Fight Against Corruption: The Western Balkans in Focus

The Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI) organised the regional policy forum Fight Against Corruption: The Western Balkans in Focus on 7 April 2022 in Skopje. The Forum focused on the challenges that Western Balkan societies face in closing the institutional gaps that allow the flourishment of corruption.

The forum included a presentation of SELDI’s Corruption Monitoring System (CMS) for the period 2014-2021. Dr. Aleksandar Gerganov, Senior Analyst at the Center for Study of Democracy underlined that the anti-corruption progress achieved in the Western Balkans between the early 2000s and mid-2010s has been halted or even reversed. Self-reported involvement in corruption in the Western Balkans remains very high – 20-40% of the citizens admit to having paid some kind of a bribe. Tolerance of corruption by the general public, although declining, still ranges between 25% and 40%. The most concerning fact, revealed by the CMS however, was that the overwhelming majority of the citizens has lost hope in the feasibility of anti-corruption policy responses. This points to a deep-seated crisis in the trust in governments.

In conclusion, the representatives of the CSOs agreed that the lack of political will in implementing systemic reforms remains as a core democracy challenge. The participants called for more decisive actions, including stricter monitoring of budget spending, harsher sanctions for rule of law violations, and increased support and EU funding for those who implement successful reforms. The adoption of new laws on lobbying and on the seizure of assets, the opening of registers, the cross-border exchange of information allowing checks of asset declarations, as well as the media portrayal of victims of corruption were also among the policy recommendations voiced at the forum.

More about the Forum, including presentation and recording, is available following this link>>>.


Annual Enlargement Review on human hights of LGBTI people

ILGA-Europe (LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia) and our colleagues from the LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), have published their annual Enlargement Review, which outlines the developments in recognising and respecting the human rights of LGBTI people in each enlargement country (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey) from January to December 2021.

The annual LGBTI Enlargement Review acts as an LGBTI submission to the Enlargement Progress Reports of the European Commission. These reports are a detailed annual assessment of the state of play in each candidate country and potential candidate country, outlining what has been achieved over the last year and what remains to be achieved.

This year’s Enlargement Review is published in the context of rising Euroscepticism in the enlargement countries, as well as a significant rise of anti-gender, anti-rights and far-right groups across the region. Misinformation and discriminatory speech against LGBTI people has been spread in public discourse via national broadcasting and political processes, leading to the prevention of the development of laws and policies inclusive of LGBTI people. As a result, despite some welcome significant advancements in the preparation and drafting of legislation to protect the human rights of LGBTI people this year, much of this legislation is currently stalled.

The Annual Enlargement Review recognises that the EU accession process has been a strong driving force for change in the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people in the region, and it encourages this continued commitment by outlining the laws and policies that are still needed to ensure full and genuine protection of the human rights of LGBTI people, and by providing recommendations to each country’s authorities and to the European Union.

At ILGA-Europe, we hope to see the current legislative gaps closed, in particular regarding family rights, legal gender recognition based on self-determination, and the protection of intersex people’s human rights. With the rise in anti-gender, anti-rights and far-right groups, we renew with increased urgency our call on all countries to properly implement their anti-discrimination, hate crime and hate speech legal frameworks.

To read the report, follow this link>>>.


Illicit financial flows – the lifeblood of crime and corruption

Each year, millions of Euros of illicit financial flows (IFFs) circulate through the Western Balkans, despite significant government efforts to prevent this type of crime. The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI TOC) published the report Illicit financial flows in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. This report completes their study of illicit financial flows (IFFs) in the Western Balkans.

The focus this time is Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. IFFs are the mechanisms by which money earned illegally is transferred into and out of economies to criminal beneficiaries worldwide. Each year, large sums of money are transferred out of developing and transitioning economies. These are funds that could have been used for public and private goods: public services, investment or jobs. The whole society suffers as a result of their loss.

The recommendations from the report focus first of all on improving the visibility and data-sharing on IFFs, particularly in the financial sector and trade ‘channels’. Second, GI TOC encourage a far greater dialogue on IFFs in the region, focused on a clearer definition and with an explicit role for CSOs. Third, national IFF priorities should be agreed on, to ensure the responses are measured and meaningful, such as greater institutional information sharing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and updated AML frameworks for Montenegro and Serbia, with a particular focus on the construction sector. Fourth, the countries should also agree on and coordinate regional priorities, such as harmonization of measures to address tax evasion and a common policy to record and monitor beneficial ownership. Government anti-corruption activities need greater strength across the region. Finally, donor support for combating IFFs must be more closely aligned and coordinated to avoid duplication of effort.

The report in English is available following this link>>>.

Version in Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian is available following this link>>>.


