Montenegro government urged to postpone census amid political tensions
Four Montenegrin NGOs called on Tuesday for the postponement of the national count until October 2022 and urged authorities not to request data on ethnicity, religious affiliation or language, as this could intensify ethnic and political conflicts in the country.
“This would cause great tensions and lead to pre-census campaigns and negatively affect the quality of all other data. In addition, international standards say that population censuses should be avoided in turbulent socio-political times, ”said Ivana Vujovic of the NGO Juventas.
“Due to the extremely unstable socio-political situation in the country and the lack of confidence in [state] institutions, the census should be organized no earlier than October 2022, ”she added.
The NGOs – the Center for Democratic Transition, the Monitoring and Research Center, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights and Juventas – gave their opinion on the draft law on the population census, which is currently open for public comment.
The Ministry of Finance and Social Affairs said the census could be organized by the end of the year.
Censuses are a sensitive topic in Montenegro, as they are in much of the Balkans, and the plan has raised concerns among most of the country’s communities, which are mostly made up of Montenegrins and Serbs.
Tensions erupted last month over the investiture of the highest cleric of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, as Montenegrin protesters who claimed the event was an insult to the country’s struggle for independence and sovereignty clashed with the police who ensured the security of the ceremony.
In the last census in 2011, religious and political leaders made numerous appeals to various ethnic and religious groups, urging them to declare their respective ethnicity or religion in the count.
After the census, pro-Serbian parties claimed that it was organized under political pressure from the then ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, the DPS.
But this time around, the pro-Serbian Democratic Front, the largest bloc in the ruling coalition that replaced the DPS, has conditioned its support for the government on having a census by the end of this year.
The US and UK ambassadors in Podgorica have warned that collecting data on people’s ethnicity could spark further divisions in the country.
“We question the usefulness of a national census that collects data relating to ethnic identity at the present time – some political forces cynically defend this enterprise, hoping it will further drive a wedge between those who do. identify as Montenegrins and those who identify as Serbs. How does this help the country move forward? US Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke and UK Ambassador Karen Maddocks said in a joint statement on September 17.
In the EU, which Montenegro is negotiating to join, questions about national and religious affiliation or language are not mandatory, but it is up to the member states to decide whether or not to include them.
In Montenegro, citizens do not have to answer questions about ethnicity, religion or language.
In the last census, of the 625,000 inhabitants of Montenegro, around 45% identified themselves as Montenegrins, 30% as Serbs, 8.6% as Bosnians and 4.5% as Albanians.