Montenegro – a census like no other?

Eagerly awaited results from Montenegro’s April 2011 Census indicate that citizens are not prepared to fit neatly into the ‘boxes’ that nationalist social engineering has prepared for them.

By Spyros A. Sofos

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 amongst the Montenegrin population which seems quite split on issues of identity.

Since Monstat released the first results of the April 2011 census on Monday, 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 an unambiguous message through the Census: that they are Croats, their religion is Roman Catholicism and their language Croatian.The muftija of (Serbia’s) Sandzak, Muamer Zukorlić, and the Bosmian 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 as Bosniaks (confirming and continuing a long process of rendering ‘Bosniak’ the default identity of Muslim Serbo-Croat 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 labels, 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, whilst Bosnian (as urged by the Muslim religious leaderships of Bosnia and the Sandzak) was cited by only 5.33%.

The Census indicates that citizens are not prepared to fit neatly into the ‘boxes’ that 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, and 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.

Spyros A. Sofos is a Senior Research Fellow in International Politics at the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence of Kingston University, London. Editor of the ‘Journal of Contemporary European Studies’ and of ‘Southeastern Europe: Charting an Emerging European region’, his publications include ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’ (with Brian Jenkins – 1997), ‘Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey’ (with Umut Özkırımlı -2007) and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks’ (with Roza Tsagarousianou, 2010). He has been director of Kingston’s MSc in International Conflict Programme and is currently teaching Conflict Management and Resolution.

If you are interested in supporting the work of TransConflict, please click here. To keep up-to-date with the work of TransConflict, please click here.

TransConflict

TransConflict undertakes conflict transformation projects and research.
Email