‘Bosnia’s Census Plans Discriminatory’

By • on June 13, 2012

The census planned for 2013 in Bosnia and Herzegovina may discriminate against the country’s Roma, according to Bosnia’s leading Roma activist. Dervo Sejdic told tocak.org, a news and information  portal for the Roma communities of the Balkans operated by Transitions and four partners in the region, that the census law in its current form favours the country’s three largest ethnic groups—the Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats—while the rest of the population is simply swept aside under the term “others.”

“This is unacceptable for us. When it comes to ethnic background [on the census form], belonging to the Bosniak, Serb and Croat communities is explicitly mentioned and suggested [as an option], while we again have the category called  “others,’” Sejdic said.

In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bosnia’s electoral legislation discriminates against people who don’t belong to one of the three biggest ethnic groups. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit launched by Sejdic and Jakob Finci, a prominent Bosnian Jewish activist.

The first census since 1991 will be an expensive undertaking for the impoverished country, with estimated cost now put at EUR 21 mil. Some 25,000 people will work as census officials.

Sejdic points out that the census law and the proposed census form never went to anything resembling public consultation. “When it created the form, the Agency for Statistics failed to consult the wider public,” something that, according to Sejdic, accounts for the form’s numerous shortcomings.

When it comes to religious identity and mother tongue, the pattern is repeated, with the Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Catholic faiths and the Bosnian, Serbian and Croat languages explicitly given as options along with “other.” “In 100 percent of Roma cases, none of these three languages is the mother tongue. As for “other, ” I don’t know anyone who speaks that language,” Sejdic said.

According to some estimates by Roma NGOs in Bosnia, close to 100,000 Roma live in Bosnia. The 1991 census, however, registered only 9,000 as many Roma citizens for different social reasons failed to declare their ethnic identity. Bosnia’s Roma activists also point out that many Bosnian Roma left the country during the 1992-5 war, with most now residing in EU countries or North America.

Sejdic is now looking into ways how amendments to the census law can be initiated and effected. If his initiative fails to force the lawmakers to change the law and enable changes to the census form, Sejdic says Roma activists and organisations will launch a law suit against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(Photo: tocak.org)