Amid complaints and reports of delays and tampering, officials at the Slovak Statistics Office said that the country's 2001 census, which began May 19, was being administered "without major problems".
"In all censuses around the world, small delays occur, mistakes are made, differences of opinions are voiced. But we aren't having any major problems," said Marián Horecký of the Statistics Office.
Some 2,500 census workers began distributing two forms to every home and apartment in Slovakia almost two weeks ago. One form requests personal information, the other information on each individual's dwelling. The census is the first in the history of independent Slovakia, and has been planned, says Horecký, along standard European models.
But reports in the Slovak media have shed doubt on whether the census will yield an accurate count of the country's minority populations, specifically the Roma community. In the Roma settlement Luník IX in Košice, 17 Roma census workers have quit for unknown reasons since the census began. The daily newspaper Pravda also reported that the former Mayor of Luník IX, Jozef Šana, had warned that Roma who answered questions on the census regarding their property would find themselves in danger of losing their social benefits.
High illiteracy rates among the Roma, and the lack of an accurate map of Roma settlements, have presented problems to the statistics office from the beginning. Roma census workers have been employed to help illiterate Roma fill out the forms, although press reports have frequently noted the Roma workers themselves are having trouble deciphering the forms.
The Statistics Office added that Roma leaders, who say there are 300 more Roma settlements in Slovakia than officially listed, have been unable to furnish a list of the undocumented settlements.
Language has also been a contentious topic. The statistics office had originally planned to translate the census form into only the Rusyn, Ukraine and Hungarian tongues. However, Roma leaders protested in January that by not offering the census form also in the Roma langauge, the government was violating their human rights. The Statistics Office and the Slovak Office for Minority and Human Rights said at first that it wasn't possible to translate the form into the Roma language because the language had never been codified, but later found an acceptable written form.
The minority language forms are being distributed in districts where these minorities constitute more than 20% of the population.
Slovakia's German minority expressed discontent with not having forms in German, a decision the Statistics Office said was made because of the community's small size. Only 5,629 respondents declared German nationality in the 1991 census, although leaders put the real number at three times that figure. Rusyn leaders also claim their community was underrepresented by the census.
Still, underreporting has been most acute for Slovakia's Roma. Experts guess that up to 450,000 Roma live in Slovakia, although only 80,000 declared Roma nationality in 1991.
The 2001 census is important for minorities, because in the coming decade millions of crowns from the state budget will be given to minority programmes according to the results of the current count.
Government officials said they hoped to obtain a more accurate count this time around, but said that it was ultimately up to individuals. "It's a personal choice," said Deputy Minister for Minority and Human Rights Pál Csáky. "It's every person's right to declare whichever nationality he or she wishes."
Complicating matters was one group which vowed to make a political statement through the census. The group Fund for the Support of Independent Thought encouraged its members to declare Tibetan citizenship as a show of support for Tibetan people struggling against Chinese occupation.
The Statistics Office, which will spend 670 million crowns ($13.4 million) in total on the census, established a hotline for census questions (0800 133 331) on May 19, and has been handling 200 calls daily.
Census employees are expected to pick up all forms by June 4, although late submissions can be taken to the municipal or town office in each Slovak district. Early results are expected by mid September, according to the Statistics Office. An in-depth analysis should be completed by the end of the year. The last and most detailed report will not be finished until 2004.
3. Jun 2001 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds