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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. A small town in Montenegro has a big reputation for crime as the place of origin for many of the country’s criminals.

    At the end of August 2021, the historic city of Cetinje, Montenegro, was in the news because of protests related to the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox church in the country. But the name of Cetinje often appears in the media for another reason: as a place of origin of criminals, mentioned in stories about the Pink Panthers, the Montenegrin cocaine clan war and, more recently, cannabis cultivation. Is this a coincidence, or is the city an incubator of criminals?

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  2. Despite the closure of the Balkan route, efforts are intensifying to stop migrant smuggling through Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Despite the much-touted ‘closure’ of the Balkan route for refugees and migrants in 2016, there is still a steady flow of people moving through the Western Balkans trying to enter the EU through Croatia or Hungary. Because of robust border management and pushbacks, many are getting stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is worsening a humanitarian crisis in refugee camps close to the border, increasing incentives for smugglers and causing some refugees and migrants to move east instead of west. This situation may be exacerbated by a further movement of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan.

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  3. Where are the women? Gender and migration in the Western Balkans.

    Although globally women make up almost half of all people on the move, the percentage of female refugees or migrants transiting the Western Balkans is reported to be only around 4%. This article looks at barriers to migration for women and gender-based risks. It stresses that more focus should be put on gender and migration, both in terms of understanding the demographics, needs and challenges of people on the move, but also in designing policies to address gender issues in the context of migration.

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  4. As part of Albania’s judicial reform process, a special institution seeks to fight organized crime and corruption in the country.

    In the past, Albania’s criminal justice system has been criticized as being soft on organized crime and corruption. But a number of new institutions have been established to strengthen the rule of law, integrity and the fight against organized crime, as part of the reform process. We talk to the chief special prosecutor of the country’s Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Structure.

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  5. Stubbing out cigarette smuggling in Montenegro?

    Montenegro has been a notorious hub for cigarette smuggling, known for producing counterfeit cigarettes as well as being a transit country for ‘cheap whites’ – cigarettes legally produced in one country, but illegally traded to others to avoid customs and excise taxes. The country’s new government has pledged to fight organized crime and corruption, but will it be able to stop this trade?

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  6. Reducing vulnerability to loan sharking in Serbia.

    Loan sharking is an issue that is seldom discussed, but is a growing problem in parts of the Western Balkans. We talk to Milan Stefanović, executive director of the Centre for Civil Society Development PROTECTA in Nis, about what his organization is doing to raise awareness about the problem and to help victims.

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About this issue

Welcome to the ninth issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).

We begin with the profile of a hotspot of organized crime, Cetinje, a small city in Montenegro. Although, strictly speaking, not a hotspot of organized crime, the city seems to be an incubator of criminals. We explore why Cetinje is criminogenic.

Migration remains a hot topic in the Western Balkans, particularly during the summer, when the number of people on the move through the region is higher than during the rest of the year. We look at the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has become a key transit point for refugees and migrants, and highlight some of the reasons why migration patterns seem to be changing. We also question why so few women are making the journey and analyze selected gender-based risks that migrants face in the region.

The criminal justice system in Albania has suffered from having a reputation of enabling corrupted high officials and powerful organized crime groups to operate with impunity. This image may now be changing, thanks in part to the work of the Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Structure (SPAK). The creation of this office, which began its work in December 2019, is considered a part of the reform of the justice system in Albania. We talk to the SPAK’s chief special prosecutor, Arben Kraja.

In the past, Montenegro has been a notorious hub for cigarette smuggling. But the new government has pledged to clamp down on this illicit trade and has already taken some steps in this direction. We look at the problem, recent developments and what further actions are needed.

As always, we conclude with a profile of a civil society organization that is working to strengthen resilience to organized crime in the Western Balkans. In this issue, we talk with Milan Stefanović, executive director of PROTECTA, about loan sharking in Serbia and what his organization is trying to do about it.

If you have a proposal for a story or would like to provide feedback, please contact almedina.dodic@globalinitiative.net.