Census taking in the Western Balkans: a challenging and often controversial task on the way to EU membership

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On the road towards EU enlargement, potential member states need to comply with the EU acquis communautaire. Chapter 18 of the acquis foresees the conduct of a population census by enlargement countries. This has proven to be more challenging in the post-war environment of the former Yugoslavia than in other countries. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the attributes of ethnicity and territory increased in importance as they were used to set or consolidate new borders and distribute rights and power according to population numbers and concentration. The sensitive aspects of ethnicity, language and religion, and the simple definition of the census category of ‘place of usual residence’ complicate the collection of census data in the region. This complication is rooted in the potential for an increase or decrease of ‘ethnic’ population numbers that can lead to the loss of rights or political influence. The significance of these aspects has been underestimated by the EU, which approaches the collection of population data as a rather technical exercise. This policy note reviews the recent census experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to identify similarities in problems, process and politics, and to offer lessons learned for the future.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDemocratization Policy Council
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016

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