In order to gain a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the country of BiH must first conduct a national census. Last February, the Parliament of BiH adopted a law setting out the conditions for the first census in the country since 1991, which will be conducted on 1-15 of April 2013.
Many have raised concerns about elements of the Census in the wake of this announcement. Alarmingly, the Parliamentary debate on the Census was not open to the public, nor were citizens consulted on the creation of the questionnaire. In addition to the questions required by the EU, Bosnian citizens will also be asked to declare national/ethnic origin, religious beliefs, and their mother tongue. None of these questions are required by the EU, and indeed many countries including Belgium, Italy, and Latvia do not ask them in their national censuses.
The questions that plan to be asked in the 2013 Census raise the risk of re-igniting tensions within BiH. The questions were not formulated in line with the provisions of EUROSTAT- a European Statistical Agency responsible for providing statistical information on the institutions of the EU and for promoting the harmonization of statistical methods across member states and candidate countries. The question regarding national and ethnic identity does not allow for multiple responses, and only permits respondents to select "Bosniak," "Croat," "Serb," or "Other." While there is an option to self-identify as Bosnian, or any other ethnicity, such as Roma, by targeting the responses at the three constituent people and “others”, it shows a level of discrimination that must be rectified, as per the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case. As such, the Census could potentially disenfranchise many Bosnians, skewing the results of the survey, as well as Bosnians in mixed-marriages, as respondents are required to select only one response. The question regarding religion is similarly problematic, as the wording of the question assumes that all Bosnians have a religious leaning. As with question 23, there is an “other” option providing for the possibility of small religious communities or for non-religious citizens. The questions do provide the possibility to opt out from answering; however, this could lead to fraudulent responses later on in the process.
Another flaw with the Census can be seen in Question 25, regarding the citizen's mother tongue. Bosnian citizens are required to answer this question; failing to do so could result in a fine of 100-10,000 KM, and once again, the options available are limited. Concerns have been raised over the answer choices to question 25. Many Bosnians refer to their mother tongue as Serbo-Croatian, an answer which does not exist on the Census. Additionally, Bosnians from mixed marriages, or from other communities, do not have the opportunity to denote multiple responses, again skewing the results of the Census. Since Question 25 is mandatory, it is feared by many that the responses to this question will be used as a proxy for ethnic identity in Question 23.
Based on these concerns, a coalition of interested NGO's and individuals such as the Initiative for Free Declaration and the Roma Information Centre Kali Sara are asking the Bosnian government and the EU to further review the Census and remove sensitive questions. These questions have the potential to further divide the population, and disenfranchise citizens belonging to ethnicities and religions other than the three predominant ones as well as citizens not inclined to self-identify in ethnic or religious terms.