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


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.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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.


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 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 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, 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.


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, 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 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.


Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 5: Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the fifth installment in our present series, assesses the modern relationship between Italy and Croatia, and with Bosnia in diplomatic and security affairs. While the latter countries are Balkan neighbors, their different historic relations with Italy and differing local realities mean that Italy has to take a different approach with both. At the same time, lingering terrorism concerns in the Balkans are keeping Italian security services active in a region where numerous international interests vie for power and influence.

Croatia: Diplomatic Context

Diplomatic relations between Italy and Croatia have always been close, but Italy took a more pacifistic track (as it would before the intervention in Kosovo) in the period immediately before independence declarations and war in the former Yugoslavia. After the initial attempts to save the collapsing Yugoslavia with De Michelis’s 1991 initiatives, Italy followed the German and the European decision to recognize Slovenian and Croatian independences.

As we reported in the first article in this series, in the following years Italy was marginalized in the talks for ending the war and excluded from ground-level Contact Group activities. However, it started to develop its connection with the two newborn Eastern Adriatic countries. A generic support for Slovenia and Croatia spread in the Italian population, also thanks to the good offices of the Catholic Church, especially in the first years of the conflict, before the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina reached its peak.

Occasional matters of diplomatic tensions regarded mostly the legacy of WWII and the reciprocal accusation of war crimes then. It is important to remember that these contentious subjects had previously been almost entirely expunged from the diplomatic discourse during Yugoslav years, in order to maintain good relations with an important commercial and diplomatic partner. Italy thus reemerged at a time soon after the end of the war in Croatia, when a more critical perspective was arising about the Tudjman years.

The cyclical diplomatic crisis between Rome and Zagreb peaked on two occasions: in the year 2000, when Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi decided to bestow the last Italian administration of the town of Zara, during Fascist times, with a Medal of Honor; and in the year 2007, when a dispute broke out between Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic, caused by some harsh comments made by the Italian president during the commemoration for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Italians in Istria and Dalmatia after WWII.

Bilateral relations improved in the following years. The Josipovic presidency opened a new era of neighborly diplomacy, when Italy constantly supported Croatian accession to the European Union.

Croatian Secret Service Shake-ups and Historic Relations with France

The current director of Croatia’s Security Intelligence Agency (SOA, Sigurnosno obavještajna agencija) is Danijel Markic, born in France, a former member of French Foreign Legion and a fighter in the Croatian special forces during the war in 1991-1995. Markic was nominated on 29 March 2016 by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitanovic and Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic. This appointment was partly a nod to Croatian nationalism, but it might also restore some old alliances that will put Italy and its closest partners on a new footing in Zagreb.

Unlike predecessor Dragan Lozančić, who was well connected in American high circles spheres (and who holds a PhD from New York University), Markic has historic military and intelligence ties at the highest levels with France, and could exploit his own relations with French intelligence. This adds an interesting new element to the general Balkan intelligence mix, since the French have largely been staying on the sidelines in recent years.

As reported by Italian magazine LookOutNews, Markic is in close contact with the retired French general Philippe Rondot, former chief of French intelligence (DGSE, Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure). Rondot, who is now 80 years old, is perhaps most famous for his role in the 1994 capture of terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (‘Carlos the Jackal’) in Sudan.

Rondot’s connections with the Croatian military and security structures during and after the war of the 1990s were revealed when he became collateral damage in a reputational dispute between rival heavyweights on the French political scene. In 2009, Britain’s Telegraph reported that it had taken investigators “two years to decipher” several handwritten notebooks that police had seized in a raid on the general’s home. “His diaries, written by hand in small writing across the square lined paper, have thrown an embarrassing light on the machinations of France’s secret services and raised concern that spymasters are operating outside of the law,” the newspaper reported.

“They will be produced as evidence in the forthcoming Clearstream trial in which the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin will be accused, along with three others, of complicity in an attempt to smear the reputation of his political rival, Nicholas Sarkozy, by means of a fake list of off-shore bank accounts,” the newspaper added.

The British and French media put most attention on this internal aspect of the case, as well as on Rondot’s propositions for targeted assassinations and relocation of senior members of Saddam Hussein’s government after 9/11, in case they might be ‘useful.’ But what is most relevant for our present study is an additional detail reaffirmed in the Rondot diaries: the role of French intelligence in Croatia, due partly to French Foreign Legion ties, and what this could mean for future intelligence activities on Balkan soil and beyond.

The diaries “appear to detail how French intelligence services protected Ante Gotovina, a Croat general who had served in the French Foreign Legion and was wanted by the International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia for alleged war crimes,” stated the same Telegraph article. Rondot’s notes “claim that a French secret service officer was with Croat soldiers when they carried out the ‘Oluja’ [Operation Storm] offensive, in which Croat forces ethnically cleansed around 200,000 Serbs from part of the Krajina region, killing at least 150 people. Gen Rondot noted: ‘General Ante Gotovina told me he would never reveal the links that existed, during the time of the war (in former Yugoslavia) between him and us,’” the British newspaper reported.

This connection is significant because, while the cumulative actions behind Gotovina’s 2005 capture on Tenerife remain opaque, Britain had been most vocal in opposing Croatian EU membership until he was caught. (Gotovina was found guilty of war crimes by the Hague, but finally acquitted on appeal, in November 2012).

The chronic antagonisms that emerged between and within partner and rival intelligence services in the post-war hunt for alleged war criminals like Gotovina took up considerable energy and time. It also caused network destruction and complicated infighting in various services.

The question now will be whether, with the appointment of war veteran Markic, the old ties will be restored, and if so what could come of it. Italy, as traditionally a close of ally of Britain with extremely effective intelligence ties in Croatia could provide a useful check on French influence.

Another Aspect of Italian-Croatian Intelligence Issues: Wikileaks and the Hacking Team Case

From the Italian point of view, what is more interesting is a controversial episode involving attempted business dealings between SOA and an Italian firm. During Lozancic’s tenure, SOA sought to acquire special hacking software from Hacking Team (this Milanese firm was discussed in the first part of this series, in regard to the Regeni case in Egypt). But Croatia was far from the only country affected when Wikileaks released one million Hacking Team emails, in July 2015.

According to Wikileaks, the emails revealed “the inner workings of the controversial global surveillance industry.” For Croatian media, however, domestic revelations proved most exciting: local media reported that the hacked emails compromised national security.

The alleged damage included revelations like budget problems, inter-agency rivalries over location of procured equipment, and even the names of intermediary companies, SOA employees and interior ministry officials in communication with the Italian company. According to an 8 February 2016 article in Croatian newspaper Jutarnij List, the hacked emails cumulatively revealed that “foreign companies easily obtain information about the functioning and problems of the Croatian intelligen0ce apparatus.”

SOA fired back the next day, denying all of these claims in a statement carried by the Croatian security blog While it confirmed that it had been in communication with Hacking Team since 2011, and operated legally through a Croatian intermediary company, SOA denied that any of the security breaches illustrated by the newspaper report had occurred. SOA added that Croatian citizens should maintain trust in the professional workings of the agency.

