by Slava GOVEDARICA
No political consensus: In normal circumstances, population census is conducted every ten years. However, in "abnormal" circumstances, for example after a war or a similar calamity, population census should be conducted even more frequently. The last population census in Bosnia-Hercegovina was conducted in 1991. Although the situation has changed drastically data from the 1991 census are still used daily. Actually, some political options, which benefit from such a situation, insist on using the data from 1991, while statisticians are doing their best faced with the lack of reliable data and the lack of political will to provide reliable statistical information.
"We have made an estimate of the current number of inhabitants together with experts from abroad. The estimate used by the Agency for Statistics is similar to that obtained by the UN. We simply have to rely on that estimate since we have no other data," says Slavka Popovic, acting president of the Management Board of the Agency for Statistics of B-H. Popovic emphasizes that "data obtained in a population census provide the basis for all other statistical computations, so that without a population census all data related to the number of inhabitants in the country or in the entities are simply unreliable".
The abovementioned data are the basis for all development and other strategies of a country. However, since in B-H plans that go beyond the next session of the parliament are extremely rare it is not surprising that the population census hasn't been mentioned in the past as a precondition for development of a strategy.
True, the issue hasn't been raised in any other context either, since the necessary political consensus was lacking. Several attempts by political parties from Srpska to raise the issue in the Parliamentary Assembly of B-H met with the wholesale rejection by the political parties from Federation B-H.
"As far as the economy is concerned, we need a population census. However, due to politics we cannot have one. The obstruction comes above all from political parties based in Federation B-H. The principal motivation is political - the current law states that national representation in executive authorities must correspond to the most recent population census. Currently, that is the 1991 census," emphasizes Tihomir Gligoric, representative in the Parliamentary Assembly of B-H.
The official justification offered by representatives of the political parties from Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina is that "in given circumstances a population census would form a mistaken picture of the number of inhabitants". The "circumstances" implies the unsatisfactory degree of implementation of the notorious Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement, which among other includes the statement about the right to return to pre-war homes.
"If you are asking me if the population census is necessary, the answer is definitely yes.
"We need that sort of inventory. However, in practice the implementation of Annex 7 has totally failed and the current distribution of the population has been shaped by the war and expulsions," says Beriz Belkic from the Party for B-H (SBiH). However, he added that the census cannot be postponed much more.
"The return of everyone to their pre-war homes would be a good precondition for a good and high quality population census. However, given that despite all results achieved in relation with the return of refugees a significant number of people haven't returned to their pre-war homes, I see that as a significant obstacle to the population census," Velimir Jukic from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) agrees with Belkic. Jukic added that "personally, [he believed] that we should wait for a few more years until all refugees return to their pre-war homes."
"Now is not the right time for a population census," Jukic is adamant.
Neither of them mentioned the "coincidence" that a new population census would deprive political parties from Federation B-H of a significant participation in executive authorities in the Republic of Srpska since it would demonstrate a national structure of population totally different from that in 1991.
As much as it is true that although the process of the return of property to its pre-war owners has been nearly completed, but hasn't resulted in the return of pre-war owners to their pre-war homes, it is also true that the likelihood of "everyone returning to their pre-war homes" is zero.
Indeed it is an illusion to expect that refugees and expelled persons, regardless of whether their pre-war homes are in Srpska or in Federation B-H, will now abandon their new homes, jobs and lives, either in B-H or abroad, and return to a country with a destroyed economy and very little likelihood of finding employment. Should we, therefore, wait that several hundreds of displaced Bosnians and Hercegovinians retire and then return to their pre-war homes where they could peacefully live on their pensions - and then finally conduct a population census?
Briefly, it is difficult to resist the impression that opponents of the census do not care so much about the rights of the suffering refugees and expelled persons, as they care about centralization of B-H. However, they are able to maintain that illusion with the assistance of representatives of the international community in B-H who are tacitly accepting the justification of the two abovementioned national-political options. Do they really believe that "everything will be like before" or are, due to reasons only known to them, only making a concession to the advocates of B-H without entities?
Preparations: The extent to which some want to put off the census until the population in B-H becomes ethnically so uniform that there would be no need for a separate government in Srpska, is perhaps betrayed the most by the fact that even the basic preparations for the census haven't started in B-H. Usually, three to five years are needed to prepare for a population census.
The activities that so far haven't been completed include: appointment of the director and deputy director of the Agency for Statistics, which is a precondition for the creation of the four-year statistical program that would include some of the activities for preparation of the census; adoption of a Population Census Act; earmarking of funds for the census... Also, there are no maps of census districts, nor is there a new address system, without which any attempt to conduct a census would be futile.
"A population census will be carried out once state institutions decide it's time. The Statistics Act of B-H states in Article 8 the following: following instructions by state institutions the Agency will coordinate planning, implementation and publication of the census results," emphasizes the acting president of the Managing Board of the Agency, adding that discussions regarding the census must start immediately since a lot remains to be done before a census can start. "United Nations have already started preparations for a census in 2010 or 2011, which means that we must start preparations immediately to catch up with them".
In the best case a population census can be expected around 2008, unless there is an extraordinary speed up. In that context the most desirable speed up, as far as some options are concerned, would be the dismantling of the Republic of Srpska.
In the meantime in B-H anyone can use any statistical data they like, since reliable data based on number of inhabitants simply do not exist.
Original headline - "Politika po glavi stanovnika"