An American political scientist from Brown University says the widespread criminality in the Balkans is the product of a long tradition and not a new phenomenon. Professor Peter Andreas spoke Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington.
Mr. Andreas said the Balkans and particularly the former Yugoslavia has long been a transit route for drugs entering western Europe from Asia. During the 1960s and 70s, he says, the drug trade operated without much impact on Yugoslav society. Drug use and violent assassinations, he said, were rare. The illegal trade flourished, he speculates, because the frequent bribes that were paid for transit were an accepted part of economic activity.
The situation worsened, says Professor Andreas, as Yugoslavia fragmented and independence movements required money to buy weapons. Mr. Andreas said there is little doubt that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), that is active in both Kosovo and Macedonia,has been involved in criminal activity. "There is a relationship between drug trafficking through the region, drug distribution in Western Europe, and the KLA. Now exactly what that relationship is, how strong that relationship is, that is a question of great debate. But I think there is enough stuff out there to suggest that this linkage is real. And in fact in places like Switzerland the heroin market is largely controlled by Albanian ethnic diaspora. You know, they're part of the Homeland Calling Fund," Mr. Andreas said. He said the creation of new borders within the old Yugoslavia worsened the criminal problem. Smugglers, he said, do not like borders. That is particularly true in the case of the new border between Macedonia and Kosovo where ethnic Albanians live on both sides.
Mr. Andreas said while Bosnia is the venue of much criminal activity it is worse in the Serbian part of Bosnia. The bodyguards of indicted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadjic, he said, are linked to smuggling. He attributes much of the violent crime in the Serbian capital of Belgrade to organized crime.
"In Belgrade you have this incredible post-conflict upsurge in assassinations. It's a bloody place, high profile big wigs getting shot down in front of fancy hotels," he said.
By contrast, said Mr. Andreas, Zagreb and Sarajevo are relatively peaceful.