Accompanying the report, GI TOC organises webinar on 26 Jan 2022 at 3 PM (CET). The webinar will stimulate a conversation around key issues of IFFs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia and the broader Western Balkans region. The event will feature insights from experts on the topic from the three focus countries as well as other experts on IFFs to look at the problem and effective responses to it.

To participate, register here>>>.


European Web Survey on Drugs 2021

From the EMCDDA press release

The EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) published today results of the European Web Survey on Drugs. The survey ran between March and April 2021 in 30 countries (21 EU and 9 non-EU) when many populations were under COVID-19-related lockdowns. Targeted at people aged 18 and over who have used drugs, the survey aims to improve understanding of patterns of drug use in Europe and help shape future drug policies and interventions.

Close to 50 000 adults (48.469) responded to the survey from 21 EU Member States and Switzerland. Cannabis was the drug used most, with 93% of survey respondents reporting to have used it in the previous 12 months and with little variation between countries. MDMA/ecstasy (35%), cocaine (35%) and amphetamine (28%) were the next most reported illicit substances, with the order of the three drugs varying by country. Around a third of respondents (32%) reported using more (herbal) cannabis and 42% using less MDMA/ecstasy.

The survey revealed that one fifth (20%) of the sample reported using LSD in the last year, 16% using new psychoactive substances (NPS) and 13% using ketamine. Heroin use was reported by 3% of respondents. Although the sample reporting heroin use was small, over a quarter of these respondents (26%) reported using this drug more during the period studied.

New to the 2021 round was the participation of the agency’s partners from the Western Balkans, through an EMCDDA technical assistance project (IPA7).

Over 2 000 adults (2 174) from Albania, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia responded to the survey. Most respondents (91%) reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months, followed by cocaine (38%), MDMA/ecstasy (22%) and amphetamine (20%). Again, around a third of respondents (32%) reported using more (herbal) cannabis and 34% using less MDMA/ecstasy.

Almost one in six (17%) respondents reported using NPS in the last year, while 9% reported use of LSD. Use of both heroin and methamphetamine was reported by 8% of respondents.

Home was reported as the most common setting for drug use during the period (85% of respondents in the EU-Switzerland survey and 72% in the Western Balkans), a pattern accentuated by COVID-19 lockdowns and closure of nightlife venues. Motivation for the use of different substances sheds some light on these results. The most commonly reported motivations for cannabis use were relaxation, getting high and aiding sleep, while for MDMA/ecstasy, they were its euphoric and socialising effects.


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Changes at the drugs market in the Western Balkans

To improve understanding of the impact of the pandemic and associated measures on the drug market in the Western Balkans, the European Drugs Agency (EMCDDA) published ad hoc publication Illicit drug markets and supply in the Western Balkans: Impact of COVID-19.

This report provides the main results of studies conducted using the trendspotter methodology to explore the impact of the pandemic and associated measures on the drug markets and supply in the Western Balkans.

Reported here are the findings of a rapid multidisciplinary expert opinion study to review the possible impact of COVID-19 on the operation of the drug market. The current situation is extremely dynamic.

The findings of the study should be interpreted with caution as they are based substantially on expert opinions gathered from law enforcement sources between September and October 2020, when the research was conducted. In general, very limited statistical or research data is available in the Western Balkan region on drug markets during this period. Therefore, the conclusions are necessarily preliminary and will require review as more data sources become available.

To read the report, please follow this link>>>.


A new report on flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans is a crossroads for the trafficking of many illicit commodities, and it is a geographical hub for the smuggling of migrants who are trying to enter Western Europe.

The Global initiative against transnational organised crime (GI-TOC) published a new report: “Spot Prices: Analysing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans“.

It provides a detailed overview of the prices and routes for drugs and migrants being smuggled through the Western Balkans and sheds light on the size of the profits generated and where the money is laundered.

This report contains a wealth of information gathered through field research and interviews carried out with current and former law enforcement officials, investigative journalists, researchers, local officials, migrants, drug users, and civil society representatives in the region.

There are a lot of interesting maps and visual presentations about migrant smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering. I hope you will enjoy it reading.

To read the report, follow this link>>>.


European Web Survey on Drugs 2021

The EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) launched today the European Web Survey on Drugs 2021. Targeted at people, aged 18 and over, who have used drugs, the survey aims to improve understanding of patterns of drug use in Europe and help shape future drug policies and interventions.

The voluntary, anonymous survey – one of the agency’s targeted ‘leading-edge’ monitoring methods – will run this year in 31 countries and 28 languages. As in previous years, it will be promoted nationally by the Reitox focal points and their partners, as well as through targeted social media advertisements.

In 2016, the first European Web Survey on Drugs was launched. It ran in 16 countries and more than 80 000 people participated. In 2021, this survey will run in over 30 EU and neighbouring countries!

