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Bosnia holds first post-war census

Muslim leaders fear confusion over ethnicity will see nation's largest community lose representation.

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2013 20:42
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Bosnia is holding its first post-war census, a process which could stir tensions and dramatically alter the balance of power between the country's three main ethnic groups.

The 1995 Dayton peace agreement introduced a political system in which Muslims - known as Bosniaks - along with Serbs and Croats were Bosnia's "constituent peoples" and the only ones with access to top state and legislative positions.

For months political and religious leaders of the three groups have been urging their respective communities to declare their ethnicity in the census, which begins on Tuesday and runs to October 15.

Muslim leaders, however, fear that their community may split itself by using the term Muslim, Bosniak and even just "Bosnian" - meaning that the country's largest ethnic group would have less representation after the census.

Results are expected in mid-January.

'Issue of survival'

"You should know that the issue of our identity is the issue of our survival!", a well-known Bosnian Muslim intellectual, Muhamed Filipovic, told several hundred people at a pre-census gathering in the capital, Sarajevo.

"The mixture of these three terms leads to confusion among Bosniaks," said Senadin Lavic, a sociologist, adding that his Bosniak community could become a victim by being "diluted into three groups".

Serbs and Croats can also opt for the simple designation of "Bosnian" - which many are expected to do as a way of protesting against Bosnia's enforced ethnic divisions.

This group, including many who are in mixed marriages, accounts for about 20 percent of the population, according to some surveys. The census would count them as "others", since the constitution recognises only the three main ethnic groups.

Under the Dayton accords, about 180,000 political and civil service positions have been allocated in proportion to the size of each ethnic group, based on the pre-war 1991 census, while top jobs are reserved exclusively for Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

Darko Brkan, the head of a coalition of associations for young Bosnians called Jednakost (Equality), said their goal was to lodge a "protest against discrimination of the 'others'".

"We want to show that in Bosnia there are a lot of people who disagree with its political system and who want to change it," he told AFP.

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