Contemporary organized crime is one of the most striking forms of endangering the security of states and ordinary citizens. In addition to negatively affecting political and economic processes within a society and the global economy as well, organized crime undermines the rule of law and citizens’ trust in the ability of law enforcement agencies to provide them with protection. Trends show that organized crime is highly susceptible to transformations, ranging from traditional hierarchical structures to flexible criminal networks that adapt to emerging opportunities and demands. While drug trafficking is still the most profitable business for criminal groups, which profits were close to $ 100 billion each year during the early 2000s , the best example of their adaptability is the COVID-19 pandemic, during which police agencies around the world confiscated significant amounts of counterfeit medical items.
According to EUROPOL estimates, about 5,000 organized criminal groups are active on European soil, while the annual drug trafficking profit is estimated to be between 30 and 40 billion euros in EU member states alone. One of the ways for drugs to reach that rich market is the so-called “Balkan route” on which the Western Balkans region is located. In addition, the region is becoming an increasingly important producer of narcotics, primarily cannabis, and its criminals are increasingly networked and involved in transnational criminal activities. Trials of mafia bosses, scandals about the connection of politicians with criminal clans or brutal executions of gang members are common topics covered by regional media. Of particular concern is the long-standing trend of creating a cult of personalities of former criminals or people of questionable past in the media, which is especially tragic for the younger generations growing up in collapsed societies, the societies without clearly defined moral values.
On the other hand, the Contracting Parties of the Western Balkans region do not seem to show sufficient will and strength to bring the problem of organized crime under adequate control. This is indicated by the reports of the international community institutions, investigative media and other organizations, putting the problem of organized crime in close connection with omnipresent and systemic corruption, i.e. the close connection of criminal groups with the political elite. In such circumstances, it is clear that there must be social actors who will act according to the model of “pressure groups”, in order to place these problems in the true focus of interest of government institutions and the public in general, and treat them on the basis of objective and realistic proposals.
In this regard, the Balkan Security Platform, a network of non-governmental organizations from BiH (Centre for Security Studies), Serbia (Belgrade Centre for Security Policy), Montenegro (Institute Alternative), Kosovo (Kosovar Centre for Security Studies), North Macedonia (EUROTHINK) and Albania (Institute for Democracy and Mediation), has launched an initiative to address this problem in the Western Balkans, deeper into the matter.
Our partner “Western Balkans Fund” recognized the importance of such an initiative and provided funds for almost 20 researchers of the Platform and representatives of academia and investigative journalism to further specialize in organized crime research, in order to offer the most tangible contribution to combating this problem. The mentioned training will be realized within the project “Increasing the research capacities of civil society organizations from the Western Balkans in the field of organized crime“.