28.3 C
August 7, 2022

Census vs. improvisation

It is easy to understand that a countrywide census, as a mean of registering population, homes and other goals, needs to be organised very thoroughly. Hence, it must be well prepared, people must be informed in due time about the questions they will answer, with rigorous criteria of competence in choosing census takers and centralising data. We do not know if – as claimed by some analysts – the ongoing Romanian census due to take place between October 21 and 31, was demanded by the EU. What we know, however, is that it represents the most complex operation of the kind ever conducted in Romania.

Unfortunately, it was not technically prepared as it should. The questions asked to the population were not advertised the right way, in order to allow subjects to prepare their answers. Some of the – already scarce – pieces of information provided to this regard by authorities were oscillating.

First, they were presented as mandatory, then public debate over their usefulness and even legality made the same authorities declare them as optional. An example is the case of the personal number code (CNP) of census subjects. First, it was decreed as mandatory, then it became facultative, and finally it was re-declared mandatory. The same oscillating status was attributed to the roles of the census taker and respondent. Census takers must show proper identification papers, while subjects have to answer the questions. Or do they? At least this is how the National Statistics Institute said things should normally go. But there is long way from normal to real.

As a consequence, the first days of the poll were enough to show the whole extent of the setbacks that plagued the way the census was organised. For example, some of those who applied for the job of census taker in Bucharest resigned the very first day of the census, when they learned that they will receive less money than promised, though being asked to do much more work than they were initially told.

In some urban localities, no census taker could be seen in the first days, and the phone lines advertised as providing info about the whole operation proved to be useless, because they were always busy. In such conditions, when census takers and respondents were uncertain when they could meet, is the threat about fining those who will miss from home during census still justified? The question seems to have found an answer recently, when some factors of authority possibly denied it.

Things are even more difficult in rural areas, where population is less informed than at town about the objectives of the census – a source of tragicomic aspects. We saw on TV a villager so surprised by the multitude of questions and their very intimate nature that he became suspicious that he is… spied. As a consequence, he “detained” the census taker at his home. The conflict was solved by police, called by the “spy” to free him from the over-cautious citizen. After it freed the census taker, police fined the farmer with the sum of RON 1,500, but had to endure the protests of many villagers, who were equally ignorant about the concrete and honest goals of the census, and showed the same (un)willingness to answer what they saw as useless questions.

They said they would have preferred to be asked about their more actual and serious problems. Poverty and the other grave problems villagers are faced with also raise another issue of the census. Instead of answering the questions of authorities, villagers ask their own questions, about the discriminatory behavior of some mayors, who only seek their votes every four years, but do nothing for their localities after being elected. Or the sinful ways of some priests, who charge money for weddings, baptisms, or even funerals. Or the refusal of medical authorities to reverse their decisions of closing some local hospitals, even when a court declared these decisions as illegal. The poverty and abuses endured by many Romanians today, on one hand, and the poor manner in which this census was prepared, on the other, sometimes distort the results. This is why census takers are tempted to improvise the answers to more delicate questions, sometimes also in order to avoid drawing an unwanted attention upon a rural locality that has a poor administration.

Unfortunately, such attitudes generate even more dangerous issues, in the case of localities with mixed population. Influenced by promises of better social assistance, the representatives of some ethnic minorities are tempted to be registered in a higher number than real, although this would mean providing incorrect answers. In the case of some ethnically mixed families, census subjects declare their partners as being either Hungarians, or Gypsies etc.

In other situations, the census subjects that belong to ethnic minorities change the answers of their family members, declaring them of the same minority as their own. In some localities, things get even more serious. Under the appearance of ethnic diversity, census lists include several so-called “categories,” which however are only those of Hungarian or Szekler, anything but Romanian.

The risk of providing distorted results is common to all censuses hastily organised, in order to comply with an order from abroad, costly and useless. It is a sad reality that “costly” and “useless” is the most frequent complementary combination in the activity of our rulers.

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