The growing Albanian Mafia:
from the risk of area to the great alliaces
The Albanian criminal gangs, in their entirety, constitute one of the highest crime generating elements at the international level, combining the “traditional” characteristics – plainly manifest in the rigid internal discipline, in the clan structure, in the “endogamic closure” which increases the impermeability, the reliability and the endogenous solidity – with modern and innovative elements, such as trans-nationality, commercial imprinting and the criminogenous culture of service (1). The massive emigration to almost anywhere and the syncretic nature of Albanian crime has facilitated its establishment outside of the mother country and its integration with the local criminality, exploiting the opportunities inherent in the entire compatriot network. The close relations between Italy and Albania, both for the geographic proximity and for the political and economical cooperation in the Adriatic area, which involves the Italian military, police, economic, financial and social sectors, renders the control of the situation in Albania unavoidable. Its overall “solidity” should be verified, its criminal developments should be monitored in order to evaluate “in progress” the Albanian threat to Italy. The Albanian threat should therefore be monitored both in the Adriatic and Balkan area and along the routes colonized by trans-national groups of Albanian origin (2).
During the transformation upheaval of the entire Balkan area, after the fall of the Enver Hoxha regime, thousands of Albanian illegal emigrants headed towards the Italian coasts like the waves of an unceasing tide.
The Albanian criminal groups had skilfully handled the enormous flow, availing themselves of a regular fleet of fishing boats, rubber boats and motorboats, which seemed to swarm over the Adriatic sea. The ‘Albanian emergency’ struck Italy. The bridgehead of the penetration of the Albanian Diaspora, into the whole of Western Europe.
The first Albanian immigrants were easily noticed in the large towns for their faces of country folk, the hairstyles of the 1970’s (short in front and long behind), the low stature and, above all, their proud sullen expressions, which hid stormy temperaments.
At a distance of fifteen years, those immigrants are no longer immediately visible: due to the merit of bilateral agreements, of incessant control by Italian and Albanian forces along the Albanian and Montenegro coasts and adjacent sea areas. It is also a sign of the integration of the Albanian community into the Italian social and economic context. Legal and, above all, illegal.
The Albanian situation, still, today, characterized by a profound socio-economic and political instability, notwithstanding the institutional attempts to establish an innovatory new image adhering to modern democratic standards, has, unfortunately, favoured the evolution of organized crime and the pervasive migration of mafia-like criminal structures throughout Western Europe.
The strategic position of Albania with regard to the illegal migration flow of the Southern Balkans, heavily destabilized by the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia and by the yet unresolved claims of the fragmented ethnic groups, still primed with ominous tensions, has rendered the country a crossroads for trans-national traffic, conferring inexhaustible new ‘key’ functions on the better organized Albanian groups.
Historically, Albania has represented the diaphragm between the Arab worlds and systems (the Ottoman Empire) and the Western World and systems, often becoming the area of pragmatic and opportunist syncretism, although in a rather unstructured fashion. It is from this condition that the Albanian fragility derives, which, notwithstanding, has consolidated its national identity. Nonetheless, it does not seem to have resolved the precarious equilibriums of clans and local situations, which considerably increase the level of internal conflict and often generate incontrollable centrifugal thrusts(3).
Consequently, a contradictory picture follows which, on one side, vindicates a greater Albania, more idealistic than realistic, which includes parts of Montenegro, Serbian, Bosnia and Greek(4) territories and on the other side, shows a still persisting tribal model, which consists of the gheghi stock from the mountainous north, of Christian roots, and the toschi stock from the flat south, prevalently of Moslem religion, who are often antagonistic and excessively competitive.
Today, many characteristics are blended although essential differences remain between the rough north and the agrarian and pasture lands of the south. The coastal area, instead, seems to be more open to social and cultural integration and to trans-national business activities, so much so, that it was the first to be hit by economic and financial projects (also criminal ones)(5).
In recent times, moreover, Albania has gone through profound internal conflicts, which have often come to the surface in a very bloody manner and others, which have permeated and altered the social, political and judiciary dynamics.
The forty years of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime have deeply marked the Albanian identity in the following ways:
- isolationist: 700 thousand bunkers built by the dictator, very well represent the hyper-defensive isolation which has strongly influenced the constitutional structure based, essentially, on the autarchic system (commercial protocols were forbidden as well as joint-ventures, and commitments that were more consolidated than the mere bilateral exchange);
- independence: over time, the syndrome of “being surrounded” by stronger neighbouring nations, has developed certain psycho-social ties which have safeguarded the Albanian matrix even in the border “enclaves” and in the migration areas, postulating an incipient pan-nationalism variously exploited by the governing leaders in power up to now;
- traditionalist: regardless of the strong commercial connotation of the coast populations and, in part, those of the south, the identity code of the Kanun – orally transmitted and rarely transcribed - frequently arises to regulate tribal and inter-family conflicts in the absence (periodical) of state and judicial control of the territory. Such a “rules of the clan” model persists in some criminal environments and in the hypertrophic models often adopted in predatory crimes, in the trading end exploitation of fellow countrymen (illicit commercialization and inhuman traffic of the crime object)(6);
- opportunist: on one side Albanians show rare commercial and “service” capabilities, on the other side, they are often unable to rid themselves of the indifferent violence and hypertrophic aggressiveness, both criminal and in normal relations.