As with the Regeni case in Egypt, it remains unclear to what extent the embarrassing leaks have damaged or compromised links between SOA and Italy’s AISE, but it is reasonable to expect that the case was as much a headache for the latter as for the former. With the change at the top of Croatian intelligence services and the Italian government’s orientation towards Hacking Team and other Italian cyber-exporters, we should expect some decisions in the near future.

Regardless of this specific case, it will be interesting to see if the Croatian intelligence leadership change influences Italian-Croatian relations. It is possible that the strategy will change accordingly with the change of presidency. Markic’s appointment caused a political crisis for the Oreskovic government when it became clear that the new president, Grabar-Kitarović, had no trust in Lozancic.

Italian Diplomatic Structure and Recent Activity

On 12 May 2016, Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was in Dubrovnik to attend the ministerial meeting on the Ionian and Adriatic Initiative (IAI)/EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR).

As reported in the previous articles of this series and in previous publications, this initiative represents one of the pivotal strategies to reaffirm Italian diplomatic leverage in Southeast Europe. The EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) – which was launched on 18 November 2014 under the Italian Presidency of the European Council and spurred by the political impetus of Italy – aims at rationalizing resources and sectoral policies by focusing on four common “Pillars”: fishing and the ‘blue economy,’ interconnectivity of infrastructures and electricity, the environment, tourism and culture.

The partners in EUSAIR, in addition to the EU Commission, include eight countries. Four of them are EU member states (Italy, Slovenia, Greece and Croatia) and four are non-EU countries (Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro).

The IAI/EUSAIR Ministerial Meeting held in Dubrovnik was thus a strategic direction-setting opportunity for the EU Commission and the partner countries. The meeting was followed by the EUSAIR Forum, which will present the strategy to the public and provide an opportunity to open a debate with the region’s representatives of civil society and opinion makers.

The Italian MFA announced on this that “Minister Gentiloni’s diplomatic mission falls within the scope of Italy’s staunch and constant action to reaffirm its role as a key partner of the Balkan Countries, also in the prospect of the Italian Presidency of the Berlin Process [the summit will be held in Italy in 2017]; an assertive role that Italy is playing by leveraging all the regional cooperation instruments (EUSAIR, IAI, Trilateral meetings with Serbia and Albania, Central European Initiative – CEI).”

Italy’s historical cultural, religious and political links are reflected in a robust diplomatic presence, which also helps conceal one of its largest regional foreign intelligence outposts.

As we noted in the second part of this series, in addition to its Zagreb embassy, Italy has a cultural center and trade commission in the capital, and consulates in Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Bule, Pulja and Split. The current ambassador, Adriano Chiodini Cianfarani, was previously ambassador to Pakistan and has held numerous high-level positions both in the Rome MFA and abroad, in 2011 having been in charge of the Turkey-Cyprus portfolio.

In a 27 July 2016 interview with Croatia’s Nacional, Ambassador Cianfarani specified the above-mentioned Adriatic-Ionian Initiative and EUSAIR in regards to bilateral cooperation. According to the ambassador, both countries “are fully committed to further improve our relations, which are good not only at the political level, but also in all other areas, especially in the economic field, since Italy is among the first partner of Croatia.”

When asked about Croatian politics, the ambassador replied that a “short-term political crisis” should not be “a key influence” on the economy. “It should be noted that there are decisions that government must bring, therefore political stability is important, but in the meantime, life goes on and everyone involved in production and various services simply must work,” the ambassador said. “It is a sign of maturity of a country. In any case, after the next election, we want Croatia stable government.”

The Italian diplomat’s interview also revealed a perceptibly different approach to the political crisis in Croatia than, for example, to Macedonia’s (which is recounted in the third part of this series). Whether or not this is due to Italy’s special relationship with Croatia, the latter’s EU status, or other reasons, Italian diplomacy in Zagreb has been generally softer and less demanding.

Diplomatic Structure of Italy in Bosnia-Hercegovina

In Bosnia, Italy lacks the same depth of historical and cultural overlap as it does with Croatia. Also, Bosnia’s poor economy and complicated political and bureaucratic structure make it a ‘special case’ in the Balkans. (Readers interested in the views of several generations of Bosnians will enjoy author Lana Pasic’s ebook, 20 Years after Dayton).

Italy’s Sarajevo embassy has a fairly healthy staff of 16, according to the Bosnian MFA (though three members are based in either Serbia or Croatia). It should also be noted that, as is the case with Albania, a number of countries run their diplomatic relations with Sarajevo out of embassies in Rome, which cumulatively is advantageous for Italian intelligence and counter-intelligence operations.

Unlike his counterpart in Zagreb, who arrived from Pakistan near the end of 2015, Italian Ambassador Ruggero Corrias has been in Bosnia since 2013. He is a former Air Force officer, with diplomatic experience particularly in the US and South America, and is in frequent contact with Bosnian leaders to find ways for improving bilateral ties and promoting Bosnia’s EU path.

Italian Diplomacy’s Focus on Economic Development

However, much remains to be done. While affirming that the situation in Kosovo “is improving,” one American diplomat in Italy stated for that “the real quagmire in the Balkans is Bosnia. The situation has not changed in years and I do not have much faith in future changes.”

Since political and social progress is perceived as depending on economic growth, Italian diplomatic efforts are focusing on economic development programs. Italian diplomatic support seeks, for example, to help Bosnia-Herzegovina get a new credit program from the IMF. But the road to achieve such goals is long and hard as it relies on the reform of public administration, banking system reform, and a major privatization plan.

On 23 February 2016, Ambassador Corrias thus met with the director of the Bosnian Central Bank, Senad Softic, and affirmed Italy’s commitment to the growth of Bosnia’s economy. “Italy – which holds more than 30% of the bank market through Unicredit Group and Intesa San Paolo – has a great interest in supporting the reform process and backing Bosnia’s European future, after last week’s request of adhesion,” he stated.

These subjects were at the center of the meeting, after which both underlined that “despite a positive GDP trend and monetary stability, endemic unemployment and foreign debt growth clearly show the fragility of the Bosnian socio-economic system.”

Italy is the second-largest commercial partner of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a total trade exchange of more than 1.5 billion euros annually, and more than 70 companies working in the country. Italy thus has a major interest in boosting Bosnia’s European accession procedures and thus exploit its dominant position. This (and other) data was reported in the latest research published by the Ministry for Economic Development, and is available here.

The Italian Military Presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina, still a quasi-protectorate, hosts the second-biggest Italian military deployment. The Italian military operates inside the operation EUFOR Althea (which took the place of NATO’s SFOR) with 900 servicemen. In 2010 the United Nations enlarged its functions: aside from the original mission of maintaining security in the country, EUFOR Althea is also reinforcing and training the Bosnian Armed Forces. Italy has also participated, since 2003, in the European Union police mission (EUPM), which contributes to the creation of a multiethnic and professional police service in Bosnia.

All these missions have been recently refinanced by the Italian government for the year 2016 in the Financial Law of November 2015.

