This conclusion poses a number of questions related to policy issues and the censuses in the post-Yugoslav states. It is argued that censuses are always more than just a technical counting exercise. Census discussions in Western Europe tend to focus on regional funding, infrastructure support and long-term policy planning, and can be as contested and heated as questions over identity, religion and mother tongue in the post-Yugoslav states. However, identity-related questions in an area in which identity is still in flux and in which fundamental demographic changes have taken place recently, prevent any focus on more policy-oriented discussions.
The challenges implicit in census-taking are especially pronounced in the Western Balkans and, very specifically, in Serbia, considering this country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup, as reflected in territorial delineations, as well as its political past. Minorities, in particular, have suffered from ongoing discrimination, which is brought to the fore by the politicization of census taking exercises by political elites, as seen in 2002 and 2011. These political elites have leveraged census taking in order to promote their own agendas, often to the detriment of citizens belonging to minority groups. The administrative and monetary influence of the EU in census taking exercises marked a slight shift toward better integrating minorities into these exercises in 2011.
Within the framework of EU enlargement, the population and housing census is a pre-condition for EU membership. The 2011 census in Croatia was conducted according to EU regulations and considering this, it should present a good example for the region. However, there are some aspects which are not addressed by EU regulations, but are of importance when looking at censuses in the Western Balkans: the so-called sensitive issues such as ethnicity, language and religion. Answers to these questions are not required by the EU; nonetheless all Western Balkan countries have included these questions in their censuses. In Croatia, the census results are used to determine political participation by proportional representation of ethnic minorities, and this has led to ethnic tensions .