From 1985 to 1997, the attempts to innovate the administrative and socio-economic systems clashed with authoritarian attitudes of certain leaders, with the deviant use of judiciary instruments (political antagonists and opponents were arrested) and of the police apparatus (animated by currents supporting the various lobbies of power and disposed to organize itself in a praetorian manner), as well as street demonstrations (from the ’97 rebellion against Berisha, held responsible for the “financial pyramids” swindle, to the demonstrations “Nano IK – Nano go home” in the winter of 2004, against Premier Fatos Nano, considered corrupt and incapable of bringing Albania into Europe and to ensure a decent economic condition).
In fact, the internal conflicts of the Socialist Party (PSSH), in power since 1997, between Premier Fatos Nano and Ilir Meta, former Foreign Minister and former Vice Prime Minister(7), and the external contrast between Nano and the former President Sali Berisha, leader of the Democratic Party (PDSH)(8), constitute a further obstacle to the Country’s political and economical process of renovation.
The situation appears to be extremely fluid, while awaiting the results of the next July parliamentary elections.
Right up to the present day, the excessive political conflicts have impeded the go-ahead of the reform package requested by the Stabilization and Association Agreement (S.A.A.)(9), as an indispensable requisite for entry into the European Community.
Socio-economic and political situation
To day, the political situation is marked by:
- political aggressiveness which alters the electoral and party logics, often reduced to exasperating personal confrontations;
- elevated rate of corruption which is diffused within each and every layer of society and creates conditions of administrative fluidity due to the frequent removal of executives and State employees;
- scarce institutional ”effectiveness”, as the constitutional and legislation progresses do not seem to have been accepted by the community, even though, an appreciable tendency to renewal is well marked(10).
The wavering and uncertain character of the reforms, weakens and risks making the Albanian process towards modernization, very provisional.
From the economic aspect, Albania has always referred to the agricultural vocation of the inland, to the “services” capacity of the coastal zone and to the strategic position regarding criminal routes which have always guaranteed huge profits for the state coffers, (up to 20%).
In criminal activities, the Albanians demonstrate an outstanding and international business capacity, assuring conspicuous returns from abroad and participation in the more remunerative trans-national traffic; like cigarette smuggling(11), drug traffic, receiving stolen cars, the exploitation and trading in fellow-countrymen (illegal labour and prostitution).
For a long time, therefore, the criminal economy has represented a basic “item” of the economic system of the country, feeding and financing power lobbies.
Such a situation has reduced the “perception” of illegality within the bureaucratic environments and in the political and private spheres, to a point where the reversibility of habits is extremely difficult.
Moreover, the highly crime generating situation:
- has been exploited for reciprocal accusations between the opposing political line-ups;
- determines an exceptional criminal pervasion up to the top of political-institutional structures(12) ;
- favours authoritarian inclinations of the Premiers who follow, who try to manipulate consensus through a capillary client network.
To this is added the well-rooted expectations of “external” economic interventions which lead to marked psycho-social ideas of a welfare system, which is damaging to the real liberalization process and to the indigenous business initiative on a large scale.
Furthermore, the support of the international financial lobbies of Albanian origin, effects the macro–strategies of the area and carries interests from the outside, which are distinctively lobbyist.
In perspective, the situation will probably undergo a rapid improvement when, in the ambit of the trans-Europe transport (Trans-European Networks, T.E.N), with an aim to facilitate the “multi-modal” exchanges between Europe and the Balkan States, the No. 8. Corridor will be realized. It is a complex infrastructure network planned to connect the Adriatic-Ionic regions with the Balkan areas and the Black Sea countries, developing along the directions of Bari – Brindisi – Durazzo – Tirana(13) – Skopje – Sofia – Burgas and Varna.
In addition, connecting lines are foreseen with Greece, and through the No. 4. Corridor, with Turkey(14).
Last April, in Sofia, the countries of the No. 8. Corridor, constituted the Energy Common Market, intended to carry out the inter-connections of the member Countries, with the European network(15) and to actuate the progressive liberalization of this sector.
In synthesis, Albania depends economically on the international flux and on a commercial, business and financial credibility.
For this reason, Premier Fatos Nano has invited foreign businesses to choose the Albanian market, assuring them of full politico-economic and structural reliability.
SENSITIVE FACTORS OF THE
Some strategic factors render the Albanian scenario even more important for Italy, as well as, for the entire European continent.
These factors reflect “area” conditions which affect national equilibrium and the political potentialities of Tirana.
Such evolutionary and typifying elements also present peculiar critical crime-generating situations, which can favour composite forms of an “integrated threat”.
It deals with the pan-Albanian project and of the revival of the Islamic culture in a period of pervasive diffusion of extremist and integralist Moslem groups and considering the experience of Bosnia and other areas of former Yugloslavia, which effect the local order and dynamics, will constitute a necessary analytical focus to judge the phenomena and the Albanian criminal risks in their entirety.
The great Albania
The Albanian ethnic matrix is present in many areas of the Balkans. While, in Albania, Hoxha suppressed the original characteristics, imposing a personalized model of the State, elsewhere in the Balkan area, the characteristics of Albanian identity have been preserved and evolved through a positive comparison with the ‘host’ countries.