Terrorist Threats, Migration and Security Risks: the AISE 2015 Annual Report

Italian intelligence concerns about terrorism and Bosnia are expressed in the last report published by AISE about its actions during 2015. The report clearly underlines that the primary threat to Italian security is international terrorism and the ramifications of the Islamic State in Northern Africa and Europe.

Italy is now more “exposed” to terrorist attacks than ever, as the events in France and Belgium clearly showed in the last year. It does not surprise that 47% of all reports requested of AISE by Italian state institutions and police in 2015 concerned international terrorism. Also, according to the report, some 79% of these country reports were about Middle Eastern or Northern Africa countries.

Interestingly enough, and despite the heavy press coverage regarding the possible jihadist threat from the Balkans, these countries represent altogether only 3% of the total request for country reports. This low number underlines one of the introductory remarks reported in the first chapters of the present series: Italy considers terrorist threats coming from the Balkans and North Africa more a matter of security and investigation, to be conducted by police forces rather than by AISE.

Thus the Italian intelligence activities in these countries are performed, in cases where they are performed, mostly in support of police actions, even if this is not the primary goal of intelligence activities in the classic sense. But terrorism has changed in recent years too, acquiring some of the peculiarities of organized crime, and frequently coordinating its operation through online platforms and communications systems. This phenomenon thus requires tools of investigation carried out mainly through intelligence services.

During 2015, the AISE report also reveals, there were also repeated warnings about the possibility of terrorist infiltration among the migrants following the route through the Balkans, especially in countries like Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Such countries have also sent foreign fighters in Syria and been home to cells of radical Islamist groups.

As the AISE 2015 report continues, “the risk of terrorist infiltration in migratory flows […] is more concrete on the Balkan trajectory, especially in relation with an informative framework which affirms: security vulnerability due to the dimensions of the refugees’ flux from the Syrian-Iraqi battlefront; the centrality of the region as primary route for foreign fighters going to and coming back from the Middle East; the confirmed numbers of more than 900 volunteers enrolled by the Islamic State, and the presence on the ground of strengthened local extremist groups, capable of radicalizing migrants.”

Police Cooperation between Bosnia and Italy

Meanwhile, police cooperation continues: as has reported in recent years, many operations conducted jointly by Italian and Bosnian officials have uncovered parts of the jihadist webs between the two countries. The most important arrest was that, in 2014, of Bilal Bosnic, accused of being a wandering recruiter for the Islamic State, and charged with proselytism amongst the Muslim communities in Northern Italy. He was arrested with 16 others in September 2014, and later sentenced to seven years in jail for recruitment.

Italy and Bosnia both represent important hubs for foreign fighters. One of the latest reports on the subject, from early August 2016, concerns a young Pakistan national, Farook Aftab- who incidentally was also captain of Italy’s under-19 national cricket team (a detail which underlines that global jihadism can recruit also well-settled citizens of a country, as with the perpetrators of the Paris and Brussels attacks). According to Italian website lettera43, Aftab was expelled from Italy on terrorism charges, after police learned of his allegedly plan to move in Bosnia to train to join Islamic State.


Croatia and Bosnia are neighboring countries, but obviously at different stages of development and with different defining features. For Italy, it could be said that Croatia is ‘easier’ to deal with, but then again, the rewards – and potential damage – as the Wikileaks case showed – are proportionately higher. The presence of the Catholic Church in both countries is also a force multiplier for Italian interests, as is the traditional role where Italy has felt comfortable- that of providing cultural soft power.

Thus, the news this June that Italy is providing equipment and expertise for the Sarajevo National Museum’s new center for cultural heritage restoration might be more significant than it first appears. The simple fact that Italy is offering this – as opposed to Muslim countries that have long been active, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran – may be seen as a sign to Bosnians that their country has not been completely forgotten by Europe. As originally reported in January 2012, this and other cultural landmarks had been closed due to internal bickering and a lack of budget. The current Italian project thus has an unstated but tangible value on not only the cultural but also political and socio-religious levels.

Of course, such ventures aside, Italy will be most preoccupied with commercial relations in both Croatia and Bosnia, as well as monitoring political stability and risk – from elections to possible secessionist trends – and may try to increase its intelligence activity for both internal use and allied use. Intelligence leadership changes may indicate a return to old friendships- time will tell.

From England, Local Perceptions of the Balkans and the Brexit Vote editor’s note: while the migration crisis has focused European public discourse on the threat or perceived threat of migrants from Muslim countries, the perception of migrants from non-Muslim countries has been largely overlooked. However, in at least one important referendum on public opinion – the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote – antipathy to ‘Eastern Europe’ made an appearance that came as a surprise to many outsiders. Some interesting opinions on the issue are found in the following brief local assessment from Leicester.

By Antonio Scancariello

Eastern European citizens living in the United Kingdom are facing an uncertain future after June’s referendum, with which Britain decided to leave the EU. The decision, also known as ‘Brexit,’ triggered debates over the rights EU citizens will have to live in the UK and is a source of worries for Romanians and Bulgarians, too.

In an informal survey designed to take the pulse of the locals in Leicester, England, asked British citizens what their views on the issue of immigration are, and where they stand when it comes to EU enlargement policies.

A barman working in one of Leicester’s pubs said: “The whole thing was quite bad, really. There will be no major changes soon, but maybe in two years time there will be more work for them to get their visas. It’s a big loss for the free movement of people, I intended to travel Europe myself.”

Commenting on having immigrants working in the UK, he said: “I don’t have any issues, we have employed Europeans here. I think the Brits who voted ‘Leave’ were the ones too lazy to get a job.”

Another respondent, a PhD student voiced this concern and said, “many people will question if they want to [come in the UK] because after the vote they feel they are not wanted. They may because they have no choice and feel like they cannot survive at home. A solution for them could be to go somewhere closer, like Germany or France.

It will take time to find a solution that can please everyone. I am not opposed to EU enlargement but it needs some reforms and needs stricter criteria,” noted this respondent.”

After the ‘Leave’ victory in the referendum held on June 23, a spate of hate speeches affected British society, which in the most serious cases resulted in the spreading of leaflets asking Polish people to go back to their countries, and act of vandalism to European shops, as the BBC reported in an article titled “Anti-Polish cards in Huntingdon after EU referendum.”

Nevertheless, since then “the hate speech that followed the referendum has died out, it was a campaign of fear,” a sales assistant said. “I can’t see sudden changes, and now it’s up to the new Tory government. As long as our economy is a strong one, we need people who can work, and there are lots of low-paid jobs to be filled.”

When he was asked what ‘Brexit’ could mean for people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, this respondent said, “when it comes to finally leave the EU in two years time it will be hard for people to come here. But I don’t think there will be problems for the ones who are here now.”

Bulgarians and Romanians in the UK

There are 170,000 Romanians and 65,000 Bulgarians living in the UK, according to 2015 data quoted by Balkan Insight in March. Also, the UK is the fifth-largest destination for Romanian exports, accounting for slightly more than 4 percent of overall exports, evaluated at some 2.3 billion euros per year, according to the article. It notes that “social benefits are not the main drive luring Eastern Europeans to the UK, but jobs and higher wages, however.”

This motivation differs from the one frequently stated regarding MENA migrants, who have often been portrayed in European media as specifically seeking social benefits in generous countries like Sweden and Germany.

The future of both EU and non-EU citizens living in Britain is yet to be determined. Theresa May, who became prime minister after David Cameron’s resignation on June 24, put forward a new policy which would require non-EU citizens to match a £35,000 salary threshold to live in the UK, reported the Independent.

However, these are still early days and general proposals are not a substitute for final policies. Britain may have voted for Brexit, but it does not seem to be in a hurry to make the final divorce final. Nevertheless, persons who could be affected – even from EU countries like Bulgaria and Romania – will be watching events carefully in the upcoming period.


Chinese Investment Developments in the Balkans 2016: Focus on Montenegro

By Bilsana Bibic

On 7 July 2006, Montenegro (then a newly independent state) established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. China had recognized Montenegro’s sovereignty less than a month before. Since then, China’s relationship with Montenegro and other ex-Yugoslav countries has progressively evolved.

According to Loïc Poulain’s article China’s New Balkan Strategy (2011), China invests in Southeastern Europe in order to “circumvent the EU’s anti-dumping regulations and export products directly to a market of some 800 million people”. According to the same article, the Balkans, with their free-trade agreements and strategic positioning, are crucial for the resurrection and extension of the ancient Silk Road which would reduce the time needed for Chinese products to reach Europe.

Even though China’s grand Balkan scheme is somewhat doubtful, the intensification of Chinese investment in the region speaks to an increasingly growing interest. The best manifestation of this is the “16+1” initiative which started in 2012 and which seeks to improve economic relations between China and 16 European countries, including Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. At the last summit of the “16+1” platform in December 2014 in Belgrade, China promised a $3bn investment fund for Central and Eastern Europe.

Montenegro: Fleet Renewal and Highway Investments

Despite all of this, China is not a top investor in Montenegro at present. As a recent article concerning the Central Bank of Montenegro report on FDI notes, top investors are Norway, Italy, Hungary and Russia (in that exact, surprising order). However, the China Exim Bank loans for the construction of the Podgorica-Kolasin motorway section (total cost 809.6 million euros) and for the renewal of the Montenegrin ship fleet (total cost circa €100 million) are in no way negligible.

In fact, Prime Minister Djukanovic had already in 2013 deemed the motorway project “the most important infrastructure project for the future economic development of Montenegro”. The financing agreement for the motorway project entitling China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) to build 41 kilometers of the 169.2 kilometers Bar-Boljare motorway was signed on 30 October, 2014. The conditions are favorable. The €689 million loan is given for 20 years, with a 6-year grace period and a 2% fixed interest rate. The project is exempted from taxes and custom fees under the Law on Major Highway and requires that at least 30% of the work be assigned to local companies.


However, the project has been a fairly controversial topic in Montenegro itself. In March 2014, the World Bank withdrew its budget support loan while the IMF warned of dangers to fiscal stability. The EBRD 2015-2016 Transition Report deemed economic growth of Montenegro in 2014 “disappointing”. Moreover, public debt has been gradually increasing (70.56% GDP in 2016 and growing) while the repayment of debt is requiring greater funds each year.

MP Mladen Bojanic spoke of the other risks involved in the motorway project in an interview in November 2014, noting the currency risk (the loan is denominated in US dollars), the risk of construction quality, the risk of failure to fulfill the deadline (set for 2019) and so on.

There is also a risk that most of the work will be done by Chinese personnel, at the expense of the local Montenegrin workforce, and the fact that many investors are government-owned companies which could “raise eyebrows… in Brussels”, according to a Forbes article from June 2016.

Budget and Exemption Issues

The controversy surrounding the construction of the motorway Bar-Boljare partially stems from the way in which the Parliament of Montenegro approved the project in the first place. Namely, a new law on fiscal responsibility was passed in 2014 as a way to improve public finance management. However, the motorway was termed a project of national interest which allowed for higher deficit and debt in its case, despite the newly adapted law. In order to accommodate obligations related to the motorway project, the Montenegrin government introduced measures of fiscal tightening – a 2% VAT increase, a 4% income tax for above-average earnings and more.

Debt and Developments

These measures, however, are not entirely negative. Their timing and extent, according to the EBRD 2015-2016 Transition Report indicate that they are a sign of “progress in consolidating public finances in Montenegro”. For example, the 7 cents tax on gasoline and taxes to be introduced on coffee, alcohol, carbonated drinks, tobacco etc. are very unpopular but are also a way to prepare for the repayment of the motorway project loan.

In the same vein, the steadily increasing public debt is concerning. However, the motorway project – the main reason for its increase – is “an investment which will positively affect Montenegrin economy”, according to the Central Bank of Montenegro governor Milojica Dakic. The first beneficiaries of the motorway project are the owners of domestic construction companies – the contract stipulates that these companies are supposed to do 30% of the work. According to Ivan Brajovic, the Minister of Transport and Maritime Affairs, 25.16% of the work has been subcontracted so far, while 684 workers have been engaged in the construction.

Some worries, however, remain. The official start of the motorway project was supposed to have been on May 11, 2015. However, the first leveling of the concrete for the Moracica bridge, marking the real beginning of the works took place very recently, on June 3, 2016. The delays bring into question the possibility of finishing the project within the agreed deadline and budget. However, as Brajovic noted, the state has protected itself from delays caused by the contractor. According to him, “the value of agreed penalties reaches 5% of the total project value.”

Other Chinese Projects in Montenegro

Aside from the motorway project, China has one more significant investment in Montenegro, and two more potential investments. They are summarized well in a recent article by Central European Initiative and consist of:

Renewal of the ship fleet

Energy projects (potential)

Blue Corridor Motorway project (potential)

The renewal of the ship fleet began with a loan from China’s Exim Bank worth €56 million. Montenegro used this money to buy two ships, made by Chinese Poly Group. The first two ships were delivered in 2012 for the Montenegrin maritime company, thanks to a 3% fixed interest loan with a 5-year grace period and 15-year maturity. The second two ships were ordered the same year but under slightly different arrangements – 20-year maturity and 2% interest rate for a loan worth around 41 million euros.

According to the above-mentioned article by Central European Initiative, the potential investments in the energy projects in Montenegro consist of the construction of hydropower plants on the Moraca and Komarnica (5 in total) with combined costs of €664 million, and a new unit of a thermal power plant in Pljevlja, worth €326 million. The Chinese Companies Consortium delivered an offer for the power plan unit in March 2013. However, the project was not followed through.

Finally, there is the possibility of Chinese investment in the Blue Corridor motorway project, stretching along the eastern shore of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. The Memorandum of Understanding between Montenegro, Albania and China’s Pacific Construction Group Corporation Limited was signed in November 2015. However, there have been no other concrete developments on this project so far.


As a strong economy with favorable loan conditions and an alternative to the European Union’s more rigid investment funds stipulations, China is an increasingly important partner for the Balkan countries. Its growing interest in the Balkans and Montenegro can be seen from the above examples. China’s interest in the Balkans might as well be, as Poulain’s China’s New Balkan Strategy suggested five years ago, primarily a way to expand the Chinese exports. However, its investments in Montenegro suggest that both sides benefit. The concerns surrounding the motorway project and other Chinese investments, however, should not be ignored. With the ongoing works and continued partnership, the extent of the benefits Montenegro will reap in the long run remains to be seen.

Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 4: Albania and Kosovo

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the fourth installment in our present series, concentrates on the most crucial country in Italy’s Adriatic near-abroad, Albania. It also covers Italian security and intelligence in Kosovo- a country with a much less significant historical relationship with Italy, but nonetheless an increasingly important one since the 1999 NATO intervention.

This analysis will reveal not only the working operations of Italian diplomacy and security in these neighboring countries, but also address how security events in the recent past and near future are affecting the trans-Adriatic relationship- and increasing Italy’s opportunities in the process.

Albania: a Diplomatic and Intelligence Priority for Italy

Italy’s historic relationship with Albania is apparent from its diplomatic relations there. Italy maintains by far the most robust diplomatic and intelligence presence of any outside power in the country.

In addition to the embassy in Tirana, Italy runs a trade agency, development agency and a consulate in Vlora. The total Italian diplomatic presence amounts to 44 persons, with a rather large number of unspecified “attachés.” As we have noted, this gives good opportunity for AISE operatives to lurk under diplomatic cover, while military, police and anti-mafia liaisons are present as well. As we discussed in Part 2 of this series, Tirana is the base for AISE’s crucial station for Albanian-speaking officers, with some coverage of these populations in neighboring countries.

By comparison to Italy’s 44 accredited diplomats in Albania, the only other foreign diplomatic presences that even come close are those of the European Union, with 32 persons (of whom, however, almost one-third are Italian), and Greece, which has 30 diplomats. This discrepancy is particularly remarkable considering that for Greece, Albania is a neighboring state, with a land border (unlike the case with Italy), and has an ethnic Greek minority to go with many common interests, both negative and positive.

Indeed, the United States – the world superpower, and widely considered to be Albania’s ‘best friend’ – has only 26 accredited diplomats. Turkey, which also has major interests in the country, has only 17 representatives, while Russia has just 13 and the UK, merely 10 diplomats.

This is another reason why the massive Italian presence in Albania is so valuable to its key Western allies, from the intelligence perspective. These allies are able to delegate tasks to AISE and related agencies, as they have superior skills and connections locally. The Italian intelligence capacities in Albanian lands indicate to a large extent why Italy is considered by many insiders to have the best HUMINT capacities of any Western power in the Balkans.

The Catholic Church’s Complimentary Role

As with Croatia, Italian power is complimented by Vatican-related entities and individuals, which provide additional benefit in a complex web of Italian interests. The Catholic Church (and especially the Jesuits) played a key role in preparing the ground for Albanian independence in 1912 (as covered in our book, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans). Most recently, Pope Francis visited Albania in summer 2014, reaffirming the Church’s interests in a country made up of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim populations.

Covert Intelligence Controversies and Internal Albanian Politics

In addition to HUMINT, SIGINT represents one of the most important intelligence methods useful for Italian services abroad, as repeatedly testified during this series. Thanks to its experience, Italy provides technical devices and trainings for many partner services in the Mediterranean and in the Balkans as well.

Italy also has private sector ELINT producers of note, which have been involved in various scandals. The first installment of this series, for example, discussed Milan-based Hacking Team, and its possible role in the diplomatic clash with Egypt over a mysterious murder in Cairo earlier this year.

Today, intrusive cyber and wiretapping instruments are gaining a primary role in intelligence activities, and also make a very profitable business and an asset for diplomatic leverage.

But this kind of commerce always brings some side-scandal with it. One of the most significant in the last months took place in Albania, a country in which the eavesdropping of political enemies had previously hit the headlines of newspapers and newscasts.

It all started in October 2015, when President Bujar Nishani declared on public television that the Rama government had been spying on him and his family. In November 2015, he claimed to have found a bug in his office and officially requested an investigation to be led by the prosecutor general’s office.

More recently, a news report of 17 May 2016 noted President Nishani’s continuing dissatisfaction with the government and prosecutor for allegedly “blocking” an investigation into the case. According to Nishani, the government has been trying to deceive the public about “the cooperation agreement with the Italian authorities and the “excellent cooperation” between the two countries in the fight against organized crime.

Nishani, who also claimed the case of the mysterious listening device was proof of malfeasance within the interior ministry, was himself reacting to a charge made then by Rama’s interior minister, Saimir Tahiri. The latter had accused the president himself of having brought the device in from Italy in 2007.

Nishani, elected in 2012, had been interior minister under Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party government and was nominated by that party. Thus the recent intrigue and war of words with the Social Democrat government of Edi Rama was obviously not simply a ‘technical’ matter.

Later on, as the surveillance scandal was widening in scope, the prosecutor general’s office announced that the Chief of Albanian National Police, Haki Cako, would be suspended from his duties on 7 June 2016. It was announced that he was being investigated for illegally using wiretapping equipment, in an investigation which also involves possible wiretapping of foreign embassies and diplomats, still to be confirmed.

The Catcher Scandal

In all this drama, the role played by Italy remains quite murky. On 11 March 2016, a car with Italian diplomatic plates disembarked at the port of Durres, carrying in its trunk a black suitcase containing an IMSI Catcher, model Vortex Aircube, an electronic short-range wiretapping device. The Catcher is produced in Israel, imported into Europe by French company Ercom, and marketed in Italy by Italarms.

This device was discovered by the Albanian police and was about to be seized by the authorities, when Cako stopped the requisition saying that “any items that leave an embassy or are destined for a diplomatic post have diplomatic immunity, and cannot be inspected.”

This decision led to an inquiry from the Chief Prosecutor in Tirana for abuse of power, since such equipment had never received any proper authorization from the Attorney General’s Office, as is regulated by Albanian law.

As stated by Adriatik Llalla, Albanian Attorney General after three months of investigations in order to find the origins of the black suitcase, the sentence was issued since “this device was illegally introduced into Albania.”

As was reported, the alert was given by the Albanian Intelligence Service (SHISH). The investigation also involved two other top officials from the Albanian Police: Artion Duka, a former director of the Operational Unit, and his deputy, Ention Hhelilaj, allegedly the man who had driven the car with the device out of Durres port to the Italian Embassy.

Embarrassment in Italy

This internal political crisis brought some embarrassment to Italian Police and MOI officials as well. Not by chance, a few weeks after the scandal broke, the (outgoing) Italian Police Chief, Giampaolo Pansa, sent a letter to the Albanian Prosecutor explaining the situation.

The letter explained the features of the device and underlined that it was to be used for “on the job training” in the framework of inter-force actions between Italian and Albanian police: “this device was configured in such a way as to be disabled for eavesdropping activity, both vocal communication and text messages.”

Moreover, according to Panza, the equipment had always remained “under the responsibility of Italian operators and was kept, while not being used for training and formative activities, at the Italian Liaison office in Albania, in the Italian Embassy of Tirana.” That is the reason why Cako avoided the requisition: being a diplomatic item, it should enjoy diplomatic immunity. “The Italian operators’ tasks were directed to formation and assistance for the correct usage of the instruments”, continued the letter.

