Transnational Organised Crime in the Western Balkans: effects in the region and beyond

Researchers and policy experts discuss how Western Balkans organised crime groups came to dominate the global criminal underground from North America to South Africa.

In addition to being a hotspot of organised crime itself owing to the infamous Balkan Route, over the previous decades organised crime groups from the Western Balkans region have extended their operations on a global scale. From having presence in the Americas, being heavily involved in smuggling cocaine to Europe, to the series of assassinations in South Africa linked to the Balkan criminal underground, these groups have become some of the most notorious criminal enterprises in the world. Having grown from small-scale crooks to leading distributors of drugs in the Western Hemisphere, Balkan criminal gangs manage to punch far above their weight.

This event aims to shed light on the reasons behind their success, the push and pull factors in the Balkans and the wider region that have enabled their rapid expansion and the socio-economic factors that played a major role. The violent dissolution of Yugoslavia resulted in successor states with links between the governments and organised crime, an endemic peculiarity of the Western Balkans that exists to this day. On the other hand, shared linguistic and cultural traits between the organised crime groups brought them closer together and facilitated cooperation in an environment where law enforcement agencies were unable to confront them.

We have gathered a group of academics, civil society activists and policy experts to share their views on these issues with the intention to unpack the playbook of Western Balkans organised crime groups and the reasons behind their global prominence.



This event was held on Thursday 7 October 2021.

Meet the speakers

Vanja Ćalović is Executive Director of the Montenegrin non-profit MANS. She is in charge of overall coordination of organization’s activities, which are comprised of fight against corruption and organized crime that affect Montenegro, by making governance more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens’ needs, and by stimulating citizens to take actions and exercise their rights.

Bojan Elek is a senior researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, a leading think-tank specialising in security issues in the Western Balkans. He specialises in European Union enlargement policy and Serbia’s European integration, with a special focus on monitoring reform in the rule of law and security. He is the coordinator of the Western Balkans Organized Crime Radar, a regional network of think tanks researching organised crime and monitoring government policies in this area.

Anna-Maria Getoš Kalac holds a tenured associate professorship at University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Law, where she has been conducting criminological research and teaching criminology, victimology, penology and basics of criminal law since 2006. In 2018 she has been appointed Professeur Invité at University of Lausanne’s School of Criminal Sciences, whereas in 2020 she has also been appointed Professeur Invité at Sciences Po in Paris. She has thus completed an extended research stay at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg as foreign visiting professor (09/2017-10/2019). Dr. Getoš Kalac back in 2012 initiated the Max Planck Society funded Balkan Criminology research group and has meanwhile managed to revive criminological research in Croatia and the Balkans, thereby re-focusing European criminological attention back to Southeast Europe.

Walter Kemp is Director of the Observatory of Illicit Economies in Southeastern Europe Fellow at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. He is also a Strategic Policy Adviser at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and teaches at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna. Dr Kemp has many years of experience as a senior advisor in the OSCE, was Spokesman and Speechwriter at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Vice President of the International Peace Institute. He has written extensively on organized crime, conflict prevention, inter-ethnic issues, and the OSCE.

Meet the chair

William Bartlett is Deputy Director of LSE's Research Unit on South-Eastern Europe (LSEE) at the European Institute. His research focuses on the political economy of the successor states of former Yugoslavia.

Event hashtag: #2020Visions