Therefore, this situation has lead to a common pan-Albanian “expectancy” on bases, however, so various and local that they have rendered the “general” and “abstract” principle, less possible in practice (also for the different concrete ends of the interested territories).
The Pan- Albanian movement consists in a project for the constitution of a single territorial entity comprising all the Albanian communities of the Balkans(16).
Such a proposition supports trans-national organizations which tend to express themselves in the name of a “Great Albania” and which have developed a paramilitary profile, represented by the Albanian National Army (AKSH), which coordinates all the irredentist movements operating in the Balkans. Its leader, Ridvan Rasiti, is on the list of the individuals considered dangerous for stability in the area; the list has been drawn by the USA and By the European Union.
Risks of conflict escalation is present mainly in Kosovo, where the question of the “final status” is, as yet, unresolved; a fact made evident by the cyclic re-awakening of ethnic clashes(17).
Finally, AKSH represents the key of different threats to the well established relations with drug trafficking organizations (with whom they share the activity) and with Islamic integralist groups which can handle their own illegal interests in the area(18).
The penetration of Islamic radicalism
The Albanian Islamic matrix derives from the incorporation of the Illyrian territories into the Ottoman empire in the XV century; although the tradition anchors the Moslem identity to the preaching of Sari Saltuk Baba, Turkish Saint Selgiuchide of the XIII century.
This preaching, in fact, was venerated by the syncretic brotherhoods of the Bektashi who had characterized the Albanian religious galaxy until the arrival of the dictatorship and which are, still today, represented and followed, although in a residual fashion.
In fact, the Bektashi groups(19),like the other sufi brotherhoods(20), reflect a moderate and “open” Islam, which had prominent political weight during the Albanian independence phases, so much so, that even Enver Hoxha was a member in his youth.
The dictator, however, mainly from 1967(21), had suppressed any kind of religious freedom, closing places of cults, among which the mosques and tekke bektashi(22), in order to:
- cut all ties with sects abroad (according to the theory of absolute isolation(23);
- Repress any emerging power lobby that could erode or manipulate the internal consensus;
With the fall of the Hoxha regime the religious persecutions ended and from 1990 the situation has become normalized, offering an opportunity to all religions, but mainly to the Islamic, Catholic and Greek-Orthodox creeds.
At the present the Islamic religion is the most diffused and in its interior the Sunnite matrix clearly prevails. Adherents to this creed, with the exception of the present Premier and of the President Moisiu, who are both Greek-Orthodox, are the majority of the political leaders, among which Berisha, the head of the democratic pole.
The picture is rendered even more complex by the growing penetration of the Islamic radicalism in the Country where, during the last decade, they have progressively installed numerous non-government organizations, financed by Arab countries, with the purpose of assisting the local populations of Moslem faith.
As is well known, some of these foundations, officially employed in humanitarian activities (sanitary assistance, education, etc) are suspected of utilizing these structures to supply logistic support to Islamic integralist groups.
The pervasive work of the NGO(24), which wish to incise in a strategic way in the social area of education and culture, seems to be oriented towards the rapid creation of the best conditions for a major adhesion to a more strictly observant Islam, putting the most integralist elements as religious catalysers.
This can also be deduced from the gradual disappearance of the moderate leaderships in the important Albanian centres in favour of groups allied to aggressive Arab positions. It can also be seen by the attempt to organize religious parties which, however, find a rigid obstacle in the present institutional prohibition.
Beside the above mentioned strategic profile, a more pragmatic and operative commitment also emerges, if it is true that in the north of the country and in Kosovo, training camps have been found, where Albanian, Libyan, Turkish and Algerian Islamic integralists are indoctrinated(25).
The Albanian Minister of Public Order, himself, has ordered a series of controls in certain areas of the Country, on some “anomalous concentrations” of Islamic associations and on their frequent visitors.
What is remarkable in this delineated framework, is the recent constitution of a new Islamic Integralist group called Al Jihad Al Djadid, probably connected to Al Qaeda, mainly composed of citizens of the following ethnic roots; Yemenite, Afghani, Moroccan, Jordanian, Azera and Malay.
The brotherhood, which has ramifications also in Greece, presumably has installed relations of collaboration with criminal organizations, also with a view to utilizing the already experimented “routes” of the illegal emigrant traffic, for the transfer of militants.
Finally, it must be noted as an element of novelty that there is a progressive placement of Kosovarian, Macedonian and Albanian citizens in the circuit of Islamic cultural centres rapidly growing on our territory(26), and in certain cases, in prominent positions.
This fact, therefore, underlines the Albanians’ abandonment of the positions of opportunistic superficiality and of religious self-reference which distinguished them up until a short time ago.
From the overall complex of the situations represented, it can be easily understood the necessity of monitoring both a possible spiral growth of a direct or indirect presence connected to Islamic integralism and possible interaction between criminality and terrorism, which would offer an unexplored and dangerous support to terrorist “carriers” right close to the heart of Europe.
THE CRIMINAL PHENOMENON
The Albanian criminal scenario is characterized by diversified criminal plans which, in their complexity, show one of the highest criminal capacities in the world.
In fact, they co-exist in mutual assistance:
The Albanian criminal scenario is characterized by diversified criminal plans which, in their complexity, show one of the highest criminal capacities in the world.
