Capital Belgrade
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 381
Mobile Codes 60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67
ccTLD .rs
Currency Dinar (1EUR = 101RSD)
Land Area 88,361 sq km
Population 7.3 million (excl. Kosovo)
Language Serbian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

Europe’s Late Responses to the Refugee Crisis

By Lana Pasic

Balkan Route Migration, by the Numbers

Since the late 1990s, some 25,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe, according to the EU. This year alone, almost 3,000 people have lost their lives in the European waters. As the border patrols increased and the journey across the Mediterranean became more crowded and dangerous, people began crossing the Aegean and then continuing by land, making the route through the Balkans more popular than ever before.

By conservative estimates, some 3,000 people are making their way through the region every day. Since the beginning of this year, 250,000 have passed through Serbia, of which 200,000 crossed into Hungary, while about 100,000 reached Croatia in barely one month.

Mixed Reactions

European reactions to the arrival and transit of refugees have varied. Like Macedonia, Serbia decided that as a transit country, it would facilitate the refugees’ journey. It arranged transfers for refugees to the borders with Hungary, and later with Croatia. Croatia at first seemed to have followed the same approach, but then briefly closed its border with Serbia, as they claimed to be overwhelmed with the number of people trying to enter.

The resulting border closure and the nationalist outbursts cost Serbia and Croatia one million euros each as a result of the trade blockade. While the few days of dispute between the two Balkan countries sparked a discussion on the revival of nationalism in the Balkans, the right-wing reactions to refugees in European countries further north have been little commented on (with the exception of Hungary). Besides the proposed quota distribution of existing asylum seekers already in EU states the bloc has, for various reasons, done little to resolve or at least reduce the crisis. This has only recently started to change, with Sunday’s summit between the EU and Balkan countries on emergency measures. This provided some direction for common policy.

How Has Europe Dealt with the Refugee Crisis So Far?

More than half a million people have arrived in the EU since the beginning of the year. If that might seem like a lot, let’s remind ourselves that the European Union numbers more than 500 million people. In contrast to the EU, Turkey is hosting 2 million Syrian refugees and Lebanon, 1.2 million. The truth is that Europe has been resisting action on this question for years. The Union is either ignoring the fact that it has a graveyard at its doors, or they are igniting fears that foreigners will overtake and destroy Europe – and neither of these two are helping.

…Closing the Border

Negative attitudes towards foreigners in the context of migration have been most widely publicized at the Hungarian border since summer. However, they have also been noted across the continent- interestingly, in more liberal countries like Finland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Austria. Several protests against the EU’s quota system for accepting refugees have taken place in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and we have also seen protests led by right-wing groups in Dortmund and Dresden, Germany and in Italy.

While Germany’s Chancellor Merkel has publicly welcomed refugees, Germany has at the same time, together with Austria and Slovakia, re-introduced internal border controls, raising fears of a crumbling Schengen agreement across Europe. However, ethnic profiling of foreigners by border police has been present in Germany, Austria and Italy for years, as many of us who have travelled throughout Europe by train can testify.

And while we have all been shocked by the razor-blade fence at Hungarian border, we must remember that Hungary is not the first EU country to introduce fences to prevent movement of people. Bulgaria and Greece already had fences to stop the asylum seekers from entering their territories from parts of their Turkish land borders. Since the early 1990s, Spain has maintained fences and walls in what are considered to be two “European” territories in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Over the last two decades, we have witnessed countless attempts to break these fences, all of which have resulted in deaths of those who have tried to cross them.

…Making Refugees Someone Else’s Problem?

Instead of finding a meaningful solution to the root causes of refugee displacement and migration, Europe has instead tended to act as if these issues do not concern them. In January 2011, the EU promised then-Libyan leader Gaddafi 50 million Euros for three years, in order to prevent the movement of people from the North African country towards European continent. It is now attempting to work out the same deal with Turkey’s President Erdogan.

The most recent EU decision, to seize the smugglers’ boats in order to prevent the movement of people, shows how the Union seems to have learned little from past mistakes. Instead of addressing the causes of displacement and migration, and finding a humane and manageable way to assist both refugees and migrants, a decision to make it more difficult for people to travel is not going to stop either smugglers or asylum-seekers.

…Accepting Refugees?

In a reaction to the recent crisis, EU ministers agreed at the end of September to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Italy, Greece and Hungary, thus sharing the responsibility for taking care of both refugees and migrants, contrary to the Dublin regulation. This has encountered resistance from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, which feel that they are being bullied into accepting a decision from Western countries. The vote was pushed back due to disagreements and a new agreement was made on 25 October.

While Merkel and Hollande called for a change to the rules and humane treatment of migrants, the EU is currently mired in indecision, as rising nationalist rhetoric, and pro-migrant liberal discourse, are dividing public opinion in many European countries on what the right response is to the current situation.

After months of stalling on action regarding the refugee crisis, the EU has finally taken steps to work with the Balkan countries on establishing reception centers in order to facilitate refugees’ arrival and registration. A 17-point action plan has been agreed, and countries have agreed to make space for some 50,000 people at the collection centers in Greece, and another 50,000 who are en route from Greece to Germany – that is, in Macedonia and Serbia.

Although the plan is a welcome move forward in that it shows the EU is in fact capable of a united response to the crisis, some points of the agreement remain controversial. Although the registration system is much needed, a decision to speed up the repatriation of the Afghan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals is debatable, as the security situation in these countries still remains difficult.

Where to from Here?

So far, all attempts to find a solution have been short-term and limited, and have failed to take into consideration new international realities in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, but rather seem to be out-of-fear reaction to the current situation. The latest agreement is a welcome change, but it has come rather late and its decisions are still not looking far enough ahead. The truth is that more people will come, regardless of what the EU decided or will decide. Up to 3 million more people are expected to leave Syria, reports Time– and some of them will make their way towards Europe. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Yemen is not getting any better either.

Europe’s border closures, limited willingness to accept refugees and attempts to divert migrants elsewhere are not effective long-term solutions to the crisis. There is no border, wall or fence that has not been broken down by sheer human force, due to the whole range of motives. In order to be prepared for this, Europe will have to address its own internal disputes, re-examine its attitudes towards refugees, its involvement in conflicts, resource exploitation and its international relations and economic policies in the countries from which asylum-seekers originate.

New EU Provisional Migration Solutions Strain Relations in the Western Balkans, Central Europe

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag in Brussels

While EU demographic trends and statistics indicate that the bloc would benefit economically and socially from migration, member states have not properly implemented existing agreements, leaving Europe somewhat unprepared for the current refugee crisis.

In the Balkans, the refugee crisis has led to some amount of chaos, violence, and trade and diplomatic tensions between neighboring states- some of which are in the EU, others of which are not. However, the latest emergency EU conference in Brussels has tried to reach a new understanding of the migrant crisis, discuss its implications and agree upon the EU’s envisaged way forward.

The Latest EU Developments: the September 22-23 Meetings

 Before the summer, EU leaders reached an agreement on a temporary relocation mechanism from Greece and Italy across EU Member States for 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, and 20,000 displaced persons, over the next two years.

Over the summer, Greece was again faced with mass arrivals of migrants along its shores. Drowned victims and shipwrecks made the front pages of newspapers, leading to more calls on the EU to provide timely and effective measures to tackle this crisis.

After consulting the European Parliament in a speedy procedure, the September 22 Justice and Home Affairs Council reached agreement on an exceptional compulsory relocation mechanism applying to 120.000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary. Then, the September 23 Informal Extraordinary Summit brought EU leaders together to decide on the specific operational measures to be taken in order to cope with the refugee crisis. These measures are to be formally adopted at the mid-October Summit.

Some Member States claim they have been left out of the negotiations, because of their stance against compulsory quotas (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania).

At the informal meeting of the European Council, heads of state and government discussed the need for a more comprehensive European migration policy. Some priorities were sketched out, while other proposals came from the European Commission in the framework of implementation package of the European Agenda on Migration.

EU Special Measures Chosen for Handling the Crisis

These measures include: assistance to frontline Member States (financial and establishment of hotspots); implementation of decisions on resettlement, return and readmission; more diplomatic efforts towards solving the crisis in Syria and Libya; increased financing for FRONTEX; financial assistance to Turkey, the Western Balkans, Syria’s neighbouring countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Programme; strengthening the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI); enabling the EU Civil protection mechanism available for Member States facing crisis situations; emergency funding (100 million euros addition to the 2015 budget), the establishment of a trust fund for Africa and so on.

However, while these solutions may seem proactive, politically, the situation remains tense in Europe. Slovakia threatened to sue the EU over compulsory migrant quotas. In the European Parliament, there are talks of raising Article 7 of the EU Treaty (TEU) against Hungary, which has been accused of poorly handling the refugees and passing negative legislation to allow army deployment and the use of non-lethal weapons – rubber bullets and tear gas grenades – against migrants.

This is significant because, before now, Article 7 (also called ‘the nuclear bomb’) has never been invoked. It states that serious breaches to the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights by a Member State can result in a suspension or loss of voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers.

 Why Is This Crisis Occurring?

According to the IOM, the European Union is the most popular destination in the world for asylum seekers. Refugees face a big problem regarding reaching and submitting their claim within the European Union, however, because there are no information or reception centers in third countries.

Since the legal avenues for entering the EU are limited, and since EU states’ embassies are closed in most conflict areas, refugees and migrants are trying to enter the EU incognito or with the help of smugglers. Events such as the Arab Spring and the subsequent turmoil and the civil wars in the Middle East, have of course made many people leave their home countries in search of asylum in Europe.

At the same time, during this period Greece was facing its own political and economic crisis, coming at one point in the summer to the brink of state collapse. In this context, it did not respect its commitments regarding applying asylum rules or protecting EU’s external borders, which became a security liability.

There are several ways to enter the European Union. In recent years, it was the Central Mediterranean route that led to the humanitarian crisis and difficult situation for countries such as Italy and Malta. Since 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean route (by sea from Turkey to Greece, Cyprus and Italy) and Western Balkan route have become predominant for Middle Eastern and African migrants.

The crisis already started years back, with shipwrecks, ghost ships and dead bodies arriving at Europe’s gate. But it reached a new peak this summer with migrants or asylum seekers starting to arrive on the Greek coast in large and organized waves. From there they crossed to Macedonia, which in late August 2015 was forced to declare a state of emergency due to the migrant crisis. While some criticized this, local officials believe it was necessary as until that point no one in Brussels seemed to be paying attention to the severity of the situation.

At the same time, the refugees have continued moving to Serbia with the aim of crossing to Hungary and from there to Austria, with final destination Germany or further points north. Germany and Sweden have a high acceptance rate of about 70% of all asylum applications granted in the 28 EU Member States.

On the opposite side, in Greece – which is in any case economically undesirable for migrants – fewer than 1% of asylum claims are accepted, de-motivating most refugees from even trying to apply for asylum there. This is also a consequence of the unfortunate uneven implementation of the Common European Asylum System establishing common standards for the reception, identification and claim processing.

Fortress Hungary: the EU’s Border Protector

 The case of Hungary is relevant in the context of the current crisis. Long foreseeing these migration waves through the Western Balkans, Hungary has built a fence along its border with Serbia. However, since late August 2015 migrants have started trying to cross into Hungary through barbed-wire fence.

In mid-September, the Hungarian authorities took measures to secure the border. They even temporarily shut down completely their border with Serbia in order to control the migrant inflows. Police use of tear gas and water cannons alarmed some in the international community and caused media excitement. Among others, the UN High Commissioner, UNHCH and Serbian Prime Minister Vucic criticized Hungarian authorities’ methods and called for a more subtle way of dealing with refugees in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

International human rights organisations have criticized Hungarian police for beating journalists covering migration and even breaking their gear and forcing them to delete footage. On the other hand, Hungarian police claim migrants are rude, sometimes aggressive and use children as “human shields.” In the meanwhile, Hungary criminalized undocumented migrants (imprisonment and expulsion of people who cross the Hungarian border irregularly) and even apprehended the first ‘criminals’. Furthermore it declared a state of emergency, temporary closing some borders, allegedly disregarding Schengen rules.

A Shift in Routes: from the Serbian-Hungarian Border to Croatia

After being stuck at the Serbian-Hungarian borders, most of the migrants took dirt roads and the highway crossing to the nearest alternate EU border, leading to Croatian territory. The authorities there were prepared to receive up to 5,000 migrants in the following two weeks and seemed at the beginning to be handling the situation smoothly. Refugees first registered at Tovarnik and were taken to Zagreb for registration in a special train. Tents were raised to shelter migrants. The UN, Red Cross and Croatian authorities were on the ground but the situation slowly worsened due to the high influx of people crossing on Croatian soil. The Croats (like the Austrians after them) were apparently not as patient or prepared in dealing with refugees as Serbia and Macedonia had been.

How a Refugee Crisis Can Spark Tensions from a Not-So-Distant War

After World War II and the 1990s wars in the Western Balkans, the current crisis could be considered Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in the last 70 years.