New to this year’s round is the participation of the agency’s partners from the Western Balkans and the European Neighbourhood Policy area through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA7) and EU4Monitoring Drugs (EU4MD) projects.

The new questionnaire, which will run for six weeks, is structured in modules on: socio-demographics, drug using patterns, access to treatment, access to drugs (amounts usually bought and prices paid) and how COVID-19 has affected patterns of drug use. Its findings will contribute to the emerging knowledge base on drug-using practices in Europe and on the quantities of drugs used. This will help enhance market size estimates at national and European level and contribute to policy development more widely.

Links for your the Survey in SEE countries are BulgariaGreeceRomaniaSloveniaAlbaniaKosovo*, MontenegroNorth MacedoniaSerbia.


Bolstering resilience among civil society in the Western Balkans

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI TOC), through their Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe (SEE-Obs) and the Resilience Fund, published Stronger Together: Bolstering resilience among civil society in the Western Balkans report.

As the space for civil society appears to be shrinking in the Western Balkans, this report looks at organized crime and corruption in the region from a civil society perspective. It aims to give an overview of how civil society organizations in the Western Balkans deal with issues related to organized crime and corruption and highlights their main activities and concerns.

The GI-TOC’s experience of engaging with community actors all over the world has shown that individuals and community groups are able to build their individual and collective capacity to respond to and recover from organized crime. This report shows that courageous and committed CSOs across the Western Balkans are doing the same, but would benefit from further support to help strengthen communities’ resilience.

More about the report is available from this video

To read the report, follow this link>>>.

GI TOC shall present the report at the webinar scheduled for Friday 19 Mar 2021 at 11 AM (CET). Interpretation to Albanian, Macedonian, and Bosnian-Montenegrin-Serbian will be available during the event.

This webinar will draw together insights from civil society actors from across the Western Balkans working on organized crime and corruption and identify good practices across the region. During the 90 minute discussion we will also explore how these organizations’ resilience can be strengthened and how CSOs themselves can contribute to strengthening resilience in their communities and across the region.

Registration is required: Click here to register>>>.


Impact of COVID-19 on drug use and drug services in Western Balkans

The Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) registered the main waves of COVID-19 infections later than most of the EU countries, but containment strategies were implemented at the same time and with equal force as in the rest of Europe.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published Trendspotter briefing: Impact of COVID-19 on drug use and drug services in Western Balkans. This report provides the main results of studies conducted using the trendspotter methodology to explore the impact of the pandemic and associated measures on drug services and people who use drugs in the Western Balkan region.

DPNSEE and our member organisations contributed to the report with information and case studies from the ground.

The main findings are listed below.

  1. Use of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and cocaine was reported to have increased in some subpopulations of people who use drugs. Use of benzodiazepines in combination with opioids was among the common risk behaviours observed during the first weeks of lockdown.
  2. A number of harms were observed among marginalised and injecting drug users, who in some cases lacked resources to satisfy basic needs. Mental health problems were reported among both recreational and problem drug users.
  3. The provision of drug treatment was reduced during the first weeks of the pandemic, affecting mainly new admissions and services provided face to face.
  4. The number of people entering treatment declined between March and May 2020 in almost all countries in the Western Balkan region.
  5. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) centres and harm reduction services mainly remained operational, although under a restricted regime.
  6. The main adaptations to the new situation included use of telemedicine and a relaxation of OST distribution schemes.
  7. Personal protection measures became standard in all treatment and harm reduction facilities, and protective equipment was distributed to clients whenever possible.

The crisis highlighted the fragile position of some service providers and the reliance of harm reduction services on the support of international donors.

To read the full report, follow this link>>>.


Transnational Tentacles

From the Global Initiative webpage

While the Western Balkans is often portrayed as a hotspot of illicit activity, the region is a relatively small market for organized crime.  The big money is made elsewhere. This report shows why and how groups from the Western Balkans have become engaged in organized crime abroad, particularly in South Africa, Turkey, Australia as well as in some countries of Latin America and Western Europe.

The report shows that criminal groups from the Western Balkans operating abroad are modern, dynamic and entrepreneurial. They have demonstrated an ability to adapt and innovate and use technology to their advantage: for example, using encrypted forms of communication; exploring new routes and means of trafficking, such as ‘narco-jets’; and laundering their money through cryptocurrencies, offshore havens and into their home countries.

The report suggests that there is not a ‘Balkan Cartel’ per se, although groups from the region sometimes work with each other, and there are also instances of multi-ethnic groups.

The report calls for more effective law enforcement cooperation, tracking and seizing of assets, and the sharing of information, not least since perpetrators tend to use multiple identities. It also stresses the need to reduce demand for the goods and services provided by criminal groups from the Western Balkans.

To read the Report in various languages follow these links