In fact, they co-exist in mutual assistance:
- Mafia type organizations, characterized by a rooted control of the territory, by systematic collusive practices and by qualified “external” projections, through which they assure the development of trans-national illicit activities. The combination of such factors, the opportunities offered by the local lawless context and the relating economic conditions of the scenario which have favoured the strategic Albanian position within the illegal Balkan flux, have rendered Albania the crossroads of the trans-national traffic and confer inexhaustible new “key” functions on the better structured Albanians groups.
The mafia type organizations are based on clan structure, families and are essentially indigenous although their distinct opportunistic vocation renders them “open” to interactions with other organizations, to the formation of functional cartels and to “network” logics, thus developing a marked service attitude;
- criminal gangs, extremely fluid and mobile on the territory, gifted with high versatility and often given to activities of service with respect to the interests of the mafia associations. These gangs are versatile, essentially predatory, ready to move on the national territory or abroad (also in Italy) with precise operative and collusive connections. They often adopt “hypertrophic” criminal attitudes, i.e. excessively violent with regard to the targets they intend to pursue;
- criminal aggregations, having transient structures and only tied by temporary and occasional opportunities to commit illegal acts. They work on the territory, both specializing in basic criminal activities, (ferrymen(27), forgers, motorboat drivers and more) and adapting rapidly to other unknown activities.
In synthesis, the Albanian criminality combines its traditional characteristics - evident in the rigid internal discipline, in the clan structure, in the ‘endogamic closure’ which increases the impermeability, the reliability and the endogenous solidity – with modern and innovative elements, such as trans-nationality, the commercial imprinting and the criminogenous culture of service.
Consequently, notwithstanding the hagiographic image of a “rural” criminality, violent and primitive presented by some observers, on the contrary, the Albanian illegal world appears well developed, efficient and effective, so much, that it acquires primary roles in the global strategies of crime.
The anamnesis of many criminals – other than those of the stereotype “ancient” mafia families, shows employment in public offices, among which the police, and close kinship with civil officials, (also in high places).
This has, sometimes, allowed the involvement between public administration personnel and criminal groups, as is demonstrated in the continuous removal of managers from important customs offices, police offices, security and politics.
The massive emigration to almost anywhere and the syncretic nature of Albanian crime has facilitated its establishment outside of the mother country and its integration with the local criminality, exploiting the opportunities inherent in the entire compatriot network.
From the structural analysis of the Albanian context, some criminal groups emerge which currently represent the ‘almanach de Gotha’ of the Albanian Mafia:
- Hasani and Shabani who, controlling the coastal area (Fier, Valona, Durazzo) and the capital Tirana have, over time, become a reference point for the other co-national crime associations. They dispose of well-rooted and qualified logistic cells in South America and in Europe (mainly in Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, and the Balkan galaxy). This has favoured their rapid competitiveness in drug trafficking, smuggling and in the trade of human beings, (including exploitation of prostitution and of illegal labour). Such groups are in strict liaison with the Colombian drug traffickers from whom they receive cocaine, thus becoming legitimate among the primary partners of the international narco-traffic. The very reliability of the role and of the dependent network have consolidated the superior position of such groups in diverse illegal business, and far beyond the national borders. The Hasani and Shabani have managed to install themselves also in Italy, where it appears they are involved in the most part of the Italian – Albanian narco-traffic;
- the Durazzo groups, criminal galaxy in “dynamic equilibrium” (between reciprocal competitiveness and opportune alliances);
- the Fier groups, capable of furnishing any type of “illegal service” also because of the extent of their pervasive collusion;
- the Tirana groups, often in contraposition with the Hasani and Shabani, with whom, however, they try to reach a coordinated agreement in order to be a part of the trans national scenario;
- the Scutari groups, who control the tested trans-national criminal routes;
- the Valona groups, who stand out for military capacity.
This “horizontal” order is able to resist the inevitable centrifugal tensions because it is oriented to the profitable management of the criminal activities, rather than, to the control of the territory.
The economic interest, in fact, is a very effective “glue” in Albania.
Furthermore, although quite flexible from a operative point of view, the groups rely on a rigid internal discipline which, frequently, resorts to severe and bloody punishments in order to minimize internal conflicts or centrifugal tensions.
The “charismatic” mark of the adopted managerial model and the family character of the clans, meet with much agreement and attracts members, thus giving major stability to the entire system.
From a functional aspect, today, the Albanians control a great part of the trans-national criminal flow and activities.
The traffic of drugs constitutes the first international criminal activity, as it requires the synergic action of different criminal matrices and the precise coordination of the numerous phases.
Albanians have proved to be particularly versatile in this sector, succeeding, in one decade, to acquire an elevated competitiveness, both in the traffic and in the management of the relative markets.
- they control the heroin flown from Turkey and supply the flourishing markets of Central and Southern Europe;
- in many European countries (mainly in Italy, Holland, Germany, Austria, France and Spain) they handle the traffic and the local distribution of heroin, often also cocaine, both autonomously and on behalf of the autochthonous organizations. This has been possible because of the presence of Albanian immigrants in the “host” countries, which allows for a strict and extended control of the local drug requests;
- they aspire to a more decisive role ( and in part, they have obtained it) in the traffic of cocaine and cannabis that can be cultivated.
It is in this way that the increasingly qualified and structured contacts with the Columbian cartels - and the attempt to produce cannabis and coca industrially - should be understood.