As explained in this article by Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, a question arises. If the device was intended to help train local forces within the framework of police cooperation, why were the Albanian authorities not informed of it?

The answer could lie in the conflict between Albanian political forces, with the opposition Democratic Party contesting the usage of wiretapping instruments by the police to spy on politicians and common people. The former prime minister and DP leader, Sali Berisha, published on the party’s Facebook page the names of 375 people who were allegedly spied on by Albanian forces.

At the time the scandal emerged, other DP figures were speaking out. In comments for on 19 May 2016 (and published now for the first time) DP politician and Security Affairs advisor Avenir Peka stated that “the affair is currently being investigated by prosecution office and many details are shady at best, but a few elements are public: the affair started with a tipping off by the Intelligence Service to the Prosecutor General that an interception device has entered the country illegally and that it was being used by the police. When the scandal became public, and parliament started a hearing on the matter, it became known that the device had really entered the country, not declared at customs service, the prosecutor general was not informed of its existence, and that the police had no authority to use it.”

Peka, who is a lawyer, former deputy interior minister and national security advisor to Berisha, stated that the device “was not bought by the police, but as they claim borrowed from Italian police mission in Albania, Interforce. The police have turned down the prosecutor’s request to have access to the device, with the argument that it was being used merely for training purposes.”

Continuing on with the opposition’s argument, Peka stated that “the police have so far failed to produce any documents proving a legal transfer of such a device. Furthermore, the police’s argument that it was being used only for training purposes is false, because i) police was being trained for a device that it does not possess and use; ii) police is not authorized to conduct interceptions by law; the judicial police officers that are in charge of carrying out interceptions were not actually trained; anything dealing with interceptions has to get approval and be over seen by the prosecutor general (which did not happen).”

In May, at the time of the parliamentary hearings, Minister of Interior Samir Tahiri rejected every accusation. As we have seen, the government claimed that the device’s interception capacities had been disabled, though the opposition has clearly stated otherwise. It remains unknown what actually happened in this curious case, with three exceptions: that it was politicized, damaged Italian interests, and was used as a political catalyst for action.

Reactions to the Scandal- and How It Differs from the Macedonia Case

At first glance, resemblances with the ‘wiretapping scandal’ accusations of Macedonia’s SDSM (which were discussed in Part 3 of this series) seem striking. Yet while it might seem that the latest Balkan ‘wiretap scandal’ was a simple cut-and-paste version of the Macedonian case, this is not exactly true.

One clear indicator of a difference has been media coverage. Whereas the mainstream media jumped immediately on the Macedonia story, and kept it going while the Western powers intervened, the establishment press took only a glancing notice of the Albania scandal. This owes partly to the differences in scale between the two cases, and partly due to political distinctions.

“Rama is pro-Soros, unlike Gruevski in Macedonia,” said one European intelligence official with knowledge of the cases for “In Albania, unlike Macedonia, no one is seeking to overthrow the government- only to use this rumored scandal as a point of pressure, so that they will pass constitutional changes. Albania needs to do this by the end of 2016 to keep the EU momentum. This is the reason for finding advance pressure mechanisms.”

While this claim cannot be proven, it does seem that both the opposition DP and SHISH have been making the same criticisms, that would lend support to the idea that politicization and outside influence is behind the wiretap case’s potential use as a pressure mechanism. Aside from President Nishani’s earlier comments, as Avenir Peka noted, SHISH head Visho Ajazo stated before a parliamentary committee in May that “this device could be a risk for national security if it has the capacity to intercept communications. Then all the heads of the state could be vulnerable to wiretapping.”

“The Constitutional amendments are part of a wider package which aims at a total reform of the judicial system, in efforts to root out corruption in the judiciary and political class,” stated Avenir Peka in further comments for on 19 May 2016. “If and when the reform really materializes, it will constitute the biggest judicial reform in Albania since the fall of communism. International factors in Tirana are strongly behind this reform.”

The judicial reform chapter is key for Albania’s EU membership bid, and it was interesting indeed to hear an opposition politician’s views on the reforms in context of the wiretap device affair. What else emerged is that – unlike in politically divided Macedonia – there was some broad agreement between the Albanian sides, but that the perception that one side would win or lose has slowed passage of a common-interest reform.

“What should have been a consensual reform started off as an initiative of the government, which with very good reason was seen by the opposition as an effort of the government to control the Prosecution and the court system,” stated Peka. “The non-consensual draft was then sent to the Venice Commission for expert opinion twice, and it came back with 100+ amendments and suggestions, which in general satisfied the opposition’s concerns and objections.

Apart from the rhetoric, a few elements are worthy of note: the government having its draft turned down, is not as eager about passing it in the current form; on the other side, having failed to produce better governance, economy, finances, public order, etc, it is likely that the government will use the passing of this reform in next year’s election campaign. On the other side, the opposition in principle supports this reform on the condition that it satisfies judicial and prosecutorial independence and keeps the government from interference.”

From this testimony and other sources, we can thus conclude that the case of the “mysterious device” in Albania will probably remain a mystery- but that its appearance in political discourse has been instrumentalized. However, it still remains unclear (in comparison to the Macedonian case) whether the local parties alone, or some foreign factor, are responsible for stirring up controversy.

For the purposes of the current article, it is more important to assess the extent of potential damage that the affair has caused for Italy, in the larger context of its bilateral interactions with the country.

Rumors, and Results of the Albania Wiretap Scandal for Italian Intelligence

But firstly, it is important to note that this is not the only case in which Italy has subcontracted the selling of wiretapping-capable devices abroad. Since 2013, the Italian Ministry of Interior has issued many public tenders to assign the management and the selling of such items to private companies (as in this case to Italarms srl).

In the background of the Albanian political struggle, the central focus of the investigation is the above-mentioned Interforce Mission between Italian and Albanian police forces. Interforce involves, from the Italian side, the Polizia di Stato, Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza.

The current Chief of Mission is Michele Grillo. On 10 June 2016 Albanian news site wrote about the possible involvement of Grillo’s wife in the selling of the Aircube Vortex device to the Albanian Interior Ministry. This was also reported as a rumor by Il Fatto Quotidiano, in an article by Lorenzo Bagnoli on 26 June. The same sources from Tirana also claimed that Michele Grillo was recalled back to Rome by the Italian government, but this claim was not confirmed by any Italian official or journalistic source.

One interesting historical feature, however, is that before Grillo the role of Head of Mission in Tirana was held by Anna Poggi. An inspector at the Polizia di Stato, Poggi had been amongst those condemned for alleged police violence against demonstrators in Genoa, during the G8 in 2001. Italian media later reported that Poggi was sent to Albania after that, as a promotion to a ‘quieter place.’

Her departure from the office in 2015 (to Slovenia) coincided with another major spy-story between Italy and Albania. Last year, a policeman from Vlore, Dritan Zagani, applied for political asylum in Switzerland, where he arrived clandestinely. In his words, Zagani was fleeing from possible attempts on his life.

However, after spending his career as Chief Officer at Vlore border control, he had been accused by Albanian officials of corruption involving mobster and traffickers, marketing drugs and selling information to Italian Guardia di Finanza.