When Hungary closed its border with Serbia, leaving a significant number of migrants stuck on the Western Balkan land route, it in turn brought back old animosities between two former Balkan wartime adversaries: Croatia has closed seven of its eight road border crossings with Serbia following the huge influx of migrants. After a few thousand in the first day, the influx reached approximately 50,000 migrants – mostly Syrian refugees – who have entered Croatia from mid- to end-September, after being pushed back from Hungary.

Croatia blamed Serbia of allegedly making a deal with Hungary to reroute the Middle Eastern migrants by organising buses from Serbia to the Croatian border and for blocking its trucks along the way. A trade war was last week’s story, and harsh dialogue between the two authorities took place. Serbia was faced with a blockade of goods not being allowed to enter Croatia. It thus introduced a ban on imports and on transport vehicles with Croatian license plates. Caught up in all this have been truckers from Macedonia and other places, forced to sit for days on the Croatian border, incurring considerable time and financial losses as they cannot reach their destinations in the Balkans.

The trade blockade (which has cost both Serbia and Croatia around 1 million euros each) has proved to have a bigger impact on Croatia who exports 40% more to Serbia than it imports. The situation is currently stabilizing and traffic has resumed through the major Serbia-Croatia border crossing (Bajakovo), but thousands of migrants are still in Serbia and Croatia, walking and sleeping between Sid and Tovarnik, awaiting the continuation of their journey.

From Croatia, about 2,500 migrants reached Slovenia, which temporarily suspended rail connections with Croatia. Like the Hungarian police, Slovenian police also used at a certain point tear gas and water cannons to control and ease the flows. From Slovenia, migrants continued into Austria by taxi, buses, train and on foot.
At the same time, from Hungary, Austria saw more than 10,000 migrants entering the country (mostly through the Nickelsdorf border town) over 10 days. Special trains were set in motion to carry up to 500 migrants each across the border into Germany (Freilassing).

Meetings between Croatia, Slovenian and Austrian ministers took place in an attempt to tackle the problem of migrants actually heading northwest. But the large numbers of migrants led to border closures and temporarily suspended train traffic instead of a smoother transit.

Central Eastern Europe

Considering themselves as mostly transit countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia proposed a corridor for migrants to safely pass towards Germany- which, after all, had been so vocal in inviting migrants. Meanwhile, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban offered his plan to Berlin, citing four proposals: increasing Member States’ contributions by 1% in order to have additional funding for coping with this crisis; separating the refugees from economic migrants before their entrance into the EU; establishing special partnerships with the main players in the region, namely Turkey and Russia; and envisaging global quotas rather than compulsory EU quotas.

Hungary claims their border fence has helped it to decrease the number of illegal arrivals into the country, and are building new fences along their borders with Romania and Croatia, sparkling criticism from these neighbours, including Serbia, which is accused of partnership with Hungary.

Concerns about the So-Called ‘Refugees’

EU leaders as well as the public are confronted with controversies over terminology. How can they differentiate between economic migrants and refugees, and what will this mean for policy? Who is a refugee and who is entitled to what kind of benefits?

Newer Member States criticize the idea of direct labor market integration since, for Romania and Bulgaria it took seven years to be able to legally gain access to the EU labour market. These countries see it as hypocritical of ‘Old Europe’ to therefore want to expedite the arrival of people who are not even from the EU.

Sceptics also worry about a possible ISIS infiltration and the consequences of this for EU security. Many are concerned that the so-called ‘refugees’ seem somewhat more well-off than would fit the description of the typical war refugee: as reported in August, many have financial resources, smart phones, and some travel in taxis the distances between the countries.

Further, other reports have contended that rather than express gratitude, some ‘refugees’ have behaved rudely, vandalized property, and thrown away sandwiches and clothes offered by volunteers. Accusations of rape within migrant camps have been made, with Syrian women being at danger from their own fellow travelers.

 Will Schengen Survive?

In principle, Schengen was designed to allow borderless transit through its member states. The border crossings from the Schengen territory were abolished, allowing speedy travel that benefited both individual travellers and consumers, by cutting transit times and delays. It can be argued that this has been one of the EU’s more successful common initiatives.

The migrant crisis, however, is challenging the very principles on which it stands. This has led to specific actions. In an attempt to discourage migrants, Hungary temporarily set up a razor wire barrier near its border with Slovenia (Tornyiszentmiklos), which introduced passport controls at its border with Hungary, while Austria enhanced its check-points at the border with Slovenia. Most sensationally, after announcing it was ready and willing to take in migrants, Germany re-introduced border controls, Austria and Slovakia followed this line thus threatening the very principles of the Schengen agreement.

How Will the EU Survive this Crisis?

More than 500,000 people have arrived in the EU since 1 January 2015 which led to the current refugee crisis. To exit this situation, EU leaders agreed in principle that a fixed number of asylum seekers should be accepted within the EU, the rest being bound to be sent to a safe country or a partner country from their region.

Furthermore, stricter EU asylum rules should be applied. As only 5 Member States are correctly applying the EU rules on asylum, by the end of September, the European Commission already started 40 infringement procedures against Member States not implementing EU common rules. The EU will also allocate funding to tackle this crisis while also taking into account the external dimension of migration and focus on development policy, humanitarian aid coupled with diplomatic initiatives.

However, while the recent emergency meetings indicate that the EU is finally, if belatedly taking the issue seriously, it is still far from clear whether its proposed solutions – and internal punitive measures – will lead to a better resolution, or perhaps cause further internal divisions.

The Migration Phenomenon and the Balkans

By Chris Deliso

Misconceptions characterize public awareness of the current migration phenomenon affecting the Balkans. This is partly due to established context (looking at the issue as an exigency, caused by war and so on) and also because of the dramatic photos in Western tabloid accounts design to embellish the human-interest aspect of the story, reifying this concept of a one-off, event-driven phenomenon.

Rather, the migration phenomenon should be understood more in terms of, well, migration. The way birds migrate every year, the way the first American Indians migrated across the Alaskan land bridge, the way that wealth migrates between economies. Human migration into Europe today is a predictable, long-term process with its own rules and operative conditions.

The current trend that sees masses of people travelling to Europe via Turkey and the Balkans is of course going to have long-term effects on life on the Continent. Balkan locals, who are historically good at adaptation and survival, are dealing with this reality much faster than are their northern neighbors, who in any case will have to deal with the bulk of the migrant flood in years ahead.

But the EU cannot stop or even slow the flow of migration- it can only make small changes to the territorial route it follows. However, it is not a given that the EU even wants to stop migration, since the migrant industry is extremely lucrative in terms of reallocations – we could say, migrations – of European public funds to deal with the issue.

That said, we should also think of migration variously as economic commodity, political organizing force, factor in instability, and experiment in mass communications and logistics. Much can be learned from the current experience Balkan-route migrants are having.

Present and Future Migrant Routes

Migrant flows are determined by physical borders and efficiency, like any other form of travel. Until Greece and Bulgaria erected fences on the Turkish border in Thrace, that land route had been popular. The existence of these barriers has not stopped, but only diverted traffic to the maritime route, between the Turkish Aegean coast and the nearest Greek islands. This is a more dangerous and thus more lucrative operation, which presents unique challenges for the Greek state.

Greece has for years been assisted by Frontex with border policing, which has proven too effective; migrants who would have passed undetected were caught, filling Greek migrant centres. The current inundation on far-flung islands that also lack capacity, even as the country remains in its economic crisis, has forced the government to concentrate migrants into one stream heading north. From the islands they are ferried to Athens, and from there by bus to Thessaloniki and then to Idoumeni, near the Macedonian border.

Faced with over 1,000 migrants a day, Macedonia and then Serbia had to change the law this summer to allow temporary stays and legal transport of migrants. This change has simply concentrated the flow of migrants, and increased the viability of the whole trip in the eyes of other prospective migrants. Thus overall numbers will go up considerably in months ahead regardless of other factors.

A security official notes that only eight (8) migrants have crossed into Albania from Greece recently, and that migrants trying to reach the EU from Greece through Bulgaria is also greatly reduced. The Hungarians, of course, are on their way to completing a long fence on the Serbian border.

However, experts like György Kakuk, who recently made the daring journey to document migrants’ experiences, believe that the Great Wall of Hungary will simply shift the route again. After the fence is built, migrants are likely to head from northern Serbia eastward into Romania, and then back into Hungary- making Orban’s effort perhaps in vain. For reasons unknown, migrants seem to be avoiding the Serbia-Croatia option for entering the EU.

Social Stratification of Migrant Society, ‘Fake Syrians,’ and the Entitlement Issue

As has reported in past about immigrant society in Athens, and as experts like Kakuk are noting now, there is a clear social stratification within the migrant ranks. There are not only differences of nationality and race, but also socio-economic differences. For every war refugee or Afghan villager without other prospects, there is an educated teacher or engineer with desirable skills for the European job market.

An ironic problem Syrians are facing now, noted the Hungarian source, is that migrants from other countries are claiming to be Syrian as they think it will qualify them for greater benefits or increase their chances of staying in Europe. That the issue of ‘fake’ Syrians irritates the ‘real’ Syrians is another interesting dynamic.

As in Egypt on the Libya-Italy route, migrants are also coming to Turkey and the Balkans from places like Eritrea- not because of any war, nor because of any burning desire to go to Europe. Rather, ‘human resources’ scouts are visiting local families and convincing them of the viability of the idea. The more migrants that successfully reach Europe, the more this phenomenon will increase.

Also, while breathless media reports concentrate on the poorest and most downtrodden migrants, as this fits a classic stereotype, there are plenty of migrants who have enough money to fly to Turkey, to stay in hotels, to go to a hair salon, to take selfies in front of historic sites. In fact, most of the visuals in recent days, confirmed by ground sources, indicate fairly well-dressed and well-organized people.

This leads us to one of the strangest aspects of the migrant experience, that can be attested from the comments of people of all social classes: the sense of entitlement, that it is their right to move to Europe without following any legal procedure, that everything should be given to them, and that Balkan countries should pick up the pace on executing their wishes.

This is leading to a bizarre symmetry of behavior from both the European and migrant sides. When English tourists complain that seeing dirty migrants is ruining their vacation in Kos, the tone is exactly the same as when a Syrian complains that ‘third-world’ Greeks have ruined their own trip to Kos; in both cases, it is a story of visitor experience not matching their expectations. Neither ask why they had made the trip in the first place, as opposed to going literally anywhere else.

Contradictions in the Network/Group Intelligence of Migrants

This remarkable similarity leads to one of the most baffling contradictions: while today’s migrants tend to be extremely well informed about tactical travel challenges, they are not always so informed about the reality of their overall ambitions.

Citation after citation in the media has migrants from all strata and society expressing the view that Europe is the promised land and that they will be welcomed with open arms, employed, housed and fed. At least some of that may have been the case in certain countries, but the expected quantitative migration increase in the next six months will severely test the patience of even the most liberal states. It remains unclear how migrants, while still in their own countries, are being so misinformed. Perhaps believing in the myth just provides inspiration and courage.

Then there is network aspect, which multiplies travel efficiency and group intelligence. As NGO advocates are fond of saying, migrants are not animals, they’re humans. But they’re much more than human- they’re also profiles.

Coordinating logistics and gaining constantly updated information on local conditions via Facebook groups and other social media accessed on their smart phones, today’s savvy migrants process huge amounts of real-time situational intelligence. Benefitting from the experience of those who came before them, they end up knowing more about the geography, topography and local happenings of Balkan countries than do the locals.

This information helps migrants decide where to eat or sleep, which border crossings are best at any particular time, and so on. In other words, they are as active and as organized as any other online community. The network-based structure of migrant intelligence gives them an advantage over local law enforcement.

This also means that information (and, disinformation) can and will cause sudden movements of people, reactions or other events. Used by a dedicated adversary, the simple manipulation of situational intelligence through using these open-source networks represents a major vulnerability that cannot be countered by Balkan authorities, since they cannot interact with the social media and languages used in any meaningful way.

This is why Hungary’s justification for using billboards and advertisements to dissuade migration in the source countries is so strange. According to Hungary Today, the government has done the following:

“after examining the possibilities of advertising in the war-torn countries and conflict zone, the cabinet came to to the conclusion that only very small groups can be reached through the Internet and social media, and opted rather for placing advertisements in public spaces and in newspapers. Under the decision, the posters will be installed in September, parallel to the completion of the temporary fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia, in several local languages and dialects.”

Hungary’s desire to lead an infowar campaign to dissuade migrants from leaving their home countries is probably tacitly supported by other EU countries, though the latter would not like to say so. But that is not the issue. Rather, the government’s justification is suspect. All evidence currently suggests that the internet is a major organizing factor for migrants, both in terms of social media and regular news. If the EU states are really serious about limiting migration, that is something to start with.

Collapse (and Re-emergence?) of Organized Crime

The legalization of temporary transit for migrants in Serbia and Macedonia has forced a partial collapse in income for the human trafficking gangs that had been mostly concentrated in the Lipkovo and Presevo Valley ethnic Albanian villages. The current situation finds a more ad hoc attempt by local people along the migrant route to sell small items to passers-by at inflated prices.

The organized crime aspect appears to be more serious in Serbia, where Belgrade is the organizational hub. Syrians in constant contact with small groups of organizers at the Hungarian border. Cumulative spending by migrants per day is over 600,000 euros, according to some estimates, though it is impossible to know how much the actual traffickers take of this.

We expect that as the Hungarian wall complicates movements for migrants, the role of organized crime will increase. Migrants will be forced to stay longer in the Balkans and, if afraid of police or if overstaying their permits, will be forced to stay under the protection of traffickers. Also, as the exit routes become more complex and diversified due to the wall, the traffickers will again have the upper hand, and migrants will become more vulnerable still.

If this phenomenon continues to develop, the human trafficking mafia run by foreigners can become integrated with the mainstream of Serbian organized crime. This is what has happened in Athens over many years, leading to turf wars, composite industries, and not incidentally, the rise of far-right movements like Golden Dawn as an abreaction.

Migration, Border Issues, and Erdogan’s Nuclear Option

Another surprising aspect of contemporary Balkan migration is that no states, neither the major EU powers nor Greece, have put any pressure on Turkey – the ultimate source of the whole traffic – to stop migration at its borders. By the time migrants have reached the Balkans, it is already rather late in the game to criticize their presence.

In May, Greek defense officials floated the idea of building a new NATO base in the eastern Aegean islands. While countering terrorism and migration were listed as reasons for this idea, it seemed more than obvious that the Greeks would like to use such a base as a place where NATO allies could observe Turkish Air Force overflight violations for themselves. In other words, it was a political concept never meant to have any real relation with migration.

Greece has never explained why it does not criticize Turkish maritime migration to the same extent that it criticized territorial migration, before the Thracian wall.

Although it has not been widely reported, we consider that the Greek reticence to involve Turkey with maritime migration might be due to the two countries’ long-standing disputes over territorial waters, the continental shelf, and possession of numerous small islands. As Greeks recall only too well from the Cyprus invasion, ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law.’ Any requests for joint maritime patrols, even if they result in Turkey detaining migrants and sending them back to wherever they came from, might not be desirable from the Greek point of view, if such missions were to involve Turkish vessels or helicopters entering Greek waters or islands.

If this theory is correct, it represents an argument on migration management from a point of view of territorial integrity- but one completely different from the conventional understanding of migration as a threat to the safety of states without maritime borders.

Another reason why European states may be avoiding (at least public) criticisms of Turkey is because they are aware that the country is the porous gateway to everywhere else. The Syrian war has left Turkey hosting over 1 million refugees. At the same time, Erdogan has opened a war on two fronts, with the Kurds and (sort of) with ISIS, and new elections appear likely as a government cannot be formed by AKP.

At this combustible moment, when the Turkish lira is also being affected, several scenarios emerge, none of them particularly good. While EU leaders have a long list of grievances with Turkey’s leader, they are also aware that he enjoys the nuclear option: over 1 million refugees and counting. The Greek financial bailout controversy is almost irrelevant in terms of social and political issues that could drive Europe apart.

Serbia’s Upcoming Elections: Candidates, Platforms and Implications

By Matteo Albertini 

There is just one week to go until Serbia’s May 2012 elections, and expectations are growing in the country and abroad. Many indications suggest that these elections could represent a crucial turning point for the future of the country and of the whole Western Balkans’ transition to the EU, giving strength to – or, possibly, holding up – the process of European integration.

Emphasis on Social and Economic Issues, not the EU or Kosovo

One feature stands out among the others: the main theme of the campaign is not the entrance in the European Union, the defense of the Serbs in Kosovo or the never-ending tug of war for the Republika Srpska in Bosnia & Herzegovina; instead, it is social and economic reforms, the best plan to attract foreign investments and to maintain currently feeble economic growth, a goal that the current government led by Cvetković and chosen by President Boris Tadić failed to obtain.

Nobody, therefore, was caught by surprise when Tadić resigned from his position on Thursday, 5th April 2012, ten months ahead the expiration of his term. This allowed the Speaker of the Parliament, Slavica Đukić Dejanović, to take over the role of Acting President until the 6th May elections.

“In line with the constitution I have decided to shorten my mandate […] to allow the holding of elections on all levels on May 6,” Tadić said for media on that occasion, “I will run in these elections and I expect them to be tough.”

And they will certainly be, as the entire western Balkans is suffering to various extents from the ripple effect of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis. Foreign investments have decreased during the last couple years, especially from typical partners like Italy and France. Tadić’s Democratic Party fears a looming failure in the next parliamentary elections (and a victory from the major opposition party, the SNS lead by Tomislav Nikolić); it is thus now banking on the president’s personal popularity to boost the party’s vote also in the parliamentary election already set for May 6.

April Polls

As reported by B92, opinion polls conducted by Faktor Plus published on 10th April, showed the two main rivals neck-to-neck. Tadić enjoyed the support of 35.8% of the electorate and Nikolić followed with around 35.7%, only a 0.1% difference. But considering the coalitions running in the parliamentary elections, the SNS-lead one is still leading with 33.4 % against DS’s coalition of around 29.4 %

The DS hopes that good results from its leader may lead to an unexpected victory for the Democratic Party. The difference between these polls and presidential ones may be, however, Tadić’s very figure, and in his way of conducting politics as a strong president with a weak cabinet. His outstanding presence may obscure other party members, and may make it more difficult to demonstrate the ability of the Democratic Party (as an entity) to drive Serbia out of the crisis.

Further, we must not forget that prominent members of Tadić’s government, such as Interior Minister Dačić and Health Minister Stanković, will run for the presidency on their own. Thus he need for the recently retired leader to foster his own popularity will likely worsen the opportunities of his party as a whole.

A Boost from the EU’s Decision?

Not by chance, then, the entire party welcomed the declaration by the European Council as a momentous event, and every analyst agreed that getting the EU candidate status has provided some wind at Tadić’s back going into the elections. And indeed this was a great result, even if it will take almost a decade before Serbia would became an effective EU member. Nevertheless, still there are doubts about the consequences on the country’s population and its standards of living.

As President Tadić said in March, “after all the requests, the objections and the warnings from the European Union about Serbia, the Candidate status is the first official confirmation that this country is following the right path to be considered a place of freedom, democracy, and shared European values.”

Tadić needs to underline the symbolic importance of this recognition, because it is the only real result he gained during his tenure: for Serbian citizens, faced with unemployment, inflation and corruption, the opportunity for their country to become an EU member is not an urgent question. It is much more something to be handled tomorrow, long after the problems of the current years will have passed.

A Healthy Skepticism

As reported by the Italian magazine Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, many citizens have shared their doubts about the real advantage they will derive from eventual EU membership, since it is now likely that, when the day of Serbian accession will come, the European Union will not be nearly the same entity it is today. The magazine reported also a joke, typical of Serbian irony: “when Serbia will enter the European Union, it will be Turkey’s turn to preside as President.”

Future progress towards EU accession, which could take a decade, will depend on improved relations between Serbia and its former Kosovo province, which declared independence in 2008. Serbia rejects the secession, with continuing support from major powers like China and Russia, but is under continual Western pressure to normalize ties.

About the upcoming elections, Tadić said: “the people will have the opportunity to decide which path Serbia will take. I am sure Serbia will proceed towards the European Union, but we will never recognize Kosovo.”

Voting in Kosovo

Still, the question of Kosovo lies as a sword of Damocles on Serbia’s next government, which will be called to reach an agreement about the status of the north and its Serbian majority, and to stop the cyclic unrest over border control. The Serbian Constitution guarantees the right to vote to the Serbs living in Kosovo, so the next elections should include areas of northern Kosovo in the count.

Pristina has strongly objected and said it would use force, if needed, to stop the election in its borders. “We have an operative order clarifying what police should undertake in such cases” said Arber Beka, Kosovo Police spokesperson. Kosovo police arrested four Serbs on March 28th for holding Serbian election material and voters lists. Beka told SETimes that the arrests were related to the attempts of Serbia to hold elections in Kosovo.

Gerard Gallucci, a former UN regional administrator for Mitrovica who was previously interviewed by, told SETimes that Pristina should allow the elections to proceed in Kosovo: “It would be wiser for Kosovo, and perhaps better for everyone, if Pristina did not obsess over these elections. It has the option of simply dismissing their legality and importance while standing back and taking the high road,” Gallucci said.

The American expert added that the elections could be stopped in the Serbian enclaves in southern Kosovo, but not in the northern part, and that the failed effort to stop the vote would only deepen the division and underscore that Pristina has no real influence in the north.

Taking Credit

Anyway, it would be an error to overrate the advantage the DS party will get from the candidate status and the current management of the situation in Kosovo: they may consolidate Tadić as a highly-regarded politician on the international chessboard – in fact, more than any other candidate, European Union officials are hoping for Tadić’s victory.

But at the same time, however, it is simple to observe that the most difficult acquis (the fight against corruption and organized crime, the arrest of war criminals, and so on) have been carried out by ministers from other coalition partners. Among these is Ivica Dačić, interior minister and leader of the Serbian Socialist Party, who has already showed his strong stance towards the northern province of Kosovo on several occasions.

Tadić himself boasted on 14th April 2012, in an interview for Belgrade newspaper Politika, that his government did in fact “create 200,000 news jobs,” but conceded that “the [financial] crisis took away 400,000 more”, and promised that “solving that problem” will be the priority of a new government that he expects will be formed by the DS and the coalition gathered around them.

Investments and Politicking

Going deeper into these economic policies, it is also possible to stress how the choice of attracting foreign investments by tax-relief policies (on an annual term, between 5,000 and 10,000 euro per worker) and by the creation of public-private joint ventures, can become a boomerang for the recently retired president during the electoral campaign.

As a matter of fact, anyone in Serbia will remember the farcical case of the government and Turin’s Fiat Industries 2008 agreement. It was signed with little in the way of transparency, allegedly to boost the DS presidential campaign, and ended up without the expected returns in the Kragujevac area’s employment and general economic conditions.

A new plan was signed last January, foreseeing investments by Fiat of around 940 million euros (as discussed in a previous article), but the final terms have not yet been published.

This is why Verica Barac, president of the anti-corruption council of Serbia, commented with concern on this decision in an interview for the Italian online newspaper Lettera22: “the simple fact that this agreement has been concluded without a transparent procedure – and in the middle of an electoral campaign – puts us in doubt that state budget items and goods may have been used to foster their partner’s resistance.”

DS Election Strategy: Fear

There are two main political strategies in any presidential campaign- hope and fear (the difference was often made, for example, in the divergent rhetoric of US presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively). Now, the strategy of the DS in next week’s electoral campaign seems to be driven in large part by fear: as in the past, the party seeks to play up the alleged extremist and chauvinist tendencies of the main opposition party.

Jelena Trivan, deputy leader of DS, has thus been reported to have said that next week’s elections would be a choice “between peace and war,” and Tadić, in his interview for Politika, piled on some new declarations in a similar vein: their political rivals “have nothing to show for, no results: the only consequence of their activity is destruction, chauvinism and violence,” he charged.

The president went on to draw a connection between the current opposition and the former government of Slobodan Milosević, stating that in the 1990s “these people conducted a dangerous war-mongering policy… they were even against the agreement that ended the (NATO) bombing in 1999. Until a few years ago they celebrated war criminals, they wished to rename the Zoran Đinđić Boulevard after Ratko Mladić, they were destroying Belgrade because (Radovan) Karadžić was arrested.”

Tadić went on to describe SNS leader and presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolić as “an unpredictable, unreliable person, who flip-flops, with whom one is uncertain where one stands, and who cannot be trusted.” He thus seemed to emphatically quash any possible speculation over a “great coalition” between the two major parties, whatever their “colors,” as happened in Germany and more recently in Italy.

SNS Strategy: Moderation and Development

From their point of view, Nikolić and SNS are now challenging Tadić and DS by maintaining a moderate stance, with the goal of moving towards the center of Serbia’s political spectrum, and to defuse the party’s nationalistic reputation.

Thus, while keeping his strong position towards Kosovo, Nikolić welcomed the obtainment of EU candidate status during a rally in Jagodina on 4 April, and has declared that the main focus of his tenure, if he is elected, would be the fight against corruption and organized crime.

He also responded to the concerns voiced by Jelena Trivan, saying that his party wants “to disclose those who were stealing money from the citizens, and to see how self-governments realized public procurement, and how your money was spent.”

The second pillar of Nikolić’s campaign is the economy: Tanjug reported his speech during a meeting in Babusnica, when he stated that his party will advocate for the establishment of a development bank and granting of loans from the Development Fund, but without the burdens imposed by banking mortgages.

Nikolić pointed out that small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of the economy across the world, and that only in Serbia the authorities, with their “failed policy,” allowed the destruction of 60,000 companies and over 260,000 jobs, increasing only the bureaucracy and the privileges of the political elite.

As reported above, the main opponents were neck-to-neck in opinion polls earlier in April. Yet anyway, with a foreseen turnout of around 51%, it is necessary to consider this data with caution. As reported by the analyst Zoran Stojiljković, the population’s trust in political parties and officials is now at its lowest level since 2001, and probably, whoever will be elected president, the winning party will be the non-voting one.

SPS Strategy: Highlighting the Achievements of Ivica Dačić and the Police

Five more candidates (in addition to Tadić and Nikolić) have been confirmed by the Serbian Electoral Commission: the first one is the current Minister of Internal Affairs, Ivica Dačić, leader of the SPS, whose candidacy was strengthened by the great results Serbia obtained, during his tenure, in the fight against organized crime.

These efforts have been recognized, amongst others, by the American DEA, as a consequence of the joint operation codenamed ‘Balkan Warrior’ (this operation was also reported in a previous article). In general, the past couple years have seen Serbia take a much stronger and more reliable role in hosting regional and international law enforcement events and in cooperation over international investigations ranging from drug busts to cracking down on art theft and helping with intelligence leading to arrests of criminals on three continents. The party is thus seeking to associate these results with its leader in support of his candidacy.

Recent surveys credit the interior minister with 11.2 % support, which is said to represent the majority of the Serbian population still doubtful about the SPS’s capability to lead a government that will have to take some crucial decision about the state’s future. Dačić has taken a strong position over Kosovo, as demonstrated with the arrest of the Albanian policemen Shukri Binaku and Sami Beqiri, on Saturday March 31, at the Merdare border crossing.

Dačić said “the incursion of the two KPS [Kosovo Police] members constituted a drastic violation of the Military Technical Agreement signed in Kumanovo [in Macedonia] in 1999,” B92 reported. “I will continue to arrest them, as long as they keep threatening Serbia’s constitutional order. They called me from the EU to release them immediately and I told them ‘when you release the Serbs in Kosovo’. That’s the way to defend Serbia, not by constant concessions and going down on our knees,” Dačić stated.

“What are they doing in the territory of central Serbia and what agreement does that fall under?” Dačić asked, adding that “anyone who dared to violate the Kumanovo Military Technical Agreement this way would be arrested.”

The officers were released into the custody of EULEX officials on Monday, April 2, and taken to Kosovo. In their defense, Pristina said the officers had been patrolling in an area of responsibility of Kosovo police.

This behavior could grant Dačić some votes, but could also make it more difficult for him to enter a future DS-led government, and also for his position about Serbia’s European future. He has called on Serbian citizens to support him in the presidential elections “because for him there is only Serbia and social justice,” adding that he would always fight for them.

The aspiring candidate also said that he would only promise one thing to the voters – that Serbia would always come first and that he would renew the trust in Serbia and protect its national and state interests: “we will go to the EU only if it is in Serbia’s interests, if it is not, we won’t.”

Koštunica Looks for a Comeback

The fourth candidate is by no means a surprise, since he had already served as the Yugoslav Federation’s president for three years and as Serbia’s prime minister during two cabinets (2004-2009): Vojislav Koštunica, leader of SDS, who jumped into the election race just few hours after the announcement of Boris Tadić’s resignation.

His figure, even if not counted as a possible winner, will probably affect future surveys which had reduced the presidential race to a contest between Tadić and Nikolić. In particular, his nationalistic stance may gain him votes from Nikolić and SNS.

And from the URS: Zoran Stanković

The fifth candidate in next week’s election will be the current Minister of Health Zoran Stanković, whose name was put forward by the United Regions of Serbia, a coalition founded by the G17 Plus, Together for Šumadija, Vojvodina’s Party, People’s Party and many minor political formations.

URS spokesman Dinkić said at an electoral rally in Belgrade on Saturday 31 March that they do not want to follow Tadić’s politics, but that he does not “want Tomislav Nikolić’s path either. We need neither the first nor the second option, but the third, a clear path and a clear plan proposed by the URS,”

Dinkić stressed that he was “disappointed” with the way the DS had been running the country “because not a single problem can be solved with a strong president and weak prime minister and finance minister.”

He also pointed out that he was not satisfied with the number of investors in Serbia “because there are still factories from the past century in many towns and municipalities in the country, even in Belgrade, and many of them still work.”

URS criticizes the government’s economic policy, especially the subsidies for agriculture and the policies made in the construction sector. Dinkić underlined also that the EU candidate status was not enough “because Europe will not abolish taxes in Serbia, Serbia has to do it by itself,”

Finally, from the Extremes: Cedomir Jovanović and the Radical Party’s Jadranka Šešelj

The sixth candidate will be the president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the U-Turn Movement, Cedomir Jovanović, who is characterized by a pro-western stance towards the EU, NATO and, above all, Kosovo.

In January 2012, he stated that “we need to bring some common sense into the policy toward Kosovo, it is an axiom that Kosovo is independent from Serbia. We need to sit down at the table with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci as soon as possible.”

He also said that he is running in order to remind the country of its past mistakes: “Serbia needs a president who would be supported by Sarajevo, understood by Croatia and who would not be satisfied with having divided the Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo”. These views make him a controversial figure in Serbian political life, and his not considered a possible winner.

Finally, the Radical Party of Vojislav Šešelj will offer its jailed leader’s wife Jadranka, running for the presidency for the first time in a largely symbolic expression of the far-right and ultra-nationalist electorate. Opinion polls grant her less than 5% of the votes, but this would also take away what would be perhaps a crucial clinching margin of victory from the center-right candidates.

Marginalia and Minutiae

Some other more marginal political figures previously announced that they would submit their names for the vote: leader of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) – Istvan Pastor, leader of the Dveri movement Vladan Glisić, leader of the Movement of Workers and Farmers (PRS) Zoran Dragisić, and Chief Mufti of (one of the two) Islamic Communities in Serbia, Muamer Zukorlić, a controversial Islamic leader based in Novi Pazar.

The deadline for submission of nominations for the presidential elections was April 15, while the order of candidates will be determined by drawing lots, which was scheduled for 7.15 PM on April 20.

The Numbers

When it comes to coalitions that will compete in the parliamentary elections, as said the one led by Nikolić’s SNS continued to top public opinion polls in April, with 33.4 percent support, followed by the one gathered around Tadić’s DS, which would receive 29.4 percent according to April polls. The coalition formed by the SPS would backed by 11.6 percent of voters, with the LDP-led U-Turn, the Serb Radicals (SRS) and the DSS following with 6.3, 5.7 and 5.5 percent respectively.

The Mlađan Dinkić-led United Regions of Serbia (URS) could hope for only 3.4 percent, according to this survey. Since Serbian electoral law set a 5% threshold to enter the Parliament, at this moment it would not win any seat.

The Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for Sunday 6th May, will probably require a second, run-off ballot for the presidency two weeks later. At that time we will certainly know more about the possible policy shifts and general trends we can expect from Serbia over the next four years.

Italian Investment in the Balkans: High-Profile Deals in the Financial, Automotive, Distribution and Energy Sectors

By Matteo Albertini editor’s note: while it tends to be perceived as a Western power with business interests strictly on the Balkan Adriatic coast, Italy is increasingly seeking to look further within the peninsula for opportunities, as this fact-rich new overview documents.

Italy today is, together with Germany, the main commercial partner of the Western Balkan countries, with more than 30,000 Italian firms operating and investing in the former Yugoslav countries and Albania.

These investments, even if stemming from an historical and well-established economic presence, show the growing interest of Italian companies towards this region, still undergoing the lengthy processes of institutional stabilization, European integration and transition to market economy.

Italy’s main sectors of FDI (foreign direct investments) in the Balkans are examined in the following summary, utilizing recent data, such as reports from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and the National Institute for Foreign Trade. All data can be found (in Italian) here.

Market Attraction

First, we must underline that the economic crisis which began in 2008 put a stop to the then-increasing export of Italian products to the Balkans: while in 2008 the total export amounted to 15 billion euros, in 2009 this figure shrank by around 25 percent, to around 8.4 billion euros, but came close to 10 billion euros in 2010, according to ISTAT/ Italian Institute of Statistics.

For the end of 2011, new growth is expected, however; in fact, investments in the Western Balkans remain a favorable opportunity for Italian firms due to four main reasons: the potential dimension of new markets (at least 25 million customers and growing), the cheap labor costs (30-70% lower than in Italy), the profitable tax regime, and a young, well-educated and specialized local population.

To give some examples, in Bosnia and Herzegovina the value-added tax (porez na dodanu vrijednost, PDV) is 17% and wages in 2008 were still lower than 400 euros monthly on average. In Croatia, where the VAT is 23%, the law guarantees 0% tax for companies investing more than 8 million euros, and the government can subsidize up to 20% of the costs in those counties with unemployment higher than 20%. In Kosovo, where 70% of the population is aged 40 or younger, and unemployment typically at 34-45%, the monthly average wage is 230 euros. Macedonia also offers skilled workers for relatively low wages and the government there has attempted to make attractive tax and other incentives to bring in foreign investment in the last five years.

Italy’s Balkan Investments: the Four Major Sectors

Many Italian corporations have recently taken advantage of this state of affairs, moving part (or all) of their production into Yugoslav successor states (Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo), all of which have very sound relations with Rome. Market penetration in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia is more difficult because of German and Austrian prominence, though some economic hubs are emerging around Italian companies or merchant banks.

Generally speaking, Italian investments in the Balkans have been made in four principal areass, in which operate major investors: finance, the automotive industry, general distribution and the energy sector.

The financial one is understandably the leading area of Italian investments in any Balkan country; in particular, the major Italian banks Unicredit and Intesa-San Paolo have opened since the 1990s bases and affiliates in new capitols and major towns.


In Croatia, Unicredit controls the Zagrebačka Banka with 4 branches and 119 counters, while Intesa-San Paolo holds the Privredna Banka Zagreb (8 branches and 230 counters). These are the main Croatian banks and represent 45% of the entire credit market, according  a report from the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE) in 2011. This centrality is quite evident also in Serbia, where these two groups control around 25% of credit and bank business, and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they reach 30% of the market.

The insurance sector represents the second pivotal area in Italian financial investments in the Balkans, lead by Assicurazioni Generali which holds the subsidiary Generali Osiguranje, with a life and non-life insurance turnover of around 30 million euros. In 2006, Generali arrived in Serbia, acquiring 50% of Delta Osiguranje, based in Belgrade: together with Fondiaria-SAI, a second insurance group from Italy, they control a share of 44% in the Serbian market.

Automotive and Industrial Production

Outside of the financial sector, the Italian business presence in Balkan states tends to vary in relation to the disposal of raw materials, energetic sources and level of government commitment in attracting foreign capitals and companies.

Broader investment has been allocated in Serbia by FIAT, Italy’s biggest automotive firm, bent on delocalizing in the former Zastava industries of Kragujevac, by means of a joint-venture (two-thirds, one-third) with the Serbian state.

The total amount of the investments exceeds 700 million euros, and will grow in the next years with the launch of the new minivan L0, entirely produced in Serbia. According to the official project, the production will start at the end of this year and – according to FIAT manager Marchionne’s declarations –  will in 2012 have resulted in 200,000 finished cars.

However, the FIAT-Zastava operation is not the only field of Italian investments in Kragujevac. Magneti Marelli – an automotive components industry controlled by FIAT – signed in May 2010 a new agreement with the Serbian government for the construction of a factory, with a capital expenditure of 60 million euros and the likelihood of granting 400 new jobs. Also, in July 2010 the Italian company Dytech (a producer of fluid-conducting tubes) started the construction of a new factory in Niš, with an overall investment of about 13.3 million euros.

In the field of industrial production, greenfield investments have been made by two Italian medium-sized companies, located in Vukovar and Sremska Mitrovica. In the Danubian town Adriatic Dunav, mostly financed by the company Adriatica S.p.a. from Rovigo, is active in the market of fertilizers: the total amount reached 18 million euros, with more than 200 employers working in an ultra-modern factory with a low impact on the environment; in Vojvodina, the STG group last year opened a foundry in Sremska Mitrovica to produce iron bars for building trade, with an investment of near 35 million euros.

Clothing and Trade

A more active Italian sector in general distribution is clothing production and trade, with some well-known international brands moving factories and productions into Serbia and Croatia: above all, Calzedonia, whose investments in Croatia (Čakovec and Varaždin) amount to about 100 million euros, and directly employing 1,300 workers and boosting a growing satellite industry. This company also owns a 700-employee factory in Sombor in Serbia’s Bačka region (about 16 million euros invested).

Benetton also has a long history of investments in Croatia: since 2001, when the first manufacturing plant was established in Osijek, Benetton Croatia has evolved to become one of the biggest local industries, with 500 internal workers and more than 3,000 in cooperating firms. The total amount of the investments has been approximately 16 million euros (5.2 in 2000, 7.7 in 2001 and 3.1 million in 2006). In September 2010, Benetton inaugurated its Serbian branch: current projects define a future investment of 50 million euros for a new factory in Niš, which will employ about 2,700 people.

Two more important investors in the clothing production industry are Pompea, with some 300 employees in Zrenjanin and Brus, and Geox (third-largest footwear producer in the world) which is investing 8 million euros in a new manufacturing plant in Pirot, southeastern Serbia.


The fourth area of Italian investments in the Balkans is energy production and supply, in particular in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.

Concerning the first country, ENI (Ente nazionale idrocarburi, the largest Italian state-controlled industry) has worked with the Croatian government since 1996 for the modernization of infrastructures and for the construction of a pipeline between the Adriatic gas rig Ivana and the town of Pola, in Istria. This experience led ENI to create a joint-venture with local oil company INA, named INAgip; current production exceeds 5 million cubic meters.

In a joint venture with INA, Edison (the fifth-largest energy company in Italy, active in electricity and natural gas) created ED-INA for research and production of hydro-carbons in the Adriatic. In 2010 Edison funded an exploratory investment of 25 million euros and spent about 110 million euros for developing infrastructures on the new “Isabella” oil field. The rig started production in 2010 and will furnish an estimated total production for 2011 of 200 million euros.

In Serbia, as well, SECI Energie SPA signed an agreement with Elektroprivreda Srbije to create a joint company named Ibarske Hidroelektrane, with a 51%share for the Italian company. This investment (about 285 million euros) provides for the construction of hydro-electric power plants on the River Ibar.

Energy production represents the main sector of Italian investments in Montenegro, as a consequence of the wide operation of recapitalization and partial privatization of the EPCG (Elektoprivreda Crne Gore) led by the government. In this scenario, the Italian Group A2A from Brescia became a pivotal strategic partner of the Dinaric Republic, buying 43.7% of the capital, for a total amount of 436 million euros. This agreement, thoroughly supported by the Italian government, led Italy to became the principal foreign investor in Montenegro in 2010.

A second Italian energy company, Terna rete elettrica s.p.a. (controlled by the Ministry of Economy through the state bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) acquired a 22.09% minority stake of CGES (Montenegrin energy distribution society) on November 23, 2010. The entrance of Terna into the state-controlled company is the first step in the project for the laying of a power line between Italy and Montenegro, which will run for 415 km, 390km of this total being under the Adriatic Sea. The total investment by Terna will amount to 720 million euros.

Besides these high-profile investments made in recent years. many smaller Italian companies have opened subsidiary bases or factories in Balkan states, favored by the development of deeper economic relations between these countries and national or international institution and organization. This tendency is likely to continue in the coming years- unless, of course, the entire Italian economic system is not jeopardized by the Eurozone financial crisis first.

Italian Investors in the Balkans: a table
Company/ controlled societies Country Sector Investments
Unicredit Banca→  Zagrebačka Banka Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Montenegro Banking and finance
Intesa-San Paolo→  Privredna Banka Zagreb Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Montenegro Banking and finance
Generali Assicurazioni Croatia, Serbia Insurance
Fondiaria-Sai Mostly Serbia Insurance
FIAT→ Magneti Marelli Serbia (Kragujevac)Serbia (Kragujevac) AutomotiveAutomotive components > €700 million  €60 million
Dytech Serbia (Niš) Automotive (fluid conductors)  €13.3 million
Adriatic Spa→ Adriatic Dunav Croatia (Vukovar) Fertilizers ~ €18 million
STG Serbia (Sremska Mitrovica) Furnitures for building trade ~ €35 million
Calzedonia Croatia ( Čakovec and Varaždin)Serbia (Sombor) Clothing trade  €100 million
€16  million
Benetton→ Benetton Croatia→ Benetton Serbia Croatia (Osijek)Serbia (Niš) Clothing trade  €16 million
~ €40 million
Pompea Serbia (Zrenjanin and Brus) Clothing trade  €1.5 million
Geox Serbia (Pirot) Clothing trade  €8 million
ENI→ INAgip Croatia (sea, Pola) Gas production and supply
A2A Montenegro Energy production and supply > €436 million (initial investment)
Terna Montenegro Energy production and supply  €720 million
SECI Energie→  Ibarske Hidroelektrane Serbia (river Ibar) Hydro-electric energy production  €285 million
Edison Croatia (sea) Gas production and supply  €135 million

Data source: ICE (Italian Institute for Foreign Trade) survey 2011

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Serbia’s Brain Drain, Brain Gain and Brain Circulation

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag and Hristina Dakić Editor’s note: Highly qualified young Serbs still tend to look towards other countries (mainly EU Member States) for employment opportunities. The following relevant article offers insight on the brain drain, brain gain and brain circulation phenomenon related to Serbia, and at Serbian government and other NGOs´ strategies for tackling this challenge (e.g. Programmes for return of Serbian scientists from abroad, youth sports programmes for the diaspora etc.).

An Outbound Trend

Migration trends in the Western Balkans increased during the wars that led to the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Today, other than some lingering ethnic conflicts, the economic situation represents the main reason for emigration.

The same applies to Serbia, which is unable to provide a sufficient development perspective to its youth. The situation has deteriorated because of the economic and financial crisis: unemployment reached 22.2% at the end of April 2011, while the public debt went up to 41.3% of GDP by the end of July.

These economic problems, combined with corruption and labour unrest, are the reasons why more and more young educated people possessing knowledge and technical skills prefer to emigrate or to continue their studies abroad (especially in EU countries), thus leaving Serbia with an unprecedented brain drain situation.

A Lack of Data

One of the difficulties encountered when trying to tackle this challenge is the lack of data (regarding the brain drain phenomenon only scarce data is available, both in the country of origin as well as in the country of destination). Those people leaving Serbia for studies abroad are not able to provide a definitive answer regarding the timeframe of their stay abroad, as most of them also aim to find employment in the country where they will study. According to the World Economic Forum and USAID, in 2009 Serbia was second to last (132 out of 133 countries) in brain drain, meaning that there is a critical situation due to the loss of its educated and skilled people. These circumstances may impact Serbia’s future development and its labor market. Although the situation is rather difficult, there are a lot of projects focusing on brain gain.

Government Aid and Interaction with Serbian Communities Abroad

To better manage the communication with its Diaspora, the Serbian government has put in place a special Ministry for Religion and Diaspora that focuses on specific programs, having among its prerogatives the responsibility to keep an active relationship with Serbian nationals living abroad, estimated at three to four million people by the Ministry for Religion and Diaspora in 2010.

The ministry makes efforts to open new schools for the Diaspora in Serbian language and Serbian Orthodox traditions, to organise and undertake visits to the Diaspora, to provide priority to Diaspora Serbs when trying to acquire new identification documents, and to promote special programmes facilitating summer jobs for students from the Diaspora.

The Law on Diaspora was adopted on October 26, 2009, came into force on November 5, 2009. It changed the legal grounds of the Serbian relationship with its nationals living abroad. This law also envisaged the creation of a Diaspora database, to collect information (on a voluntary basis, with protection of confidentiality promised).

Economic cooperation with the Diaspora is an important aspect that is enhanced with the help of this law. The special Diaspora ID helps the Serbians exercise their rights and apply for different forms of support.

Brain Gain Strategies and the NGO Sector

An important point was made by the Minister for Diaspora, Srdjan Sreckovic, speaking at the General Assembly of the Organisation of Serbian Students Abroad (OSSI). He noted that “human resources, or human capital, are Serbia’s greatest advantage in comparison with its neighbouring countries, and the only sector of society in which Serbia does not lag behind other nations.”

There are a great deal of brain gain strategies now underway in Serbia, among most important recent ones being the Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development of Serbia 2010-2015, the Strategy to Preserve and Strengthen the Relationship between Homeland and Diaspora, as well as Hmeland and the Serbs in the Region (Ministry for Diaspora) and the Migration Management Strategy (Commissariat for Refugees). However, concerns about the actual return of the highly qualified young people back to Serbia should be addressed.

There are also a lot of NGOs working on migration issues and assistance for return and Diaspora programmes. These include the NGO Grupa 484 and its programmes aiming at developing the systematic support of highly qualified people, and the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence-BFPE and its initiatives to improve the reputation of Serbia.

Initiatives for Brain Circulation

There are countries in Europe which are particularly experiencing the brain drain phenomenon, such as Serbia and Romania, losing their young talent to other states. Concurrently, there are countries enjoying the effects of brain gain, such as Austria and Germany, and the inflow of highly qualified workers on their labor markets (with the help of special legislation in this field).

Howecver, as anti-migrants feelings continue to increase throughout Western Europe, affecting the political discourse and power relations in various countries, the best solution for all stakeholders is to have strategies for brain circulation encouraging international studies and mobility, but also return to the country of origin.

For Serbia, an opportunity lies in developing constant cooperation, exchange of resources and know-how between scientific Diaspora and institutions in the home country, such as universities, research centres, business corporations and so on, with an aim to develop cooperation in the process of so-called brain circulation.

At present, the existing brain gain programmes focus on creating better working conditions for the highly qualified people (Ministry of Science and Technological Development), scholarships and mobility programs (Petnica Science Centre, University Centre for Career Development founded by Belgrade University, National Employment Service, Ministry of Youth and Sports etc.) and cooperation with the professional Diaspora and other forms of support for returnees (Serbian Unity Congress, Organisation of Serbian Students Abroad – OSSI, Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence-BFPE).

Common Efforts with Regional Partners

Some common efforts on brain gain have also been made in the region together with the countries around Serbia, such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia. A regional conference on migration, Mobility and Emigration of Professionals: personal and social gains and losses,  has been held in Belgrade on November 26, 2010, with the aim of sharing experience and ideas for managing migration in these countries and seeking a regional response to the brain drain phenomenon.

The current cooperation in the region has been developed with financial support from the Balkan Trust for Democracy and the initiatives of NGOs: Grupa 484 (Serbia), European Movement in Albania (Albania), Academia (BiH), Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Montenegro) and the Center for Research and Policy Making (Macedonia).

Complications and Bureaucracy

Even though there have thus been a lot of efforts made to encourage the flow of highly qualified experts back to Serbia, this is often made rather complicated by the lack of institutional support. People who are willing to return to their home country face difficult bureaucratic procedures, and are frequently disappointed by the lack of support experienced throughout the process. Such burdens are often the engine that pushes them to leave Serbia forever.

Another challenge relates to the extremely complicated and lengthy procedure required for the recognition of foreign diplomas. The process can take up to a year and can be quite expensive. The lack of coordination between universities and responsible ministries is evident. The procedure differs in all universities across the country: in 15 universities there are 15 different requirements.

When it comes to employment, the main problem is the absence of a national framework for qualifications which leads to non-recognition of professions, simply because they are not listed in the system. It has to be noted that even some people who graduated specific majors in Serbian universities face this problem!

Students who finished interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary studies abroad face even more hardships because the Serbian educational system does not recognise those degrees. The government is challenged in its efforts to address this issue. Even though officials are showing the will to deal with this challenge, according to Vesti, it turns out that the issue is far more complicated than it seems. Nevertheless some non-governmental actors are underlining the need for a sustainable solution, pointing out the major negative impact of the diploma recognition obstacle on brain gain strategies.

A New Proposal and Initiative

The leaders of Grupa 484 had the initiative to establish systematic support for returnees who need their degree issued by foreign universities to be recognised in Serbia. Currently, this proposal is being drafted and developed in cooperation with organisation such as NALED, BFPE, Serbian City Club and some others, with the aim   of simplifying the procedure for recognition of diplomas and qualifications.

It is necessary to accelerate validation of diplomas obtained abroad, especially in prestigious European and world universities. It is preferable that through cooperation of university administrations in Serbia, a single list of the world and university centres is established for which diploma validation procedure is not necessary, but which will be automatically recognised taking into account the authority and reputation of the institution that has issued them.” – Recommendation by Grupa 484


Considering all these challenges, Serbian stakeholders – including the government -have realized the positive effects of brain circulation on the future development of the country. For that reason, they are stressing the need for cooperation with its Diaspora and exchange of knowledge across borders.

Thus the goal should be to stimulate the mobility of highly educated people and professionals preventing, at the same time, their outflow. In order to achieve this, it is not sufficient to encourage their return only in a symbolic way but also to provide all necessary conditions for the returnees’ inclusion into the labour market. A swifter process for recognising diplomas is just one of the institutional problems this country still needs to face.

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The Kosovo Border Dispute: How Will It Affect Serbia’s European Future?

By Lana Pasic

Since the Democratic Party, with its leader Boris Tadic, came to power in Serbia, the country has been moving towards EU membership, but many ask: at what cost? The pro-European party is losing the support of the people it represents, though its politics have brought visa liberalization for Serbian citizens and closer relations with the Union. The Stabilisation and Accession Agreement between Serbia and the EU was signed in 2008 and the country has this year returned the last set of answers to the Union’s questions before the preparation of the avis for membership (Government of the Republic of Serbia).