In addition, for the cocaine, the connection with the Columbians and the “strategic” position in the Balkan area, mainly due to the current economic difficulty of exploiting Spain as in the past – where the conflict is certainly more pressing – has rendered Albania the alternative to the Iberian solution; it has thus become the new pivot on which to organize the traffic triangle from South America to Europe.
The “hydropinic” (mineral water) cultivation of cannabis has improved the quality and quantity of the active principles, thus increasing the competitiveness in this sector(28).
Finally, also in the field of synthetic drugs, the Country of the Eagles has become the centre of storage and great traffic (European terminal) of merchandise coming from Poland and, above all, from Bulgaria.
Trade in human beings
Initially, the criminal groups had managed the macro-flows of clandestine immigrants from their areas of origin, as they arrived in their masses through a systematic and capillary network which picked-up, transported and landed them on the Italian coasts. A regular fleet of fishing boats, rubber dinghies and motor boats was used to conquer the Adriatic sea, until the coasts of Montenegro, Albania and adjacent sea stretches became “militarized”.
Such efficient management of the trade pre-supposes an extremely high territorial control for the collection of requests and for the exercising of intimidation measures (both to the emigrants themselves and to their families remaining at home) to guarantee payment of the journey; resorting, as well, to other forms of criminal activities, such as: forgery of documents, kidnapping, exploitation of prostitution and illegal labour.
In fact, the Albanian groups:
- regardless of the present decrease in the migration of compatriots and the Adriatic sea routes, still maintain a decisive role in the migrant traffic from East Europe and Asia. They, in fact, provide expertise and territorial support to foreign clans (Bengalis, Afghani, Chinese, Pakistani) offering their work as ferrymen or maritime operators in the various Balkan areas;
- are in a position to convert and manoeuvre the criminal forces from drug trafficking to smuggling and human trade, using know-how, tested routes and criminal control of entire areas;
- have bases in Montenegro, in Croatia, in Slovenia, in Serbia and, most off all, in Kosovo, epicentre of the trans national crime networks and safe refuge for wanted or investigated crime bosses;
- organize, through a web of agencies, the requests, the journey, the forged documents to enter the Shengen area. This is often done in strict connection with analogous organizations in the transit and arrival zones which, when necessary, manage the clandestine emigrants and their employment in prostitution and illegal labour;
- also handle the flow of minors, who are then compelled to beg under the control of specialized groups in this activity or they are used in even more serious criminal areas (paedophilia and trade in human organs).
The illegal land migration routes are still active. They are:
- Albania – Kosovo – Serbia – Croatia – Slovenia – Austria or Italy;
- Albania – Kosovo – Montenegro – Bosnia Erzegovina – Croatia – Italy;
- Albania – Kosovo - Serbia - Bosnia – Croatia – Slovenia – Austria or Italy.
The organizations avail themselves of commercial, business or tourist, “covers” at the connection points along the routes:
- Prizen and Pristina (Kosovo);
- Bar, Niksic and Herceg Novi (Montenegro);
- Beograd, Novi Sad, Nis and Cacak (Serbia);
- Sarajevo, Mostar, stolac, Siroki Brieg, and Velika Kladusa (Bosnia Erzegovina);
- Zagabria, Slavonsky Brod and Karlovac /Croatia);
- Ljubljana and Maribor (Slovenia).
Albanian criminal groups have a wide availability of weapons that they smuggle to Western Europe and also to Italy.
This availability derives from the looting of war materials from military deposits during the 1990’s, from connections with analogous Balkans structures and from the vulnerability of the present Albanian control systems.
In addition, such a situation, apart from the obvious danger of this availability on the international mafia market, it has a decided effect on the Albanian criminal efficacy, increasing its already “physiological” hypertrophy to such an extent that even the minor gangs have an extraordinary firing potential.
Traffic of high-powered automobiles
This phenomenon is worrying because of the volume of the traffic and the capillary network of stolen car receivers, particularly with regard to high-powered cars of elite makes.
These cars have been used also by high state officials and, through the document forging circuits and the alteration of identifying codes, continue to supply large Balkan areas.
Such traffic, which has been seen in a particularly serious light in Europe, to the point of becoming an anti-crime target of Europol, now constitutes a “sensitive” crime index due to the systematic and aggressive demand of the Albanian stolen car receiver groups.
Apart from the individual crimes committed by Albanian citizens, mostly clandestine immigrants, systematic plotting of thefts and burglaries by Albanian gangs with an extremely high level of professionalism, has been detected. These people are very mobile and uncommonly violent.
It is this very aggressiveness - too extreme for the profit gained – which raises the level of the threat and exasperates social alarm.
ALBANIAN CRIMINALITY IN
The geographic vicinity, the accessibility to the E.U. through Italy, and the ties with the Calabrian and Apulia criminality have all contributed to the expansion of the Albanian criminality on the Italian scenario.
Further factors relative to the economy have rendered the Albanian criminality even more competitive. In fact, some organizations which reached Italy in the early 1990’s, infiltrated the Lombardy narco-traffic network run by the ‘ndrangheta’(29).
The ‘chopping’ of some important Milanese limbs has determined the growth of the dependent Albanian groups, which have “capitalized” the Calabrian experiences and have acquired autonomous profiles of competence and reliability.
