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The Iranian MEK in Albania: Implications and Possible Future Sectarian Divisions

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: in 2013, the Obama Administration convinced Albanian authorities to take in the MEK, a former Marxist terrorist group that had been in open combat with the Islamic Republic for years. In 2016, under cover of the migration crisis and with help from the UNHCR, several hundred more of these Iranian dissidents were brought into Albania from Iraq. What could possibly go wrong? In this exclusive new analysis of a little-discussed security subject, Albanian counter-terrorism expert Ebi Spahiu analyzes the potential for future sectarian divisions and domestic and international orientations towards Albania’s newest population.

By Ebi Spahiu

In 2013, the Obama Administration struck a deal with the government of Albania to offer asylum to about 250 members of Mohajedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian “dissident group” exiled from Iran to Iraq during the early years of Khomeini’s regime. The group was once labeled a terrorist organization by the international community due to its track record of orchestrating bombing campaigns in Iran – often targeting American offices, businesses and citizens – as well as other military operations in an attempt to oust the newly established Iranian Islamic regime in the 1970s.

Since 2013, the Obama Administration and Albanian government have extended the agreement, consequently increasing the number of asylum seekers to somewhere in the range of 500-2,000 MEK members. During the summer of 2016, Tirana received the largest contingent of about 1,900 people- an operation managed by the UNHCR.

Although most local media portray the operation and Albania’s willingness to offer assistance to the dissident group as a humanitarian mission, little discussion has been made regarding the potential implications that MEK’s presence may have for Albania in the long run, and for religious balances that have already been thrown off by Wahabbi and Salafi presence among moderate Muslim communities in recent years.

Sectarian Identities and Divides in the Context of Wahhabi Activism and Syria

Sunni-based Islamist supporters and organizations have a history of operating in Albania and throughout the Western Balkans via funding that often streams from Gulf countries which have exported Wahabbi and Salafi Islamic values and traditions, ones that were previously foreign to Albania’s majority Muslim population which still follows the Hanafi-based teachings inherited by the Ottoman Empire.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis on Albania’s Muslim population, this religious composition is reflective of centuries of religious influences, including Sufi and Shi’a traditions, attested in practices and rituals to this day. It is mainly from this long history that six in ten Muslims do not distinguish their religious affiliation in a sectarian form, such as Shi’a or Sunni, rather simply identify as “just Muslim,” according to findings by Pew.

Despite these historical legacies that have strengthened relations between religious communities, the presence of Wahhabi and Salafi groups over the years has implanted a sectarian identity regarding which most Albanian Muslim practitioners were oblivious in the past. Since the outset of the conflict in Syria, about 150 Albanian citizens and over 500 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia have joined terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, alongside then-Jabhat Al-Nusra and later IS.

Even though the number of foreign fighters has drastically decreased since 2015, threats persist from non-violent agitations and divisive narratives that continue to dominate some religious landscapes, including negative portrayal of local Bektashi communities and sectarian rifts which are becoming more pronounced among popular religious leaders.

The MEK in Albania and Sectarian Divides

Since its inception in the 1960s, the MEK has embraced Marxist ideologies and Shiite-centric Islamic values; this has distinguished the group from other Islamist terrorist organizations which have remained more focused on their sectarian identity.

Most people in Albania know little about the MEK, nor the list of other names the group has used to identify itself as a resistance group against Khomeini’s theocratic rule, not to mention their activities following the Iranian revolution and their exile to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein offered his support in exchange for their capacities to threaten the Iranian regime.

Over the years, the MEK has renounced all violence and developed closer relationships with officials from the American government, which later removed the group from its official list of terrorist organizations. Despite their engagement with the West, however, the group’s history of violence remains an important question often raised by Iran observers and policy-makers, who cast doubt on the group’s pledge to have renounced all forms of violence while achieving political objectives.

In 2013 this was apparent when many countries that were approached by the US government to host MEK members refused to do so, out of concern for security implications. Romania is believed to have been the US’ preferred host for the MEK, but the Romanian authorities immediately refused. Albania was therefore not the first choice for MEK relocation, but accepted due to its close relations with the US.

The type of security implications their presence may bring is yet to be assessed by Albanian policy-makers, with some speculating that the MEK will establish a base in the country’s capital, similar to that of Camp Liberty and Ashraf in Iraq, where they can access weapons and restart their political activities to bring down Iran’s regime.

Even though most MEK asylum-seekers seem to lead a quiet life in their new homes, recent events and discussion regarding the potential death of the exiled MEK leader, Massoud Rajavi, suggest that the MEK seeks to regain its political standing in opposition to Iran, and sees its members’ relocation to Albania as an opportunity to reengage as a resistance movement against Khameini’s regime, but this time away from the direct threat that Iranian proxy groups posed for them in Iraq.

The Paris Event, Albania and Possible Foreign Interests in the New Arrangement

Since their arrival in Albania, the group appears to have ramped up support in the midst of Albania’s political elite, which was highly celebrated during a congress organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, held in Paris this past July.

Pandeli Majko, a current Socialist MP and former Prime Minister of Albania during the war in Kosovo, accompanied by over 20 political representatives from Albania, gave an impassioned speech at the Free Iran gathering in Paris where he pledged his support for the refugees currently staying in Albania, as well as the group’s struggle to succeed in changing the regime in Iran. This has certainly angered Iranian officials who insist that the MEK seeks to exploit Albania’s geographical position in order to form a new camp there.

While Iran’s traditional rivalry with Israel might seem to indicate further activity in Albania involving the MEK, available information does not suggest any significant Israeli activity. However, a potential greater concern involves another traditional Iranian adversary – Saudi Arabia – which has been reported as giving help to the MEK. During the event in Paris, several important international figures attended and (as was reported in some anti-Western media) a Saudi government representative made a speech that pledged commitment to help out the movement in bringing down Iran’s regime.

Possible Repercussions for Albania: Sectarian Divides and Local Controversy More Likely than Larger Threats

These developments may have serious repercussions for Albania and Albanian policy-makers who may not foresee the long-term consequences of being involved in the issue, and in expanding their role on foreign policy issues beyond the small Balkan nation’s traditional reach.

Since the MEK has renounced all violence, the group does not represent an immediate threat to national security in Albania. However, it does remain an existential threat to the Iranian regime, which over the years has supported significant raids via Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed proxy groups in Iraq to destroy the organization and kill key MEK leaders. It should be remembered that the MEK was brought to Albania under agreement with the Obama Administration directly from Iraq, not from any third country.

Considering these factors, more involvement should be expected from Albanian authorities, even though there are no clear signs that Iran’s presence is increasing. It would be significantly harder for Iran to hit MEK in Albania than in its neighboring country of Iraq, though it is still possible.

Of more concern is that the MEK presence poses a risk of inflaming sectarian divides in smaller communities, a phenomenon still in its latent state among Albanian Muslims.

Several online sermons from Sunni-based religious leaders warn their followers of a Shiite presence under NGO programs that aim at recruiting young men and women to follow Quranic teachings and study programs in Iran, but there is never a mention of MEK’s presence in Albania and the role they may play.

While a serious sectarian war is farfetched at this point, there is a sectarian narrative to the issue which could be a matter of concern for the future, depending on how strong existing Islamist factions become. These include not just ISIS supporters, but also Turkish and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

One test will be how well the government manages the MEK, their needs and political objectives. Many Albanians are worried about whether the MEK poses any immediate risk, but nobody is actually talking about Iran’s historic and cross-borders feud with the MEK, and how threatened Iran still feels by the group.

Whether Albania is prepared enough to inherit a long-standing struggle between a major regional Middle Eastern power and a cult-like former terrorist organization is yet to be seen, but given Albania’s continued struggles with endemic corruption and organized crime, and the slow emergence of religious radicalization as a regional security threat, sectarian rifts may add to the list of challenges facing Albania’s political standing. One point of controversy that has already occurred domestically is that the agreement itself is very vague; there has thus been plenty of criticism domestically over a perceived lack of transparency on the terms agreed between Albania and the US.

 

Visegrad Group Migration Policy and the Balkans: Cooperation Expected to Continue in 2017

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: this new report from Poland considers the distinct character of V4 engagement with migration and assesses it in terms of 2016 policy statements, with the expectation that V4-Balkan attitudes and cooperation on the issue will continue during this year in an increasingly turbulent and divided Europe.

By Antonio Scancariello

Despite the formal closure of the Balkan route last spring, the influx of refugees trying to reach EU Schengen Zone borders has not stopped. For future policy trends and decisions, it is necessary to take into account the role of the Visegrad Group (V4) countries, which have already been active in influencing EU policy since 2015. In the year ahead, their policies might affect the Western Balkans as much as the general dealing with the migration crisis itself.

Early Policy Formation

These countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – have become as important for the solution of the migrant crisis as their Western European counterparts, especially after their disagreement about the so-called migrant quota scheme became clear.

The first stages of the crisis mainly involved Greece and Macedonia, in 2015 and early 2016, which were then followed by Hungary, with the latter becoming “the first to erect a fence to keep migrants away from the country’s borders. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejected the quota mechanism from the very beginning, advocating the protection of the EU’s external borders instead,” reported EurActive recently.  “This led to unprecedented numbers of detections of illegal crossings at Hungary’s and Croatia’s borders with Serbia,” as a FRONTEX report explained in a press release of 9 January 2017.

Since the beginning of the crisis, migrants have most often sought to continue towards other EU countries, mainly Germany. However, FRONTEX also noted that “the record number of migrants arriving in Greece in 2015 had a direct knock-on effect on the Western Balkan route,” which has led the V4 countries’ role to gradually grow in importance. The Greece-Macedonia-Serbia migrant corridor “led to unprecedented numbers of detections of illegal crossings at Hungary’s borders with Serbia.”

The Visegrad Approach and the Balkans and Greece in 2016

The V4 attitude toward migration has fundamentally differed from that of several Western European countries which, being overwhelmed by the influx of refugee, have accused the East of being a bloc lacking in solidarity by refusing to take people in, as a 2016 report from Visegrad Revue noted.

Therefore, their approach to solving the crisis has been mainly based on calls for strengthened external EU borders; this was the core message of the joint statement on migration released by the V4 in early 2016.

Gathering in Prague, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Macedonia and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, the prime ministers of the four countries voiced their concerns and proposed their solutions by expressing “their full support for measures adopted at the European Union level with the aim of a more effective protection of the external borders, including reinforced cooperation with third countries while repeating their negative stance on automatic permanent relocation mechanism,” in an official joint statement of 15 February 2016.

This would also benefit the Western Balkans, an area in which stability is needed if the EU is keen in tackling the refugee crisis, the statement added. At that meeting, the V4 leaders also confirmed their support for Greece, the role of which has been considered pivotal in the management of the migrant flow.

Focus on Polish Views

An interesting insight into how the V4 may help in solving the migrant crisis, and the consequences this would have on the Balkans, is provided by Poland. At the February event, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said that Poland would do its part through helping countries of origin. This policy was reaffirmed in May 2016. These views (which were confirmed by the Presidency of the Visegrad Group in the document) have been developed by Poland, which explains its will to help migrants’ countries of origins. The purpose of this policy was to “deepen the cooperation with them in order to tackle the root causes of the current migratory pressure.” In their estimation, this would in turn ease the pressure on European borders and the Western Balkans, considered by the V4 as a valuable partner in the protection of EU external borders.

The Polish stance is unlikely to change to a more EU- and Germany-oriented one in the foreseeable future, due to the recent constitutional crisis and the prolonged clashes between its government and the EU itself. These statements become even more important following the renewed, huge presence of refugees on Serbian soil, which questioned the alleged closure of the Balkan route. At least 8,000 migrants remain in Serbia, according to La Repubblica. The Italian newspaper states that this is due to the opposition raised by Hungary and the border closures of other nearby countries, like Croatia.

Slovenia, Austria and Possible Outcomes

The obstruction of Slovenia and Austria will also play a factor at the upper edges of the ‘Balkan route.’ The latter is close to the V4’s negative stance regarding migrant quotas, while the former is toward the crisis could deteriorate the overall situation. Slovenia’s government, as recently reported by Balkan Insight, “backed an amendment to the existing Aliens Act on January 5, proposing tougher procedures towards asylum seekers and refugees for a trial six-month period – with a possible extension for another six months.”

Under this scenario, the police can refuse entry to most asylum seekers on the border, the same source stated. Moreover, this could cause the countries close to the Balkan route – Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary – to adopt the same measures, argues the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks. However, it is too soon to know whether this is realistic of just alarmism as the individual dynamics in each country differ tremendously.

Therefore, in conclusion, it can be said that the migration challenges faced by the EU since early 2015 have brought new factors and characters into play. The Western Balkans, due to the migrant crisis, is one of them. Although there are no easy solutions available, the region may well benefit from the strengthening of the existing diplomatic ties or the creation of new ones with the V4 countries. This could help Balkan states to address issues of internal stability, as well as with others linked to future EU inclusion.

 

EU Financial Legislation, Hawala Banking and the Migrant Crisis: Developments and Implications

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: while world media have covered in depth the European Union’s approach to the migrant crisis, little attention has been paid to ongoing financial-sector EU legislation, and its ability – or lack thereof – to control possibly illicit international transactions, using alternative methods such as the Hawala system, favored by many Muslim migrants. (A basic explanation of how the system operates is available here on Wikipedia).

In the following analysis, Bulgarian banking expert Gergana Yordanova explains the relevant EU legislation and the discrepancies with the Hawala system- as well as the implications could have for EU security and financial policing.

By Dr. Gergana Yordanova, PhD.

Today’s historic migrant crisis is creating new risks and threats to the EU, and not only in terms of security and social services. They also include risks to the economic and financial security systems of the migrant-hosting states. In many states, this has involved the ‘net settlement’ of funds via the ‘Hawala’ system of informal Islamic banking. Despite cumulative volumes and financial scale, these settlement operations remain out of the scope of the EU’s new regulatory framework on payment and remittance systems infrastructure. This framework was created after the adoption of the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive and the Regulation on information accompanying transfers of funds in 2015.

There is thus a significant new security threat involving latent potential for money laundering and terrorist financing activities, on both the national and cross-border levels. The latter requires an active reframing process of the remittance systems mechanisms, and a holistic, risk-based approach in order to protect society from crime, and to ensure the proper functioning of the EU financial system when confronted with threats like money laundering and terrorist financing.

The New EU Financial Legislation in Context

In 2015, the European Council adopted two key points of legislation: a Directive regarding money laundering and terrorism financing; and a Regulation on information accompanying transfers of funds.

The first is officially known as Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2015 on the prevention of the usage of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Commission Directive 2006/70/EC. The official text is available here.

The second is known as Regulation (EU) 2015/847 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2015 on information accompanying transfers of funds and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1781/2006. The official text is available here.

The approach of the new Directive (also known as the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive) was based to a greater extent on risk analysis over measures for anti-money laundering activities and the prevention of terrorist financing. It established stronger requirements for customer due diligence checks. This was done to ensure that certain customer and transaction categories would not be exempt from the requirements for enhanced customer due diligence measures. The obliged entities would also have to apply a risk assessment level before deciding whether customer due diligence checks would be required.

The new Regulation is also closely related to the objectives of the Directive. It strengthens the existing legal requirements and obligations related to combating money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in terms of value transfers and remittance systems related to it. These provisions also take into account the standards developed in the field (the revised Recommendation No 16, former SRVII) on Wire Transfers, and the revised interpretative note for its implementation of the revised Financial Action Task Force – FATF Recommendations).

This refers to the 2012 FATF Recommendations and International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism & Proliferation. The official text is available here.