In addition to other conditions, which the neighbouring countries also had to fulfil in order to ask for EU membership, two issues were considered of fundamental importance for the Serbian bid: cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY), and the resolution of the question of Kosovo. Two years ago, Serbian police found and extradited to the ICTY the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic. During the past year, General Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, have also been arrested. With these arrests, Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY has been assessed as satisfying and a positive development towards the country’s EU future. The reforms and laws required to achieve candidate status were implemented. However, Kosovo remains the unresolved question.

The independence of Kosovo is a complicated issue. Historically, the area has been a cradle of the Serbian state, since the 12th century. Considering the role history plays in the politics of the Balkans, this is of utmost importance for the Serbs. Serbian religious and cultural monuments and churches are all located there. However, throughout modern history, due to migrations and wars, Serbs in Kosovo have become a minority. Today, 60 000 Serbs live there (BBC News).

Kosovo officially declared its independence in 2008, but the territory has been run by NATO (now supported by an EU law-and-order mission) since 1999. Although Serbia has maintained that the unanimous declaration of independence has never been accepted, it is taking part in the EU-administered talks in order to help resolve the situation to some extent and to deal with the urgent issues, which would facilitate the lives of the people in the area and allow for the movement of both people and goods.

The negotiations have resolved many of the contested issues, but the status of northern Kosovo is still problematic. The majority of the citizens are Serbs, who refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the new state. The most recent problem arose regarding the question of so-called ‘parallel institutions’ (Serbian institutions still in place in the north of Kosovo), border control and imposition of trade ban on goods from Serbia (which was done in response to a Serbian ban on products from Kosovo). The roadblocks set by the Serbs in the north, as a sign of protest of Kosovar border controls, are still in place, though there has been no violence (The National Interest).

Serbia insists that anything but negotiations leading to a diplomatic solution is out of question. The government is torn between the promise of EU membership and fighting for its territorial integrity. So, what can Serbia do in order to satisfy both demands? The status quo of northern Kosovo cannot be maintained for much longer. According to local media, Serbia has proposed a plan to the EU to resolve the disputed situation, however, the details of the plan have not been disclosed to the public. It is clear that the situation will have to be solved in order for both Serbia and Kosovo to join the Union.

This August, during her visit to Serbia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that working out the problems in Kosovo is the fundamental step before Serbia can join the EU. She made it clear that no Serbian claims for the northern Kosovo territory will be accepted by the Union. Although officials from Serbia insist that the country does not need to choose between the EU and Kosovo, Ms Merkel’s visit suggested otherwise (The Economist).

It still remains to be seen how the situation will develop and what impact will the question of Kosovo and Serbia’s territorial integrity have on the country’s future within the Union. The possibility of Serbia giving up on the EU and fighting for Kosovo instead is unlikely. Although the EU is having internal problems with its currency and financial stability, Serbia has done too much to just turn its back on the Union now and blow the chance to get candidate status in December. Additionally, the fight for Kosovo would have to involve a military conflict, the possibility of which the government has ruled out. It must also be taken into account that the presence of EU troops in Kosovo would make any kind of military action from the Serbian side irrational.

The results of the Serbian parliamentary elections early next year will reflect the way in which this situation is handled. In case President Tadic decides to trade Kosovo for the EU, his party is very likely to lose the next elections. Mostly, the general public in Serbia sees the issue as one to which there should be no negotiations. Many Serbs are unwilling to succumb to ‘blackmail’ and trade Kosovo for the promise of EU membership, and often accuse the government of doing exactly that. There is a general feeling that they have been treated unfairly by the international community in the recent past, and believe that the question of Kosovo is no different. And with 22 EU member states recognising Kosovo’s independence, they don’t see how they stand a chance in any negotiations. Russian representatives in the UN agree with this view, stating that the international forces are taking sides with the Albanians, which further complicates an already grave situation (RT News).

The problem of Kosovo can either result in a mutually satisfactory solution or will be forcefully implemented by the EU’s local representative, EULEX, in which case violence remains a possibility. That would make it difficult to establish good relations between the two states in the future and to appease the Serbian minority in Kosovo, which is likely to either protest or feel forced to emigrate to Serbia, causing a complete ethnic exodus from the region. And, whatever Serbia decides might well not mirror the wishes of Serb in Kosovo. Can the government in Belgrade control their actions? They could decide to act against the imposition of the new state’s institutions, riot, engage in military conflict or even declare their own independence (TransConflict).

The EU is supposed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country this December, which would improve the ruling party’s chances of winning the parliamentary elections in 2012. However, Chancellor Merkel’s blunt message and the current crisis on the Kosovar border might not result in candidacy just yet. In the next few weeks, President Tadic’s diplomacy could still offer some surprises on how to appease the European integration and the Serbian territorial integrity.

Serbia’s Vojvodina to Meet EU Energy Goals Alone

Editor’s note: In this special report for by guest author Kostis Geropoulos, readers are treated to insights on a unique case of Balkan local government taking the initiative on renewable sources of energy. The article is complemented by exclusive comments from national and local officials from Serbia.


By Kostis Geropoulos in Athens*

Serbia may not be part of the European Union – at least not yet – but its northern region of Vojvodina is striving to meet the bloc’s 20-20-20 goals to battle climate change and drive energy sustainability in the Balkans- on its own, if need be.

Vojvodina is at the forefront of renewables and energy saving, trying to meet EU climate change goals. “Yes, of course, [meeting] European goals and targets is a part of our policy because an EU future is at the center, it’s at the heart of what we are doing as a government so energy policy is devised in this context as well,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told me on 19 May at a seaside resort in Lagonissi, south of Athens.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference that discussed current developments in the region. Asked if Vojvodina’s energy policy would reduce reliance on natural gas, Jeremic said that “renewable energy is the future as far as we see it, so we are looking to develop as much capacity as possible.”

Further, Branislava Belic, Vice President of the Vojvodina Assembly, told me earlier this spring on the sidelines of a climate conference in Brussels that “Russian gas is too expensive, and it was always expensive, so this is an initiative.”

She noted that her region of Serbia in particular is on the right track. In March, Vojvodina completed the Peer Review, in a joint project with the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and the Central European Initiative. She stated in Brussels that experts have observed that this project has very strong political support.

In addition, added Ms Belic, her region has “well-drafted strategies in several energy-related areas [and] important competencies in key section fields.” She mentioned in addition that the population in Vojvodina has the mentality of a global player.

Experts have recommended that in accordance with the government of Vojvodina each local community should continue with improving energy management. They would organize monitoring and energy audits, explaining the benefits of saving energy and, at the same time, saving personal budgets, she told me. Belic said that Vojvodina has a very good project line with EU funds, but no specific budget for energy issues, and that “the State gives very weak financial incentives.”

Nevertheless, while Ms Belic added that Vojvodina has rich experience in cross border cooperation, it does not yet boast similar experience in the field of public private partnership. “Since the Temerin municipality already has renewable energy potential, we have to focus on coordination of technical actors,” she said, referring to energy managers and consultants, as well as plans to include and coordinate communication with NGOs, schools, and local politicians.

“The project has started with an improvement and I hope it will continue that way,” Belic said, referring to a primary school and a kindergarten in Sirig. “This is a new trend in Vojvodina, of using more and more renewable energy,” she said.

As Foreign Minister Jeremic told me, Serbian energy policy is aimed at meeting EU rules and goals. But some are skeptical. For Sanja, a spirited 24-year-old woman from Subotica, Vojvodina’s second largest city, it will be a very long time before Serbia joins the EU. “Vojvodina could join on its own,” she told me laughing. “But the rest of Serbia is far behind.”


*Guest contributor Kostis Geropoulos is the Energy and Russian Affairs Editor of the New Europe newspaper. His weekly column, “Energy Insider,” is available at, and he can also be followed on twitter (@energyinsider).

The Adriatic Connection: Mafia Links from Italy to the Western Balkans

By Matteo Albertini in Milan

Editor’s note: with Western Balkan governments seeking to demonstrate their commitment to EU accession reforms, major steps are being taken to promote transparency implement rule of law, and tackle organized crime. The present investigation discusses the past, present and future of the latter in the region, in light of the evolution of (and cooperation with) Italy’s major mafia syndicates.


Joining the European Union is, without doubt, the main goal of every Balkan country not already part of the bloc. In the last few years, many requirements have been met by several aspiring states; Croatia and Montenegro are now official candidate countries, while status may be given this year to Albania and especially Serbia – the latter having now fulfilled one key requirement when it arrested former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic last week. Macedonia has made many necessary reforms, with the main obstacle remaining being something completely unique and unrelated to the typical EU accession package (that is, the name issue with Greece).

Among the key political, economic and social goals required for getting into the EU, the most problematic have often been full collaboration with The Hague Tribunal and international police, and the willing prosecution of organized crime- which, in the Balkans, refers especially to human, drugs and arms trafficking.

Perceptions of Old-School Balkan Mafia: Warlords, ‘Nationalists,’ and Territorial Control

Many stereotypes linger about the binomial relation between mafia as a concept and the Balkans. During the wars of the 1990s, these stereotypes became part of that orientalistic interpretation of the war portrayed by many Western media outlets: the Balkans was depicted as an indistinct area, a land of war and hatred, a region led by despots and inhabited by crooks and people who were, generally, desperate sorts.

This public perception must be the reason why, paradoxically, the role of mafia and organized crime – and their connections in finance and politics – are often underestimated or “taken for granted” by journalistic and academic analysis concerning Southeast Europe. One thus might note (with some despair) that news regarding people and institutions involved in organized crime affairs are more and more being confined to judicial reporting or specialist publications.

An article published on December 21, 2010 by Montenegrin weekly Monitor aptly depicts the image surrounding the predecessors of today’s Balkan organized crime groups. During and after the wars of the 1990s, in most former Yugoslav countries, public power was understood to be based on a mixture of “kleptocracy, organized crime and alleged patriotism;” in that period, state officials in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Pristina, Podgorica, Skopje, Belgrade and so on, transferred large amounts of national resources into their own hands and into the hands of their local elites.

Propaganda was their principal ally, the story goes, and their weapon, spread by controlled and accommodating media, and certified by integrated intellectuals, historians, academics: all actively involved in the construction of new national stories. This propaganda was so capillary that its traces can be seen still today, in the history taught at schools and in the language spoken in everyday life.

A machine devoted to transmitting a precise story: leaders were acting to save the country and its population from their enemies, with anybody who denounced these crimes actually a criminal himself; as a consequence the people, impoverished and frightened, attested through their ballots the rule of these leaders.

During these years, criminal organization, mafia groups and local clans acquired a central role in supporting political leaders, doing the dirty work and profiting from smuggling, black market, drug and human traffic across the renewed Balkan state borders.

Belgrade at the turn of the millennium was a bombed city transformed into a battlefield for gangs, where bosses and smugglers went to wash dirty money financing the building of new apartment blocks and commercial centers in Novi Beograd.  The leading faction was then the feared Zemun clan, located in the so-named suburb north of Belgrade. The group’s connections with the army and the government (pre- and post Milosevic) became clear after the assassination of Socialist Serbia’s former president Ivan Stambolić in 2000, and of the acting prime minister, Zoran Đinđić, in 2003.

As became clear, many members of this organization were part of a disparate but well-sponsored section of the army: the special operation unit (Jedinica za specijalne operacije), also know as Red Berets, who merged many paramilitary units that fought in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Amongst them were the remnants of Arkan’s Tigers, who regrouped after their leader’s murder on 2000. The leader of the Zemun clan, Dušan Spasojević, was killed by Serbian police two weeks after Djindjic’s death.

Obviously, this situation could not last. The fall of the leaderships that lead the war, as Milosevic’s SDS in Serbia and Tudjman’s HDZ hardliners in Croatia, unveiled the importance of mafia in the social and political order of these new states.

A Gentler New Face for Balkan Organized Crime: Lessons Learned from Italy

Only during the middle of the last decade did something begin to change, together with a broader collaboration between local and foreign police officers and more transparency, throwing a light on what had survived hidden under the ashes of the war. (Even in Bulgaria, where no war had occurred, organized crime became less visibly violent, following several high-profile assassinations).

This change was sensible for two reasons: on the one hand, the arrest and prosecution of many war criminals often was supplemented with their indictment for drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as for goods “unofficially” acquired during the war, with the compliance of police and government officials.

On the other hand, the institutional stabilization of Balkan states gave inquirers more freedom in investigating those relations between politics, finance and organized crime that had lurked for years behind the official affairs of state.

Especially in Serbia, some decisions marked a firm line: the killing of Spasojevic, the disbanding of the Red Berets and the arrest of more than 10,000 criminals for a time beheaded local mafia and disclosed its relations with the army and politics. But these police operations by no means eradicated organized crime in Serbia.

In the Western Balkans, organized crime survived by changing its shape and methods- just as the Italian mafia had been forced to do during the 1990s. In Italy, the capos came to understand that public bombings and audacious killings in broad daylight could have a boomerang effect: these acts ended up arousing public anger, and brought increased attention from the police. This unwanted visibility in turn made doing deals more difficult, forced potential allies to become enemies, and increased the chances of being prosecuted before an approving public.

