Kosovo Serbs protest against a ban of the use of...

Kosovo Serbs protest against a ban of the use of the Serbian currency in areas where they live, in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo, on Feb. 12, 2024. A senior U.S. official on Wednesday March 13, 2024 reassured top officials in Kosovo that the burdens of normalizing relations with longtime rival Serbia would be borne by both sides. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar met with officials in Kosovo in the latest American effort to restart talks on normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia, after Kosovo made a controversial decision to ban ethnic Serbs in its territory from using the Serbian dinar. Credit: AP/Bojan Slavkovic

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo's government began Friday its first nationwide census since 2011, which will include surveying the ethnic Serb minority in the north, at a time when tensions with neighboring Serbia are high.

The Agency of Statistics is conducting the 12-million euro ($13 million) census, originally set to take place in 2021 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 4,400 surveyors will interview residents in person from April 5 until May 17 to cover demographic and socioeconomic indicators that “will take Kosovo a step ahead toward integration into the European Union,” according to the agency's website.

The Kosovar government, the EU's statistical office, Eurostat, U.N. organizations and the World Bank are funding the census which will tally the number of people residing in the country, family households, their education and employment, as well as the number of locals living abroad. Surveyors will also ask interviewees about damages suffered during the 1998-1999 war and if they have relatives who died or were tortured at the time.

Kosovo was a former Serbian province until a 78-day NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo and pushed Serbian forces out. Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.

Hazbije Qeriqi, the agency spokesperson, said they hoped for "a positive response from everybody.”

In 2011 Kosovo had 1.74 million registered residents, of which nearly 1.5%, or about 26,000, are ethnic Serbs.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti called on the Serb minority Wednesday to take part in the census.

“When we make our plans for subsidies, investments, work, education ... the health system, we should have the state of the population reflected in the budget," he said.

Some Serbs in the northern part of the town of Mitrovica, at the center of a region where most of the ethnic Serb minority lives, want to take part in the census. But the Srpska List party, the main party of the Serb minority in Kosovo which has close ties with Belgrade, called for a boycott of the census.

“We would like to say clearly to Albin Kurti and those who support him that the Serbian people will not participate in the upcoming fake census in his organization, which he wants to confirm his shameful success in expelling Serbs,” said a message from the Srpska List posted on Facebook.

Boycotting has been a main tool ethnic Serbs have used in the last years, like boycotting all public institutions, or last year elections.

Kosovo’s recent decision to ban ethnic Serbs from using the Serbian currency — the dinar — locally has increased tensions and is threatening to cause chaos. The dinar is widely used in Serbian-run institutions, including schools and hospitals.

“A census in these circumstances of daily repression over our people and without the return of 250,000 displaced people would be pure legalization of ethnic cleansing that has been carried out over our people since 1999,” the party said in a call to the international community.

Kosovo and Serbia want to join the EU. The 27-nation bloc has facilitated a dialogue to normalize ties between the two that has been riddled with hindrances, fueling Western concerns about regional tensions escalating as a full-scale war rages in Ukraine.

Brussels has warned that the refusal of the two sides to compromise on several issues is jeopardizing their chances of EU membership.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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