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Final census findings lead to concerns over accuracy

Marred by political controversy over ethnic and religious questions, final census results have left many unhappy.

TIRANA, Dec. 19, 2012. Albanian authorities have released the final census results, confirming a decline in population and sparking debate over the final data on the country’s ethnic and religious makeup. The population of Albania in 2011 was 2.8 million, marking a decline of roughly 8 percent since 2001, according to the census final results.

Religion and ethnicity questions -- which large groups of the population declined to answer -- indicated ethnic minorities made up less than 2 percent of the population and a massive decline in the historic presence of Orthodox Christians, which now make up less than 7 percent of the country, according to the census figures. Historically, the Orthodox Christian faith has been practiced by about 20 percent of the Albanian population. Muslims also declined to 59 percent, from the 7o percent historically. Catholics held steady at about 10 percent. Again, 14 percent of the population refused to answer the religion question.

Population declines, gets older, moves to the cities

The census found that as of October 2011, the resident population of Albania was 2.8 million, down 8 percent, compared to the 2001 census, when Albania had a population of about 3 million.

Lower birth rates and emigration were the reasons behind the decline, said Ines Nurja, head of Instat, the government statistical body that conducted the census. Officials point out that population dynamics were determined by four key factors -- births, deaths, immigration and emigration. During the inter-census decade, the number of births per year decreased significantly, from 53,000 per year in 2001 to about 34,000 in 2011, while the annual number of deaths remained stable at 20,000.

The population of Albania also started to decline in 1990, as a consequence of a massive emigration, which continued in the past decade. Authorities estimate a staggering 500,000 people emigrated in last decade alone.

Among other notable results of the census is that Albanian society is getting older with the average age going up five years. It was 30.6 years in 2001, and it went up to 35.3 in 2011.

The census results also show that the population living in urban areas is now exceeding that of rural areas for the first time in the country’s history. The resident population in urban areas was 53.5 per cent while 46.5 per cent of the population lived in rural areas.

The average population density across the whole country is now lower -- from 107 persons per square kilometer in 2001 to 97 persons per square kilometer in 2011.

Ethnic and religious data affected by boycott

The final census data showed that 83.2 percent of the respondents said they were ethnic Albanians, and 14.07 per cent refused to answer question. However, 99 percent of respondents declared Albanian was their mother tongue.

Ethnic minorities shrank in number, according to the census, with Albanian citizens of Greek ethnicity now accounting for 0.87 per cent of the population. Romas were at 0.3 percent and ethnic Macedonians made up another 0.2 percent.

In religion, 56.7 percent of Albanians responding to census workers said they were Muslim, 10.53 percent said they were Catholics, and 6.75 percent said they were Orthodox. Smaller groups were made up of 5.53 percent of non-denominational believers, 2.5 percent were declared atheists, and 2.09 percent said they were Bektashi.

Minorities angry with results

Albanian nationalists had called on the population not to answer questions on ethnicity and religion, a key reason why roughly 14 percent of the population refused to answer those particular questions, analysts note.

“The Red and Black Alliance wants to thank the 400,000 Albanians who refused to answer the question about the ethnicity and religion in the census charted according to the directives set in Athens,” said a spokesman of the country’s growing nationalist movement.

The alliance and others had worried ethnic Albanians would declare themselves ethnic Greek to keep receiving pensions from the Greek government, and called for a boycott of the census.

The government said these fears were unfounded, noting the small percentage of the Greek minority in the final results.

“These results are the best answer to those who tried to use the census to divide Albanians,” Technology and Innovation Minister Genc Pollo said, referring to the alliance.

In fact, the representatives of the Greek minority in Albania are furious themselves with the census after marking less than 1 per cent of the population. The Democratic Union of the Greek Minority, Omonia, has requested that the Albanian government and the international community not accept the published results. Omonia has said that the results have been falsified to the detriment of ethnic Greeks and other Orthodox minorities, Macedonians and Montenegrins. Omonia said that it will do a parallel census in order to prove that the released results are not realistic.

The Roma have also come publically to say the results severely undercounted members of their community, also known as gypsies, which are widely marginalized in Albania as in other parts of Europe.

Orthodox church won’t recognize results

The Albanian Orthodox Church also released an angry statement, saying the majority of its faithful had been left out of the counting. It said its own count puts the percentage of Orthodox believers in Albania at 24 percent.

“We will not recognize the results of religious adherence of the population in the 2011 census,” the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania said in a statement, adding the way the census was conducted would “harm the religious cohabitation and harmony we have worked hard for.”

The Bektashi community, an ultra-liberal Muslim sect, also indicated it would perform a census of its own as it had lost a huge portion of its historic foothold in Albania, where the religion's world headquarters are located.

Concerns over accuracy

Portions of the census dealing with religion and ethnicity have grabbed much of the attention, but entire parts of the census might not have been conducted according to the best international practices, Albanian media reports.

The census workers, often young students, did not perform their duties to the best training possible, often not asking all the needed questions and not explaining the complicated language of the census to those being interviewed.

Investigative pieces in several Albanian newspapers gave anecdotal evidence that to some degree census workers had filled a lot of the gaps in interviews themselves.

Some communities report that no census workers ever reached out for interviews. However, census officials point out the statistical research was a massive, successful undertaking, supported with the aid of international donors and by the good will of Albanians who opened their doors for census workers.

“We would like to express our gratitude for all Albanian families for participating,” said Instat’s head, Nurja.

Other articles by the author:
(30/05/14) Albania lobbies sceptical EU members ahead of status decision
(30/05/14) Criminal investigation on defunct Greek–Albanian maritime border agreement sought
(30/05/14) A wrong approach: Playing politics with Albania’s drug problem
(30/05/14) Consumption, investments provide mixed picture of economic recovery
(30/05/14) Benelux should serve as example to Balkan countries, PM says
(30/05/14) Progress towards the EU requires resolute, sustained and cooperative action
(30/05/14) Travel destinations: Exploring the Albanian Riviera
(30/05/14) The Oliver Twists of Albania
(30/05/14) Rockstock festival to return early 1990s music
(30/05/14) Italy to help Albania fight drug traffic, organized crime
By .Tirana Times Staff
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