National Census forms fail to acknowledge Bulgaria’s and Albania’s minority populations

The democratic values of the EU have been compromised with the upcoming census in Bulgaria. The column for Macedonian ethnicity has been erased from the census form after some of the experts from the National Statistics Institute included it in the online trial version of the census (alongside with a column for the other smaller minorities in Bulgaria). Due to the tensed atmosphere that arouse in Bulgarian society, five experts were dismissed following a thorough investigation ordered by the Prime Minister. At the same time, a cabinet minister openly agitated against the freedom of citizens to determine their own ethnicity and nobody from the Government reacted. The fact that Government officials speak openly against the Macedonian identity (please read the comments of Mr. Bozidar Dimitrov) as well as the fact that many Macedonians have been threatened after deciding to express their identity during the last Census in 2001 creates an atmosphere of fear and sends the message that being a Macedonian in Bulgaria is forbidden and could be punished. This is the main reason why the number of people who identify as Macedonians in Bulgaria has dropped significantly in 2001 compared to the Census in 1992. In 2001, in some parts of the country, the Census forms were filled out with a pencil which left space for manipulation and modification of the data.  This eloquently illustrates the fact that the policies of assimilation and denial are still part of the official political agenda of the Bulgarian Government.

A similar situation occurred in Albania as well where the authorities suddenly decided to make a radical change without any consultation with the representatives of the recognized minorities and erased the columns for Macedonian, Greek, Serbian, Roma and Vlach identity from the Census form. They left only two options available for answering the question “What ethnic group do you belong to?” i.e. “Albanian” and “other”. With this decision the statistics official breached the International and National regulations against discrimination such as the national Law against discrimination and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. At the last census in Albania held in 1989, Macedonians were obliged to write their identity under the column “other”. There is a significant difference in numbers between the official data provided by the authorities and the claims of the members of the Macedonian minority. Therefore it is very important that this Census be organized according to, and in full respect of, proper procedures and standards, providing with all necessary information, columns and headings and enabling sound and reliable ethnical declarative self-identification.

There are several documents that regulate Population and housing censuses in the EU but they do not oblige the EU countries to include the different ethnic identities and languages in the Census form. The proposed topics do not give a clear picture of the structure of the population. Acknowledging the presence of minorities and stateless nations through the Census is crucial to the preservation of the democratic values of the EU. It is important to mention that the Annex of the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council under recommended topics mentioned and included notions of ethnicity and language. However these notions do not appear in the adopted Regulation.

Contrary to the situation that unfortunately prevails in Bulgaria and Albania, the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia decided at the outset to include a separate column, in the Census form, for each ethnic group living on its territory (Albanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, etc…). One could argue that as far as laws and Constitution are concerned the Republic of Macedonia seems to take the principle of cultural collective recognition seriously. And even though the Republic of Macedonia is far more advanced when it comes to minority rights compared to its neighbors there is still a lot of room for a far better implementation of these rights and principles by Macedonian Government and society.

Thus we can conclude that the whole Balkan region has yet to improve its general stance towards minorities.