The last major act related to the old kind of mafia behavior in the Western Balkans happened in Croatia in 2008, an act that also represents in many ways a turning point: the killing of the Croatian journalist Ivo Pukanić, murdered by a bomb in the very center of Zagreb.

In less than six months, Serbian police arrested the supposed perpetrators: their leader was Sreten Jočić, a.k.a ‘Joca Amsterdam,’ a businessman and alleged kingpin of drug smuggling. Police accused him of having received 1.5 million euros from unknown parties to kill the journalist. Once arrested, Joca claimed innocence, accusing the “high spheres” of Balkan governments of using him as a scapegoat to cover up for the alleged deeper connections between politics and criminal organizations.

The trial in Belgrade is going on now, and it has already featured some “coupes de theater.” The suspect behind the murder, Serbian (but Geneva-based) businessman Stanko Subotic or ‘Cane’ (one of the richest men in Eastern Europe), gave a controversial interview for the Croatian magazine Jutarnij list, in which he supported  Jočić’s claim, accusing top leaders of Serbia’s Democratic Party, such as Vojislav Kostunica’s entourage. Subotic was arrested in Russia in 2009, but will freely attend his trial and his extradition after a generous bail. However, he was not arrested for the death of Pukanic: he was actually arrested for alleged involvement in international cigarette smuggling said to have occurred back in the 1990s.

Mafia Evolution: the Switch to Low-Profile

Before exploring this subject further, it would be wise to consider the profiles of the alleged protagonists of the “Pukanic affair”: businessmen, politicians and lawyers. The time of Arkan and Legija has passed: if we are looking for the prototype of the current mafia leaders in the Balkans, we should not seek warlords who built their fortune conducting massacres and robbery during the conflict in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

In those countries where changes at the top made contacts with power more and more difficult, mafia survived submerging in the society, trying to become “invisible,” to gain freedom for its trafficking operations. This is why the Zemun clan survives still today, and is still able to act beyond Serbian territory- as was quite possibly attested in the spectacular 2009 Vastberga helicopter robbery in Sweden – in which armed men used a stolen helicopter and decoy explosives to drop down on top of a cash depot and make off with some $5.3 million.

If Serbian Interior Minister Dačić (who gave testimony for an Associate Press interview in 2009) is to be believed, the clan was behind the Stockholm job. The daring, Hollywood-style operation unfolded with military-style precision, and involved a number of participants involved with everything from acquiring SIM cards, explosives and machine guns to staging a traffic accident and placing false bombs by police helicopters to thwart a response, as a detailed report from Sweden’s ‘The Local’ explains.

According to this article, seven of the 10 men charged (several, Serbian) were found guilty after the heist. It also came out the Serbian intelligence had warned their Swedish counterparts several weeks earlier that plans for a major criminal operation were in the works.

Balkan Leaders under Scrutiny

In December 2010, two important news stories broke that can help explain the current situation in the region. On 14 December, Swiss member of the Council of Europe Dick Marty presented a CoE report claiming to prove that Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, had been the head of a human organs traffic web during the 1998-99 war while a top figure in the KLA. Although Marty lacks investigative powers and the document was – as expected – denounced roundly by the Albanians, it did come after the revelations were initially made in the memoirs of Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor at the Hague Tribunal. While Thaci remained in his position, the accusations have created new diplomatic tensions and sparked demands (especially, from Belgrade) for a full investigation.

A week later, on 21 December, something much quieter but perhaps more significant happened: Milo Đukanović resigned as prime minister of Montenegro. Many observers attested that Đukanović had been quietly forced to do so, because of international pressure over long-standing cigarette-smuggling allegations. However, a trial against him had concluded in 2009 because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity (the documents surrounding the investigation have been published, in Italian). However, according to the prosecutor, Giuseppe Scelsi, the participation of the then-Montenegrin president in the affair was clear.

In the lengthy Italian investigation, two names repeatedly appeared: that of Subotic, and that of Brano Micunović, the alleged leader of the “Belgrade faction” of this new criminal organization based in Montenegro. By the end of the inquiry, the Italian weekly, Espresso, reported that the Office of the Prosecutor in Naples and Bari had put together 4,000 pages of evidence against them, including recorded conversations and testimonies.

While institutional stabilization, enforcement of police and international cooperation led to new arrests in Serbia and in Croatia, the center of mafia trade in the Balkans moved to more quiet and disposable countries, like Kosovo and Montenegro.

However, the curtain hanging over these two countries is just starting to be lifted. The tiny Dinaric Republic, after being the center of tobacco smuggling during the war years, became well known before its independence in 2006 as a transit hub for cocaine and heroin, a free space for a new kind of organized criminals able to use the state machine and public finance in order to launder money acquired from human and drug trafficking.

Major Operations Begin: The DEA Steps In

This new wave of Balkan mafia was the target of a recent investigation by the American DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), which began in 2009 in cooperation with local police and intelligence services from several countries (but mainly those of Greece and Serbia). Its codename was, ironically, “Guerrieros balcanicos” (“Balkan Warrior”), a name that stressed the connection between the mafia warlords of the nineties and the mafia managers of the following decade.

In an unprecedented (and once unthinkable) joint operation, the DEA and Serbian intelligence (BIA) confiscated 2.8 tons of cocaine in international waters off of South America, on October 17, 2009. The drugs had a street value of $170 million. According to the Financial Times, the operation also involved the Argentine and Uruguayan police. Nevertheless, “the gangsters allegedly in charge of the shipment came from Serbia and its coastal neighbour, Montenegro.”

Serbia’s cooperation in reining in a vast criminal enterprise based in the Balkans earned praise from its American counterparts. “The Serbian authorities did an outstanding job,” stated Russ Benson, DEA regional director for Europe and West Africa.” He further noted that continuing investigations would focus on “several major Balkan-based organisations with connections to numerous countries… while the Balkan area is used as a significant path for cocaine importation, shipments could be acquired by those groups and go directly into the EU.”

This historic joint investigation highlighted the existence of a vast international drug smuggling ring, with its operations leading from Uruguay to the Balkans. Media reports claimed that it was directed by members of the Zemun clan: as reported by B92 on 21 January 2010, the DEA identified two ‘hot’ names at the top of the pyramid: Darko Šarić, a Montenegrin-born Serbian businessmen alleged to be well connected with the Montenegrin government, and Goran Sokovic, who was arrested by the police on February 9, 2010 in Pljevlja in the north of Montenegro- the hometown of both men.

Immediately after the operation, however, Belgrade was stand-offish: “…suspecting Montenegrin state collusion with the Saric network,” reported the Financial Times. Serbian prosecutors “refused to share their files with the neighbouring state during the investigative phase…. ‘Delivering the evidence at this stage could jeopardise our work,’” stated Miljko Radisavljevic, Serbia’s chief prosecutor for organised crime. Fears that political protection for the suspect from the highest levels in Montenegro could scupper the whole investigation motivated this reticence.

Citing the Serbian interior minister, the Financial Times report stated that “Mr Saric’s group has earned an estimated €1 billion from cocaine trafficking since 2000,” with a similar amount of money having been laundered by all of Serbia’s crime syndicates. The Šarić group was claimed to have owned approximately €100 million in assets, particularly in real estate and cars, seized by the Serbian government after the anti-narcotics operation.

Serbian concerns over political influence in the case appeared to be quite legitimate, as things turned out. Sokovic was released in December 2010, after the Montenegro state prosecutor decided that there was not enough evidence to prosecute them. Đukanović – then still prime minister – commented that since the Montenegrin constitution forbids the extradition of a citizen of the country, he agreed with the decision of the prosecutor. Monitor reported also that Darko Šarić, who had been born in Pljevlja, requested Montenegrin citizenship just a few days before receiving the international arrest warrant. Đukanović then said, in an interview for B92, that there were no reasons to refuse his request (though he had previously sought Serbian citizenship at the time Montenegro became independent in 2006).

Something weird seemed to be happening in this small Balkan country: not only did a chief of state support the freedom of an internationally wanted fugitive, but also suggested a possible safe place for him to hide.

In approaching this matter, the first question that must be posed is an historical one: how did the Balkan mafia, in the period between 2003 and 2011, become one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Europe, growing strong enough to control routes between Europe and South America, and to warrant the intense attention, and ultimately a crackdown, from the world’s most powerful anti-narcotics service, the American DEA?

To answer these questions, we must return to the other side of the Adriatic, and see what happened to Italian organized crime in the meanwhile.

The Fragmentation of Italian Organized Crime and a New Alliance

The profile of Italian organized crime, as has been mentioned, changed during the 1990s, following a trend that has been witnessed during the following decade, in the practice of Balkan mafia groups. Yet first we have to specify what is meant by the general terms “Italian mafia” or “Italian organized crime.”

In Italy, organized crime syndicates are divided into at least four major organizations: the Sicilian Mafia (or “Cosa Nostra,” meaning ‘our thing’), the Neapolitan Camorra, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita.

Descriptions of the divisions and the relations between these four organizations can be found in periodical reports issued by the Italian DIA (Department of Anti-mafia Investigations). Twenty years ago, the Sicilian mafia found itself being challenged for control of drug routes to the United States by newcomers like the Chinese, Vietnamese and Puerto Rican smugglers. The mafia thus made an operative deal with the Camorra, a group from Naples, by “subcontracting” to them the distribution of heroin and cocaine in Italy. Both groups maintained their independence and their features, but shared their market.

Trying to defend their interests and to find new routes for drug supply, the Camorra became one of the principal interlocutors of the Serbo-Montenegrin mafia during the nineties. But they were not the only ones. Sacra Corona Unita emerged in the 1980s, when many Mafia and Camorra bosses were jailed in Apulian prisons. Because of this, many Apulian clan leaders in the early 1990s acquired the permission and the necessary know-how to conduct smuggling of cigarettes across the Adriatic.

This cooperation went forward, enforced by the contemporaneous fragmentation or “flaking” of the Italian Mafia, as a consequence of the police’s beheading of Mafia and Camorra leaders. Arrests, stricter laws and better international collaboration complicated the job for Italian organized crime. It needed allies, and found them in the criminal organizations and in some cases the governments of young Balkan states: tobacco smuggling showed the potential of the eastern shores of the Adriatic to become, for both the Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita, an area of growth and expansion.

This agreement allowed criminal organizations to participate side-by-side in trafficking and other activities in various countries and continents, acting just like an international corporation. This was a structure originally used by the classic predecessor, the Sicilian-American Mafia: a well-organized, effective and bureaucratic organization capable of handle drug supplies from South America, but also highly complex money laundering schemes in Switzerland and northern Italy.

This new kind of transnational mafia reunited Italian groups, and brought them together into (what is called in the DEA report) a “Balkan Holy Alliance.” It put the routes of cocaine distribution in Europe and the contacts with Colombian narcotics producers into the hand of Serbian and Montenegrin clans.

As reported in a recent briefing by the Italian strategic publication “Osservatorio Italiano,” the contacts between Serbia and South America are currently being guaranteed by the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta: the same DEA report states that this trafficking ring enjoys a turnover of 25-30 million euros per year, and could even become a serious threat to the stability of the European Union.

The Italian magazine Narcomafie has already shown, in an article dated 18 November 2010, how deep the tentacles of this new organization extend. Bigger Italian towns like Milan provide the proof: Michele Rinella, an anti-drug police official who followed the case, said that Serbian and Montenegrin mafia men “appeared almost suddenly on the scene… and act without any trouble because they guarantee to the entire [group] to get their money without conflicts between clans.”

Here, then, is the golden rule of Balkan mafia: to give back to every link in the chain the portion that each deserves.

Following the Money

The late Italian judge Giovanni Falcone was the first, together with his colleague Paolo Borsellino, to identify the Mafia as a widespread structure, an entity well-connected in politics, finance and economy. Unlike the Mafia of old, the new Mafia disappears, hides in the neighboring society, and exploits laws and rules to cover its tracks, counting on lawyers and complaisant bank directors to serve its purposes. To untie its knots, inquirers have one principal and time-tested method: follow the money.

Indeed, this slogan applies well for any investigations concerning Mafia relations across the Adriatic. In 2009 and 2010, two operations by Italian police hit this trafficking network between Italy and Montenegro; the first one, labeled “Domino,” led to the arrest of 83 people, including the Sacra Corona Unita boss Savino Parisi.

Milan was the center of a joint-venture between Parisi’s clan and the Serbo-Montenegrin ones, as reported in Narcomafie on 16 November 2010: the “Balkan Holy Alliance” administrates the routes along with Colombian narco-producers and provides Italian clans with drugs to be distributed on the territory.

