The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is mandated to analyse drugs and crime situations around the world. The present report is a contribution to that objective, looking at a region stigmatised for its role in heroin trafficking, human trafficking, and other forms of organised crime. It is based on data gathered though Member States’ responses to the United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (CTS) and the United Nations Annual Reports Questionnaire (ARQ), as well as a desk review of the published literature. It is hoped its findings will assist Member States and the international community in the search for solutions to transnational crime issues.This report argues that the crime situation in South East European countries is improving. There are several possible reasons for this development. The region is ‘normalising’, as it completes the transition to democracy and market economy and as it recovers from the conflicts of recent years. This normalisation has been supported though extensive interventions to enhance cooperation on crime matters and to address deficiencies in local criminal justice systems. Equally important, many of the crime problems experienced in the Balkans are related to demand outside the region, and developments in these areas have also contributed to declining opportunities for organised crime.

Despite these improvements, there remain significant challenges ahead. The region continues to be the premiere transit zone for heroin destined for West Europe, human trafficking remains an issue, and problems persist with regard to corruption, rule of law, and judicial reform. But an objective analysis of the key indicatorsleads to the conclusion that things are getting better, and while the potential for reversals remains, it seems that an era of lawlessness is passing.

Indeed, the crime issues in South East Europe appear to be directly tied to this recent past. As in many transitionand post-conflict countries, the dividing line between criminal enterprise and legitimate commerce had become blurred and hazy. All indications are that this line is becoming firm and clear again. In time and with the appropriate international support, it is likely that the prominent role the Balkans has played in European organised crime will come to be regarded as a passing phase.

Low vulnerability to crime

Long term prospects are good because the social conditions in South East Europe are not the sort generally associated with high crime regions. In essence, the Balkans do not represent a favourable environment for crime:

– The demographic makeup does not favour the development of street crime. For most countries, only 7% to 8% of the population falls into the group at highest risk of becoming involved in common crime: males between the ages of 15 and 25. This is not likely to change in the near future. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova report some of the lowest rates of lifetime births per woman in the world (1.2). In proportion to the general population, Bulgaria has the smallest child population in Europe. Emigration of young males in search of work further reinforces this demographic profile.

31 March 2008

The full report is available here.