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How will the BiH census results be used?

19 December 2014 by Valery Perry for DPC

In a recent piece published by the SETimes ("Experts: BiH Census Key to Ease Tension, Violence”, 5 December 2014, available at http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2014/12/05/feature-01), a number of experts note their interest in seeing census results published as soon as possible. A spokesperson from the BiH Agency for Statistics notes a plan to gradually release the information, with final data being released as late as mid-2016. Not noted were comments from the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) overseeing the census process, which on it most recent monitoring mission to BiH urged the relevant authorities to work to release the main results by mid-2015, with subsequent details to be released on specific issues after that. Until the full results are formally released, all guesses, estimates and "leaks” will remain simple speculation.

However, two related issues remain critical, and unaddressed to date.

The first is how the census data related to the three "sensitive questions” will be used in policy decisions. There were two non-mandatory questions on "ethnicity/nationality” and "religion”, and one mandatory question on "mother tongue.” Each of these could be answered with an open-ended response as dictated by the individual being enumerated.These three identity-focused topics were the subject of much targeted outreach by nationalists from all three sides in the lead up to the census, and in fact were the reason that the country went for so long without an updated post-war census in the first place. (See "The 2013 Census in Bosnia and Herzegovina – A Basic Review,” http://democratizationpolicy.org/uimages/pdf/dpcpolicynotebihnewseries3bihcensus.pdf).

However, there is no clarity in how this information will be used. Will authorities be allowed to use the responses to non-mandatory questions in policy making? Will non-mandatory responses be cross-referenced with mandatory responses to draw demographic conclusions, or will non-mandatory questions be used only as an explanatory (independent) variable? How might the mandatory question related to mother tongue be used, either directly (for example in terms of education policy), or indirectly as a proxy for ethnicity/nationality? On a related matter, how will the data from the non-mandatory question on entity citizenship be used in policy analysis and decision-making?

It is also worth considering the timing of the release (or non-release) of this sensitive data in terms of other ongoing policy discussions. For example, Dragan Covic has made no secret of his interest in ensuring that one of his main priorities as head of the HDZ BiH and BiH Presidency member is to work to ensure "the constitutional and general equality” of the Croats. Will this be done based on the numbers from the 1991 census, or the (surely lower) results from 2013? How could different results between the two censuses change the environment in which such discussions and negotiations might take place? If the 2013 census shows that, say, there are more "others” than declared Croats, how would this change the political calculus among all actors involved?

The second issue is related, and reflects the lack of harmonization of various pieces of state and entity level legislation that reference census information. In many cases, these references are included in the laws to ensure a mixed employment structure within the referenced agencies and bodies. In other cases, the references could affect national minority representation in government bodies. In the case of the Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education, references would impact on the structure of school boards.

A review of a handful of pieces of key legislation reveals discrepancies over whether a law is based on data from the 1991 census, or from "the lastcensus.” The Law on Civil Service in the Institutions of BiH refers to the last census, as do the Law on Administration of BiH, the Labor Law in the Institutions of BiH, the Law on Rights of National Minorities and the Law on the Intelligence and Security Agency of BiH. However, the Law on State Border Service, the Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education and Lawon the Protection of Personal Data refer to the population structure as noted in the 1991 census.

The situation is similar at the level of the entities. The Federation constitution includes several references to the results of the 1991 census, in some cases noting that this should be in effect until Annex 7 (return) is "fully implemented.” The RS constitution contains a similar reference.

The Law on Civil Service in the FBiH and the Law on Police Officers in FBiH require staffing in line with the data from the 1991 census, while the Law on Auditing the Institutions of FBiH notes that employee structure should reflect the results of the last census.

The RS Law on Public Servants, Law on Local Self-Governance and Law Regarding the Protection of National Minorities each refer to the "last census” in terms.

In the District of Brcko, several laws simply reference the "structure” or "composition” of the population, without noting how this should be measured; this includes the Statute of District Brcko, the Law on Civil Service, the Law on Public Administration and the Law on Police Officials.

The questions remains: how will census data be used in policy making? At minimum it appears that two steps require immediate attention. First, clarity in the planned use of responses to non-mandatory questions is critical as this revolved around controversial issues of identity. Second, authorities at all levels should review laws that reference or are based on/affected by census data, to ensure consistency in interpretation and implementation.

Perhaps these processes are already underway; if this is the case then the processes should be open and transparent so concerned observers are aware and can provide input into the process. If no efforts are underway to ensure clarity in policymaking, then the results of the census will be even more contested, and likely not a contributing factor to political and social confidence building.