Last year, the conjunct operation “Scacco Matto” (“checkmate”) carried out between Italian, Slovenian, Serbian, and Montenegrin police led to the arrest of Duško Micunović, a Montenegrin citizen from Niksic, whose brother Brano is considered by many to be the leading figure of the Montenegrin mafia. Duško Micunović was alleged to have been at the top of an organization operating from the two opposite shores of the Adriatic – Bari and Bar – with many branches in Italy, Switzerland and Sweden. He was arrested in February 2010 and extradited to Italy on 21 October 2010. Over the same days, Darko Šarić ‘s brother, Duško, was arrested in Montenegro on charges of being part of this trafficking operation.

The Montenegrin daily Dan, citing police sources, reported that this arrest was related to the recent visit of Italian Anti-Mafia chief prosecutor Pietro Grasso to the country, a visit apparently related to Operation Checkmate. But the knot is far from being untangled, if we can believe the article from Monitor which describes the country as a “Mafia hostage,” while denouncing a persisting lack of assistance from the national authorities.

The goal of gaining membership in the EU pushed Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia ahead in fighting criminal organizations, as underlined by the successful cooperation with the DEA during Operation Balkan Warrior. But in Montenegro this operation is just in its beginning stages: indeed, right up until a few days before the international arrest warrant against Darko Šarić was issued, the man was completely unknown, nothing more than a businessman with some companies spread between Serbia and Montenegro, and sound relations with politics and finance. Only after the confiscation of his assets, when Operation Balkan Warrior landed, effectively, in the Balkans were inquirers able to get more information about the man and his endless fortune.

On 30 September 2010, B92 reported on an Austrian police investigation of a Montenegrin bank, the Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA), which has been accused of laundering around 100 million euros belonging to Šarić, during the three-year period between 2007 and 2009.

However, the HGAA has also come up somewhere else: it was one of the banks recently nationalized in Montenegro, to avoid bankruptcy. Together with the Prva Banka, a credit institution which has played a major role in the Montenegro economy since the 1990s and is now involved in many project in cooperation with Italian firms, the HGAA is now under the control of Aco Đukanović- brother of the former Montenegrin president.

Following the money, the road thus ends on the doorsteps of very significant people in Montenegro. And this brings up again the question of Đukanović’s resignation- was it perhaps the cost of exchange for the European Union to open its gates to Montenegro? And was it perhaps not by chance that the country received EU candidate status just a few days before his resignation?

But what should we expect about the trial which has been suspended thanks to diplomatic immunity? Maybe it will start again- or maybe, just maybe, was its conclusion part of the deal that lead Đukanović to resign? Only time will tell.

Spanish Operation Uncovers the Brazilian Aspect of Balkan Narcotics Smuggling

So far do the Balkan criminal groups’ tentacles extend that even the massive, multinational police operations – Balkan Warrior in 2009 and Operation Checkmate the following year – could not sever them for long. On 6 May 2011, the Brazilian police announced that they had arrested 17 people over the previous days- most of them Serbs, and internationally wanted already. The men were allegedly managing a drug smuggling network from Brazil to Europe, with an estimated turnover of around 850,000 euros.

Their alleged leader, who was one of those arrested, was Goran Nesic, alias ‘Ciga;’ the Bulgarian online media Focus reported on this case, adding that Nesic was believed to be the boss of cocaine smuggling towards the UK market. On the very same day, Serbian interior Minister Dacic said that the police were not sure yet whether Nesic belonged to Šarić’s group, reported ADN Kronos. But at very least, the location of activity, illicit trade in question and provenance of the ringleaders indicates that the South American connection with the Serbian/Montenegrin groups is alive and well.
Human Trafficking: the Next Point of Contact?

In Montenegro, the change at the top – Đukanović has been substituted as Prime Minister by his former finance minister, Igor Luksić – may, or may not, lead to stronger international collaboration, and help to control the routes of human and drug traffic across the Adriatic Sea.

The urgency of this issue has been exacerbated by recent events that just a year ago seemed improbable, or even impossible to imagine: revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, a civil war in Libya, violent uprisings in Syria and Yemen and unrest elsewhere throughout the Middle East and Gulf. These events taken together are deeply influencing the stability of the larger Mediterranean-Balkan region, and Europe still does not have answers for it- perhaps, because the scope and nature of the question it must resolve is still not completely known.

For now, it is difficult to forecast what influence the new multinational policing cooperation, or the leadership re-evaluations in the Balkans, may have on the Italo-Balkan crime route in terms of human trafficking. But there are indications that this observers should be aware of its potential.

Recent investigations in Italy (reported in many Italian publications) showed the involvement of Sicilian mafia clans with boat captains that ferry migrants from conflict zones in North Africa to Europe, usually in exchange for large sums of money.

Taking control of “human routes” towards Italy and Schengen countries could give the mafia alliance between Italy and the Balkans great power and, ironically, even a role in conditioning public policies in the EU. While European countries promote laws against immigration (and recently President Barroso mentioned the possibility of “blocking” Schengen access in some cases), immigration has become a business in itself, and maybe a way to divert attention from other – and more profitable – forms of trafficking, such as money laundering and drugs.

From the Italian perspective, this can clearly be acknowledged by the uproar that the arrival of barely 5,000 Tunisians on Lampedusa, a little island 30 miles away from the Tunisian coast, produced in the peninsula one month ago: it was so loud that it forced the Italian government to release special “permits of stay” for these immigrants.

Of course, many more have come and will continue to come, both those fleeing from the war in Libya and, mixed up with them, typical economic migrants: during one recent weekend, more than 1,000 migrants arrived on Lampedusa in very difficult conditions. The strain of conflict elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East and Arabian peninsula is sure to exacerbate existing migration unfluxes from Turkey into Greece and the Balkans. With an arc of instability spreading from Morocco straight across to Yemen, and Europe considered safe ground, the southeast of the continent – and those who do ‘business’ there – are clearly poised to profit.

How could this affect the Balkans? For now, this is less clear. In the 1990s, a lucrative trade emerged in smuggling migrant workers from Albania to Italy via speedboats. However, both governments cracked down on the practice and it is no longer a major concern. In the bigger geographical picture, relatively little information exists regarding any current cooperation between Italian and Balkan mafias in human trafficking across the wider Mediterranean.

However, since the Italian mafia is controlling these routes from North Africa, they will increase their profits from this trade due to the ongoing unrest in that region, and probably liaise with whatever nascent trafficking mobs develop on the African side. The latter will be necessity also have a strong armed presence/protection and as such will most likely be close with whichever military group comes to have a monopoly on power locally. And, there is always a possibility that the Italian groups can expand their cooperation with Balkan syndicates from drugs to human trafficking in these cases.

In fact, the whole regional dynamic of trafficking pattern may be undergoing a shift as well, now that Bulgaria and Romania are set to join the Schengen zone, and all Balkan countries except Kosovo enjoy visa-free travel within the EU. Recently, police in Macedonia announced the discovery of several illegal immigrants from North Africa, believed to have come via Greece, which is overwhelmed with migrants trafficked originally from Turkey. Macedonian politicians complain in public – and influential foreign diplomats back them up in private – that Greece is regularly engaged in “immigrant-dumping” by sending unwanted migrants northwards (Turkey, the ultimate source of the problem, will only repatriate those illegals who come from countries having a land border with it). Further, as Greece faces a painful and prolonged economic contraction, there are fewer and fewer jobs for immigrants who had previously sought to base themselves there. Simply put, more and more desperate people are on the move.

Thus it is possible to expect a shift from the traditional trafficking operations that transfer immigrants from Asia and Africa towards Northern and Western Europe, towards an inter-European trafficking movement of illegal immigrants that have been stuck into countries with low or even negative economic growth. Paradoxically too, the closer that Balkan countries come to joining the EU and stabilizing themselves, the more attractive they will be to immigrants as well. Should one or both such scenarios develop, it would present a great opportunity for Balkan mafia groups of various ethnicities, who have good contacts with their own diasporas and immigrant groups in every European country.

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A Sizzling Summer of Music in Belgrade

Editor’s note: The announcement that legends of rock U2 will be playing Zagreb this summer caused mass excitement; the Balkans now seem definitively on ‘the map’ of the biggest popular artists. As the weather warms up and the thoughts of all turn to enjoyment, we present something different, with a rundown of the biggest musical events in Belgrade, from cultural correspondent Milica Vuković.

By Milica Vuković

This summer’s concert happenings in Belgrade look to make for a truly inspiring and impressive lineup of international talent. Some of the world’s most prominent musicians are going to be visiting Belgrade, turning summer in the Serbian capital into an unforgettable feast of sound and performance.

The biggest draw by far is certainly going to be Madonna’s concert, on 24th August, in a part of Novi Beograd called “Ušće” (meaning: confluence, image:). It is actually a large field which over the last few years has become an attractive performance area, mostly because of its remarkable location: it is placed on the very confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers The sound of the music will thus travel along these waterways, and be clearly heard in almost every part of the city.

Some five years ago, the very thought of Madonna coming to Belgrade occupied the realm of science fiction; this summer, however, the Serbian capital finally gets to play proud host to this world-famous pop icon. The concert in Belgrade is being organized by The State of Exit and Live Nation, and is a part of Madonna’s 2008-2009 Sticky and Sweet tour, in which is she promoting her new album Hard Candy. The concert’s special guest will be Paul Oakenfold.

Tickets for the concert are available online at and, or in person in Belgrade at Erste Bank (Birčaninova Street 37, NjegošˆÂ°eva Street 57, Radnička Street 55), or at the office of Gigstix (corner of Strahinjića Bana Street and VišˆÂ°njićeva Street 10).

The 2009 summer of music in Belgrade is going to kick off with a very different sort of show- from American heavy metal band Prong. The concert will be held on the 21st of June, in SKC (Student Cultural Centre, Kralja Milana Street, 48) and is limited to 350 visitors. Tickets for the event are available online at

A few days later, on the 26th of June, the mood mellows again with the arrival of Simply Red, who will perform high above Belgrade in the Roman fortress of Kalemegdan. Since this is said to be the band’s final world tour, the Belgrade shows presents a unique opportunity for fans who happen to be in the Balkans to enjoy their music live one last time. The concert set list is billed as a retrospective, covering Simply Red’s three-decade-long career, and will also promote the band’s new Greatest Hits album. Tickets are available online at and

The month of July will likewise be marked by plenty of prominent gigs. Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor will have a concert on the 3rd of July, as a guest performer in the Belgrade Summertime Festival. The show will take place at the city’s largest arena, the Sava Centar.

Another top musician, David Byrne, is visiting this festival too, on the 8th of July, and will be playing Belgrade for the second time. (The ex-leader of the Talking Heads had his first Belgrade concert, also at the Sava Centar, in 2002). This time he will be playing with Brian Eno, and promoting a new record titled Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. Tickets for both concerts are available in person at the Sava Centar box office (Milentija Popović Street 9) and at Bilet Servis (Republic Square 5), as well as online at

Lovers of old-school rock with a Latin twist will be energized by the arrival, on July 11, of Carlos Santana and his 10-man-band. This legend of the 1960’s San Francisco scene will be playing outdoors, in Ušće Park, as part of the Belgrade Youth Festival. Fans will no doubt be treated to an exhilarating performance, featuring a mixture of rock, salsa and jazz spiced up with Santana’s trademark artistic guitar playing. Tickets for the event are available online at

On the 23rd of July, another legend of American music will bring audiences back again to the Sava Centar: George Benson. This is the first Belgrade visit for the renowned jazz, funk and R&B musician. This concert is a part of a special program of the Summertime Festival. Information about tickets will be available online soon on George Benson’s website, as well as that of the Sava Center.

On a different note, lovers of classical music will enjoy the Belgrade Cello Fest, which will be held in early July also. Details on this annual event will be made available soon at

In August, things settle down a bit and the music is accompanied by revelry, as at the increasingly popular Belgrade Beer Fest, which will take place from 12-16 August, in Ušće. Despite its title, this is mainly a music event with various domestic and foreign performers, but at the same time also a chance for beer-lovers to sample and enjoy many different kinds of beer in an open-air setting. The festival has been held since 2003, and entry is free of charge. More information about the festival, performers and organization of the event can be found on the Belgrade Beer Festival’s official website.

Another festival, this one organized for fans of electronic music, is the Belgrade Foam Fest; it will be held in the Belgrade Arena on the 29th of August. Performances will be held on two separate stages- the Main Stage and the Sky Flash Stage. On both, prominent international and Serbian DJs will show their skills. Main-stage performers will include Sandy Rivera, David Morales, Benny Benassi, Marko Nastić and Marko Milosavljević. Tom Pooks, Tsuyoshi Suzuki, Ian F, Andrew Technique, F.Sonik, Tomy DeClerque will appear on the other stage. Tickets are available online at, and the Belgrade Arena website.

Finally, on the 12th of September, well-known trash metal band Sodom will rock the Dom omladine (hall of DOB, Makedonska Street 22). Tickets are available online, again at

One other big Belgrade cultural event should not be overlooked €šÃ„ì the traditional BELIEF Belgrade Summer Festival, which is organized by the city of Belgrade. BELEF actually combines theater performances, music and visual art. For more information and details check out the Festival website.

Enjoy the summer!