A group of Montenegrin non-government organizations have called for the national census to be delayed until October 2022, warning against questions regarding ethnic background, religious affiliation or language due to ongoing ethnic and political disputes throughout the country.
“Due to the extremely unstable socio-political situation in the country and the lack of trust in [state] institutions, the census should be organised at the earliest in October 2022,” said Ivana Vujovic from Juventas, an organisation dedicated to issues related to youth and marginalized groups.
“[Census questions] would cause great tensions and lead to pre-census campaigns and would negatively affect the quality of all the other data. Also, international standards say that population censuses should be avoided in turbulent socio-political periods,” she said.
The national census has long been a sensitive topic in Montenegro, as it is across the entire Balkan region, and plans by authorities to hold a fresh census this year have been met with concern among most communities in the country.
As a former Yugoslav republic, much blood has been shed in Montenegro over interethnic conflicts. In many cases, announcing one’s ethnicity can be seen as a pronouncement of political or historical allegiance.
Language is a similarly fraught issue. Unlike Bosnian or Croatian, Montenegrin is not officially recognized as a language separate from Serbian. Despite having peacefully separated from Serbia in 2006, years of campaigning by Montenegrins to secure the right to a national language have so far been fruitless.
The impact of this is tangible. While other Balkan nations have used language to create unique political and cultural identities for themselves- Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are now used in schools, media, business and government- Montenegrin is still a contested language.
For those who view Montenegro merely as an extension of the Serbian state, it makes sense to consider Montenegrin a dialect of Serbian. In the words of one leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, “Montenegrin does not exist.”
In 2003, Montenegro conducted its first census since the breakup of Yugoslavia more than ten years previous. The census did not shy away from asking questions on nationality, language and religion, and as a result was viewed by many as a kind of national referendum on issues of politics and national identity. Pro-Serbian leaders at the time accused the government of planning to falsify the results, and even threatened to boycott the census.
The Ministry of Finance and Social Care plans to hold the 2021 census by the end of the year.