It also includes requirement for increasing the full traceability of funds and payments transfers. It does this by obliging payment/funds transfer service providers to supply the competent national authorities with information, both on the payer and the payee.

The new legislative aspects of this EU regulatory framework provide an instrument ensuring that the competent national authorities have effective tools in combating money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In particular, it concentrates on the misuse of the financial system by criminals who act as money launders and their associates.

These changes and reforms are considered by the EU as proper and effective results of a long-term process of identifying various weaknesses in the European financial and banking system.

The Migrant Crisis and Hawala Banking as a Challenge to the New EU Regulatory Framework

The development of a dynamic situation involving a large-scale migrant influx, however, shows that by 2016 – only a year after the adoption of the new regulatory framework, and a year before its entering into force (the new regulatory framework shall apply from 27 June 2017) – these measures had already risked becoming irrelevant. This was due to the sudden increase in persons with experience, and preferences, for informal alternative remittance systems, such as the Hawala system.

This risk is partly due to the fact that the new Regulation does not apply to transfers under 1,000 euros. Also, EU Member States should be able to apply lower thresholds as well as additional general limitations on the use of cash and other stricter provisions by law. This is subject to Article 2 (4) (5) of Directive (EU) 2015/849 and Article 2 (5) |c| of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847).

The use of alternative financial systems such as Hawala banking could thus become a potential threat to the economic and financial security of the EU, insofar as exclusion from the monitoring mechanism could damage the integrity, stability and reputation of the financial sector, its growth and market capitalization and threaten both the internal market and international development.

Directive (EU) 2015/849 : Risk Assessment Requirements

With the above-cited Directive, the EU acquis communautaire, the EU Commission must prepare a report identifying, analyzing and evaluating money laundering and terrorist financing risks that could affect the internal market, and also relate to cross-border activities. The imposed deadline for drawing up this report is 26 June 2017.

Thereafter, the Commission is required to update it every two years, or more frequently if appropriate; this is specified in Article 6 (1) of Directive (EU) 2015/849). The report would cover the areas of the internal market that are at greatest risk in terms of money laundering and terrorist financing. Risks assessed are associated with each relevant sector and based on the revised FATF Recommendation No 1 and the FATF Immediate Outcome 1.

This is also in accordance with Article 7 (2) of Directive (EU) 2015/849), as well as a list of the most common means by which criminals launder illicit proceeds.

It is clear that the settlement mechanisms for Hawala funds transfer should be added in the EC’s report, in the part related to the most common means of laundering illicit proceeds. This risk assessment should be conducted regardless of the scale and volume of funds thus transferred, without taking into account the benchmark subject to Article 2 (4) (5) of Directive (EU) 2015/849 and Article 2 (5) |c| of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847).

In broadening this implementation, an effort would be made to track all the financial flows generated by the migrant waves from the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, it would preventively interrupt any potential schemes of money laundering or terrorist financing via the ancient informal Arabian alternative remittance system.

Customer Due Diligence

The new EU Directive also foresees the gradual elimination of secret banking, financial and credit arrangements, by establishing strict prohibition of anonymous accounts or passbooks for clients of credit and financial institutions. This is in accordance with Article 10 (1) of Directive (EU) 2015/849. This requires the execution of two types of customer due diligence: one simplified and the other, enhanced, in accordance with Article 13 of Directive (EU) 2015/849. The following measures are required:

  1. identifying the customer and verifying the customer`s identity based on documents, data or information obtained from a reliable and independent source;
  2. identifying the beneficial owner and taking reasonable measures to verify that person’s identity;
  3. assessing and, as appropriate, obtaining information on the purpose and intended nature of the business relationship;
  4. conducting ongoing monitoring of the business.relationship including scrutiny of transactions undertaken throughout the course of that relationship to ensure that the transactions being conducted are consistent with the obliged entity’s knowledge of the customer.

The identities of migrants and refugees in Europe could also hypothetically be identified by customer due diligence with the new Directive, though this is admittedly more difficult in the cases of many newcomers lacking documentation. Thus, a priori it would help to identify persons among the criminal contingent and their associates, as well as people against whom there have been charges or some reasonable assumptions have been made for acting as money laundering, terrorism financing and organized crime agents.

Beneficial Ownership Information

Customer due diligence is directly related to the new aspect in identifying the legal beneficial owners of corporations and other for-profit legal entities. Thus, the information regarding beneficial owners will be delivered by public central registers, in accordance with Article 30 (3) of Directive (EU) 2015/849 and Article 3 of Directive (EU) 2009/101.

The Register should ensure timely and unrestricted access by the competent financial intelligence authorities. Moreover, the information stored could help authorities in gaining a clearer picture of the scale and volumes of various “black and gray” business activities such as: Islamic Hawala finance (in case of any available book-entry transfer orders or payment and cash deposit statements as written evidences), various types of global offshore banking schemes, different clearing houses, central depositories/repositories or central counterparties, large fund transfers to countries or jurisdictions classified as tax havens, as well as political corruption. The last can include acts of nepotism, undue influence-peddling and business relations of politically exposed persons who entrust prominent public functions, their family members and persons known to be close associates. Among the above-mentioned activities and functions, possibilities exist for cases of money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

New EU Obligations on Payment Systems Providers and the Hawala System

In relation to the information accompanying funds transfers, the new Regulation obliges the payment system provider in accordance with Article 3 (Definition 5) and Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847.

This requirement is meant to ensure that funds transfers are accompanied by the information on the payer related, as follows: both the names of the payer and of the payee; their payment account numbers; address; official personal document number; customer identification number or date and place of birth for the payer. These conditions are specified in accordance with Article 3 (Definitions 3 and 4) and Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847.

However, the Hawala system`s modus operandi precludes these obligations and requirements for informational and data provision of transfers of funds. In Hawala system settlements, the anonymity of both counterparties is its primary principle of not declaring any verified identity. Moreover, there are no payment or accounting documents (such as deposit and withdraw cash receipts, transfer orders, bills, statements etc.) for any Hawala transaction. Thus, no book-entry (de)materialized form is the second principle of Hawala Banking.

Under the new EU Directive, transfers that exceed 1,000 euros (whether within or outside the Union), require the payment system provider to make available at least the names of the counter-parties, their payment account numbers (in accordance with Article 3 (Definition 7) of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847) or the unique transaction identifier, if applicable (in case of Article 4 (3) of the Regulation, in accordance with Article 3 (Definition 11) of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847).

Notwithstanding these new regulatory requirements, it is obvious that they do not include the Hawala system’s transfers of funds and settlement of remittances. This Eastern transfer system is already very widespread among Muslim communities in Europe, and will continue to be illegal in terms of the new EU acquis communautaire until the adoption of a criteria and mechanisms for its monitoring by relevant national authorities.

Until that time, Hawala banking will remain a fast, convenient and reliable way of transferring funds the origins of which could be illegal and could generate a number of penalty provisions concerning money laundering activities, terrorism financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This means that to each payment service or related instruction/order for execution of a payment risk assessment and analysis would be required for signs of illicit activity for each payment transaction, under Article 9 of the Regulation. Any suspicious one would then have to be reported to the national or regional financial intelligence unit (in accordance with Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847). However, given the nature of Hawala banking, this is clearly impracticable.

EU Obligations on Intermediary Payment Systems Providers regarding Transaction Data

A set of various effective risk-based procedures for determining information on the payer and the payee within the remittance, messaging or payment and settlement system used to affect the transfer of funds are necessary in order to execute it. Such an obligation on the intermediary payment systems provider is in accordance with Article 3 (Definition 6) of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847.

This requires the implementation of effective procedures. Where appropriate, these include ex-post monitoring or real-time monitoring to determine whether any of the information on the payer and the payee is missing.

These obligations are difficult to meet with the Hawala system. It does not allow delivery and record retention of payer and payee information. Therefore, to comply with the law, the intermediary payment systems provider would have to take into account the missing information and establish effective risk-based procedures for determining whether to execute, reject or suspend each Hawala transaction, and whether it is to be reported to the national or regional financial intelligence unit (in accordance with Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No 2015/847).

Conclusion: Challenges and Opportunities from the Hawala System

The European Union’s continuing reforms of financial transaction controls have overlapped with an unprecedented migrant crisis, one which has brought alternative payment and settlement methods into increasing use in Europe. While Hawala and other alternative payment schemes were in use in Europe for many years before the migrant crisis, and indeed before the legislative amendments of 2015, the difficulty of bringing them under the scope of the law is a systemic and probably impossible task.

As we expect the migrant economy’s use of Hawala banking to only increase in years ahead, this will pose new challenges for EU lawmakers, banking and financial officers- but also new opportunities for experts and firms specializing in analyzing and monitoring alternative payment methods in an increasingly globalized Europe.

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Note: This analysis has been adapted from a conference paper, entitled Reframing of Remittance System Mechanism of the EU in Liaison with the Migration Flows: the Hawala System Case, which was initially presented by the author at the Cross-Border Cooperation and Development Policies on the Balkans Conference, held from 17-18 November 2016 at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.

New Information Surfaces on Killed Terrorist Anis Amri, as Italian Investigation Continues

 

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: the Berlin Christmas Market terrorist attack this past week came as the clearest example yet of the deadly mix of modern events and policies that have allowed Europe to become a new terrorist target. This exclusive report from Milan – where the fugitive terrorist was killed by police – brings together what is known until now with details from Italy that have not yet been reported, and anticipates future actions.

By Elisa Sguaitamatti and Chris Deliso

Anis Amri, the suspect in the deadly terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin this past week, was killed by the Italian police in a shootout  outside Sesto San Giovanni railway station (on the outskirts of Milan) around 3 a.m on Friday 23 December. A reward of 100,000 euros had been offered for information leading to his capture. Speaking later in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the Italian police. ISIS has also released a video of the young Tunisian pledging his allegiance to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, explaining his actions as vengeance against “those who bomb Muslims every day.”

Anis Amri’s Escape Route to Italy, and Possible Motives

Having fled the crashed truck in Berlin, the terrorist managed to cross three borders – a fact that critics of the Schengen Zone are sure to bring up – before reaching Milan. It is still unclear how he left Berlin. French investigators have just opened an inquiry to understand the precise route that Amri took, after Italian authorities confirmed that he had entered their country from France.

After getting out of Germany, the terrorist had purchased a Chambéry-Milan ticket in Chambéry station. From Chambéry to Turin he was traveling alone. He left the French station at 5:15p.m. on 22 December and arrived in Turin at 8:18 p.m.. Italian newspaper Repubblica reports that (according to one important Italian anti-terrorism investigative source) the only possible reason why Amri would have decided to get off the train in Turin would be that he came across someone like a Polfer agent (the train station police) doing a routine ticket check. By 22 December, his photos had become widespread online. Anti-terrorism officials are now investigating whether Amri used the three hours he stayed in Turin to look for shelter, or if he was contacting someone in Milan.

Italy’s General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS), coordinated by the Milanese counter-terrorism chief, Alberto Nobili, had also stated that Amri arrived in Italy from France, and added that surveillance cameras in Milan train station recorded Amri’s movements around 1a.m. on 23 December.

However, a point of detail that most foreign media have missed is that it is still unclear how he managed to get to Sesto San Giovanni (by around 4 a.m) as there is a 7-kilometer distance between the two places. “How he traveled there and what he was doing there are subject to delicate investigations,” Antonio De Iesu, director of the Milan police, said. “We have to understand whether he was in transit or was awaiting someone.” The final results will be communicated only after accurate and probably lengthy in-depth analysis carried out by the intelligence services.

The most likely current hypothesis for Italian investigators is that Amri had arrived in Milan lacking any pre-planned safe house, and thus decided to spend the night looking for someone who could help him within the historic Tunisian Islamic community.

A second, but less probable motive would be that, in a desperate and irreversible decision for martyrdom, Amri had chosen Milan as his final destination, as a place for vengeance against a country that he had grown to hate and in whose jails he had felt humiliated. This (for now, less likely) scenario would have seen Amri attempt another attack in Italy. In whatever case, his behavior even before the Berlin attack marked Amri as a very dangerous individual, so it was great luck that the police managed to find him, almost completely by accident.

New Details from Italian Security Officials

In a formal note, Interior Minister Marco Minniti made it very clear that details of the operation cannot be discussed as investigations are still underway. At a press conference in Milan, Police Chief Antonio de Iesu and Gen. Tullio del Sette, the commander of the Carabinieri, tried to clarify facts and information.

According to the very first account provided by Mr de Iesu, Amri was standing alone on a piazza in Sesto San Giovanni, next to the northern terminus of the M1 subway line, when the officers stopped him and asked for identification. Amri was “aggressive, firm and determined” with the officers, Mr. De Iesu said.

Amri was carrying a small knife and a few hundred euros, but no cellphone. He apparently responded to police – in good Italian, with a North African accent – that he was not carrying any documents with him. They asked him to empty his pockets and backpack. That is when he pulled out the pistol.

“It was a regular patrol, under the new system of intensified police checks on the territory,” Mr. De Iesu said. “They had no perception that it could be him, otherwise they would have been more careful.” Amri is said to have shouted ‘police bastards,’ in Italian, after he was shot.

Items Gathered and Varying Identities

The police have announced finding on Amri the train tickets (only from Chambéry to Milan), euro notes, shower gel, a tooth brush and tooth paste, and a 22-caliber pistol. Repubblica.it added today that when killed, Amri was wearing three pair of trousers one on top of the other. This curious combination of items tends to support the likelihood of a relatively spontaneous and sudden attack in Berlin, and that he had planned to live after escaping.

Investigators are also looking into the Tunisian’s ‘digital life.’ Italian TV channel Rai News 24 has just said that he had 7 different Facebook profiles with fake identities but with the same family members and friends among his contacts.

A History of Violence and Evasion in Europe’s Migrant Detention System

Now investigations are underway to understand why Amri chose Italy and whether this was his final destination to seek refuge. If so, investigators are trying to determine whether he was trying to reach someone he knew. Otherwise, they are trying to determine whether Amri could have considered Italy as only a transit country.

His past link to Italy is apparent, making the former more likely. He left Tunisia in 2011, during the ‘Arab Spring,’ arriving on Italian shores. During his stay he was held responsible for burning down a reception center for migrants in Sicily.

Later, Amri was detained for four years in six Italian jails (Enna, Sciacca, Agrigento, Palermo and Caltanissetta). He was housed at the identification and expulsion center, judged as “a dangerous and violent inmate.” In his native Tunisia, Amri’s brother said earlier this week that he and his family were “shocked” by his alleged involvement in the attack. After coming out of the expulsion center, however, the deportation mandate was never carried out and Amri crossed into Germany in July 2015. He applied for asylum, but was rejected in July 2016.

Amri should have been deported from Germany after his asylum request was denied. He was even in police custody after being caught with fake papers. But he slipped through the hands of German law enforcement, and now officials are asking how that happened.

Further Indications of a Probably Spontaneous Attack Decision

One of Amri’s phones was found in the truck that he crashed in Berlin and the two SIM cards – according to the information coming from two important Italian investigative sources – appear to have not been in use at that time. This is another indicator that neither the Berlin attack nor the escape that followed were pre-planned. In this case, Islamic State may have been looking for a propaganda victory and had only a broad association with the terrorist- a much different situation than with its involvement in the Paris attacks of November 2015. Regardless, for the general public the result is still the same: more panic and fear about potential attacks.

