SARAJEVO – Bosnia’s first census since its 1990s inter-ethnic war, which could dramatically alter the balance of power between the three main ethnic groups, poses a particular quandary for the country’s Muslims.
The 1995 Dayton peace accord introduced a political system in which Muslims — known as Bosniaks — along with Serbs and Croats are the country’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 began Tuesday and runs through Oct. 15. Leaders of Bosniaks, the largest ethnic group, have launched a major push to convince fellow citizens of the importance of ticking the Bosniak box.
“You should know that the issue of our identity is the issue of our survival!” a well-known Bosnian Muslim intellectual, Muhamed Filipovic, said at a pre-census gathering in Sarajevo.
The fear is that some Bosnian Muslims will declare themselves Bosniaks, others as Muslims — their label under the former Yugoslavia — and still others simply as Bosnians, or citizens without an ethnic affiliation.
“The mixture of these three terms leads to confusion among Bosniaks,” said sociologist Senadin Lavic, adding that the Bosniaks may 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 pick as a way of protesting the country’s enforced ethnic divisions. This group, including many in mixed marriages, accounts for around 20 percent of the population, according to some surveys. The census would count them as “others,” since the constitution recognizes only the three main ethnic groups.
Under the internationally brokered Dayton accords, some 180,000 political and public service jobs have been allocated in proportion to the size of each group, based on a pre-war 1991 census, while top slots are reserved for Muslims, Croats and Serbs.