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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Links between politics, ethnicity and organized crime in northern Kosovo.

    In mid-October, Kosovo police swooped into the city of Mitrovica as part of a series of operations designed to crack down on organized crime. What started as a targeted law enforcement operation quickly turned into a stand-off between the police and angry citizens. Northern Kosovo is often characterized as a hotspot of organized crime, but what does the criminal underworld look like in the area north of the Ibar river?

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  2. What could be the impact of the Open Balkan initiative on organized crime?

    Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia are forging ahead with the idea of an Open Balkan initiative to create an economic zone that would further improve political and economic relations and strengthen cultural ties between the three states. Efforts to promote greater regional integration, whether through the Open Balkan initiative or the Common Regional Market, should also be used as an opportunity to strengthen regional law enforcement cooperation in the fight against organized crime.

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  3. Blood feuds in Albania exploited by criminal groups.

    Albanian society is sometimes portrayed as violent because of its harsh cultural norms, such as the blood feud. But this practice is mostly limited to northern Albania and its use is diminishing. Nevertheless, the blood feud is instrumentalized by organized criminal groups to enhance their fear factor, and it has been abused by some asylum seekers using fake attestation letters to claim that they are victims of blood feud.

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  4. Local initiatives: Resilience dialogues in the Western Balkans.

    In October and November, the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe continued its in-person ‘resilience dialogues’ in the six capitals of the Western Balkans. Lively discussions were held in Tirana, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Pristina. The meetings provided an opportunity for civil society organizations (CSOs) to come together and share views on current activities as well as to discuss challenges that they face in their work. Some of the most dynamic discussions were between representatives of civil society and the government on how to work together more effectively on issues like migration, corruption and drugs.

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  5. Kicking out crime: Using martial arts to empower young Albanians.

    As part of our series of conversations with representatives of CSOs in the Western Balkans who are strengthening local resilience to organized crime, we talk to Elion Puka, martial arts master and head of the Vllaznia tae kwon do club in Shkodra, Albania, about his work using martial arts to empower young people and keep them away from crime.

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About this issue

Welcome to the eleventh issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe (SEE-Obs) of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC). As usual, we begin with a profile of a hotspot of organized crime, this time the region of northern Kosovo. We explore what is going on behind the political rhetoric and take a closer look at the criminal economy in this subregion, particularly the smuggling of licit goods.

While there has been a lot of fanfare about the Open Balkan initiative, there is also scepticism. We look at the potential implications of more open borders on criminal markets and emphasize the need for greater regional law enforcement cooperation. We caution that what is not required, at least at the outset, is the creation of yet another regional law-enforcement body – there are enough if not already too many. Nevertheless, greater cooperation and coordination is needed, and could be enhanced by more effective use of bodies like the Integrative Internal Security Governance process, which is part of the EU’s efforts to improve security cooperation in the Western Balkans.

We also provide an overview of four resilience dialogues that the Observatory organized in October and November following the September kick-off meeting in Skopje. These meetings in Tirana, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Pristina were held under the Chatham House Rule (under which information disclosed may be reported but the source may not be identified), so it is difficult to give the reader a sense of the energy in the room or the lively discussions, particularly between civil society and government representatives. But the meetings were crucial in building bridges between investigative journalists, academics and NGO representatives, as well as between civil society and government. They also provided an opportunity to showcase the GI-TOC’s work in the region after almost two years of COVID-19, to renew contacts, create new partnerships and strengthen networks against organized crime. The last meeting in the series will be held in Podgorica, Montenegro, in mid-December.

Blood feud in Albania is a practice that remains shrouded in a degree of secrecy and mystery. Based on a custom dating from the 15th century, blood feuds still exist in a few places in Albania, particularly in the north of the country. Potential victims stay in their homes in a permanent state of lockdown or flee – either to other parts of Albania or abroad. Based on first-hand research, we look into how common the practice is, its links to organized crime and what steps the Albanian authorities are taking to address it.

We conclude with an interview with a Resilience Fund recipient, Elion Puka, a tae kwon do master who moved back from Italy to his hometown of Shkodra, Albania, to teach martial arts to young people in the community. We talk to him about the threat posed by organized crime in Shkodra, and how sports can strengthen the resilience of young people to organized crime and violence.

References to Kosovo in this Risk Bulletin are made without prejudice to positions on status, and are in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

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