Likelihood of the Terrorist’s Development in Migrant Centers and Jails

According to the reconstruction of facts made by the daily newspaper La Stampa it is very likely that Amri had previously made friends with radical Islamist prisoners in the Agrigento jail; authorities noticed “suspicious behavior conducive to radicalization.” In January 2015, he was transferred to the Ucciardone prison in Palermo, due to “serious and valid security reasons.”

Another Italian newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, reported that Amri’s behaviour was pointed out by the penitentiary prison administration department which soon informed the Anti-terrorism Strategic Analysis Committee; this body includes members from the judiciary, police and the intelligence services.

Further Radicalization in Germany?

Therefore, while in prison, Amri could have possibly been affected and influenced by the activity of proselytizers. However, Amri later established contacts with “the most important representative of ISIS in Germany,” Abu Walaa, an Iraqi preacher who was arrested only last month. German authorities claim that Abu Walaa was guilty of recruiting fighters for ISIS. Also, Amri had been ordered to be deported back to Tunisia, but bureaucratic obstacles prevented the authorities from following through on this. Further, last September the authorities stopped electronic monitoring of Amri, even though he had been identified as a security risk.

Recently, Italian media have also reported that German investigators believe that Amri also had another mentor among Walaa’s group: Boban Simeonovic, a 36-year-old Serbian-German from Dortmund (Westphalia), considered to be very radical. Simeonovic, arrested for terrorism last November together with Walaa, had provided direct links with different German members of the Islamic State in Syria.

CNN has added to the story now by referencing the focus placed on all three men in a 345-page German security report from November, when Simeonovic was arrested. “Anis spoke several times about committing attacks,” said CNN, citing a police informant who told this to German investigators, according to the files. “The informant said Simeonovic and another member of the network “were in favor of that and gave him a place to hide. Members of the Abu Walaa network also discussed driving a truck full of gasoline with a bomb into a crowd, the police informant told investigators, according to the documents.”

It thus seems likely from all the data available to us that Amri was personally and spontaneously carrying out a specific attack plan that his cell had generally discussed carrying out, before it was partially disbanded by German authorities. Therefore, while probably a ‘lone wolf’ attack, the Berlin attack has aspects of an organized jihadist operation, rather than simply the personal decision of one deranged individual.

Security Precautions in Milan Increase amidst Public Fears

Currently anti-terrorism efforts in Milan have increased. The Duomo Square (Piazza del Duomo) has been cordoned off by anti-truck barriers made of concrete to protect the Christmas markets and to increase the general level of security in the city.

The turbulence has affected public perception regarding local security too. The Sesto San Giovanni area is mostly a residential one, and people living there have a general perception of fear and insecurity, fearing that Lombardy could become soon an operational basis for “sleeper cells.”

ROS Carabinieri are indeed looking into a sleeper cell that could exist with links in Lombardy and bases in Bergamo, Lecco and Varese. In this area the control of the territory and the work of intelligence led to the expulsion and arrest of four radicalized people affiliated to ISIS in recent years. (Balkanalysis.com has already reported on some Northern Italy-based networks, in November 2015 and again in December 2015).

Furthermore, in the Sesto San Giovanni area the biggest mosque in northern Italy is under construction. It has been at the center of huge criticism lately. The local Islamic community there strongly condemned the attacks and dissociated with Amri’s behavior.

Yesterday, Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala planned to sign the already-agreed “Pact of Milan;” this 650-million-euro investment in urban security includes stepping up military and police staff in sensitive spots.

Moreover, while the Monza Prosecutor is investigating the shootout, the Milan Prosecutor opened a case to understand why the Berlin killer was in Italy at all, after crossing the borders of three countries without being recognized or stopped. According to the very first indiscretions, no hypothesis can be excluded, above all the possibility that he had some accomplices and support in Lombardy.

The Italian police are currently focusing on Amri’s life in Italy over the last few years and the radical contacts that he established once he entered Germany. It seems that he was not an Islamic extremist before coming to Europe, and that the idea of terrorist attacks only came later when he was in Germany, after being in contact with jihadi-Salafist members and mentors.

Possible Support Networks and Other Concerns

TGR Lombardia TV has announced that authorities are now investigating any possible support network that would have been prepared to help and offer shelter to Anis Amri. This network could be specifically located between the two cities of Sesto San Giovanni and Cinisello Balsamo. The reason for this is that Italian authorities confirmed that the Polish-owned truck that crashed into Berlin’s Christmas market on 19 December had departed for Germany from the Italian city of Cinisello Balsamo.

Another concern is officer safety from possible revenge attacks. The Interior Minister disclosed the names of the two young policemen who had to confront and kill Amri. This, together with the images of the two men spread widely in the media, raised criticism among the public and the security forces that their identities could potentially put their lives in jeopardy in future.

The Italian newswire Ansa quoted an excerpt from a new document released by the Head of State Police, Franco Gabrielli, which claimed that “after this shootout episode, much more attention must be paid, as actions in retaliation against policemen and state authorities cannot be excluded.

Finally, the website Il Sole 24 ore.com it has just published an analysis by Middle East expert Alberto Negri, who attests that some parts of Milan and Lombardy have become logistic and recruiting bases for potential jihadists. Evidence cited for that includes arrests and inquiries last August, which dismantled important jihadi cells. Italy has been considered for a long time as the entry point towards Europe; the country has so far prevented jihadists from carrying out attacks locally. But, as the case of Anis Amri shows, luck is very desirable, but not something that can be counted on to tackle a persistent and constant threat.

Conclusion

The horror of the Berlin Christmas market attack, in the larger context of a Europe confronted by major political polarization over border, security and immigration policy, will have effects both for policing and larger political events. The use of a vehicle as a weapon of terror is hardly a new one, but the brazen attack on a crowded public space is going to cause a rethink for urban planners and leaders across Europe, as they grapple with emerging security threats.

Secondly, even if it is not followed by other similar events, the terrorist attack and its dramatic, cross-Continental end, are sure to affect the upcoming elections in France, Germany and other countries, intensify existing debates over border policies, and further create conditions for violent confrontations between rival political blocs on the far left and right, in which it can expected that migrants and Islamist actors will also play a part. If 2016 was an unpredictably dangerous year for Western Europe, it is likely that 2017 will be even more turbulent.

EU External Border Management and the Current Situation in Italy and Greece: an Overview

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

Migration is a defining issue for Europe and its institutions and it is likely to remain so for a long time. According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of 19 October 2016, 340,972 migrants have arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2016, either by land or by sea. If we take a closer look at the issue, we can certainly note different and various waves of migration, both in scale and in scope.

The first type of migration is due to safety and security reasons, and it mainly includes Middle East and North Africa, bringing an influx of refugees of mostly Muslim origin escaping from war-ravaged countries, unstable or failed states. Another form of migration is caused by a mix of economic and climate reasons, encompassing most of Africa. Millions are fleeing their homelands due to precarious political conditions or natural calamities such as drought and famine. By leaving the continent they are generating a slow but steady flow towards Europe.

The current debate suggests that we are facing unprecedented flows of migration. Although it is undeniable that we are experiencing a rare intensity in inflows in a very short span of time, the truth is that migration is – and has always been – a global and systemic phenomenon, hence it is nothing new especially in the case of European history.

Statistical Increases and Worsening Regional Conditions

What is striking and very different from the past is the involvement of many Central and Eastern EU Member States. All of them were caught off guard and therefore struggled to manage the emergency from the onset, which soon became a migration crisis. Moreover, a new aspect is the regional nature of migration routes. These entail entire regions of Southern Europe reached either by land (the Balkans and Turkey) or by sea (the Adriatic, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas).

Currently, it looks like numbers are increasing in absolute terms as mixed migratory flows continue relentlessly. Based on UNHCR data, nowadays 65.3 million people are forced from their homes, 21.3 million are refugees of whom over half is under the age of 18, plus another 10 million of individuals considered ‘stateless.’ Additionally, displaced populations experience other displacements owing to the deterioration of the quality of asylum and the incapacity of states to provide essential services. Figures are growing at a much faster pace because of the fragmentation and the derailment of the whole Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa region. In particular, in the Middle East we are witnessing an unprecedented number of simultaneous crises.

Terrorism Concerns

Another hot topic is that of terrorism which is nothing new but now, much more than in the past, poses a threat to security, to the values of democracy and the rights and freedom of all European citizens. The European Council recently declared that between 2009 and 2013 there were 1,010 attacks (either failed or successful) in EU Members States. As more migrants of Muslim origin come to Europe, the alarmism over potential attacks in European cities has skyrocketed, spreading fears that terrorists can be mistaken for migrants or refugees when disembarking in external border countries.

Also, the terrorism threat in Europe has been often linked to the failure of past integration and social inclusion policies targeting different cultural groups. In particular, Muslims of the second and third generation are experiencing an identity dilemma, as they feel they belong neither to their country of origin, nor can they identify with the European values of their adopted country. Therefore, in many analysts’ opinion, they resort to violence and terrorist acts as it is – in their eyes – the only way to take out their frustration and disappointment.

Recent To Secure EU External Borders at a European Level

As one of the main areas of focus for the EU to stay alive is its external borders, external action is a key component of the EU strategy to handle the migration challenge while the main drivers of flows are here to stay. The short term imperatives are saving lives, breaking the business of smugglers and controlling irregular flows. On the other hand, the long-term objective is to develop structural actions that help states better manage migration in all aspects rather than work on crisis situations.

Ever since June 2016, the EU has been working on a comprehensive multi-layered strategy to enhance security in Europe in the fight against terrorism and strengthening of external borders. In detail, a European coordination and cooperation plan aimed at improving shared border management and rescue operations at sea and in the main ports of the South Mediterranean. Secondly is a new international plan building on the European Agenda on Migration, namely the Partnership Framework, which includes the long-neglected African countries for the first time.

In this way, African partners are not only part of the problem but they can become part of the solution too, in the EU’s thinking. The goal is to frame relations through “compacts”, tailor-made deals. Finally, looking beyond the emergency relocation scheme, a further and thorough plan is needed to help external border states such as Italy and Greece. This refers to the support of EU agencies providing expertise, advice and physical backing too.

Moreover, the Commission called for the reinforcement of Europol’s counter-terrorism capabilities so that it will become an intelligence hub for dismantling criminal networks along the Southern Mediterranean route. Europol’s Operational Centre comprises operational teams from the European Counter Terrorism Centre, the Cybercrime Centre, the Migrant Smuggling Centre, as well as the Internet Referral Unit (IRU) and national liaison bureaus.

EU Actions and Efforts in the Mediterranean Sea

As far as rescue and emergency operations at sea are concerned, in 2016 the European Union has tripled its presence in the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. The Frontex Operations Triton and Poseidon, as well as Operation Sophia, have saved over 400,000 lives since the beginning of 2015, and disrupted smugglers’ and traffickers’ networks. To further reinforce and enhance external border management, in September 2016 the EU Commission presented three innovative mechanisms. The first one is an accelerated process in handling rescue operations and identity and security checks thanks to the European Border and Coast Guard; then, for the longer term, the implementation of a EU Entry-Exit System and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

The European Border and Coast Guard

During the State of the Union Address in September 2016, EU Commission President Juncker stated that Europe will defend borders with the new European Border and Coast Guard, legally operational as of 6 October -just 9 months after the formal proposal- thanks to the common joint effort of Member States and EU institutions.

The decision to create a new EU border management agency came after the acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the former EU border agency, Frontex, which so far has limited its field of activity. Among these are the fragmentation of the effort, the lack of consistency in border control and resources as well as shortfalls in the staff. Frontex has always relied on Member States contributions and staff, and could only act for returns and border management operations after the formal request of a Member State. Despite all this, Frontex (in its new Agency form) is still crucial to restore border management, especially in Italy and Greece. At the moment 700 Frontex officers are deployed in Greece, 177 in Bulgaria, 514 in Italy and 152 in the Western Balkans.

On the other hand, the new agency will ensure shared management of EU external borders based on EU standards, proper identity and security checks, addressing emergencies in hotspots as well as carrying out monthly risk analyses and compulsory vulnerability assessments. The European Border and Coast Guard can count on a reserve pool of people and equipment. It will have, for the first time, rapid response capacity on a permanent footing – at least 1,500 border guards and technical equipment in order to deploy them in a timely manner. One important aspect of innovation is the fact that it will be tasked to intervene directly on the territory of a Member State, even without its request. It will have a mandate to envoy liaison officers and launch operation with neighbouring countries too.

In an effort to prevent and detect cross-border crime such as migrant smuggling, trafficking in human beings and terrorism, the Coast Guard will be also able to collect specific information -vehicle identification numbers, telephone numbers or ship identification numbers- to analyse migrant routes and methods. Precious information will be shared with the authorities of EU Member States and Europol, working closely to launch investigations.

The EU Entry-exit System

The EU entry-exit system (EES) was proposed by the Commission on 6 April 2016 even though it is likely to become fully operational only in 2020. This mechanism would improve the management of the external borders and reduce the amount of irregular immigration to Europe. Hence, it will directly contribute to the fight against terrorism and serious crime within the EU in two ways: dealing with visa oversharing and collecting particular figures, travel document and biometrics to register non-EU citizens having a 90-day permit for entering or exiting the Schengen area.

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System would offer a great deal of control over visa exempt travellers as it would be able to determine the eligibility of all visa-exempt third country nationals to travel to the Schengen area regularly based on pre-established criteria.

Operation Sophia/ EUNAVFOR Med in the Mediterranean Sea

As a consequence of the terrible migrant shipwreck off Libya in April 2015, the EU launched the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), also known as Operation Sophia, to conduct surveillance and interdict refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The military operation EUNAVFOR Med consists of three phases: surveillance and assessment of human smuggling and trafficking networks; search and diversion of suspicious vessels, finally the disposal of boats to stop traffickers and smugglers. More than 13,000 migrants have been rescued from the sea in the course of the Operation. In June 2016, the Council of the European Union extended Operation Sophia’s mandate by adding two tasks: the training of the Libyan coastguards and navy as well as the implementation of UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.

Recent European Initiatives with ‘Third Countries’: a New Partnership Framework

In June 2016, the Commission made a proposal for a new Partnership Framework aimed at deepening cooperation – for the first time – with non-EU member countries of origin, transit and destination. In the long term, this will mean adopting a concerted approach for investments in tackling the root causes of migration, and promoting sustainable development and stability. This of course entails a specific partnership with each third county as different are the political, economic and social contexts.

A key element of this Framework is the change of approach of the EU in addressing the migration issue by introducing the concept of “compacts”. These compacts are a political framework for guaranteed operational cooperation to develop a comprehensive partnership with third parties. It provides African states with instruments, tools and leverages in an effort to deliver clear and full commitment. The real novelty of the compact approach is that it bypasses the long technical negotiations that normally occur before a formal agreement and it offers a tailor-made delivery instead. As the understanding of mutually beneficial elements in migration management with each state grows, new compacts will be operationalised. These “packages” will then represent the driving force for the delivery of already agreed common objectives.

This mechanism needs a joint EU approach to be successful, which involves political engagement as well as practical support to third countries. This mechanism also requires a real understanding of EU and African countries interests so that interests and priorities can be used to work on mutual benefits. To this end, EU took the first step identifying Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia as priority African states in need of compacts. After months of major political and diplomatic efforts, Niger has taken action to fight against migrant smuggling and has set up a framework to manage migration dialogue with the EU. Strengthened operational efforts and cooperation are now happening in Senegal and Mali, especially as the identification of smugglers and standard operating procedures are concerned. Nigeria, the most populous African country now facing security and terrorism threats, is now negotiating a readmission agreement with the EU.

