Bosnia Was Once Emptied by War and Now Faces Peacetime Emigration

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“It is evident that people are leaving all parts of the country,” said Emir Kremic, the director general of Bosnia’s state statistics agency.

But how many have gone, he said, is not known with any precision, in a large part because it is not clear how many people remain. “We just don’t know how many people there are living here,” he said. For that, he added, “We need a new census.”

That, however, is not something ethnonationalist politicians, fearful of the results, want. Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups — Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Christian Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats — each worry about losing out in the numbers game. It took three years of wrangling after the 2013 census for the results to be released, because each group wanted to see bigger numbers, and therefore more political clout, for its own community.

Mr. Kremic said that a rough guide to how much the population had dropped was a study conducted last year by his Institute of Statistics to assess usage of Bosnia’s farmland. It found that 30 percent of the farming households recorded during the 2013 census had disappeared.

“There was nobody there anymore,” he said.

The last census put Bosnia’s total population at 3.5 million, down from 4.4 million in the previous count, a year before war broke out. According to some estimates, the number is now under two millionyear-round residents. The Vienna Institute for Demography calculated that from 1990 to 2017, Bosnia suffered a 22 percent population decline largely due to emigration, the steepest drop in the region.

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