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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. No lockdown for the Kotor gangs

    For more than five years, there has been a gang war between two criminal groups from Kotor, on the coast of Montenegro. While most of Montenegro was in lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, the killings continued. Despite the ongoing violence, the two leaders of the feuding Kavač and Škaljari clans, who were arrested with much ado in 2018, are now both out on bail. The new government in Montenegro has pledged to fight against organized crime and corruption. Will it be able to stop the cocaine war?

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  2. Albanian cannabis moves indoors

    Albania has gained the dubious reputation of being ranked as Europe’s top cannabis producer. Some Albanian criminal groups, however, have been shifting their production operations to Western Europe, where they are cultivating cannabis indoors. And while Albania gets a bad rap, a recent high-profile drugs seizure in Serbia shows that there may be other hotspots of cannabis cultivation emerging in the region.

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  3. Cash comes home for the holidays

    Over the summer season, police in Albania seized several hundred thousand euros in cash at key border crossings and the airport in the capital, Tirana. This is just the tip of an iceberg: millions of euros of cash are smuggled into Albania every year, symptomatic of the illicit cash transfers in the Western Balkans that oil illegal economies.

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  4. The Balkan Route and COVID-19: More restrictions, more misery

    During 2015, tens of thousands of refugees and migrants moved through South Eastern Europe on their journeys to the West of the continent. Today, the so-called Balkan Route is largely closed: borders have been securitized, and desperate migrants and asylum-seekers are being pushed back. Some of the few winners in this crisis are migrant smugglers. We examine how a growing number of migrants are entering the Western Balkans from Greece via Albania, and the methods that are used to smuggle them. This story also highlights the impact that this is having in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where, because of tight border controls with Croatia and fears of COVID-19, there is a growing humanitarian crisis.

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  5. Under the gun: Investigative reporting in Montenegro

    Vladimir Otašević, award-winning investigative journalist in Montenegro and editor of the crime and corruption reporting network LUPA explains to our researchers why being a journalist investigating crime and corruption in Montenegro is a risky business. Otašević describes the media environment in Montenegro and the pressures faced from the government, criminals and the private sector. He concludes on a note of optimism, arguing that the new post-Djukanovic government in Montenegro could increase media freedom, strengthen integrity and improve the fight against organized crime.

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About this issue

Welcome to the first issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Civil Society Observatory to Counter Organized Crime in South Eastern Europe, part of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC). This new monthly publication, modelled on similar risk bulletins produced by the GI-TOC’s other regional observatories, will cover issues related to organized crime, illicit finance and corruption in the Western Balkans region.

The Risk Bulletin will focus on hotspots of organized crime in the Western Balkans, the political economy of organized crime, criminal markets and how corruption enables serious organized crime. While the bulletin will try to focus on timely stories, its objective is principally to assess and analyze risk posed by regional illicit economies. It looks at sectoral, local and national issues, where possible placing them in a broader regional context as well as highlighting the relationship to broader global criminal markets, flows, drivers and enablers. In the short term, we will have a special interest in analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on regional organized crime, as well as the ability and political will of the authorities in the region to counter the latter. Contributions come from our own research network in the region and other authors. Where relevant, we will cross-reference articles in the Risk Bulletin to other GI-TOC publications for those interested in a deeper analysis.

This first edition focuses on a broad range of issues, including cannabis cultivation in Albania and how there appears to be a shift by Albanians to indoor cannabis growing in Western Europe; the impact of COVID-19 and the securitization of borders on the smuggling of migrants through the Western Balkans; the impact on the Kotor gang war of the pandemic and the new government in Montenegro; and the phenomenon of cash transfers in the Western Balkans. We also feature an interview with an investigative journalist on the challenges and risks of exposing corruption and organized crime in Montenegro.

A fundamental pillar of the GI-TOC’s programming is to strengthen community resilience to organized crime. The Resilience Fund supports civil society, including in the Western Balkans, with projects and programmes that aim to bolster the antibodies of communities, groups and individuals who are vulnerable to crime. The Risk Bulletin will feature civil society actors in the region who are trying to strengthen resilience to organized crime.

If you have feedback or ideas for the Risk Bulletin, or would like to contribute to it, please contact almedina.dodic@globalinitiative.net.