The publication of the results of the population census in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is expected by July 1, might throw the country into a new political crisis, two Bosnian Serb political leaders said in Banja Luka on Thursday.
Mladen Ivanic, the Serb member of the country's collective Presidency, and Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, the country's Serb entity, although bitter political opponents, took a common stance on the matter and said they would take all the measures available to prevent census returns being processed based on the methodology used by the Bosnia and Herzegovina Statistics Agency.
"My view is that the census should be returned to the competent authorities and that everything that has been done is against the interests of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular against the interests of Republika Srpska and the Serb people," Ivanic told a press conference after meeting with Dodik, stressing that the two of them shared the same view on this issue.
The processing of the results of the census, conducted in 2013, galvanised the two politicians into action, with both saying that it could lead to huge problems.
The director of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Statistics Agency, Velimir Jukic, decided in May that 196,000 people who had given a foreign country as their place of work or education would be counted as permanent residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Bosnian Serb leaders now said they would not allow that at any cost. Ivanic said that otherwise he would block decision making in the Presidency and the Council of Ministers, while Dodik said that the Republika Srpska Statistics Agency would not cooperate with the state-level statistics agency and would deny it access to data gathered in the Serb entity.
Ivanic and Dodik said that Jukic had made the decision on the methodology for the processing of census results under pressure from the State Prosecutor's Office, which has opened an investigation because the census cost more than 25 million euros and the results have not been processed or released in three years.
Jukic earlier dismissed such claims, saying that he had made his decision based on his powers under the law. His decision has been supported by the European Union's statistical office, Eurostat, saying that it is in full compliance with international standards.
Dodik said that Republika Srpska would wait for a few more days to see how things unfolded, after which the entity's Statistics Agency might be instructed to sever all cooperation with the state-level agency.
"I also expect the Serb ministers in the Council of Ministers to adjust their behaviour accordingly," Dodik said, adding that this matter "is the red line below which Republika Srpska cannot go."
Dodik said that if the methodology used by the Bosnia and Herzegovina Statistics Agency applied, the number of Bosniaks (Muslims) in the country would exceed 50%, adding that the purpose of this was to lay the ground for constitutional changes and introduce new ratios for ethnic representation in state-level government.