboring Bulgaria and Albania, criticizing these states for not allowing the local ethnic Macedonians state their ethnic affiliation and be counted.
Bulgaria at first had this option, but backtracked. Its census is under way. In Albania, officials promised certain changes to the minorities [MKD] who threatened boycott, but now face disagreement from the majority.
Macedonian bloggers viewed these situations as part of ongoing campaigns for assimilation of ethnic minorities, with discussions often steering toward hate speech, involving labeling and invoking history. For instance, 1979 cited this and the arrest [MKD] of the owner and employee of a printing company in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, who prepared an ethnic Macedonian periodical, an instance of 21-century fascism [MKD], reminding that Bulgaria sided with Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Inclusion of ethnic and religious affiliations is not a controversial issue in the multi-ethnic Republic of Macedonia. But, as certain “collective rights” guaranteed by law are linked to the number of people registered in a given territory, statistical results have an explosive political potential. For instance, while Macedonian is the official language of state and local administration, other languages automatically become official on municipal level, too, if the number of their native speakers is above 20% of the population. Since the last Census (2002) showed that ethnic Albanians comprise around 25% of the total population, the Parliament uses Albanian as its official language, in addition to Macedonian. This is also linked with the “Badinter principle” of decision making: proposals involving ethnic aspects need support both on the general level and from representatives of non-majority ethnic groups (if they comprise over 20%).
In Macedonia, controversies began with the traditional media publishing “predictions” that the real results can turn out far different than in 2002. Then some of the ethnic Albanian opposition parties demanded that the Census take place in July instead of April, in order to make sure that ethnic Albanians who work abroad and come back to Macedonia for summer holiday are counted. The administration refused, citing the examples of Albania and Kosovo, which also have a lot of guest workers, but scheduled their census for April anyway. Albania in fact just decided to postpone its census, but for a different reason – due to the early local elections.
A more serious problem of boycott by the ethnic Albanian and Turkish members of the State Census Committee arose due to the composition of local census committees, over the rule that it has to have an ethnic Macedonian member, regardless of the ethnic composition of the area. According [MKD] to local portal PrespaSky, other ethnic communities, such as Vlach, also joined the boycott.
In addition, Vasko Krajchevski wrote [MKD] about the looming early elections:
Another important moment is a certain large-scale statistical operation called the Census. If early elections take place in May, the Census surely will not take place in April. What are they trying to prove? Nothing, they just want to play with tenders for four more years. If they want to remove the political (ethnic) label from the Census, they should change the Constitution and declare that the [Framework Agreement] is valid for those below the (infamous) 20%.
In her latest statement, the president of the State Census Committee said [MKD] that “the Government has not informed them about any delays of the Census.”