Long delayed headcount shows North Macedonia has lost more than 9 per cent of its population in the last 20 years, a fall that was not unexpected by the experts.
People walk in the center of Skopje, North Macedonia. Photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI
The official results of the September 2021 national headcount, published on Wednesday, show the country’s population has shrunk by 9.2 per cent over two decades since the last census.
The population now stands at 1,836,713, which is 185,834 people less than the number recorded in the previous census conducted in 2002.
Together with 260,606 counted non-residents, whose participation in the census was optional, the number rises to a total of 2,097,319, the State Statistical Office said at a press conference in Skopje.
Results show the average age of the population is just over 40, and 207 settlements in the country, predominantly villages, are now empty of people.
While the population has fallen sharply, as many experts anticipated, the results have shown that the ethnic composition of the population has not shifted that much.
The ethnic ratio has been a matter of much concern over the past two decades, and was the main reason for several postponements, and for scrapping the census of 2011.
The new results show that, of the resident population, 58,44 per cent are ethnic Macedonians and 24,3 per cent are ethnic Albanians.
Of the rest, 3,86 per cent are ethnic Turks, 2,53 per cent are Roma, 1,3 per cent are Serbs, 0,87 per cent are Bosniaks and 0,47 per cent are Vlachs.
Taking into account the non-residential population as well, the ratio between Macedonians and Albanians has shifted a little in favour of the latter.
In this case, Macedonians comprise 54,21 per cent of all counted citizens while Albanians make up 29,52 per cent.
Compared to the previous census from 2002, the number of Albanians in the country has remained largely the same but the number of ethnic Macedonians has shrunk.
That census showed that 64 per cent of the then population of 2,1 million was Macedonian and 25 per cent was ethnic Albanian. Same as now, Roma, Turks, Serbs and other minorities made up the rest.
One factor that might explain why there are less ethnic Macedonians while the Albanian population is unchanged might be that an additional 132,269 people who have refused to take part in the local headcount have been counted in the final number of residents.
Their data has been taken from the existing national data bases but without any ethnicity or religion, since those data are a matter of personal identification, the Statistical Office explained.
After many delays, the country finally conducted a census in September last year.
Although the process was marred by many technical difficulties, and by a call for boycott from one of the opposition parties, called Left, which urged ethnic Macedonians to abstain, citing suspicions of rigging, the head of the State Statistical Office, Apostol Simovski, insisted that the operation was “successfully and professionally carried out” and that “the results reflect the reality”.
Politicians in their reactions avoided sensationalism.
“The headcount gave us a clearer picture about the number of residents in the country,” the head of the main ethnic Albanian party, the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, Ali Ahmeti, said. The main ruling Social Democrats merely welcomed the success of the operation.
The main opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party has yet to comment. In the past, it has objected to the methodology chosen to count the population, complaining of a hidden agenda to exaggerate the number of Albanians in the results.
The results did not reveal a large hidden population of ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia, and failed to confirm Bulgarian claims that over 100,000 ethnic Bulgarians live in the country. Only 3,504 people have identified as Bulgarian, up from 1,487 counted in 2002 but still statistically insignificant.
The Sofia government backed its claim about 100,000-plus Bulgarians with the large number of Bulgarian passports it gave to North Macedonia citizens since it joined the EU in 2007. It has argued that the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia has been subjected to repression, which authorities in Skopje deny.
In North Macedonia, it is widely suspected that most people who opt to take out Bulgarian passports do so for purely practical EU-related reasons and for greater ease of travel.
But there are concerns that the small number of ethnic Bulgarians reported in the census may provoke more negative comments from Sofia, which is blocking the start of Skopje’s EU accession talks in a dispute over historical issues – and that this may dampen recent hopes of a breakthrough that would enable North Macedonia to finally open EU membership talks.
Despite some nostalgia for the old days of the Yugoslav federation, only 344 people in the headcount identified as Yugoslavs, 0.1 per cent of the population.
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