As an economist I learned in the university benches that good policy decisions must be based on proper data. Although, I prefer qualitative analysis, to foresee any possible outcome of a decision, it has to be backed up by tons of numbers that mirror the wealth, the tastes, the habits, or the number of population. To understand the preferences of our people is the name of the game. Census was born out of this assessment need. Designing fair rules or even a suitable budget would be impossible without it on the long run.
Montenegro started its first census since regaining independence. I cannot say how important this moment is for us. Let me give you just one example. People nowadays to a very large extent determine the successfulness of their governments based on some macroeconomic variables, like the per capita GDP, the employment and the unemployment rates. Well, in order to assess all these stuff rightly, you have to know certain things, namely how many people live within our borders, and how many of them are of the working age. Without proper data collection, we must rely only on estimations about demographic trends, but we can be with a high chance led astray.
Still, some people are concerned about the census. If one is concerned, one opens his ears wider than they were before. This is the ideal opportunity for politics to drip false allegations But, on the other hand, an ideal opportunity for us to deny these false allegations.
First and foremost: census is a tool for statistical purposes aimed at ameliorating government’s (and researchers’, for that matter) work by providing the data needed for our economic, social and all kind of policies. How could we know where to build a new school, if the population density and the number of children are unknown? Good statistics prove the “reality-check” of political decisions, ensuring expertise. Without proper data; all decisions are in the hand on political lobbies.
Second: MONSTAT has its hands fully tied by international statistical standards, Eurostat methodology, UN recommendations and monitoring by independent parties. Arguing that MONSTAT is card-sharping would mean that Europe has approved the scam. As Monstat rigthly points out: „census not a secret plot to bring people under an Orwellian tyranny” but I am aware that a Prime Minister denying a conspiracy theory is the kind of Prime Minister conspiracy theorists like the most. “Don’t you see? He is denying it!”
Let’s leave them alone and get to the point. Most of the political attacks against the census process came on the grounds of citizen’s being asked about their ethnic and religious identities. We, less lucky Europeans, have seen ethnic violence ourselves, and our continent witnessed the worst cases of misusing public authority. “Established distrust” would be a euphemism when unknown people knock on our door and ask for our religious or national identity. Nevertheless, most of the European countries that hold census this year also include these kinds of questions, and not just Western countries but post-transition democracies such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania all do so. Why? If I point out that I am an orthodox Montenegrin who speaks Montenegrin language i do it because I feel so, not because I want to turn the data collection into abusing citizens preferences. If you do not want to disclose this information, you should go with the answer that exactly says this. You are required to do so in order that no one ticks in an answer you were not wanting to. That is also why every citizen gets a signed copy of the census questionnaire right at the end of the process. Last time a census was held in our country, one in every twenty Montenegrins opted for keeping information on these questions for themselves, and they suffered no disadvantage upon this decision.
Last but not least. The questions that sprung the most political debate are not the only and not even the most important questions in the list. Living conditions, employment, health issues, energy efficiency, education, they all are included. Because these questions are important to achieve a more prosperous future for our country. The census is the primary interest of Montenegrin citizens, and not of the state and politicians.