The first results can now be seen in a new momentum in the dialogue between the EU and its partners as well as in the progress made on return and readmissions, unblocking cases where returns were not possible because of a lack of staff trained for these missions. Standard operating procedures for identification and return are about to come into force, and EU financial assistance and targeted support is being deployed to help communities where migration and smuggling is common to try and address delicate issues. A further contribution has come from EU Member States which recruited European migration liaison officers to be posted in key third countries- acting as contact points to cooperate with EU partners and work for the delivery of more tangible results.

European External Investment Plan

In September 2016, the Commission presented a new External Investment Plan – a newly-created approach focused on EU support to sustainable development, inclusive growth, social development and regional integration mainly outside Europe. At the same time, this Plan is going to address the root causes of migration right in the countries of origin to specifically stop the flow of economic migrants. This plan will work on job creation, sustainable employment, investment opportunities in the partner countries and will be finalised before the end of 2016, most likely in December.

Efforts at the National Level: the Italian Case

As an external border country, lately Italy has come up with some proposals to handle the migration crisis. Italy has long been calling for the involvement of the whole international community in managing the migratory phenomenon, as it has been on the front line of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean for years, with its search and rescue operations, saving more than 75,000 people in 2015 and more than 60,000 so far this year, but still never adequately supported at the European level.

The Italian point of view emerged during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in late September 2016 when Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni delivered his speech. Mr Gentiloni explained that European countries have to invest in Africa to tackle the root causes of migration, primarily economic and demographic inequalities. This is the so-called “Migration Compact”. He once again called for the spirit of solidarity and full commitment to address migratory flows as it is -and always has been- a European problem, not only an Italian one.

The “Migration Compact” project’s goal is to reduce the flows along the Mediterranean route thanks to partnerships with origin and transit countries. However, this initial Italian proposal was much more detailed than the Framework Partnership recently approved by the EU. For Italy, the EU and African countries would have to cooperate on shared border control and fight against crimes, on migrant access to the European labour market and finally on the resettlement scheme to distribute asylum seekers in more countries.

For their part, African countries would have to be fully committed to the reduction of flows in cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard; to cooperate on repatriations when asylum seekers applications are rejected; to build reception and identification centres on African soil and finally, to fight against smugglers in joint police operations. In addition to that, the EU would have to make some development aid conditional, delivered only if African countries are willing to accept readmission of migrants whose applications have failed. Italy has also promoted a resettlement program, the “humanitarian corridor” project, aimed at saving the most vulnerable among migrants: women and unaccompanied children who could end up in the hands of smugglers more easily. The Italian government still hopes that the “humanitarian corridor” project can be taken up as a best practice at the European level.

All Italian hopes seemed to have been dashed at the Bratislava Summit on 16 September -the first one without Britain. It spread disillusionment among Italian authorities because there was no great relaunch or ambitious plan after the Brexit shock. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was overtly dissatisfied with the meeting after being excluded from a joint press conference by Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande. Mr Renzi bitterly stated in a subsequent interview with the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera: “since I represent Italy, one of the countries that donates more money to the EU, I have the duty to defend the national interest. The European summit in Bratislava did not produce great results. We had to revive ourselves after the Brexit shock, but for the moment much promise, little delivery. I don’t know what Merkel is referring to when she talks about the ‘spirit of Bratislava’. If things go on like this, instead of the spirit of Bratislava we’ll be talking about the ghost of Europe“.

One month after tensions in Bratislava over the Italian “Migration Compact” proposal, French and German Ministers eventually gave the green light to use 500 million euros to fund a reviewed version of the project, much less ambitious than the Italian idea. Allocated funds will be employed to accomplish three objectives: first, improve the living conditions of locals; second, convince governments to dissuade migrants from crossing the national borders to get to Libya and then Europe; third, finalise deals for repatriations for those who reach Europe illegally.

Activities on the High Seas and Arrival Points for Migrants in Italy

However, the migration crisis on Italian shores is not over yet. Italy has now overtaken Greece as the main point of entry for migrants trying to reach Europe, according to figures from International Organisation for Migration getting to 145,381 migrants so far (compared to 154,000 in the whole of 2015). “Migrants arriving by sea to Italy are actually the main problem faced by the European Union in its efforts to stem mass immigration to the bloc”, said Fabrice Leggeri, head of the European Border and Coast Guard. EU officials say that by all accounts, some 90 percent of arrivals in Italy began their trip on smugglers’ boats in Libya. The rise in the number of rescues may be due to the EU stepping up the Operation Sophia mission. Leggeri reassured that his agency would get more involved in efforts to reinforce returns to African countries and to help Italy, especially where migrants disembark.

Migrants are usually rescued in international waters in the Central Mediterranean Sea. The main points of disembarkation are in the south of Italy – where most identification and reception centres are located are Augusta, Pozzallo, Catania, Palermo, Messina, Trapani (in Sicily), the island of Lampedusa, Reggio Calabria, Crotone, Vibo Valentia, Corigliano Calabro (Calabria) and the Southern Apulia shores.

Redistribution Points and Policies

Nigerians are statistically the first declared nationality of arrivals, followed by Eritreans, Gambians and other nationalities of Western Africa. Asylum-seekers are forced to leave the reception centres when receiving their permit (refugee status, humanitarian or subsidiary protection) and are relocated according to the national quota distribution system to different regions on Italian territory, to the main cities which sometimes divert them to the hinterlands.

Lately, major Italian cities have borne the brunt of this emergency because they have got more charity associations willing to help refugees as well as more than one hot spot and reception facility nearby railway stations. This is the case in Lombardy and in particular Milan. Milan had overcrowded reception centres near the Central Station for the whole summer. Similarly, other cities in Lombardy such as Como, or in Ligury, Piedmont and Veneto region were in the same situation. Northern Italy cities are preferred by migrants since they are more connected to exit points towards neighbouring countries such as France, Switzerland and Austria – whose borders are now almost totally closed, with border guards pushing migrants back to Italy. Migrants reported in centres and informal points in Ventimiglia are around 800, around 400 in Como and 400 in Bolzano. As the winter approaches, the number of homeless people has risen substantially in Milan and other major cities like Turin, Bologna and Rome.

On the other hand, the European emergency relocation system to assist Italy and Greece has been in place ever since 2015. Individuals in need of protection with a good chance of having their applications processed positively are relocated to other Member States. If the applications are successful, the applicants are allowed refugee status and hence residence in the Member State to which they were relocated. As of 19 October, out of 6,243 individuals relocated, more than 1,300 people departed from Italy and almost exclusively reached Finland, France, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, the IOM reported. Based on information from the Italian Ministry of Interior, most of the relocated migrants were Eritrean and Nigerian nationals.

The Greek Case

Like Italy, Greece is an external border country that throughout the years has been on the front line to rescue and welcome hundreds of thousands asylum seekers and migrants coming from the Near East. And, exactly like Italy, it has been long calling for solidarity and common responsibility sharing to handle the most massive migration flows that Europe has been experiencing since World War Two.

The Greek point of view on migration emerged during the 71st United Nations General Assembly, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivered his speech. Among his remarks, there was the fact that millions of people are on the move and that immigration is a global challenge that no state can face on its own. He reminded how Greece had to handle 1.2 million migrants while all Eastern Europe unilaterally decided to close their borders. “The challenges in Greece are many, including strengthening the protection of borders and enhancing asylum procedures. But they can only work on the basis of shared responsibility and solidarity”. Therefore, the Greek proposal for handling migration is akin to the Italian one, which aims at dealing directly with origin and transit countries thanks to agreements on returns and readmissions as well as concentrating all efforts on a collective joint EU response that will deliver durable solutions.

At the national level, this position on migration came after the national Helleniko system, which was dependant on the Southern Greece reception centres in and around Athens, turned out to be inadequate to welcome the huge numbers. Hence, some initiatives were adopted and fostered by national authorities to establish other hot spots and facilities to be distributed both on the mainland and the archipelago’s islands. Greece’s Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas conceded that the government has now overburdened certain municipalities in Northern Greece.

Most migrants reaching the islands were slowly but surely moved to the mainland, even though so far only unaccompanied children have been transferred. The main problems regarding the burden of migrants coming via the Turkey-Greece route remain: Greek islanders have been struggling with overpopulation and lack of resources and funds, being incapable of coping with the major fluxes counting only on their own forces.

On the EU side, operations and initiatives were strengthened to help Greece deal with flows. On 18 March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed to stop irregular migratory flows from Turkey. According to the EU-Turkey Statement, all migrants or asylums seekers whose application is rejected must be returned to Turkey. Thanks to this, Greece has been able to return 587 irregular individuals so far and to slightly reduce the number of arrivals on its shores in comparison to last year. However, according to data presented by the Greek coordinating body handling the crisis, a new route has now been discovered by the latest migrants, passing through Greece via the Evros border river between Greece and Turkey, thus likely to escape the security and border checks.

EU Commission Activity and Greek Relocations to Europe

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos was also optimistic over the EU emergency relocation system to alleviate the burden of the refugee crisis in Greece and Italy. Thanks to this EU initiative, 4,852 individuals have been relocated from Greece mostly to Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain. Based on information from the Greek Ministry of Interior, the majority of the relocated migrants was represented by Syrian and Afghan nationals.

The Commission is also assisting Greece with expertise and critical advice while coordinating the support provided by other EU agencies. In particular, Frontex has got 700 EU officers in Greece, deployed on the islands, including 675 officers for the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. Also, Europol has sent 8 specialists to the Greek border to carry out investigations against migrant smuggling and another 10 officers from EU Member States to do security checks in the hotspots.

However, figures by the North Aegean Regional Police are still dramatic: the number of asylum applicants trapped on the islands of the North Aegean as for October 2016 reached 10,840 individuals and the total of refugees and migrants believed to be stranded in Greece only is 60,629.                 National authorities estimate that 7,618 people are housed in alternative accommodation, whereas 8,700 are now living outside accommodation facilities. Further, based on information collected by the International Organisation for Migration, there have been 171,185 arrivals to Greece so far out of 340,000 in the whole of Europe and based on data collected by the Hellenic Coast Guard, more than ten incidents have been registered in the Aegean Sea. As is the case, Greece has been coping with the fourth largest number of asylum applications in Europe.

Conclusions

Given the complexity of the phenomenon and considering that the root causes are multi-faceted and context-specific, different strategic responses are required. Therefore, to address the migration issue there is a host of possible solutions. At the end of the day what really matters and concerns the whole of Europe is the real effectiveness or ineffectiveness of all EU efforts being taken to handle migration flows, to fight against smugglers and traffickers as well as to prevent new terrorism episodes on the European territory. The collective hope is that plans will be feasible in reasonable time and will be as realistic as possible. This actually means delivery of timely results and durable solutions. With regards to this, however, there are three aspects to consider which could compromise the effectiveness of all EU efforts.

One potential factor that could undermine the effectiveness of the various measures comes from the results of a Europol investigation. Europol uncovered that there’s been a shift in smuggling techniques – which have turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and in routes which now are mostly off the beaten track, away from the normal cross border roads and for that matter highly risky. Smugglers are believed to adapt quickly to strict border control and soon find new ways and modus operandi to escape law enforcement rules.

As has already happened in Greece and Italy, more and more smugglers are asking customers to pay thousands of euros for false documents and passports as well as for carrying out irregular cross-border trips. These trips often departure from Patras or Northern Greek harbours, where migrants are carried together with cargo, under trucks or hidden in the back of cars. These inhuman and degrading conditions are the same experienced by some migrants who, out of desperation decide to pay large sums to smugglers get to their destination, perpetuating the vicious circle.

A second problem that could hinder the EU initiatives is represented by the lack of a long-term spirit of solidarity and willingness to cooperate. In the long run this means being reluctant in burden-sharing support and acceptance of a fair share of migrant quotas. The immigration issue has already created deep divisions between Member States and shown the limits of collective efforts while populist movements have taken advantage of the common fears. Their opponents argue that solidarity needs to be resumed and to stay alive in order to jointly address common problems and come up with a single effective solution.

This was the case for the EU and NATO, which have held together geographically distant states which had nonetheless a common response to difficulties. Europe has been guided by different and often diverging national interests, translated in fragmented and diverging policies. Egoism and national interests have always had the upper hand on the long-term objective of improvement of international policies on delicate international issues.

A third obstacle in handling migration could be the cumbersome slowness of EU institutions in the joint approval, agreement and finally implementation process of all the new mechanisms. By the time they truly become operational and work effectively, up to 4-5 years sometimes passes. Meanwhile, Europe will have to cope with ongoing and relentless flows of migrants and refugees as it is a structural global phenomenon unlikely to stop in the medium or long term. It is thus fundamental to adopt a different foreign policy approach and, in particular, to revive the political initiatives in the Middle East and Africa region. So far European foreign affairs approach has been hesitating, divergent and sometimes contradictory because the policies of EU Member States have been like that too. Therefore, every action makes sense only if there is a political plan of regional stabilisation. This could be translated in post-conflict stabilisation procedures, institution building and tailor-made policies to give answers to local and regional crises.

Since the European Council of June 2016, the EU has built a new architecture in handling migration which now is at the heart of the EU external policy priorities.

In the short term, what seems likely to follow is a “war” between multilateralism and sovereignty. High-income countries, which are most attractive to migrants and refugees, will change their position depending on two variables. First, whether the mixed flows of migrants either seeking humanitarian protection or enhanced livelihoods continue apace. Second, whether the widespread instability in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa is brought under control or is further compounded.

In the longer term, the Partnership Framework as well as the EU Border and Coast Guard system and other joint EU initiatives could possibly be extended to other countries as long as are available the adequate resources to do so. However, it is still crucial to look for alternative policies and tools to eventually get to a stable pathway to legal migration and eradicate the root causes leading to this. If comprehensive multilateral as well as national engagement is maintained, the EU will have put in force a migration and mobility policy bringing deep change for both external borders and Europe itself.

In First Nine Months of 2016, Urban Violence and Crime Rise in Greece

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: for some historical context to current developments, readers may also enjoy our previous summary here of left-wing attacks and organized violence in Greece between 2008-2012.

By Ioannis Michaletos

During the first nine months of 2016, a clear trend regarding the rise of urban violence and extremism has been observed in Greece and, in particular, in Athens. Protests over economic woes, illegal migration, and football hooliganism, coupled with the spread of political extremists and criminal gangs largely account for this phenomenon.

Following the present analysis is a chronological set of important incidents of Greek urban violence from January through September 2016.

Left-wing Violence follows Predictable Pattern

All available information indicates that most of these security events are associated with a “hard nucleus” of 100 or so anarchists from several member groups (with lots of subgroups, there are about 80 anarchist groups in Athens alone).

These ideologically-driven individuals can count on additional support from roughly 300 migrant activist elements, at least 50% of those foreigners. An emerging trend is the use of teenage Syrians who are placed in various sit-ins in the center of Athens, mainly in the anarchist-friendly Exarcheia neighborhood. It is not known if they are taken advantage of by the anarchist factions (for their own purposes) or if they are simply ideologically motivated.

Historically, the anarchists have tended to attack whichever target is ‘easy.’ This brings them publicity, keeping them visible in the media (and social media), and helps construct the the image that they control parts of the city. It is also highly probable that at least some collaborate with criminals for joint profit.

The below chronology indicates that the PASOK political party was targeted. However, this is simply because it is an ‘easy target,’ with locations in Exarcheia- not because of its party policies.

The data correlates with a perceived trend that today’s anarchists (including those associated with the pro-migrant cause) are not interested, or possibly not capable of, carrying out targeted attacks against high-profile individuals who are guilty in their minds of hypocrisy or acting against their values. Thus it seems the ‘golden age’ of Greek urban combat (as with long-disbanded groups like ELA and 17 November, which attacked Greek politicians, businessmen and foreign officials) is over.

