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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Balkan countries score poorly on the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index.

    The results of The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime’s (GI-TOC) Global Organized Crime Index show that countries from the Western Balkans score higher than the global average in terms of criminality. Indeed, four of the Western Balkan Six (WB6) rank among the 10 highest-scoring countries in Europe on criminality. The region also reflects a global trend highlighted in the Index, that state-embedded actors are the most dominant type of criminal actor in the world. However, countries of the region generally also scored higher than the global average in terms of resilience to organized crime.

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  2. Debunking the myth of the existence of a Balkan cartel.

    Media outlets and law enforcement agencies, including Europol, have often attributed criminality in the region to a ‘Balkan cartel’. However, although there are clear inter-ethnic patterns of cooperation among criminal groups in the region, there are no indications of these groups belonging to a cartel-style structure.

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  3. Use of cryptocurrencies is gaining traction in the region.

    Increased use of cryptocurrencies in the Western Balkans brings new opportunities, but also additional risks like money laundering. We look at how cryptocurrencies work, provide examples of cryptomining in the region and examine the challenges the region is starting to face, particularly in relation to cryptocurrencies as an element of illicit financial flows.

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  4. Building bridges between civil society and the government in North Macedonia.

    The Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe is currently carrying out a series of resilience dialogues in each of the six countries of the Western Balkans. This article looks at the meeting held in Skopje and highlights the challenges and opportunities of strengthening cooperation between civil society and the government in preventing and combatting corruption and organized crime.

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  5. ‘Uncapturing’ the state: Interview with Macedonian NGO Eurothink.

    North Macedonia has an active civil society dealing with many issues, including those related to organized crime and corruption. We talk to Eurothink – Center for European Strategies, one of the leading non-governmental organizations in the country, about its objectives and activities and its focus on environmental crime.

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About this issue

Welcome to the tenth issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the GI-TOC’s Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe. In this issue, we analyze the main findings related to the Balkans of the first-ever Global Organized Crime Index, produced by the GI-TOC. For a more detailed analysis, including profiles of all countries of the region, please visit ocindex.net.

In our research on illicit economies in south-eastern Europe, we have occasionally come across the expression ‘Balkan cartel’. Although criminal groups from the Western Balkans have become more transnational and, in some cases, more powerful in recent years, our sense has been that they are not as united as the media sometimes implies. We therefore examined this term and the origins of the myth, and found that the situation is more complex than the vision of Balkan criminal groups as a giant octopus with a defined leadership controlling its tentacles.

There currently is a lot of hype about cryptocurrencies, with the price of Bitcoin reaching record highs of over €55 000 per unit, but there is also a growing debate around regulating cryptocurrencies. In our work on illicit financial flows and analyzing the seizure of assets, we have increasingly seen references to the use of cryptocurrencies by criminal groups in and from the Western Balkans. Thus far, the use of cryptocurrencies in the region is relatively limited. However, it is an issue that deserves attention, not least by financial investigators in the WB6.

Through funding from our financial partners, including Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, we are able to support civil society organizations in south-eastern Europe that are carrying out activities to strengthen resilience to organized crime. Part of this work includes a series of resilience dialogues in each of the six countries of the Western Balkans. The first meeting was held in Skopje on 22 and 23 September 2021, and five others will follow by early December.

Thematic reports will be issued on some of the main topics covered by the dialogues and projects carried out by civil society organizations (CSOs) in the region, namely on youth, gender and the social reuse of assets. In this Bulletin we report on the resilience dialogues we organized in Skopje, particularly on efforts to strengthen cooperation between civil society and the government.

While in Skopje, we interviewed two leaders of the NGO Eurothink – Center for European Strategies as part of our monthly focus on CSOs working to increase resilience to organized crime. Their work focuses in particular on strengthening implementation of chapter 24 of the EU acquis in North Macedonia, related to justice, freedom and security.

At the end of this issue, we feature an overview of recent publications related to organized crime and corruption in the Western Balkans and showcase new and forthcoming reports by the GI-TOC.

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