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Census causes clash

THE DECENNIAL census of residents and residences, which many social scientists consider one of the most significant events of 2011 because of its EU-wide scope, started in Slovakia on May 13. The actual point of measurement for the 2011 census will be midnight between May 20 and May 21 and the deadline for persons to fill out their hard-copy questionnaires is June 6.

THE DECENNIAL census of residents and residences, which many social scientists consider one of the most significant events of 2011 because of its EU-wide scope, started in Slovakia on May 13. The actual point of measurement for the 2011 census will be midnight between May 20 and May 21 and the deadline for persons to fill out their hard-copy questionnaires is June 6.

Despite an information campaign among residents to raise awareness about the census, most of the public campaigning in Slovakia has been centred on attempts by representatives of national minorities and religious groups to motivate their members to state their ethnicity and religion, followed by public clashes between Slovakia’s interior minister and the country’s Statistics Office (ŠÚ) over the country’s preparedness for the event.

Minister and ŠÚ trade barbs

The feast of statistics, as some Slovak commentators are calling the country’s most extensive statistical inquiry, is projected to cost €30.6 million. But even before the first doorbell has been rung to count residents and find out more about their living arrangements there have been charges and counter-charges about the preparation process. The Sme daily reported in early May that the Interior Ministry and the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia (ZMOS) had expressed concerns that the results of the census might be biased because the ŠÚ provided municipalities with maps to be used in creating census districts that the ministry and association said were full of errors.

Sme wrote that less than two weeks before the census started whole streets, along with their houses, were missing in the census districts of some towns and villages while other streets and houses were incorrectly marked or positioned within a district.

Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic accused the ŠÚ of mishandling preparations for the census.

“We warned the Statistics Office as early as last year that its preparation for the census was unsatisfactory, that the census districts had been created in an odd way, that there was no methodology and that the groundwork was wrong and outdated,” Lipšic said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

Ľudmila Benkovičová, the head of the ŠÚ, reacted to the minister’s accusations by saying that the census is more threatened by what she called his inaccurate information and dramatic claims, as these could discourage people from participating in the census. Benkovičová said she believes any problems stemmed from insufficient revision of urban maps and she blamed that on the Interior Ministry, which she said refused to provide the results of changes in municipal unit borders to the ŠÚ.

The census districts were to be established based on revised maps of urban areas. The Environment Ministry was assigned to prepare the revisions based on an agreement with the ŠÚ but the Interior Ministry ordered its district offices to stop the process. In December, the Interior Ministry developed its own project, but according to Benkovičová it did not harmonise the outputs. Moreover, Benkovičová said at that time the ŠÚ already had an ongoing contract with IBM for eight months to cover all stages of the census and that IBM had created an application for the ŠÚ based on maps provided by the Office of Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre. The problem, Benkovičová said, was that the Interior Ministry had refused to provide her office with the results of its changes to the borders of municipal districts.

The conflict has not had any consequences for Benkovičová so far, but Lipšic stated that high-ranking officials might be asked to take responsibility for what he called mishandled preparations for the census.

After receiving complaints from mayors, the ŠÚ ordered an analysis of errors in the documentation that had been sent to municipalities. The SITA newswire wrote that 100,000 discrepancies had been found when the registers of people and houses provided by the ŠÚ were examined.

Technical details

Apart from the fact that this is the first census that is being synchronised across the EU, it is also the first time that Slovakia will allow residents to complete census forms electronically. The electronic census sheets are available at www.scitanie2011.sk, and the ŠÚ says that the website is ready to handle a potentially high number of visitors.

While the hardcopy questionnaires can be completed anytime between May 21 and June 6, the window for online submissions is restricted to between May 21 and May 29. Those interested in completing an electronic census form should announce that desire to their census taker when first visited; if they fail to do so then the census taker must visit once more and fill out a hardcopy questionnaire.

The obligation to complete census forms applies also to foreigners living in Slovakia, with the exception of those with diplomatic advantages and immunity. A foreigner residing in Slovakia for less than 90 days is obliged only to answer three questions: sex, date of birth and citizenship.

Pumping up the numbers

As the period to fill out the census questionnaires approaches, representatives of national minorities and religious groups are campaigning to encourage people to state that they belong to a particular religious group or to a national minority when completing the questionnaire.

Representatives of the ethnic Hungarian minority have expressed concern that the number of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia might drop significantly in this census and both political parties representing ethnic Hungarian citizens, Most-Híd and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), are running campaigns.

The Roma Media Centre (MECEM) launched an information campaign directed toward Roma residents in March. According to the director of the Centre, Kristína Magdolenová, Roma have received information about their census-related rights and duties and how to communicate with the census takers via a programme broadcast on public-service television and distributed via DVDs.

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