Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Census like no other?

After a close referendum result on independence back in 2006, Montenegro held its first post-statehood Census this spring and its statistical service started releasing the data generated earlier this week.

The 2011 Montenegro Census data were anticipated with both eagerness and trepidation as they had the potential of destabilising or consolidating the process of state building. Just prior to the Census the government and political parties had engaged in campaigns charged with nationalist rhetoric using posters, leaflets and promotional videos to promote their particular preferred outcomes. The outcome seems to have protracted a sense of societal insecurity among the Montenegrin population which seems quite split on issues of identity. 

As on Monday Monstat released the first results of the April 2011 census  various political parties and ethnic leaderships have been trying to deploy their own narratives as to their meaning.

The Croat National Council urged their potential constituency to give through the census an unambiguous message: that they are Croats, their religion is Roman Catholicism and their language Croatian.The muftija of (Serbia's) Sandžak Muamer Zukorlić and the Bosnian Reis ul Ulema Mustafa Cerić  called on Montenegrin Muslims to declare Islam as their religion and their language as Bosnian. More importantly, they called on them to identity at Bosniak (confirming and continuing a long process of rendering 'Bosniak' the default identity of Muslim Serbocroat speakers).

But the most intensely fought battle was the one to demarcate Montenegrins and Serbs as the symbolic boundaries between the two are not clear. The battle lines encompassed language and ethnic label as the majority of Montenegrins and Serbs share Eastern Orthodoxy as their religion. The results of the Census were not welcome for any of the opponents. The number of those who declared they were Serbs declined slightly and those who described themselves as Montenegrin rose marginally with all other ethnic groups remaining more or less stable. On the other hand, the government's linguistic reforms paid minimal dividends as the government's preferred option, Montenegrin is the language that only 36.97% of the population claim to speak. Serbian is the preferred language designation for 42.88% of the population while Bosnian (as urged by the Muslim religious  leaderships of Bosnia and the Sandžak) was cited by only 5.33%. 

The Census indicates that citizens are not prepared to fit neatly in the 'boxes' nationalist social engineering has prepared for them. They reveal several eloquent ambiguities such as Muslims who do not see themselves as Bosnians, Montenegrins who consider themselves Serbian speakers, Croats who do not necessarily speak Croatian. They, of course, indicate that some have started reconciling themselves with the rather hasty secession of Montenegro from its cohabitation with Serbia and, more importantly that the process of national engineering is ongoing.

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