This happened when the storage and transportation of goods, until relations with the Turkish “groups” had been finalized, was unanimously entrusted to the Albanian groups in Europe and the Countries of the Balkan route.
Today, it appears that the top groups have reached such a trans-national profile and such a widespread rooting in the West so as to reduce their concentration and visibility in our Country, which, once, had made Italy the epicentre of Albanian expansion.
Some leaders and the more organized groups have reached stable agreements with the Italian criminal organizations, also with the mafia, so have gained legitimacy in many illegal circuits, diversifying their activities to avoid reasons of conflict with similar host structures. So, Albanian drug trafficking has emerged in Apulia, Sicily, Calabria and Campania.
Information and investigation evidence have brought to light how Albanian criminality operating in Italy, also thanks to a distinct propensity to the use of violence, has reached absolute prominence in some sectors, sometimes replacing local criminal associations.
The main crime activities handled by the Albanian criminality, besides the sectors previously mentioned, are:
- illegal immigration and trade of human beings, which, with regard to the national territory, constitutes a still relevant phenomenon although over these last years, a drastic decrease has been detected. This has been achieved also thanks to bilateral agreements between the two countries, which foresee technical assistance and personnel training programmes, together with joint vigilance at sea, using Italian naval units also in Albanian territorial waters. The Albanian authorities in virtue of these agreements, will re-admit into Albania, even those compatriots without documents;
- arms traffic, mostly stolen from military deposits, which supply criminal groups in North Italy and some Calabrian and Campania gangs;
- automobile traffic – high powered, elite makes, stolen in Italy and transported to Albania(30).
As for the recycling (by the Albanian criminal organizations) of the enormous profits deriving principally from drug trafficking, the exploitation of prostitution and from the trade in human beings, it appears, from coinciding information, that these profits are invested in real estate and tourist hotels in Albania.
Initially, for obvious geographical reasons, the first region to be permeated by the Albanian criminality was Apulia and, in particular, Salento. Here, over the last few years, after the installation of the new criminal markets, the first being the trade of human beings, deep changes have been recorded in the local criminality, which could not disregard the enormous profit opportunities connected to the new situation.
In particular, on the one hand, profitable relations have been established between the Apulia delinquency and the Albanian criminality(31), on the other, Albanian ethnic groups had occupied Salentine territory with the consequences that they have remained rooted in that area.
Subsequently, Albanian groups have taken firm possession of the remaining part of the Adriatic Riviera and of the entire Central and Northern Italy, particularly in Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, and Emilia Romagna, besides Campania and Calabria, thanks to agreements taken with the local organizations, such as the Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta and, to a lesser extent (but still a novelty), Cosa nostra.
- in Liguria and Piedmont the Albanian criminality has obtained a prominent position because of their ability to coordinate themselves with Italian and foreign organizations, in particular, those of North African, (not always peacefully) which were already operating in the area and were dedicated mostly to the exploitation of prostitution and drug traffic, especially cocaine, hashish and marijuana. In perspective, given the demonstrated ability to blend with the local criminal context, the Albanian underworld could achieve a hegemonic position in the management of the following business;
- in Lombardy the Albanian crime organizations have control of the heroine market coming from Turkey and from East Asia. They have close connections with the Turkish criminality which handles the production and exportation of the drugs. Today, they are also competing for the cocaine traffic, thanks to the support of the Calabrian clans which have re-established their old primacy in this sector;
- in Triveneto, the Albanian criminality, as in all the regions that record their presence, are dedicated, prevalently, to the exploitation of prostitution and the drug traffic, particularly, the so-called ‘light’ variety. They occupy positions of absolute supremacy in this sector, even with respect to the local criminality. Moreover, given the vicinity of the State border, they are deeply involved in illegal migration, which they feed with the constant introduction, through ‘ferrymen’ of small groups of immigrants;
- in Emilia, the Albanian crime societies are in touch, mostly in the Riviera zone, with elements of Sicilian and Calabrian origins with whom they constitute joint ventures in drug trafficking. Bands of Slav-Albanians take care of the exploitation of prostitution and systematic robberies;
- in Campania, the camorra, which had initially opposed the presence of Albanians, subsequently came to an agreement: giving the minor criminal activities like the sale of drugs and the exploitation of prostitution to the Albanians;
- in Sicily, there is an ever-creasing readiness by the Albanian gangs to supply local illegal markets, not only those of Ragusa and Catania, but also those of Palermo, always, however, in strict collaboration with the dominating families of the territory.
In conclusion, therefore; the Albanian criminal activities have sprung up like an epidemic throughout the length and breadth of Italy.
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE FUTURE
Albanian criminality is a primary threat for Italy although such an assertion deserves a deeper analysis.
Many observers in the field see the Albanian criminal presence in Italy more as a “tactical” diffusion than as a “strategic” one: to the point that we see, on the one side, a deceitful expression of the Albanian Mafia – often eccentric with respect to Italy, but of a high trans-national level and, on the other side, we see a gradual tolerance from the general public towards the frequency of robberies, drug trafficking and the exploitation of prostitution, which is always more integrated with Italian elements(32) .
The complexity of the Albanian matrix has imposed and still imposes, in the informative research phase, the discovery of the different Albanian criminal plans, then, to divide the different components and trace individual pictures of foreseeable risks, focussing the internal contact points with those external, in order to avoid making damaging generalizations.
