Why this story matters:
Last year, Zvizdić became the laughing stock of the country when he blamed the slow pace of the EU accession process on a "lack of qualified translators." The latest example is less funny but equally absurd.
When asked by a representative in the Parliamentary Assembly whether he, as the head of the state's highest executive body, knew the number of people who live in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Zvizdić brushed it off:
"We'll forward that question to the agency for statistics, because there is no such question in the European Commission's questionnaire for BiH," he said.
It goes without saying that the questionnaire of the European Commission explicitly asks candidate states to provide the number of its residents, among with other statistical data. Zvizdić's statement is not only false, it also laughably easy to disprove.
But there is a reason why he would risk ridicule over such a straightforward topic. In Bosnia, population data is highly political. Political factions disagree on the numbers of different ethnic groups, hence Zvizdić's clumsy avoidance of the issue.
But if BiH is to ever join the EU, it needs to overcome internal tension -- if not fully, enough to be able to go through the accession procedure. Otherwise the whole application for EU membership will turn into a spectacular and pointless waste of resources.
Population matters in Bosnia & Herzegovina:
- In 2013, for the first time in 22 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina conducted its first census on population and households.
- The 1992-1995 war lead to massive changes in country's demographics.
- The peace agreement that ended the war has provisions to provide safe return to refugees and displaced people. It also prescribes that public policies are based on demographic data from before the war so as not to "legitimize" the results of ethnic cleansing.
- The Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian parties disagree about how the census should be conducted.
- The 2013 census was poorly implemented, with irregularities, technical omissions and political pressure to "boost" certain ethnic groups.
- When the official results were published, the authorities in Republika Srpska denounced it, saying the number of Bosniaks was overblown.
- Republic Srpska, one of country's two entities, with a Serb majority, uses its own census results to this day.
- Having two different sets of statistical data posed a problem when answering the EC questionnaire.