An unexpected count: Results from the Bosnian sample census

Over the past two weeks, Bosnia held a small scale sample census to prepare for the much expected 2013 census. The census has been postponed several times and is highly controversial, mostly because the issue of ethnonational identity. Not only are quotas in the civil service and elected offices allocated according to the census (so far formally according to the 1991 census, but down the road it might be hard to uphold this if a new census is available), it is also an important tool for all parties to bolster respective claims (i.e. about the Serb predominance in the RS, about the number of  Bosniaks in Bosnia overall). Today, nobody knows the number of inhabitants, not to mention their self-identification. It is thus no surprise that the census results will be hotly contested. Already the run up to the census has been controversial: the identity questions about ethnic/national identity and religion have created heated debate once the first draft questionnaire was published. While offering write-in options, it did offer the categories Bosniak, Croat, Serb, undeclared and other (write in) and below, neatly replicating the identity categories, Muslim, catholic, orthodox, undeclared and other.

The critique focused on the fact that non-religious citizens had no clear category available, nor did people with multiple identities. Again, all these categories were similar to censuses conducted in other countries of the region in 2011. In addition to domestic criticism international observers lobbied for less rigid and more open questions. The NGOs lobbying against the proposed survey were successful and the questions on identity were reformulated.

The new questions first gave a write-in option with the national identities only listed below, allowing for  respondents to choose more than one identity. For religious affiliation the questionnaire now offers the choice to be an agnostic and atheist, a significant change from the previous form and regional practices.


The sample census hast just been completed and no results have been officially announced, but today Dnevni List published results of the census. The results have to be taken with great care, as we do not know if they are based on all sample municipalities, nor can we be sure that the results are reliable (the article includes some dubious claims, such as the suggestion that any nation that amounts to more than 50% of the population has the right to a nation state according to international standards). There is an important additional caveat. The sample census is not aimed at being representative. However, it was conducted in different regions of Bosnia, including the Federation, the RS and Brcko, in villages and in cities (or rather city municipalities, including parts of Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Mostar). Thus, it is not representative, but it can certainly considered to be indicative of country-wide trends.

If the results are even anywhere close to being indicative, it would be quiet an earthquake for Bosnia’s identity politics. According to the article, 35% declared themselves to be Bosnians and/or Herzegovinans, especially younger citizens. This would make this group presumably larger than any of the three nations and certainly more so than Croats and presumably Serbs. In addition, many older citizens appear to have identified as Muslims rather than as Bosniaks. Others identified as Catholics and Orthodox rather than as Croats or Serbs. This would suggest that state and religious affiliation matters more than national identity to many.

While the article does not publish the results in percentages, the data presented would suggest that against most common expectations ethno-national identity categories have largely failed. State identity might be stronger than expected and the uniform ethno-religious categories have been challenged.

Even if there are no immediate implications for the political system, in case these results are replicated country-wide, it would have considerable consequences. It would be hard uphold institutions such as the three member Presidency and the House of Peoples which currently exclude all non-Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. The implementation of the ECHR ruling regarding Sejdic and Finci would also receive greater urgency. It might also raise questions why non-ethnic parties fared so poorly if they have such a large pool of potential voters and might reinvigorate electoral campaigning of this population group.  Either way in Bosnia, censuses are elections and vice-versa. It will be important to look out for the census/election results next year.

7 Responses to An unexpected count: Results from the Bosnian sample census

  1. Pingback: When counting counts. The Bosnian Census | Florian Bieber

  2. Pingback: Is it possible to be a Bosnian-Herzegovinian in Bosnia-Herzegovina?Daily Plebiscite

  3. Pingback: When counting counts - the Bosnian census | TransConflict

  4. Pingback: És possible ser bosnià-hercegovinià a Bòsnia i Hercegovina? Paradoxes del primer cens postconflicte | Extramurs

  5. Pingback: Let the manipulation begin: First number claims of the Bosnian census | Florian Bieber

  6. Pingback: Let the manipulation begin - first number claims of the Bosnian census | TransConflict

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