In such a way, they can be analytically circumscribed:
- the mafia families which have the necessary wealth and the political and economic support in the area of origin, to qualify on the international crime scene, both from the operative aspect (flexibility of illegal services, legitimacy in trans-national partnerships), and from the financial aspect (money recycling - also in the area of origin), these families, in fact, though submitted to latent and wearing internal competition conflicts, have an appreciable “vitality”, sufficient to project, in time, their “strategic weight “ and increase exponentially and in an integrated way, their trans-national potential.
- furthermore, the very mafia groups and the “differentiated” alchemies of the Albanian context are conducive to rendering ‘sensitive’ that area which is the connection point of multiform criminal transportation. A model which is constituted thus, (circular, multi-dimensional and pervasive) corresponds, in a competitive way, to the needs of the globalized criminal method because it is based on a network system, on “open” service logic and on selective forms of “functional” control of the territory (crime generating connection points), thus beginning to “repeat” the experiences of the Italian mafia, above all, the ‘ndrangheta, with which, moreover, they have privileged relations;
- the Albanian gangs, which are competitive more for their diffusive nature and for the organizational and operative hypertrophy, than for the qualitative level of the risk. However, it is to them that the “perception of the threat” is linked and the consequent “social alarm”(33) because this criminal network seems to have reached total national extension and specifically effective agreements with autochthonous crime. It is believed that in this dimension, intrinsically aggressive and excessively “open” (responding to the most varied “desires” of the market, often concentrating diffused and various interests), one can “put into context” the different thematic matrices of the threat. Such as supporting integralist requests(34) , the illegal immigrants trade, prostitution, narcotics traffic, predatory crimes and the traffic of weapons. Their “polka dot” and “reciprocal assistance” nature extends the net of their operations and renders it “tactic” and easily “used as an instrument” to serve the ends of more “strategic” actors. A tracing of their interests and flows could have the further merit of “foreseeing” non-original projects and therefore, pertaining to a superior level;
- the diffused criminality, which pervades ample crime generating areas due to failed integration and subsequent isolation. Scholastically understood as a unitary phenomenon, in reality, it represents a densely spread effect of crime factors, which can severely weaken a social context, making it permeable to further unlawful variables.
Connections between the above mentioned different crime levels, transmit experiences and relations which increase, both the evolutionary possibilities of the groups, and the danger of the entire deviant Albanian system. Furthermore, the evolution of the Albanian crime could influence the future possible order of the Balkans, which, in its turn, would be influenced by the consequent crime opportunities offered by that whole trans-national market.
This is sharpened by the Albanian criminal “vitality” that has a considerable socio-economic weight and is at the present in a condition to handle “important” criminal flows (from trade to recycling), to the point of being able to solicit, support and exploit sensitive situations of lawlessness.
The Albanian situation, therefore, - being an “advanced frontier” and an osmotic borderline of serious international trafficking - represents a primary intelligence target. Furthermore, the widening of the E.U. implies the addition of new territories, some of which are Balkan, therefore offering Crime a wider opportunity to penetrate the European borders.
Albania and Kosovo assume, therefore, a stigma of “crime generating” non- EU enclaves, which could steadily increase the concentration of illegal business bound for the European borders.
This would involve the upgrading of the Albanian macro-criminal level through significant connections with the international Mafia lobbies, among which are those of the Italians.
- would help also medium-level gangs which would be generally assisted and supported on the territory;
- could be tolerated and urged by the Italian criminality, which could obtain benefits;
- would increase the critical position of other ethnic matrices with which it is in competition(35). The micro-criminality will be always less self-reliant and would constitute the basis of a diffused criminal integration (jails, moreover, can be areas of exchange and reciprocal relations).
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE
The definition of the “context” and of the operative dynamics, allows us to bring into focus the two principal risk factors:
- the Albanian network can make up for momentary défaillance of the national mafias, ensuring the trans-national continuity of illicit business (of which Italy is no longer the epicentre although it constitutes an important part);
- “Induced” Islamization" in Albania, expressed in the more aggressive and integralist profiles (financing the Saudi ONG, crushing competition towards other religions in the areas of education and economy, leadership of the salafiti to the damage of the sufi), could transfer to Italy, in the near future, more markedly “fundamentalist” interests(36).
In short, to a well known but “fluid” threat, such as the Albanian one, corresponds a variable risk according to the conditions of the “context”, which could imply different and insidious threats.
(1) ) From a careful comparative analysis, characteristics similar to the ‘ndrangheta’ are shown, from a structural viewpoint – and to the Apulia criminality, from a functional viewpoint.
(2) ) In fact, Italy, both directly and through E.U. and U.N. plans, has destined huge resources to Albania with the double objective of reducing the clandestine immigration to Italy by eliminating the economic reasons and strenghtening defence and national security against the growing Balkan threats. The agreements established with Albania also represent a defence with respect to the criminal situation of the entire South Balkan area.
(3) Although Albania tries to render the image of a modern matured state, nevertheless, it is still hindered by the typical “Balkan restlessness” which causes international diffidence.
(4) North Epiro.
(5) The diversified commercial and criminal routes which intersect Albania convey services and interests which consent a generalized evolution of the local economical materials legal and illicit .
