On March 1, the Macedonian State Statistical Office (SSO) began its activities for the Macedonian National Census of 2021. For the first time, the census will gather self-reported information about Macedonian citizens who reside abroad. Macedonia has not conducted a census in nearly 20 years due to the political machinations of various governmental coalitions.
As an organization that has brought awareness about the need for Macedonians to report themselves on the American, Australian, and Canadian censuses, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) has long advocated the need for a census in Macedonia, especially given the huge brain drain problem. However, UMD has strong reservations about the methodology, timing, and intent of the 2021 Macedonian National Census currently taking place.
The members of the Macedonian diaspora are residents of other countries and are therefore counted in another country’s census. Their inclusion in the Macedonian census is of little practical benefit as the number of citizens living abroad can be ascertained by other means, such as cross-checking the identity databases maintained by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
UMD notes that the web application for the census was developed by a Bulgarian company, Scalefocus, and not by one of the many excellent Macedonian IT companies. There are many concerns over the management of sensitive personal information, data integrity, privacy controls, and security, as well as the use of a foreign vendor.
We recognize that a census in Macedonia is long overdue as the last census was in 2002. However, conducting a census with very little to no planning during a pandemic is irresponsible and ill-informed. This is particularly so as Macedonia has not yet even secured sufficient vaccines for its essential workers, let alone having a mass vaccination program.
Fewer than 4,000 people have been vaccinated in Macedonia to date. The number of COVID-19 infections exceeds 100,000 and the total number of deaths is in excess of 3,000. Without vaccines, and with COVID-19 variants on the rise, conducting an in-person census is not recommended. Other countries in the region like Croatia and Kosovo have postponed their censuses for this reason.
Many Macedonians have serious concerns about the intent of the census. Namely, the holding of the census appears tied to a political agreement between the ruling coalition of parties, rather than from a genuine desire to conduct a statistical operation for counting the resident population. Many believe the census is being held merely to lend legitimacy to the government’s policies connected to the implementation of the Tirana Platform, the Prespa Agreement, and the Agreement with Bulgaria – all aimed at undermining the identity of the Macedonians, the fueling of bi-nationalism, and the potential disintegration of the state itself.
As we noted above, Macedonia has had a serious brain drain problem, where it is estimated that over 850,000 citizens have moved abroad in the past 15 years according to the World Bank and internal sources. Macedonia’s laws provide special privileges and rights to minorities that meet a 20% of the population threshold.
UMD hopes that the diaspora count is not subject to manipulation and included in the count of Macedonian permanent residents, either by mistake or by design to pad the actual numbers of minorities to appease government coalition partners.
UMD calls on the SSO, census workers and international monitors to ensure the census process is rigorous and the final numbers are accurate. It should be conducted in good faith and represent a genuine count of those individuals currently residing in Macedonia. The census results should inform future government decisions regarding education, economic development, healthcare, and infrastructure, and should not be manipulated for political reasons.
Those that are temporarily absent from Macedonia can take part in the regular census, which will begin in April. Macedonians in the diaspora can access the census web application at this link; information and instructions for filling out the form can be found on the census main page. Once you fill out the census form, please print the confirmation page for your records. Contact all of your Macedonian friends and family and encourage them to fill out the census form as soon as possible. You can also post on social media and encourage others to follow your example.
We often say that Macedonia needs Macedonians. This has never been truer than today. By filling out the census you will make sure that you and your family are counted as Macedonians. Let everyone know that you exist and that your voice deserves to be heard.