Zagani’s version of events was completely different. He claimed that he discovered a new drug trafficking route between Albania and Italy by plane, which was managed by an Albanian cartel. The problem was, in his words, that this organization involved also some of the Albanian Interior Minister’s cousins and was allowed to use state vehicles to hide the shipments. In October 2015, Zagani told Italian newspaper il Secolo XIX, that Italian police had also confirmed the allegation against him, through a letter sent to Albanian inquirers that raised doubts on Zagani’s activities.

The story was disclosed by journalist Basir Collaku and had some consequences also in Italy, even though the Italian Interior Ministry quickly underlined that Anna Poggi’s transfer to Slovenia was “routine”, and that her substitution with Michele Grillo had been decided months before.

But whatever the case, both the stories need answers from Italian officials: on the Albanian officials’ side, why should the Italian Guardia di Finanza have bought undercover information from Zagani? Is there mistrust between them and their Albanian counterparts? On the other side, if Zagani is right, why should Anna Poggi have been removed, if he was just lying about Rome’s involvement?

Military and Police Cooperation between Italy and Albania

Despite such occasional affairs, Italy maintains good cooperation with Albania both in the defense and in the police sector. Since 1997 – the year in which Albania fell temporarily into anarchy – Italy has led “Italian Delegations of Experts” (DIE) whose goal has been to assist the Albanian Armed Forces in achieving NATO standards. The Italian delegation, composed of 27 officials and non-commissioned officials, conducts peacekeeping trainings for Albanian Army units deployed a

In the last few years, the improvement of Albanian operative capacities has allowed a steady and progressive decrease of the Italian military presence. For example, in February 2009, the Italian 28th Naval Group, based in Vlora, was recalled and replaced by local forces in fighting smuggling across the Adriatic.

As reported in the 2015 Italian financial law, the total economic involvement of Italy in these mission amounts to almost 25.6mn euros.

Bilateral police cooperation has a long history as well. Most recently, soon after President Nishani’s initial complaints of his office being bugged, Italian police officials paid a visit to Tirana. In December 2015, Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando and National Anti-mafia and Anti-terrorism Prosecutor Franco Roberti visited the Albanian capital to participate in a meeting with Albanian government and security officials.

The purpose of this meeting was to reinforce judicial cooperation between Italy and Albania. The fact that two top representatives of Italian institutions took the trip to Albania shows quite well the strategic importance Italy recognizes in Albania. Italy’s historic role in Albanian affairs would also help explain why their officials are taking the lead on justice reforms- which, as we have discussed above, remain crucial to Albania’s EU hopes and may have some relation with this year’s ‘’mysterious device” scandal.

Albania’s Role in the Future of Balkan Counter-terrorism

Two subjects were on the table in the December visit: counter-terrorism and the fight against illegal trafficking. Here we must remember that a notable number of Albanians have fought in the Syria conflict in recent years while, by December, European leaders were already trying to make plans for possible deterioration along the ‘Balkan Route’ that had begun operating six months earlier.

The two Italian officials met with Prime Minister Edi Rama and some members of his government, such as Minister of Justice Ylli Manjani and Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri. They noted the central role Albania should play in counter-radicalization in the Balkans: a cooperation that will not only involve the exchange of information and investigative experiences, but also the activities of prevention of the radicalism in prisons, which is frequently the place where jihadists enter into contact with potential recruits.

“The radicalization phenomenon”, said the Italian Minister of Justice in a press conference at the end of the talks, “is more and more connected with jails: that is the reason why we decided to work on the prevention of similar events that could happen in Italian and Albanian institutions. The Web itself, also an important place of radicalization, will be monitored. […]. We need to face this eventuality as if we were a single state,” declared Orlando.

He added that “these are shared enemies and our ability to react must also be shared. In order to make our connections faster and more effective, we decided to nominate a liaison magistrate with experience in similar inquiries, to support the cooperation on the ground. […] Moreover, we offered to Albanian authorities our willingness to help the formation of magistrates and detectives on the matter, and to provide technologies for the databases.”

Specific attention was also given to the theme of human trafficking and to the prevention of the phenomenon from reaching the Albanian coast. As has frequently reported in the past, Italian national security depends on the ability to divert the migrant flow from Greece, Albania and other Adriatic ports, seeing that it already has more than enough to deal with in terms of the North Africa migration patterns.

From all of this, we can conclude that Italy is proving ‘useful’ again to its trans-Atlantic partners in its own Adriatic near-abroad. As has reported, Albania was chosen by the Obama Administration for hosting a regional center against countering extremism. Part of this is due to the fact that, numerically speaking, most of the ISIS and Al Nusra fighters from the Balkans are ethnically Albanian. But there is also a political element.

Essentially, for ideological and other interests, Edi Rama was selected as ‘the chosen one’ among Balkan leaders, even getting to meet Obama and Biden together in the White House, in April 2016. Two months earlier, John Kerry had visited Tirana to press for – you guessed it – judicial reforms. Few other Balkan leaders could get such a lavish reception as Rama did.

However, the latter’s claim from Washington that the counter-radicalization center plan was only a few months old is untrue. has known since 2014 that Albania would be given this honor over other interested regional countries, as part of the general US strategy of using Albania as its bulwark and base of power projection in the Balkans. This attention naturally benefits Italy and will enhance the Italian role in all security matters in Albania in coming years.

Still, while Washington favors and uses the Rama government, the “mystery device” scandal erupted into a full parliamentary and media issue barely a month after he returned from Washington. We would bet on the possibility that the US and EU have seen in the affair a way of keeping the Albanian leader on a short leash, and push through the reforms before the end of 2016 and subsequent elections.

Kosovo: a New Diplomatic and Intelligence Area of Interest for Italy

In comparison to Italy’s centuries-old relationship with Albania, its more recent one with Albanian-dominated Kosovo has quite different characteristics. The legal status of the province-turned-country and the multi-national institutional aspect of governance there since 1999 have influenced the operations of Italy in Kosovo.

For example, whereas Italy has a massive diplomatic presence in Tirana, diplomatic sources note that the Italians had “to build the embassy from the ground up” in Pristina. The relative lack of personnel and the uncertainty of overlapping competencies with UN, EU and NATO missions there has meant the Italian state has had to rely, more so than in other regional countries, on members in these bodies as well as NGOs and international cooperation bodies.

Further, as in Albania, the Catholic Church is playing a major role, though there are relatively fewer Catholics. But the Church is presently gearing up for major celebrations in barely over a month’s time, with the canonization of Mother Theresa to occur on 4 September at the Vatican. Catholic leaders have announced that this will be followed by weeks of events in Kosovo and, while it is likely that they will pass peacefully, certainly Vatican and Italian security officials are keeping watch for any Islamic terrorists or others who might try and damage the national events. There is already a religiously-inspired debate going on over Mother Theresa’s rightful place in history and national consciousness among Albanians, as we will discuss at a future time.

Italy’s Diplomatic Role in EULEX and Other Multinational Institutions

In Kosovo, Italian efforts are also relevant in the EU mission. With almost 36 units, Italy participates to the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which began on 16 February 2008 and was confirmed until the end of 2016.

Following the long-running UNMIK, EULEX is the most important civilian mission between those inserted in the European Security Policy and Common Defense agenda; it underwent a strategic revision in Spring 2014, and is now divided in three different sectors: Police, Justice and Customs.

Since 15 October 2014 and until the end of June 2016, the Commander of the mission was Italian Diplomat Gabriele Meucci. He has since been replaced as acting Head of Mission by German Police Brigadier General Bernd Thran. Meucci is an expert in the area: he was Italian Consul to Croatia from 1995-1999, legation counselor in Albania from 2001-2003 and later, the first Italian Ambassador to Montenegro in the period 2006-2009.

When Meucci was appointed, many commentators saw in him an expert diplomat chosen to “liquidate” the mission. The perception was confirmed a few days later, when EULEX was involved in a corruption scandal. Even if it resulted in nothing, the scandal undermined the credibility of the entire mission for a while. For the details, one can read this brilliant article from the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso. The case involved another Italian official of the Mission, Francesco Florit, who has been the President of EULEX Judges Assembly.

Meucci steered the mission out of troubled waters, and managed, just a few days before leaving, to convince the EU Commission that it should be extended for the period June 2016-June 2018. As he told Prishtina Insight, “until last summer, in 2015, we were all working for a definitive handover, final conclusion of the mission and a handover of all cases to Kosovo’s judicial system, […] Then, in the summer and autumn of 2015, there were many incidents. All these came alight and the member states started to rethink if it’s premature [to leave].”

Meucci referred to five incidents. One involved three people in prison serving a definitive sentence for many years for war crimes, who were set free for humanitarian reasons by the Ministry of Justice. Amongst them was Sabit Geci, put on home arrests by EULEX and then granted a three-month release for medical treatment abroad.

The second incident regarded the mayor of Skenderaj, Sami Lushtaku, who had been jailed for war crimes and was temporarily released for health reasons also, before being arrested by EULEX in an alleged attempt to flee. The third involved two former KLA fighters, Rrustem Mustafa and Latif Gashi, who were serving in parliament, despite their jail sentences for war crimes.

Interestingly enough, KLA-related power players like Geci and Lushtaku had long been on the international authorities’ radar, though in the early days of UN administration, there was considerable disagreement over whether to arrest them or not (see’s January 2006 interview with the first UNMIK Serious Crimes Unit chief, Canadian detective Stu Kellock for much enlightening details on these cases).

Then there were Lutfi and Arban Dervishi, who had been sentenced to eight years each for organized crime and people trafficking. Yet they fled Kosovo by passing the border with their passports the day after the sentencing, and remain at large.

These cases were highlighted to emphasize that rule of law in Kosovo is far from matching the EULEX goals. Thus was its mandate renewed.

Aside from Meucci and Florit, another Italian Judge, Silvio Bonfigli, has served as head of the Justice sector of EULEX. Italy had since the beginning been very active in UNMIK, which was led between 2008-2011 by a career Italian diplomat, Lamberto Zannier. The latter’s unanimous election in 2011 to his present post – OSCE Secretary General – can also be considered a victory for Italian diplomacy, with a Balkan connection.

Military and Police Aspects of the Italian Role in Kosovo

The strong military presence of Italy in the region includes being a major contributor to the EULEX and EUFOR missions in Kosovo and Bosnia. That participation began during the NATO 1999 intervention, when Aviano Air Force Base was the crucial base used for bombing runs, and continued in the immediate aftermath of the war, when Italy was given its own chunk of Western Kosovo to overlook as part of the general KFOR division of powers.

Although the international missions have dramatically scaled down since then, Italy retains a position. As reported on the Italian Defense Ministry website, Italy has a forward military role in Kosovo. In 2014 (the last year with official data), Italy was the third-largest contributor country to KFOR, with almost 600 operative units. Since September 2013, Italy has also held the position of Mission Commander (COMKFOR). The current commander, appointed in September 2014, is Lieutenant General Francesco Paolo Figliulo.

The presence of KFOR entailed a progressive diminution of violent episodes and its work is officially recognized by both Pristina and Belgrade. The Brussels Agreement, signed after trilateral talks between the EU, Serbia and Kosovo in Spring 2013, identifies KFOR as a crucial guarantor of security in the country and a deterrent against possible violence.

According to Italian security expert and Il Caffè Geopolitico columnist Marco Gulio Barone, Italian military intelligence has been tasked in 2016 with new duties by the government. “A few months ago, the Italian parliament issued a request for a SITREP from the military in the Balkans,” Barone stated for “Our units went and provided the reports. KFOR and EUFOR are reshaping, and some of our mission capability is going to be more about supporting local governments in countering radicalism.”

This reconfiguration is occurring as the threat matrix changes and Kosovo is less at risk of inter-ethnic conflict, and more at risk of religious violence. With their dedicated presence, the Italians have a better view than most countries of the situation on the ground, from the military intelligence perspective. As we have reported in past, the US has long since outsourced some of its capacities to allies like Romania, and only 600-800 soldiers are believed to remain at Camp Bondsteel.

It is thus likely that Italy – with its strong foothold on the Eastern Adriatic shores – will play a larger role in assessing security risks in future. But, we must always remember that Kosovo is a place where German interests remain strong. Indeed, it is not surprising that despite the plethora of Italian Catholic charities in Kosovo, the German Jesuits have made a strong competition with schools and NGOs here.

This is resulting in a complex division-of-labor between the Quint countries, based in Kosovo, by which the Germans believe they are trading up at the expense of the British, who intelligence sources confirm are moving their focus towards Sofia and the key Istanbul station. The German perception is likely to heighten the opportunities for Italy’s AISE to compete in Kosovo.

As with the changing tenor of bilateral military relations that experts like Barone point out in Kosovo, law enforcement too is moving away from traditional threats and towards unconventional ones, like identifying terrorist networks. The existing police cooperation between Kosovo, Albania and Italy is also attested by the results of Italian investigations of jihadist networks in the country. has covered such operations in November 2015 and again in December 2015.


Italy’s diplomatic, security and intelligence relations with Albania and Kosovo are crucial for the country’s perspective on all Balkan affairs. Rome and Tirana share many commercial and security concerns, and we are at a fortuitous time in which the stars seem to have aligned for a stronger Italian role in Albania.

At the same time, the perceived failings in the judiciaries of both Albania and Kosovo seem to be key issues for EU membership. So, we can expect Italy to share its experience, sending many more experts over the next few years to bring these countries closer to the EU orbit.

Finally, the risk of violence from Kosovo (and to a lesser extent, Albania) has been attested in the recent past and will remain a concern for Italian intelligence, as some of the threats (such as jihadist ones) are proved to have roots among the Albanian diaspora in Italy. Since much of the underlying reasons for radicalism seem to involve poor economies and low educational standards, Italy will also likely complement its ‘soft power’ role through bringing investment, training and cooperation assistance to these countries. This will involve international cooperation with the existing frameworks, as well as synergies with the Catholic Church.

2004-2009 Back Archives