Greek Urban Violence Relating to Football Hooligans

Football hooliganism is another chronic problem found in many countries. In Greece today, supporters of the major teams are engaged in a bitter fight – especially Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK and Thessaloniki’s PAOK – over a scandal regarding the fixing of football matches that was examined by prosecutors in April 2015.

This issue has been discussed in media. According to reports, the Greek National Intelligence Service even lent its wiretapping services to investigating the case from 2011 onwards. Top football bosses and other related persons were suspected of running a scheme to control Greek football in order to make illegal profits. The investigation has angered rival bases and also resulted in opaque bombings and threats against whistleblowers. The simmering unrest has also resulted in a beefed-up police presence at matches.

2016 Statistics and Trends: Crime Increases, Largely in Athens

Official figures indicate that public demonstrations in 2016 have increased by 100% compared to the previous year. In the first six months of the year alone, there were 4,220 demonstrations across the country, most of them concerning the country’s economic state or migration.

Armed robberies in Greece also increased by 11% in 2016 and violent thefts by 10%. Bag snatching increased by 50% and pickpocketing increased by 10%. And the theft of tourist passports shot up by 15% over last year.

In addition, vehicle theft increased by 9%, and house burglaries by 3%. The bulk of the crime rate increase is most notable in Athens, and less so in other part of the country.

Increases in Drug-related Arrests

At the same time, police forces have increased stop-and-search operations and have enacted a series of nationwide operations, resulting in more than 100 arrests daily for drug offences in a few cases. Despite a series of crackdowns, the drug flow is steady in the country for all sorts of narcotics- a fact which implies that the trade is becoming fragmented and new “criminal blood” has entered this sector.

There are also being witnessed numerous arrests of Syrian refugees who have already become dealers of mostly cannabis, not only inside the refugee camps but across urban spaces. In most cases known to police, they are being recruited by older generation of Arabic immigrants already living in the country.

An Impending Winter Crime Wave?

All indicators at hand suggest an emerging trend of a “crime wave” that will affect Athens in the winter of 2016-2017. The last time that a similar phenomenon took place was in 2011-2012, during a period of intense political infighting and economic destabilization.

This period ahead will inevitably include masses of immigrants/refugees located in camps who are gradually becoming involved in criminal activities, and may even be inclined towards religious radicalization. The convergence of interests between anarchists and migrant activists, as discussed by Balkanalysis.com last December, also continues and in some recent cases of fires and destruction (mostly concerning migrant camps in the islands) there is a strong likelihood that leftist forces supported these actions.

January-September 2016: Chronology of Urban Violence in Athens

January

10th Jan. A riot erupts between football hooligans of the teams Olympiacos and AEK

16th Jan. Anarchists attack police officers in Exarcheia in Athens

21st Jan. Football hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

22nd Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

27th Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

28th Jan. Riot occurs between anarchists and far-right members in the center of Athens

30th Jan. Anarchists attack the private residence of the minister of state

February

5th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

7th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

10th Feb. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team

12th Feb. Farmers protest and clash with police

19th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

23rd Feb. Hooligan fights in center of Athens

24th Feb. Anarchists attack state TV offices

25th Feb. Hooligans from Olympiacos team attack police patrols

March

5th Mar. Anarchists protest in Exarcheia and openly display rifles and pistols

12th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices

13th Mar. Anarchists attack urban railway in center of Athens

16th Mar. Anarchists stage riot inside Hilton hotel in Athens

21st Mar. Anarchists publish online personal data and names of traffic inspector personnel, threatening them

24th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at police station in Athens

April

2nd Apr. Football hooligans riot in center of Athens

18th Apr. Anarchists attack offices of weekly newspaper

16th Apr. Unknown assailants damage property of traffic inspector personnel (see event 21st March)

22th Apr. Anarchists attack urban railway in Athens

22th Apr. Anarchists attack Police patrol

23rd Apr. Anarchist attack a supermarket in Athens suburb

23rd Anarchists attack bank office

24th Apr. Anarchist attack the police station in Exarcheia

24th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

26th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

May

8th May Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices

8th May Anarchists attack  various shops and buildings in center of Athens

21st May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle

22nd May Anarchists attack police patrol

25th May Football hooligans riot in a suburb of Athens

30th May Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

30th May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle

June

1st June Anarchists attack police patrol

5th June Anarchists attack the residence of the minister of state

6th June Football hooligans clash in the outskirts of Athens

15th June Anarchists attack an Athens high court

16th June Anarchists arson public transport vehicle

17th June Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices

18th June Anarchists attack urban railway station

22th June Anarchists damage public statues in Athens

25th June Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

25th June Anarchists destroy a military vehicle

29th June Anarchists storm the Mexican Embassy in Athens

July-August

This is traditionally considered a vacation period, in which activists suspend attacks in favor of the beach. Nonetheless, urban violence continued, albeit at a 30% decrease. A notable event (though not in Athens) was the occupation of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki by No Border prop-migrant activists and anarchists (including a large foreign contingent) in July.

These other European anarchists were generally more violent, though Greek anarchists led the way with symbolic occupations of low-risk targets (like the office of the ruling leftist Syriza party). Their purpose was to criticize the government’s new refugee camp system set up with EU guidance, following the closure of the ‘wild’ Eidomeni border camp. Activists also sought to challenge police at the Evros border fence with Turkey, but their efforts were minor and inconclusive.

10th July Anarchists and police clash in Athens, cars and trash bins burned with petrol bombs

15th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens

26th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens

1st August Embassy of Mexico in Athens shot at by automatic rifle, anarchists suspected

September

The action was renewed September 2016, with the end of holiday season and return to universities. Since then, the main targets of attack have been public transport, shops, governmental buildings and especially police stations- the usual targets. A police chief was also attacked in September, while there have also been various threatening proclamations against a variety of people, posted online.

The 2016 Local Elections in Bosnia: a Win for the Major Ethno-nationalist Parties

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: for deeper insight from this author on political and social change in modern Bosnia, see her e-book, 20 Years after Dayton: Where Is Bosnia and Herzegovina today?

By Lana Pasic

On October 2, 2016, the seventh local elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although 3,263,906 citizens had a right to vote, the election turnout was low, as in the previous years, seeing only 53.88% turnout, according to preliminary results, with 6% of votes being invalid. Some 30,027 candidates were in the running for the positions of mayors and their place in the city and municipal councils.

bosnia-2016-elections-photo-1-lana-pasic-balkanalysis

Political rivals peer from campaign posters in Bosnia, ahead of local elections.

The election campaign: referendum and war-mongering 

This year’s election campaign was intense and aggressive. Door-to-door campaigning, persistent telephone calls, promises of jobs, and offers of vote-buying have all been present in previous elections as well, but this year political parties seemed to have more zest and determination in ensuring a victory for their candidates.

Irregularities were reported both before and during the election process. The watchdog body Pod Lupom (Under the Magnifying Glass) reported 173 critical situations and 125 cases of citizens reporting misconduct or irregularities during the elections – the largest number since the Dayton Peace agreement was signed in 1995. These cases included minor and major issues, from pressuring and influencing voters, to people voting several times.

In one of the municipalities in Herzegovina, Stolac, the polls were closed early and elections are to be repeated due to irregularities, and to a physical attack on the president of the municipal electoral board, as well as to alleged irregularities in the voting process.

The only municipality where no elections were held was Mostar. The last local elections in Mostar were held in 2008, and since then, the political stalemate has prevented citizens from casting their votes, as Bosniak and Croat parties have not been able to reach an agreement on the electoral regulation, nor for local administration.

The political parties and candidates have touched upon all topics, with few references made to the actual authorities and tasks of the local governments. The campaign in Republika Srpska was run around the referendum for keeping the date of January 9th the national day of the entity. With 55.67% election turnout and 99.81% of the votes for “yes”, the referendum (which took place just a week before the elections) secured Dodik’s Independent Social Democrat’s Party (SNSD) strong support and a large percentage of votes.

On the other hand, in the Federation, the candidates went as far as discussing the potential for the emergence of another armed conflict in the country. The persistence of ethno-politics and war-mongering were just some of the tactics to mobilize the electorate and ensure the support for the “protectors of the national interest”, which are the main ethno-nationalist parties – Izetbegovic’s SDA in the Federation, and SNSD in the Republika Srpska.

Winners and losers: ethnic nationalism and a weak left

The preliminary results unsurprisingly indicate that SDA and SNSD have maintained and entrenched their positions as the strongest political parties in two entities.

The SDA and SBB alliance won 34 municipalities. The alliance between the two largest Bosniak parties in the Federation was made in 2015, after the leaders of the two parties were in a fierce competition for the seat in the presidency during the 2014 elections.

In Republika Srpska, SNSD won in 26 municipalities, extending its influence in certain towns which were previously in the hands of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). Meanwhile, the  Croatian Democratic Alliance (HDZ) won mayoral races in 18 municipalities, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 8 municipalities.

Although the preliminary results indicate victory for the nationalist and conservative blocs, in the Federation, a closer look at the statistics, particularly in Sarajevo, indicates that there is still significant support for the options on the political left. However, these are fragmented across several parties – SDP, Nasa Stranka, DF and the newly established GS. Following the failure of the once major leftist party, SDP, in the previous elections, the party has come back stronger, maintaining its position in Tuzla, and winning several other municipalities.

The election results, although disappointing to the progressives, are not at all surprising, particularly after the 2014 elections, and considering the state of the weak and fragmented opposition, as well as low election turnout.

Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 7: Montenegro

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the seventh and final installment in our present series, assesses the modern economic, security and diplomatic relationships between Italy and Montenegro.

Italy’s relationship with Montenegro is unique and fundamentally conditioned by historic ties and the maritime situation of both countries on the Adriatic. This geographic reality – with all the good and bad factors it entails – is complemented by a cultural legacy in which Italy’s presence is felt also through the Catholic Church. In the post-Yugoslav years, diplomacy, politics and church affairs have frequently become interwoven in the Italian-Montenegrin relationship.

Although diplomatic relations between the two republics began only in 2006, as a consequence of the independence of Montenegro, Rome and Podgorica (once Titograd) have a long history of bilateral relations.

Montenegro’s most legendary leader (once dubbed “Europe’s father-in-law”), King Nikola Petrovic-Njegos, strengthened diplomatic support for his short-lived kingdom by marrying his sons and daughters off to members of Europe’s royal families. In fact, his daughter Elena married Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III in 1896, inaugurating decades of good relations between Italy and Montenegro. These relations were only partially marred by the Italian occupation during WWII. As reported widely by media, during the 1990s Montenegro attracted the interest of Italian institutions mainly concerning cigarette smuggling between Bar and Bari: a trafficking route which allegedly involved top officials of the then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The stigma of organized crime that started with the “tobacco mafia” stories has, more than anything, compromised Montenegrin leaders’ ability to create truly independent policies: though it may be the best-known owing to its active investigations of leaders by anti-mafia police, Italy is far from the only foreign power that has sought to influence Montenegrin politics, policies and business in the last 25 years.

The cumulative result of this tendency has been a slow but steady movement towards Western institutions, as was seen most recently in this past summer’s NATO accession. That had been preceded by a fierce influence campaign by media from foreign countries who all referenced the country’s reputation as the reason for why it needed to join NATO – or would be a liability to it.

Especially in the decade following independence in 2006, Montenegro has signed many agreements with Italian and European institutions. Amongst the latter, the 2010 Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the 2012 memorandum on the succession of Montenegro are important to note. They followed historic bilateral treaties between Yugoslavia and Italy (and confirmed 18 previous agreements).

On the economic side, it is also important to note the recent contract between the government of Montenegro and the Italian company A2A, regarding the management of Montenegrin Electric Society, EPCG. This document represents (as the agreement with FIAT does for Serbia) a rare case of an international treaty made between a state and a private company. This agreement has increased the Italian economic presence locally.

Italian Diplomacy in Montenegro

Since 2013, the Italian ambassador in Montenegro has been Vincenzo del Monaco. This was a very interesting choice, considering that he is one of the few Italian diplomats with experience in the Italian armed forces, having worked in the Carabinieri before starting a diplomatic career in 1997. Subsequently, he was posted in Beijing (from 2001 to 2005), and worked in the Economic and Commercial Office, before being appointed as First Secretary of the Italian delegation to the European Union until 2009, when he was nominated diplomatic counselor of the Italian Presidency.

Italy maintains a Podgorica mission composed – according to April 2016 data – of 12 members. However, two of these (the military and police attaches) reside in Belgrade. This reaffirms the historic reality of police and military cooperation involving a joint perspective, as with operations against drugs and cigarettes smuggling rings composed of Serbs, Montenegrins and Italians.

While this diplomatic deployment may seem numerically modest, one should also remember that Montenegro has a population of only 650,000. Thus, when considering also cultural groups, international organizations, businessmen and the Catholic  Church, Italy is well-represented in Montenegro. It has something similar to, but smaller than, the leading role it has (as discussed earlier in this series) in Albania. Rather, Italy has above-average diplomatic representation in Montenegro.

Considering Montenegro’s small population, the discrepancy is quite interesting, especially when it comes to today’s ‘Great Powers.’ As such, Russia has 15 diplomats in Montenegro, while the US has 13 persons and China, nine diplomats (Turkey also has nine staff in Podgorica). The sharp decrease in US presence (a year or so ago it still had 20 accredited diplomats) is unusual and might indicate that with Montenegro’s NATO accession, the main task has been accomplished.

Many important European and world countries do not have embassies in Podgorica, instead covering the country from Belgrade. And even those with an embassy or consulate in Montenegro also divide their resources between Serbia and other countries, as does Italy. Among those countries with locally-based embassies, France has four persons (with another five based in Belgrade and one in Zagreb), while Germany has six (with another four based in Belgrade and one in Sarajevo), Surprisingly active Hungary keeps eight diplomats, and one attache in Belgrade. Greece has six diplomats in Montenegro, all locally-based.

Italy’s diplomatic representation in Montenegro is thus double the European average, While not on the same level as Russia, it is competitive with China, the US, and indeed all other countries. The strong Italian deployment benefits traditional maritime ally Britain, which only keeps a couple of people in Podgorica (though it has several affiliated diplomats covering it from several other nations).

Finally, Italian diplomacy in Montenegro has a strong inter-cultural component. For example, there is the XIV Italian Language Week, held under the patronage of the Italian president. Among the events, the embassy in Podgorica organized a “traveling exhibition of Italian cinema,” with film showings in Podgorica, Bijelo Polje, Niksic and Cetinje in October and November.

Italian-Montenegrin Economic Relations

As is the case with Serbia, current trade levels between Italy and Montenegro attest to the deep collaboration between the countries: according to the latest data published by Monstat (the Montenegrin Statistic Institution), in the period January-July 2015, Italy and Montenegro trade exceeded 100 million euro, with a positive balance of trade for Italy of almost 39 million euros. Italy is the fourth-largest exporter in Montenegro after Serbia, China and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and is the second-largest recipient of Montenegrin export after Serbia. Italy imports mainly metallurgic products and machinery, while exports to Montenegro are primarily textiles, clothing, and alimentary products.

Over 30 significant Italian companies are currently active in Montenegro, mainly in the energy sector, with A2A and Terna dominating the internal market, despite some allegations and scandal which also involved the Montenegrin Parliament, and were reported in Italian media in October 2014. The bilateral business relations of Italy and Montenegro are regularly supported by business forums like this one. The longtime prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, has also stated in interviews his positive opinion of Italian trade and overall relations with his country.

