Reading List: Transborder Crime in the Balkans
The infamous Serbian war criminal Milan Lukic has been sentenced to life in prison by ICTY for his leading role in the crimes against humanity committed around Visegrad during the Bosnian war. Lukic evaded prosecution for many years due to his links with the same organised crime networks that financed and protected Karadzic, before a falling out led to his flight and eventual arrest in Argentina. An IWPR article provides some more background on his genocidal acts and postwar criminal ties.
In searching for more background on this, I came across this 2004 report by Marko Hajdinjak: The Root Cause of Instability in the Balkans: Ethnic Hatred or Transborder Crime? (pdf)
The 1990s were marked by the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia and a number of wars and ethnic conflicts in its successor states. This led countless experts to try to explain how and why did this happen. Three most common theories, which appeared were the theory about “ancient hatreds” between the Yugoslav nations, the theory about the political elites, who destroyed Yugoslavia to grab power in the successor states, and the theory about the total breakdown of socialist regime, which led to the outbreak of hostilities. What all these theories have in common is that they all view nationalism as the driving force behind the conflicts and that they, consequently, describe the conflicts and wars as ethnic conflicts.
This paper will argue that the root cause of instability and violence on the territory of former Yugoslavia is neither nationalism nor ethnic hatred, but crime. Specifically, what pushed former Yugoslavia into a succession of bloody wars was the symbiosis between authorities and organized crime during the process of creation of new states, which led to a permanent transformation of state/national interests into private ones, fostering the development of corrupt, non-transparent and crime-permeated societies.
Countless episodes and events, documented by numerous authors, researchers and, most importantly, the UN Commission of Experts, which compiled thousands of pages of material about the war, demonstrate that the driving force behind the destruction of Yugoslavia was not nationalism, but greed. Nationalism is a powerful force, which indeed fuels many wars, but its ability to ignite a war in the first place should be seriously questioned. In the case of Yugoslavia, nationalism was rather used as a mask under which a thorough criminalization of post-Yugoslav societies was hidden. War provided the perfect smoke screen behind which the ruling elites and the criminal underworld, hand in hand, grabbed total political and economic power in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It diverted the attention of the general public to the threat, coming from the demonised “other” (Croat, Serb, or Muslim) for as long as possible, or better said, for as long as there was something left to rob.
Despite the extreme nationalism and increased ethnic distrust, which engulfed Yugoslavia in the late 1980s, the war would not have broken out without gangs of criminals actually starting with their “kill, steal and burn” campaign. The money, made through sales of the “war booty,” sanction-breaking, arms selling, oil smuggling, extortion and racketeering in besieged cities, “taxes” and “duties” imposed on the passage of humanitarian convoys and fees collected for the evacuation of refugees were much more important to those who started and led the war than were some alleged nationalistic goals. The best proof that profit-making and not nationalism was the prime mover during the war is the fact that all warring sides extensively traded with each other throughout the war, weapons, ammunition and oil being the most common objects of trade.