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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Profiting from the pandemic: COVID-19 and corruption.

    A second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the Western Balkans. Many countries are in lockdown. This has made public-procurement processes more opaque and has reduced the space for civil-society organizations and the media to report on issues of corruption and organized crime. Criminals and corrupt officials have been quick to spot an opportunity. We look at how the pandemic has exposed weaknesses caused by poor governance and corruption, and how it risks exacerbating already vulnerable socio-economic and health conditions.

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  2. Heavier traffic on Corridor 10: smuggling of migrants through North Macedonia.

    In 2015, almost 700 000 refugees and migrants travelled from Greece through North Macedonia, heading north to Serbia and the EU, along Corridor 10. Although the Balkan route was closed in March 2016, the flow of people on the move through North Macedonia continues. This article maps the main routes and explores how migrants are smuggled particularly via hubs around the southern border with Greece and Serbia in the north.

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  3. Building bridges among police and customs in south-eastern Europe.

    Since its founding in 1999, the Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC), headquartered in Bucharest, has been improving cooperation among police and customs officials to fight against transnational, serious and organized crime in the region. Director-General Snejana Maleeva of Bulgaria explains SELEC’s activities including training, joint operations and analysis, as well as improving cooperation among prosecutors.

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  4. The promises we keep: monitoring anti-corruption pledges in the Western Balkans.

    In 2014, the Berlin Process was launched with the aim of facilitating regional cooperation among the countries of the Western Balkans and boosting European integration and security. In July 2018, at the London Summit, five Western Balkan countries (followed by Serbia in 2019) signed anti-corruption pledges. We review how corruption has been addressed within the Berlin Process and assess the extent to which countries are living up to their commitments to fight corruption.

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  5. Strengthening resilience and reconciliation in Mostar.

    The city of Mostar, in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a hotspot for organized crime, particularly for drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Due to weak policing, the city has become a refuge for criminals from the region who are hiding from other criminal groups or fleeing the law. Hooliganism is also a problem in the city. We interview Almir Denjo, president of a local non-governmental organization called Mutual Action for Strengthening Alternative, about its work in promoting resilience and reconciliation in the community, particularly among youth and people on the margins of society.

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About this issue

This edition of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Civil Society Observatory to Counter Organized Crime in South Eastern Europe continues our focus on the impact of COVID-19 on the political economy of the Western Balkans. As a second wave of the pandemic sweeps through the region, we look at how criminals and corrupt officials are seizing the opportunity to make money at the expense of citizens and how COVID-19 is exposing weaknesses in the healthcare systems and governance in countries of the Western Balkans.

Following the summit of the Berlin Process in Sofia on 10 November 2020, we recall the anti-corruption pledges made at a similar summit in London in July 2018 and note that, although there has been some progress in the implementation of these commitments, there has also been backsliding in some countries. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) will soon issue an assessment of countries’ implementation of the anti-corruption pledges made in the framework of the Berlin Process.

Five years ago, in 2015, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants passed through the Balkans on their way to the EU. While the Balkan route was declared closed in March 2016, migrants are still being smuggled through the region. In this issue, we focus on where and how they are being smuggled through North Macedonia.

While the focus of this Bulletin is mostly the risks posed by organized crime and corruption in the Western Balkans, we also profile what is being done to manage and reduce them. For example, this month we focus on the work of the SELEC, which, for two decades, has been improving cooperation among police and customs officials to fight transnational, serious and organized crime in the region. In our series on resilience, we talk to the head of the NGO Mutual Action for Strengthening Alternative – supported by the GI-TOC’s Resilience Fund and based in the divided and crime-torn city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina – about how they see the problem of organized crime in their community and what they are doing to empower youth and integrate people from the margins of society.

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