Italian Moves on the Montenegrin Energy Scene, in the Context of the Larger Energy War

Italian energy giant ENI, which we discussed in regards to its Libya activities earlier in this series, is also active in Montenegro. In a historic decision of February 2016, the Montenegrin government awarded a 30-year oil and gas concession to ENI and Russian energy giant Novatek. Undoubtedly, the pairing raised some eyebrows in certain Western capitals, but in a sense it just cemented a relationship that had been anticipated in earlier planned scenarios.

The final contract between ENI and Russia’s second-largest gas company was signed on September 14, 2016. According to Reuters, “the contract for four blocks covering an area of 1,228 square kilometers has been awarded in line with the terms of a 2014 tender, which initially covered an area of 3,000 square kilometers. Each of the partners will have 50 percent interest in the exploration licenses.” The prime minister, Milo Djukanovic noted that the country will establish “a fund for oil and gas, adopting Norwegian energy model, based on which the country claims ownership over oil in its land.” Drilling is expected to begin this year.

This agreement is particularly significant if we take into account the chronic confrontation between the US and key EU states with Russia over European energy supply. This antagonism has been seen in recent years particularly in regards to two projected pipelines. The (for now, cancelled) Russian South Stream, which would have passed under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and Serbia, was the first. In February 2012, Gazprom announced that Montenegro would join the project (as one of several Balkan states expected to get a gas connector).

The Montenegrin government had planned since October 2011 to join this Russian project. It is important to mention, for the historical record concerning Italian energy strategy, that the agreed investor competition as of 2012 included ENI at 20%, along with Gazprom (50%), Wintershall (Germany, 15%) and EdF (France, 15%). The whole project was of course crushed in 2014 when the US and EU put tacit pressure on Bulgaria to back out.

When this occurred, ENI withdrew from the South Stream project. This left only the American-backed Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, from Azerbaijan to Turkey, Greece and undersea to Italy. As of August 29, 2016, the shareholders of TAP also included an Italian public energy company: along with BP (20%), SOCAR (20%), Fluxys (19%), Enagás (16%) and Axpo (5%), the gas infrastructure and regasification company Snam S.p.A. owns 20% of the venture. This fact, and ENI’s new re-emergence with the Russian Novatek in Montenegro, indicates that Italian energy companies are aggressive and well-positioned for operations in Montenegro, and indeed the Eastern Adriatic in general.

Where Montenegro comes back into the picture here is the proposed TAP connector, the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (IAP), planned to pass northwards along the Eastern Adriatic coast from Greece. In late August 2016, an MoU was signed by Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Socar. The construction of this pipeline fits in with a general trend we have long noted, both in terms of EU funding structures and even religious activities, that will establish an ‘Eastern Adriatic’ zone of Western-oriented territories, Rather than the misleading and amorphous term ‘Western Balkans’ we are so used to hearing about today, the Eastern Adriatic zone of control was historically the dividing line between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, and was heavily influenced by Italy (with the Venetian Republic and so on) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So while in official rhetoric and pledges involving the EU, we will continue to be told of a focus on the “Western Balkans,” in practical terms the most development will occur on the historically Western-influenced Eastern Adriatic shores.

The energy game here will thus be of constant interest, especially considering that we expect (for other reasons) US relations with the key player in all of this – Azerbaijan – to steadily worsen in the next year. This Caucasus country had always been the cornerstone of US energy policy when TAP was first suggested, as an alternative to Russia, while Turkey was also considered a dependable ally for transit. But the trajectory of US policy in the recent period is increasingly at odds with the two key countries involved in TAP.

Thus, the survival of Turkey’s Erdogan, and his apparent rapprochement with Vladimir Putin are rekindling hopes for a Turkish Stream pipeline that would transit the Black Sea and resurface in Turkish Thrace, thereafter passing westward through the Balkans. While Putin had proposed this pipeline in 2014 as a replacement for the mooted South Stream, the poor relations between Russia and Turkey over Syria froze the project- until, that is, the July 15 coup attempt led Erdogan to reconsider the value of his Western allies.

On September 15, a senior Gazprom official announced that the two countries will sign an agreement on offshore construction in early October, by the time of the World Energy Forum in Istanbul. Cumulatively, these developments (among many others) indicate an intensification of Great-Power struggles which will play out across John Kerry’s so-called ‘line of fire,’ of which the Balkans are definitely a part.

For Italy, therefore, Montenegro will remain a useful base of operations not only for investment in energy, but as a hub for gaining economic and political intelligence on a variety of energy-related potential projects. Montenegro may just be located on a peripheral pipeline extension route, but even this is a crucial element for the EU to get all its ducks in a row for the continent’s energy master plan. Thus the investment and intelligence presence of the US, Russia and China here all make it an important place to keep monitoring- especially for the country that sits right across the sea from it, Italy.

Italian Support for Innovation

Italy’s support for research and innovation in the country was reaffirmed in a recent memorandum signed between Italian company AREA Science Park and Montenegro, through the sponsorship of Italian Friuli Venezia-Giulia region. According to Friuli’s president, Debora Serracchiani, “this agreement makes research a driving force for competitiveness in the international market. The agreement supports the creation of new companies in Italy and Montenegro.

For the Italian region, the agreement will allow a better exchange of knowledge and skills, while for Montenegro the cooperation with AREA could help the country to implement the ambitious National Plan for Investments in Innovation.

Police Cooperation

It is far beyond the scope of this brief overview to delve into all the details of Italy’s investigations and indictments that stemmed from drugs and cigarette smuggling in 1990s (and later) Montenegro. Suffice it to say that the alleged involvement of high-level politicians in both Montenegro and Serbia hindered police and security cooperation between Italy and Montenegro Unreliability, mistrust, and the need to protect important figures created obstacles for joint police investigations of mafia activities. As Balkanalysis.com reported in 2011, the “Adriatic Connection” between Italian and Balkan smuggling outfits grew in those years and significantly affected bilateral relations. Since then, the situation has improved, even if the ruling forces in the country have not really changed in over 20 years.

Since 2010 Italy has sent police liaisons to Montenegro, located at the Italian Embassy, to improve police and security cooperation. Another Eastern Adriatic consolidation trend, one that also reflects realities of organized crime, is now being seen in the increased cooperation of Italian police with their counterparts in Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania. Under the IPA Project, Montenegro was granted 20 million euros from the EU to enhance security agencies and refugee management. On 5 April 2015, the Center of Tarvisio-Thorl Maglern hosted EULEX officials and colleagues from Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, with the future plan to establish a Center for Police Cooperation between the three countries in Plav.

It was planned that this center would help the exchange of information, risk analysis and improved cross-border cooperation. Support for this initiative had previously been given at a Rome summit of 20 October 2014, in which Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Montenegrin Minister of Justice Dusko Markovic also cited other areas for improving bilateral police and security cooperation.

Underworld Killings as a New Area of Focus for Italian Intelligence in Montenegro

A high-profile recent case on which Italian police and intelligence are sure to be investigating was the assassination of Montenegrin organized crime figure Dalibor Djuric on 22 September. He was shot by a long-range sniper, through a wire fence while exercising in a prison yard in Podgorica. According to Balkan Insight, “the assassination is the third drugs-related killing in a few months, after a bomb blast killed two alleged members of drug gangs in September… Five people have been killed since early 2015 in apparent clashes between the rival Skaljari and Kavac clans, named after neighbourhoods in Kotor.” The sniper’s shot had come from a hilltop. A burned-out car with Italian license plots was later found by police nearby.

In this 2011 report, we discussed how mafia groups that emerged from the 1990s wars later developed a new and more ‘Italian-style’ model of discretion and white-collar business activities. However, it seems the recent spate of underworld killings in Montenegro has to do broadly with the fallout of several major drug busts, that are squeezing gangs’ profits and space for movement while providing motivation for fratricidal revenge. This has followed the increasing law-enforcement efforts of Italy, the USA, South American countries and others in Europe.

In a way, therefore, the success of judiciaries in trying alleged drug lords with white-collar businesses in Montenegro has also ironically created a new kind of hard-security risk in terms of armed combat on the streets of Montenegrin towns. This is hardly beneficial for the country’s image or all-important tourism economy. So we can expect Italian intelligence to also focus more on the ‘ground war’ aspect of organized crime as much as on the usual investigation of international trade routes and partners.

Italy’s Position on Montenegro’s NATO Membership

Since Montenegro’s independence in 2006, Italy has remained a great supporter of its Euro-Atlantic integration. Italy supported its NATO membership, before and after it was invited to join the alliance in December 2015. On 20 May 2016, Russia condemned this invitation, stating that it could raise new tensions between Moscow and Brussels. Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, according to Reuters, that Moscow considers “the enlarging of the NATO as a wrong idea, since this process won’t translate into better security for Europe.”

On the other hand, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that “Montenegro is already contributing to NATO, UN and EU operations, promoting regional cooperation and implementing important reforms; giving to Montenegro the possibility to become a member will ease the political process inside NATO itself. It will bring more security and stability in the region […] and will be a clear signal that NATO’s doors are always open to nations that share and promote our values.”

Russia objected to this declaration. While considering Montenegro a “traditionally friend country,” Moscow was disappointed by the government’s decision. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the decision a new attempt to change the strategic-military balance in Europe, “especially in light of the alliance game started to isolate our country.” However, analysts knew that Russia was hardly surprised by Montenegro’s (inevitable) choice to join NATO, and had made contingency plans. One interesting conjecture, that cannot of course be proven, is that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was partly a precautionary measure against the potential loss of its ‘warm-water port’ on the Adriatic.

In any case, Western diplomatic sources in the Balkans have stated for Balkanalysis.com that Russia’s declared opposition to Montenegrin NATO membership could be just a pretext for defending its general international role, since Moscow, aside from energy supplies, does not have any real means of leverage to condition local politics and future decisions.

Italy and other Western countries have planned that in the long term, Montenegro’s NATO membership will help to expand the rule of law and limit the influence of both organized crime and foreign intelligence services on local actors. It is interesting to note that the intensification of rival mafia assassinations has massed around the time of Montenegrin accession to a Western bloc (NATO) closely resembling the similar experience of Bulgaria before joining another (the EU).

The Mysterious Convergence: The Church, Italian Intelligence and Montenegro

Montenegro became an independent state on June 3, 2006, following a referendum three months before. According to official 2015 data, the first ambassador to present his credentials (on March 30, 2007) was Enrico Tuccillo- representative of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. (For unknown reasons, the 2016 list gives his accreditation date as April 29, 2008). A veteran lawyer with close relations to the Catholic Church, the Naples-based Tuccillo had successfully defended  Milo Djukanovic’s right to diplomatic immunity, in the latter’s long battle with the Italian state over the cigarettes smuggling affair of the 1990s.

In the bigger picture, this affiliation is important as it reveals another aspect of Italian interest – and sophisticated ability to work international systems – present in Montenegro. The Knights of Malta, a Rome-based chivalrous order and one of the very few given official status by the Vatican, maintains diplomatic relations with over 100 countries. The Montenegrin state possesses several priceless ancient Christian relics that once belonged to the SMOM, who have tried (and will continue to try) to ‘win back’ these state heritage items.

Since the early 1990s, the policy of driving a wedge between Serbs and Montenegrins has been a Western goal and part of this has come through the creation (first as an NGO, later as a religious body) of a ‘Montenegrin Orthodox Church,’ to rival the established Serbian one. Structures within the Church and Italian intelligence have helped guide this process of church-building, diplomatic sources have stated for Balkanalysis.com, with different sides looking for their own interests. The Knights of Malta regarded an independent church that could claim all religious heritage in the country as advantageous to their obsession with reclaiming relics. In the big picture, the Western plan to bring Montenegro into the desired Eastern Adriatic bloc was partly envisioned as a geopolitical one involving religion. While that process is not yet finished, already 30 percent of Montenegrins support the MPC. Today, a similar attempt to divide the Orthodox Church in Macedonia – again, for geopolitical goals – is being promoted by Western intelligence services in the context of the political crisis.

Montenegro, despite being small in size, has an outsized importance for rival intelligence services due to its maritime placement between Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Italy. This has brought many interests to the table. As the authors noted in an ebook, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, Hungarian intelligence in Montenegro has played an invaluable support role for the Vatican- something particularly ironic considering that in the 1970s Hungary had been tasked with conducting hostile intelligence activities against the Vatican, for the Soviet Union.

As was the case with Serbia, Italy’s main intelligence interests in Montenegro are firstly economic, and second police- and security-related. Keeping track of major energy deals and the preparations that go into them (as well as intelligence and counter-intelligence on potential business partners and foes) is an important task, as is monitoring the Montenegrin security services for Russian penetration. As in Albania and Croatia, Italy can use its superior HUMINT capacities here to benefit its allies, chiefly Great Britain. For the latter, this need will intensify in a post-Brexit situation.

The second trend worth watching in future regarding Italian intelligence and Montenegro is expected developments with Latin America. drug smuggling and the Montenegrin-Serbian diaspora are two issues of focus relevant in this context. But the three-way relationship is richer. Italy has a significant and historic relationship with Argentina, for example, which continues today- the pope, after all, is an Argentine of Italian descent.

Argentina was the second country (following the Knights of Malta) to have an ambassador offer his credentials to the newly-independent Montenegro, when Domingo Santiago Cullen did so on 9 November 2007. It also hosts a large Montenegrin and Serbian diaspora, and is a key site of activity for the renegade Montenegrin Orthodox Church (in fact, before becoming pope, Archbishop Bergoglio met with MOC leaders in Argentina). In addition to the high-profile issue of cocaine smuggling from Latin America through cooperation of Italian, Serbian and Montenegrin groups, these issues are all of relevance to larger Italian interests.

Fortunately, Italy will be well-represented down south. Relatively few Italian intelligence officers have intimate experience of both Montenegrin and South American issues, so it is advantageous for AISE that its operative in Montenegro through 2013, Filippo Candela, will probably be running the Buenos Aires station. If cleared, this prestigious promotion decided in March will follow two turbulent (but apparently successful) years in Macedonia. (We covered the publicly perceived Italian role in Macedonia’s political crisis in the third part of the current series). The appointment will improve Italian intelligence’s abilities to ‘put all the pieces together’ concerning all of the Argentine-Balkan areas of common overlap mentioned above.

Conclusions

Italian diplomatic, economic, intelligence and security relations with Montenegro represent perhaps the most interesting (if not the most significant) case of Italian influence in the MENA and Balkan regions.

For here there are numerous overlapping interests of Italian and foreign investors, including the ‘energy game’ and Montenegro’s connected pipeline projects, as well as the strong moves of outside powers like China in infrastructure development and the UAE in high-end tourism.

While still a haven for organized crime with deep connections to Italy, Montenegro is also now a NATO ally – with all of the interests that invities – and a strong base of activity for the Vatican and related Italy-based groups like the SMOM. But above all, Montenegro is a playground for very wealthy individuals from all over the world, representing divergent political, business and intelligence interests. Often Hollywood exaggerates a stereotype, but the decision to partially set the remake of Bond classic Casino Royale in Montenegro does reflect a certain reality about the kind of visitors it attracts.

Finally, while some Western states have simply bemoaned the influence of corruption and crime in Montenegro’s political life, the tiny and mountainous enclave has never functioned as a perfect democracy, though it has always been independent-minded. Socialist Yugoslavia brought a temporary exception to this historic identity- one seen most vividly in the exploits of King Nikola, and again in that of his modern-day successor, Milo Djukanovic.