(6) It emerges clearly in the concept of ‘all things can be reduced to disposable goods’ (commerce of wives, children and goods. Logic of differentiated indemnity, concepts of violent vendetta inter-clan privileges.
(7) Following criticism of his government actions by the Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, on the 18th July, 2003, Meta resigned from his institutional duties. In September, 2004, he joined with other political exiles from the PSSH and formed a new party, the “Socialist Movement for Integration” as a reformist alternative to the mother formation: in this way, making the Government lose the parliamentary majority.
(8) According to what was publicly declared by Berisha, the Democratic Party was the first party in Albania in the Regionals of 2003. For this reason, he had solicited a large mass demonstration (NANO IK) to provoke the resignation of Prime Minister Nano. It failed. Subsequently, Berisha concentrated on the renewal of the party and on the requests for the revision of the electoral laws.
(9) Provides a gradual adjustment to the European legislation, identifying , in particular, four requisites of priority: consolidation of the democracy (with special reference to a correct running of the elections, in line with the international standards), recovery of the legality, fight against fraud, corruption and organized crime, guardianship of economic stability and social progress. The EU provides to sustain the Country with a help programme during the process of adjustment to the Agreement (so-called Cards), organized by the Albanian Reconstruction Equity Fund (AREF), which disposes of an endowment of 14 million USD, to be utilized over ten years, starting from 1998.
(10) In 1994, Albania adopted a civil code on the Italian model; in 1995, it adopted a criminal code more sensitive to personal guarantees, such as the liberty of expression and the right of defence. Moreover, in 1998, following a popular referendum, it chose a system of civil law of a constitution profile, which is more modern, efficacy and “secular”.
(11) Since the time of Hoxha, the activities connected with smuggling have constituted an appreciable revenue.
(12) Above all, the phenomenon regards the executives heads of Customs, Harbours and Police, alternatively: often following “scandals” of “investigations conducted by foreign magistracies”.
(13) In March, the construction was begun of the new road which will unite the Montenegro capital, Podgorica with the Albanian one, in its turn, recently connected to Scutari by a super-highway.
(14) Although there does exists a “sceptical” group which would like to revitalize the network of the so-called Egnatia road.
(15) Recently, in this ambit, the inter-connection between Bulgaria, Macedonia , Albania and Apulia, has been discussed.
(16) Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro and Greece. In this last case, an old question on North Epiro has resurfaced, which has constituted one of the priorities of the Albanian Intelligence, in recent years, and has rendered relations with Greece very difficult .This situation, from some aspects, is similar to the critical situation of “Sangiaccato”.
(17) Responsibility for which, according to Fatos Nano, should be ascribed to “parallel administrative and military structures, which increase the ethnic isolation and/or urge the division from Kosovo”.
(18) It is not by coincidence that some leaders of groups trafficking in migrants, discovered to be truly connected with Islamic environments, attempt to escape from contrast action by hiding in Kosovo.
(19) For the most part diffused in the south of the Country, between Valona, Permet, Erseke and Leskovik.
(20) Halvetiyya, Kadiriyya, Rifaìiyya, Saìdyya, Tijaniyya .
(21) Up until 1967, Albania had formed privileged relations with China, absorbing revolutionary Maoisti models, yet subsequently abandoning them.
(22) The Articles 37 and 55 of the Albanian Criminal Code very seriously sanctioned, even with capital punishment, any form of religious promotion.
(23) The Bektashi groups had solid ramifications in Greece and Turkey.
(24) “The Non-government Organizations” constitute the socio-political and economic pivot of manoeuvre through which many states, international lobbies and religious structures try to “occupy” the host territory. At the present time, the major part of these NGO have transferred to Kosovo, delegating, however, the management of their activities to Albanian citizens who have undertaken their studies in Arab countries.
(25) Such situations considerably increase the risk , both of the rooting of logistic terrorist structures and of possible demonstrative acts on the spot, against western interests.
(26) From 127 in 1996 to 563 in 2004.
(27) The figure of the “passeur” has recovered its centre position, also in consideration of the over-land routes which presupposes the employment of experts in trans-frontier traffic.
(28) The central position assumed by Albania per all types of drugs has also permitted forms of barter and compensation through which the Albanians can variously and “strategically” be present on the international market, expanding, from time to time, in more remunerative directions.
(29) Lombardy constitutes the international connection point and national springboard for the traffic of cocaine from South America and heroine from Turkey.
(30) Prevalently in Lombardy. Liguria, Tuscany and Lazio.
(31) Many fugitives from justice have elected their criminal place of residence first, in Albania, then in Montenegro and, subsequently, in Greece, from where they can provide for the ‘on the spot’ management of smuggling an/or other illegal services.
(32) With respect to the 90’s, one can detect a minor perception of public alarm regarding the Albanian criminality.
(33) Which, however, remains a police problem, which could be resolved by a qualitative increase of territorial control and a better perception of security.
(34) Above all, in the logistic support of criminal and geographic reference; in this last, mainly in merit of false documentation.
(35) The residual space of the Italian market, prerogative of the mafia criminality, exasperates the confrontation with ethnic matrices which are more closed and self-reliant.
(36) The West (and Italy) have always stigmatized the Albanian delinquent character without, however, focussing on – as for other Maghreb matrices –the terrorist risk.