It is thus not surprising that the historic periods of maximum Italian influence in Montenegro have been precisely at those when it has existed as a sort of glorified fiefdom. And so, while Western sticklers for democratic processes and rule of law have frequently been frustrated and ineffective here, Italy has been more persuasive- specifically because it understands Montenegro less as a state than as a ‘manageable paradise.’

Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 6: Relations with Serbia

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the sixth installment in our present series, assesses the modern security, economic and diplomatic relationships between Italy and Serbia. As this analysis indicates, Rome has a vested interested in cultivating the bilateral relationship, for diplomatic and economic reasons- being one of Serbia’s largest trade partners.

This factor indicates that AISE (the Italian foreign intelligence service) has a significant interest in Serbia regarding economic intelligence. Additionally, Serbia’s position on the migrant route, while the role of other actors there like Russia and China, also bring in a more traditional security and intelligence focus.

Italy’s Diplomatic and Economic Relations with Serbia: Modern Context

Italy enjoys excellent diplomatic relations with Serbia, which inherited a large part of the existing liaisons between the two countries from the Yugoslav years and always represented a strategic partner for the Italian presence in the region. Indeed, as a senior Italian diplomat notes for Balkanalysis.com, the staff size at the Italian embassy in Belgrade barely changed between 1990-2010; Belgrade, as former capital of Yugoslavia, had always been the central focus of Italian (and most other) diplomacy in the region.

The creation of new states following the Yugoslav disintegration, climaxing with Kosovo in 2008, has slightly affected Italian infrastructure and staff decisions, as it required a new embassy to be built there during a dynamic and changing period for the international presence in Kosovo. But it is the case that Serbia remains today a vital strategic hub for Italian diplomacy in the region.

The origins of modern Italian-Serbian cooperation date back to 1953, when the Italian automotive company FIAT signed an agreement with the Yugoslav state-owned company Zastava to allow the production of FIAT car models in Yugoslavia. It was a revolution for the local market and the collective imagination, with some models (like the Yugo 45) which have not by chance become, in recent years, icons of Yugo-nostalgic feelings.

After the signing of the Osimo Agreement in 1975, diplomatic and intelligence relations were managed in a softer way than before. Some recent journalistic inquiries showed that Yugoslav intelligence used to spy on the Italian Istrian and Dalmatian diaspora groups in Italy. Yugoslav counterintelligence operations also were conducted against possible nationalist actors, targeting those Italian nationals who decided to remain in Yugoslavia after 1948 (the so-called rimasti). But since most of these actions were conducted in the Venezia-Giulia Region (Trieste and the surroundings), they tended to be conducted under a Croatian-Slovenian command.

The crucial moment in the relations between Rome and Belgrade was without doubt the dissolution of Yugoslavia. At the beginning, the Italian Socialist government generally supported Belgrade, while there was a contemporaneous pro-Slovenian and pro-Croatian position among right-wing politicians. What was clear to all was the need to preserve the existing relations with the diplomatic establishment (in part remaining in Yugoslav ranks and in part turning to its newly independent homeland).

Further, as soon as Croatia and Slovenia declared self-determination, Italy began to see them as the arena for confronting the aspirations of Germany. Slovenia and Croatia were accused of being responsible of genocide against Italians in WWII. Italy requested posthumous reparations, and to renegotiate international treaties. Rome also blocked for a while Slovenia’s accession to the European Union. In this situation, Belgrade remained more of an ally for Italy, allowing opportunities for diplomatic leverage.

The close relations between Italy and Serbia can be underlined by showing the limited consequences, over a few short years, of some serious events. Italy sent a large deployment to NATO’s 1999 “Allied Force” intervention, which bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Italy also provided the key logistic support from Aviano Air Force Base. The bombing killed over 3,500 civilians in Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. And it marked the very center of Belgrade with an enduring ‘monument’: the remnants of the Ministry of Defense in Nemanjina Ulica.

After the war, Serbs would question why they had been attacked by a traditional ally. In almost every diplomatic conversation in the following years, our sources attest, one of the first questions concerned why Italy (under D’Alema’s government, and with a traditional Pro-Serbian centrist politician such as Lamberto Dini as foreign minister) had decided to participate.

A proper answer would take us too far from the purposes of this article, but it is worth noting that Italian participation in the bombing allowed the country to get a primary role in the aftermath of the war. The NATO intervention was the first time that an international mission had been guided by Italian officials. Part of Kosovo was later overseen by a multinational force under Italian command, and this allowed Italy to regain a more central role in Greater Mediterranean diplomacy; this trend would later be demonstrated by the leading role Italy took in the Lebanon 2008 intervention.

Generally speaking, soon after the fall of Milosevic contacts between Belgrade and Rome grew faster, with Italy becoming one of the first supporters of Serbia’s European path. Also, as reported in a 2009 interview with Massimo D’Alema himself, Italy did not abandon the diplomatic option even during the attacks, trying to force Milosevic’s government to withdraw troops from Kosovo.

In any case, NATO intervention in Serbia had consequences and directly led to the second occasion of diplomatic confrontation between Italy and Serbia, when in 2008, Italy decided to accept Kosovo’s declaration of independence and to recognize the existence of the new state (interestingly enough, at that time, the Italian Foreign Minister was the same Massimo D’Alema). This time the consequences were harsher, and saw Belgrade recall its ambassador, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, who was sent back some months later and kept this position until 2010.

Both disputes were quickly resolved, in consideration of the greater importance Italy had as an ally for Belgrade in its European path- but also in consideration of the growing economic relations that Italian companies had developed with the country during the previous 15 years.

Serbian Leadership Reiterates Strategic Nature of the Relationship

On 2 June 2016, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic gave an interview to an Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce publication. In it, he underlined the importance of the relations between the countries: “there is one word which is overused in our political life and international relations as well. Too often we exploit the term strategic. In the case of Serbian–Italian relations, I would dare to say that, yes, truly, Italy is a strategic partner of Serbia. With strong support to our European endeavors, we cultivate even stronger political relations with the Italian government, the strongest relations we may find in our economic performance.”

The premier continued, noting that “it could be said that economic cooperation between Serbia and Italy can serve as a model of good economic cooperation between any two countries. This is confirmed by the level of bilateral trade, totalling over 3.6 billion euros in the last year, which is about a quarter of the total goods trade between Serbia and the EU. […] Italy has provided strong support to Serbia’s EU integration process, but there is also growing interest among Italian companies for cooperation with the Serbian economy and investing in the Serbian market. We should develop our relations further and even more ambitiously, in diversifying our economic, political and cultural relations. Finally, we should continue presenting Serbian-Italian relations as a success story and as a role model for strategic relations generally. […] Speaking of possibilities and the prospects of further economic cooperation with Italy, the following sectors have been recognized as having constant, and so far mutual, interest for investment: the automotive and metal industries, the textile industry, wood processing, IT, agriculture and renewables.”

Italian Diplomatic and Intelligence Structure in Serbia

This deep cooperation is well-indicated by the staff numbers of Italian Embassy in Belgrade: the Ambassador Giuseppe Manzo, in Belgrade since 2013, has some 25 accredited diplomats. Along with its competitively-sized contingent, Italian diplomacy has taken the initiative, marking 90 years of its Belgrade embassy in 2016, and thus holding special events throughout the year.

According to the latest official data (updated September 16, 2016), this reveals Italy is at a high place within the second tier of countries represented. The largest diplomatic presences are those of Russia, with 54 diplomats, the US, with 40, China, with 37 persons, and Germany with 33. But Italy, with its 25 diplomats, comes out ahead of other European powers such as Austria (15), France (19), Greece (15), Turkey (15), Hungary (19) and Britain (16).

There are also interesting anomalies on Belgrade’s diplomatic scene, like Libya, the failed state with rival factions that nevertheless still manages to keep 27 diplomats in Serbia, according to the official data. Of course, on the southern edge of the Italian security arc we have traced in this series, Libya presents a serious challenge to Italy due to migration and terrorism, and economic concerns (ENI) in the country. So the Belgrade presence of a significant number of Libyan diplomats is something the Italian services monitor with interest.

As we reported in the second installment of this series, while the Slavonic-speaking central hub for Italian intelligence is in Zagreb, Belgrade is gaining back its pivotal role in Italy-SEE relations and in intelligence work as well. This does not depend only on the fact that Serbia remains the regional center of balance, but also because Italian interests and goals are confronted in Serbia by those of the major players, like Germany, Turkey and of course Russia. Historically, culturally and politically, Moscow remains better connected with Belgrade than in any other Eastern European country. Indeed, part of the reason for the AISE hub activities in Croatia is that it is considered much ‘safer ground’ than in Serbia, where the Russians have a stronger footing and can more easily monitor Italian intelligence moves,

An Active Ambassador- Giuseppe Manzo

Thus, it is not by chance that Italy entrusted an experienced diplomat, with previous postings in Tirana and Washington (both key actors in the Balkans), to deal with the growing importance of Serbia for Italian strategic goals. In this respect, diplomats say that Giuseppe Manzo represented the perfect choice.

Appointed on 3 June 2013, he was also previously chief of the press service and spokesperson of the Italian Foreign Ministry, managing the transition of the communication of the MFA towards e-diplomacy, introducing social networks and new media. In the period 2010-2011 he led the press office of the Italian Embassy in Washington, coming from the Italian embassy in New York, with experience from 2007-2008 as member of Italian delegation to the United Nations.

Manzo’s previous Balkan appointment occurred as counselor at the Embassy in Tirana in the period 1995-1998: tough years for Albania, which saw the explosion of the Pyramid scandal, looting of state arsenals, and the consequence migration crisis across the Adriatic.

In Manzo, Italy thus sent to Belgrade a diplomat familiar with international institutions, US policies and aware of the regional situation. But above all, Italy sent to Serbia a skilled communicator, who was able to develop inside the Italian Embassy a well-functioning information office. The ambassador has often released interviews and comments to local and international media, and is a Twitter user. The Embassy publishes a six-month press review (L’Italia a Belgrado), frequently updates its social profiles on Facebook and Twitter, and even publishes Flickr photo albums.

Since his arrival in 2013, Manzo has strongly backed Serbia’s accession to the European Union, showing satisfaction with the achieved levels of cooperation in fields such as security and rule of law enforcement. In a recent interview for the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s publication, Diplomacy & Commerce, he underlined the importance of the “European Goal” for the countries still waiting for accession: “stability is not an irreversible achievement. It is rather a work in progress, and we have to recognize that the EU integration process is the main driving force to promote democratic change, economic growth and social developments in all these countries.”

He then underlined the diplomatic role of Italy in strengthening the relations between two key countries of the Western Balkans: “through the Trilateral Initiative we started last year, together with Serbia and Albania, and within the Western Balkan Process, by chairing and hosting in 2017 [in Rome] the Summit among Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Finance/Economy, to promote joint projects on infrastructure, transport, energy and tourism.”

Growing Economic Ties

The ambassador then turned to economic subjects, underlining that Italy is one of the principal economic players locally, and seeks stronger economic development. Since the beginning of Manzo’s mandate in 2013, Italy has become Serbia’s leading trade partner: the Serbian Statistic Institute reports that Italian exports to Serbia equal 2.38 billion euro each year. And, Italian firms in Serbia now exceed 600 (they were 250 in 2011 and 450 in 2013). These companies employ more than 20,000 workers, with a turnover of over 2 billion euros.

Italian companies have indeed achieved a quasi-monopolistic position in most of the growing sectors of Serbia’s economy: the automotive one, with FIAT (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) contributing by itself 1% of Serbian GDP; the banking sector, where Banca Intesa San Paolo and Unicredit hold more than 25% of the market; the insurance sector, 45% of which is controlled by Generali and Fondiari SAI; textiles, where Italian brands like Calzedonia, Pompea and Benetton are present, as well as in footwear, particularly thanks to the Geox facility in Vranje.

Further, in the agricultural sector, a leading Italian company, Ferrero, has recently signed an agreement to farm hazelnuts in Serbia. In this regard, the ambassador presented his future projects for developing mutual relations under the slogan “culture & agriculture.”

In this regard, Manzo noted a range of initiatives. “As for agriculture, a couple of weeks ago Italy successfully participated as a partner country in the renowned Agricultural Fair of Novi Sad,” he stated. “Agribusiness could in the next year be one of the main sources of development for the Serbian economy, while for Italy it is already a strong reality, considering, for instance, that Italian exports in the agroindustry amounted to around 37 billion euros last year and we want to target 50 billion in 2020. Also our cultural cooperation is intense, but again we can do more and more. The Italian language is the first foreign language studied in Serbia after English and cultural relations between students and universities are particularly strong.”

Here it is interesting to note that Vojvodina alone produces 32% of Serbia’s total national exports, and represents one of the favored areas for delocalization of Italian companies. With its Hungarian minority and Central Eastern-flavor, Vojvodina has also historically been of keen interest to especially Hungary and sometimes Austria.

Energy Sector Potential

Italy is also trying to carve out its place in the energy sector (following its recent acquisitions in Montenegro, which will be discussed in this series’ final article). At present in Serbia, the local market is actually dominated by gas imports from Russia, and specifically by Gazprom: in 2008 Belgrade sold the majority of the state shares in the NIS energy company for $580 million (plus $500 million in investment from the Gazpromneft oil company). In that sense, Serbia’s energy sector is under the influence of Moscow state companies. A later agreement in 2013 further increased the year import to 2.5 billion cubic meters up to 2021. Lukoil is also present in the energy scene, having in 2003 won the contest for Beopetrol.

Possible investments by Italian companies are thus more likely only as an answer the growing demand for pipelines. The only competitive sector would then be the green one, considering that Serbia still depends on hydro-carbons for 90% of its energy needs, as a recent survey underlined. Serbia planned to reach a 27.3% renewables target by 2020 under Energy Community Treaty commitments, and currently operates 44 MW in small hydro-power plants, 2 MW in biogas power plants, 0.5 MW installed in wind and 2.4 MW in solar PV.

In this regard, the Italian corporation Building Energy recently signed an agreement with the Krusevac municipality for the construction of a biomasses thermal plant in the town. This could be the beginning of a widening trend of Italian participation in Serbian renewable investment, considering the overall trend of Italian deep participation in other key sectors.

The Economic Reasons behind the Italian-Serbian Strategic Partnership

Ambassador Manzo’s statements on the evolving economic relationship reaffirm a phenomenon reported by Balkanalysis.com in 2011. Thus, it is important to analyze the meaning of such a heavy Italian presence in the country.

There are multiple reasons for this colonization, such as the geographical proximity and logistical advantages. But the most important factor is surely connected with the low cost of work, and the presence of many qualified specialists.

Further, since 2008 the Serbian government has provided heavy incentives to foreign investors. For instance, the 2009 agreement between the Serbian government and FIAT – which is one of the few ever signed between a private company and a state – conceded the entire Kragujevac factory area (previously called FAS and now, FCA Serbia) to FIAT for just 1 euro and 10,000 euros for each worker.

But the crucial point is probably that, by virtue of the Agreement for Stabilization and Association signed with teh EU, the Generalized System of Preferences with the USA, and the exemption from customs for exchanges with Russia, the foreign companies that invest in Serbia gain access to a market as big as one billion people for “Made in Serbia” products. According to the definition, a product becomes ‘made in Serbia’ when more that the 50.01% of the transformation of raw materials is completed on state territory.

As with Macedonia, Serbia also provides a very favorable tax regime for companies. No taxes on profit are charged for 10 years for companies with a total sales volume higher than 8 million euro and at least 100 new employed per year. 14 free zones (amongst them Subotica, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Šabac, Kragujevac and Belgrade) grant tax breaks and charge no VAT. Where the VAT is charged, it is 20%, which is lower than in most European countries.

As reported by East Journal in a December 2015 article, this shape of the economic system has two main consequences: “the privatization of many state companies […] and the closure, or the collapse, of many local companies. As a matter of fact, public auctions and state incentives are more bracing for foreign companies, that have a consolidated experience on the market and can more easily win contracts.”

This situation could eventually have heavy consequences for Serbian small and medium-sized enterprises and may lead to worse consequences if foreign companies leave once the proscribed 10-year period of presence expires, should these companies decide to move to the next profitable country.

Diplomacy and the Italian Situation in Serbia

Despite possible economic consequences over the medium-long term, the excellent quality of Italian-Serbian relations, and the reciprocal trust between the acting governments, is testified by the constant growth of the Italian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and by a series of interviews and declarations recently released by officials of both countries, as we have seen with Vucic’s interview.

Less than a month ago, on 31 August, the Italian ambassador to Belgrade was received by the newly-appointed Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic, to deliver a congratulation letter for his nomination from his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni.

The official letter stated that “as Serbia’s primary strategic partner, Italy will continue to support Your Country in its European integration path in the wider fields, with the goal of getting more and more concrete results. […] The Western Balkan Summit which will be hosted by Italy next year will be a perfect occasion to promote the European integration of the countries in the region, enforcing their reciprocal cooperation also through their active involvement in the process. Our main goal is to improve our bilateral relations and the relations between the countries in Western Balkans. For Italy, Serbia’s future is inside the European Union. […] Looking forward to get back to working with you and your government, and to future occasions for meeting in person, I wish you the best for you new role.”

During the meeting, both Ambassador Manzo and FM Dacic underlined the importance and the high level of trust reached by bilateral relations, and reiterated promises of developing cooperation in every field of common interest. Ambassador Manzo, while expressing his satisfaction with the choice of Rome as host of the next Western Balkan summit, underlined Serbia’s commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the region. He also took into account Minister Dacic’s concerns about the behavior of some countries which partly compromised this stability.

The future meeting in Rome was also at the center of Undersecretary Amendola’s visit to Belgrade last June, when he also gave a long interview to the newspaper Politika. In it, Amendola indicated economic growth, security and rule of law as Italy’s priorities for the Western Balkan 2017 Summit: “I chose to reunite in Belgrade the Italian ambassadors in the Adriatic-Balkan area to begin the organization of the agenda of the summit,” he said.

The Italian undersecretary also met Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic for a meeting about “the economic and cultural development of the region, the investment and growth opportunities for Italian companies active in infrastructural projects, and the Italian contribution to the promotion of rule of law in the region.”

In this regard, before coming back to Italy, Amendola and the ambassadors also participated, in the Belgrade Special Court’s room dedicated to Giovanni Falcone, to the presentation of a regional project dedicated to the fight against organized crime. This was developed after the donation to Serbian Police of a database collected by Italian National Anti-Mafia direction.”

Police Cooperation between Italy and Serbia

The renewed efforts of Serbian security agencies in the fight against organized crime have strengthened international cooperation. The centrality of Serbia here was indicated by the Anti-Mafia meeting held in Belgrade in May 2013, in the OSCE mission’s office. Serbian government representatives and officials from Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, USA, Netherlands and Europol participated. In a nod to Italian influence, the central event was a speech by Prosecutor Paolo Roberti.

The choice of Belgrade as conference host was significant. The prosecutor stated that Italy seeks to extend to all the Balkan countries the strong cooperation it already has with Serbia in the fight against organized crime and corruption. The idea of this regional conference was connected to the Italian Ministry of Justice’s decision to donate Italian SIDDA/SIDNA software to the Serbian Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, in December 2013. It was developed by the National Anti-mafia and Anti-terrorism Office, in order to manage investigative data.

The Italian Foreign Ministry also participated by funding around 100,000 euros to this project, making Italy the lead contributor. The Serbian side planned to share the database system with all Serbian public prosecutors offices, “in order to harmonize the different IT systems.”

The (Lesser) Impact of the Hacking Team Affair in Serbia

As our previous installment discussed, the 2015 email leak involving Milanese spyware firm Hacking Team caused some reactions in the Croatian media, forcing the Croatian intelligence service to publicly rebuff claims that its work had been compromised in any way by the leak. While the reaction to the leak was less pronounced in Serbia, one very interesting article from Serbian tech site Share Lab in July 2015 reveals that the Italian company sought to do business with the Serbian Security Information Agency (Bezbednosno-informativna agencija, BIA) and the Ministry of Defense.

As in Croatia, the negotiation was reportedly undertaken with the aid of a local Belgrade company, but also involved an Israeli one. According to the long article, the initial Serbian interest came in 2011, after a BIA agent noticed HT at the MiliPol Paris fair in 2011. Negotiations apparently continued during that year, with at least one trial demonstration performed in Belgrade, but changes in government and disagreements over price meant that a deal never came to pass.

Italian Leadership of NATO Military Liaison Office in Serbia

In 2006, NATO opened a Military-Liaison Office in a country it had been bombing only seven years earlier. While no one is expecting Serbia to join NATO, the initiative was meant to provide the basis for maximal non-membership cooperation.

In this light, it is interesting to note that the local NATO leadership of this office has been held by Italians- a choice that indicates the ‘acceptable’ nature of Italian leadership in Serbian society, considering the recent history. As such, in February 2016, Italian Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli became Chief of the NATO MLO, taking over from his fellow countryman, Brigadier General Lucio Batta. The latter had also served in this position on a previous mission.

Brigadier General Marinelli is a well-regarded officer who was active in the Rome operations center for pre-planning Italian troop deployment to Kosovo before the war, and similarly led advance planning for deployment to Afghanistan before the US invasion there. He also has overseen Italian troops operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania and thus is well acquainted with the region.

Conclusions: Intelligence Focus Guided by Economic Interests First

The changing dynamic of Italy’s relations with Serbia are indicated by its areas of focus. With war an increasingly distant memory, Italy is taking advantage of its good relations with Serbia to advance its economic interests. Therefore, the primary area of focus for state agencies like AISE (as well as numerous private intelligence firms) is economic intelligence. One of the questions for modeling involves scenarios by which Italy’s banking crisis could affect its general economy and trade with Serbia (including banking ownership in the country), and what this would mean for Serbia itself.

Serbia today is attempting to continue the former Yugoslavia’s role as the one ‘vital’ Balkan power between East and West, and it is indeed the case that today’s major powers all have a stake there. For Italy, the historic good relations with Serbia are allowing it to play a leading role, even in the most sensitive of areas for local society (such as relations with NATO).

The current Italian ambassador’s tenure has been, all agree, highly successful. The upcoming diplomatic rotation will indicate much about Rome’s intended orientation, but with the next Berlin Process conference for the Balkans to be hosted by Italy next year, we can expect that Italy will keep up a high level of diplomatic and logistical cooperation in advance of that event.

Mother Teresa’s Canonization and Related Events in the Western Balkans

By Blerina Mecule

On 4 September 2016, in a festive atmosphere in Vatican City, Pope Francis proclaimed Mother Teresa a saint, under the name of Saint Teresa of Kolkata. Her legacy as a humanitarian figure is known to the world; more tangibly, according to Vatican News, her missionary work has had clear results. Today there are 5,160 Missionaries of Charity in 139 countries (758 of them working between homes and institutions), while there are 397 priests of the “Brothers of Charity”, who work in 69 houses located in 21 countries around the world.

Pre-Canonization Events in India

The itinerary of ceremonies leading up to the canonization kicked off in August with many celebrations and commemoration events. Starting from India, the tribute-events included a special celebration in the Diocese of Miao, situated in the extreme northeast corner of India, during which Bishop George Pallipparambil SDB of Miao Diocese announced the inauguration of a Hospital dedicated to Mother Teresa, with a statue in her honor to be placed in its entrance.

“Mother Teresa and Mercy go hand in hand,” stated the Bishop. According to him, there was already public demand for a hospital there, as the nearest hospital is 120 km away in Assam’s Tinsukia. While in Vasai, Archbishop Felix Machado inaugurated a church dedicated to Saint Teresa of Calcutta and praised the late nun, calling her “the bridge between India and the people of Europe”.

The Indian government, for the first time, invited a Catholic bishop to be part of the official delegation in Rome for the canonization. This was appreciated and praised by the church as an important step towards working together with people of all religions.

The Indian Bishop’s Conference on the canonization day called Mother Teresa a “fully Indian saint”, though she was born in Skopje in 1910 (when Macedonia was still under the Ottoman Empire). Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the General Secretary of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, said in a press conference that Mother Teresa is truly an Indian saint because “she made India her country, in her heart, she is a true Indian saint.” According to the bishop, even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said what many Indians think: that Mother Teresa is ‘our’ saint.

Events Surrounding the September 4 Canonization in Rome

During the historic canonization, several national flags fluttered in Saint Peter’s Square, which gathered many people coming from different countries. The flags displayed were mainly from her region of origin, the Balkans. These included flags of Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, but also India, where she spent most of her life’s mission.

Among different celebrations put on by Balkan-related groups, famous artists from Kosovo and Albania organized a special concert, dedicated to Mother Teresa, with a special Anthem as a tribute to her. In a show of pride about her ethnic Albanian origin, high-level delegations came from Kosovo and Albania to attend the concert. The day after, the official delegation arrived also from the Republic of Macedonia for the mass celebration at Saint Peter’s Square.

Other important events were held worldwide. The US Embassy in the Holy See curated an online tribute to Mother Teresa, while a statue of her was inaugurated in Manhattan. A special Mass celebration was held by the Albanian Diaspora in Canada and Moscow, and a special concert was held in Spain. Meanwhile in Turin, Italy, the name of Mother Teresa was given to a green natural park.

Focus on the Balkans- Presences at the Canonization and Events Surrounding It

Kosovo: The high-level official delegation coming to the event was constituted by President Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, Speaker of Parliament Kadri Veseli, and the Archbishop of Kosovo, Mons. Dode Gjergji.

President Thaci declared that “we are lucky to live during the best times for Albanians,” while Prime Minister Mustafa stated that “we are lucky to have given to the world the Mother of Peace and Love.”

The celebrations held in Kosovo before and after the canonization day included exhibition events on Mother Teresa. On the day after the canonization, in all the schools in Kosovo, the first hour was dedicated to her.

Albania: the high-level official delegation was represented by President Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister Edi Rama and Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, President Nishani reiterated the importance of Mother Teresa as an inclusive symbol for the Albanians, which reflects the vision that all human beings are equal in front of God and that all should be united and pray for the fundamental values of the human being.

In a meeting with the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Parolin, the Albanian president was praised for the contribution of the Albanian nation and the Albanians in the Balkans, and for promoting the general human aspect of the saint. He described Mother Teresa as the Saint Mother, an Albanian and ‘universal genius.’ A week after the canonization, celebrations were held in northern Albania, the center of Albanian Catholicism.

Of particular importance was the mass celebrated by the members of the Albanian Bishop’s Conference. President Nishani attended the mass and in his speech he reiterated his view of Mother Teresa as a unique Albanian, the ‘most precious gift’ of the Albanian nation to all humanity. “She does not belong only to the Catholic church but to all humanity,” stated President Nishani.

More broadly, he also praised all the efforts of the Albanians to protect the national identity through the worldwide celebrations, as a tribute to Mother Teresa. The late nun was deemed “our precious Saint and symbol to preserve our national identity and the cultural heritage of the Albanians,” said President Nishani.

The week of celebrations included also the inauguration of Mother Teresa’s memorial slab in Tirana, an exhibition of paintings and photos in Durres, while the Albanian media generally reported the worldwide positive impact of the canonization on Albania’s nation brand, which promoted the peaceful coexistence of the country’s three religions.

Macedonia: The high-level delegation for the canonization was led by President Gjorge Ivanov, Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Culture, Nikola Poposki and Elizabeta Kanceska Milevska, the leaders of VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, Nikola Gruevsi and Zoran Zaev, as well as the representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and members of the family of Mother Teresa.

This large delegation could have been larger still. President Ivanov had invited the four major party leaders: along with Gruevski and Zaev, these included the ethnic Albanian leaders of DUI and DPA, Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci. The president had invited the four leaders – who have been assembled together in all internationally-brokered negotiation during Macedonia’s political crisis – to join him in Rome, to show that they could put aside their differences for one day.

While Zaev and Gruevski accepted the president’s offer, the ethnic Albanian leaders did not. Local media reported that Ahmeti’s spokesman claimed that the Vatican had personally and privately invited him, and that he was communicating with the Italian Embassy in Skopje. This comment made some Macedonians angry as to why Ahmeti should have such ‘special treatment’ and not follow the state delegation.

In terms of media coverage, the canonization was broadcast live by Macedonian National Television, with commentary in the Macedonian language; however, the Albanian-language MNT channel (as well as the privately owned Albanian-language channels) did not choose to broadcast the event at all. There was no discussion of the reasons for this, but possibly the largely Muslim composition of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia indicated relatively less interest than in Kosovo or Albania.

The canonization protocol also caused some controversy for Macedonians, regarding the strange error in the English version of the official booklet that the Vatican distributed during the celebration in Saint Peter’s Square. According to some media, in the English version it was written that Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, Albania. The error was noted also by the official Macedonian delegation, which complained to the diplomatic authority of the Vatican. According to what the local media reported, the Vatican agreed that an error had occurred, and the booklet was modified accordingly in the online version, while the printed version was withdrawn from circulation.

Mother Teresa’s canonization was followed in Macedonia by other events. A mass was held at the much-visited Memorial House of Mother Teresa, which chronicles her life and works. Another mass was held on 11 September by the special envoy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop of Sarajevo.

During the Pontifical Mass, President Ivanov said that the only way to show respect to Mother Teresa is to live together in peace despite any religious, ethnic and ideological differences.

“Instead of exhausting ourselves with political battles in proving her origin and adoption of her name, Mother Teresa would tell us to follow her example,” stated the president, taking a philosophical approach.

“Seeing how easily we turn the cross and the crescent, the church and the mosque into fortresses for repelling of virtual territories, she would remind us that faith is love in action… She would encourage us to keep the most valuable asset we have- the Macedonian model of coexistence, respect, and acceptance of diversity.”

Vatican Goals and the Symbolism of Mother Teresa

As the Macedonian president hinted, the whole canonization phenomenon has highlighted different claims at national and cultural ‘ownership’ of Mother Teresa’s legacy. For the Vatican, however, one key goal in this respect is to emphasize unity-through-diversity. As the visit of Pope Francis to Albania attested in 2014, the church sees the harmonious coexistence between the three religions in Albania (and its further promotion within the Balkans) as strategically important. It is a tangible element of dialogue between Islam and Christianity, between East and West, based on the culture of reciprocity, rather than on the monologue of theology and religiosity.

In this sense, promoting the myth and symbol of Saint Mother Teresa’s figure is important for the Vatican. The church has sought to promote her as an Indian citizen born in Macedonia, with ethnic Albanian roots, a Nobel Prize-winner who promoted the joy of love, the worth of dignity and respect, and as a saint of the Catholic Church, who undertook important and enduring missionary work.

By extension, this inclusive approach indicates Vatican goals of promoting dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Christians, between East and West, and between the different peoples in the Western Balkans. While the region (and of course the world) are chronically divided along religious, ethnic, social and other lines, the canonization of such a ‘multi-national’ personage as was Mother Teresa has given the Vatican a unique opportunity to express its ecumenical message. As such, even if some in the Balkans might see it as a regional issue, the canonization of Mother Teresa has a global significance for the Vatican.

 

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