Saturday, February 24, 2007

The mafia culture of dependency

When I studied antropology I wrote my bachelor paper about the "mafia" - a phenomena that has fascinated me ever since. The difference between mafia and normal crime is that maffia has a stronger connection with government.

Mafia's usually appear when the government is weak. Sometimes they are only temporary. Many formerly communist countries for example went through a phase where organised crime and government were closely connected. The possibility to make much money with fraudulent privatisations was an important factor in this.

Mafia's come often into existence as "protectors" of some minority. The US, with its many streams of immigrants has seen them all: Irish, Jewish, Italian, Russian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc.. In the US they tend to disappear when the minority intergrates.

But sometimes the mafia is more permanent. A good example is Sicily. The mafia mentality is believed to have originated when the island was a province of Spain.
The Spanish tended to depend on local leaders to govern the province. And so you got the typical middle men: towards the population they could offer connections with the government and towards the government they could offer control of the population. This pattern was so strong that it continued after Sicily became part of Italy: Rome just substituted the position of the Spanish.

A second factor in the development of the Sicilian mafia were the large estates owned by absentee landlords. Their administrators used to employ troops of armed men to keep the tenants in check. These would develop into the "soldiers" of the mafia.

Important in keeping control was also the omerta: the with violence enforced rule not to betray the strongmen to outsiders.

I have the impression that Kosovo is quite similar:
- A century ago its elite prided itself in its good connections with the Turks.
- Later they positioned themselves as the mediator between the Yugoslav state and the local population. The pressure for independence from the 1960s falls in this pattern. It served to keep the Albanians from integrating into Yugoslavia - what would have lessened the grip of the local elite. It was an ideology of dependency: Yugoslavia was blamed for not donating enough money, but the local elite spent the donated money on not-productive investments and did nothing to stimulate the economy.
- Nowadays it is the same with the UN having taken the place of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo press is full of every misstep of UN officials and likes to highlight how much money they are making. Yet the frustration of the UN to get anything done is hardly discussed. The only way to get things done seems to be by accepting corruption (see the privatisation).

Kosovo has its own version of the omerta, usually called the "wall of silence". It is still very active as is shown by the fate of the people involved in the recent process against the "Dukagjini group" that was accused of war crimes. Since the process three witnesses and two of the investigating policemen have been killed.

A recent Spiegel International article gave a good description of how it works in Kosovo. When the Decani monastry was shelled at the commanding NATO general simply called Haradinaj. But the price is that Haradinaj is treated like a statesman despite being suspected of war crimes (32 bodies were found near the family farm) and heroin trade.

And allthough the article doesn't discuss it, this kind of dependency is easy to manipulate. It may be very well have been Haradinaj himself who initiated the shelling. It is in his interest to be indispensable. The disappearing witnesses in his ICTY trial show that we may never know.

This has consequences for how one should consider the future of Kosovo:

- As long as the UN stays they will be part of the game. So provisional independence is not a good idea. Instead Kosovo should become fully independent. Some UN soldiers should stay but only interfere when the minorities are threatened. In the economic sphere the internationals should withdraw. There will be corruption and we will sometimes not like how they handle privatisation, but we should leave it to the Kosovars themselves to solve that.

- A union with Albania is at the moment not a good idea. It might put Kosovo in another "foreign rule" situation (like Sicily). First Kosovo should become independent and get itself in order. Only much (15 to 20 years) later one should consider a union.

- When Kosovo is independent there is a good chance that the minorities will be set up as the next external "enemy". The present climate in Kosovo, where any consession to minorities is criticised doesn't promise much good. This is yet another argument for ethnic borders.


cicciosax said...

You might better correct your bachelor paper using the word "mafia" and not "maffia" just to avoid to cut a poor figure. Ciao from Sicily Cicciosax

Wim Roffel said...

You are right. "Maffia" is the Dutch transcription. I have changed it now.

Thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

How do you know what papers in Kosovo write? Can you speak Albanian? Newspapers in Kosovo are as politically correct as they can be. They never write anything about power misuse by UN people in Kosovo, so what you are saying is very wrong. I would also like to see some evidence about Haradinaj and drugs. I hope the sentence was not copy paste from any racist Serb website. I do not like Ramush is a politician in Kosovo but we have to be objective and not make up accusations.

The name of this blog is Balkan outlooks, but so far you only write about Kosovo and Albanians, most of the posts are negative towards Albanians. I just wonder if there is anything in the other countries to write about. Maybe not since you consider normal to love and kiss in public a man accused of killing 8 000 people.


Anonymous said...

I expected something "exclusive" about the Bosnia verdict from you since you live in the country where the court is located. What are newspapers saying and things like this.


Wim Roffel said...

Sorry for my late reply. I have been a bit ill.

I don't speak more than a few dozen words Albanian and indeed don't read the newspapers in that language. But I do read what Albanians write on the internet. And I keep seeing people mention the corrupt international at the power plant - for example. So the memory to that must be kept alive somewhere - but maybe it is not the newspapers.

The story of Haradinaj and the drugs comes from the Spiegel article that I linked to. The relevant section says: A report by the UN police force in Kosovo has linked Haradinaj to the cocaine trade. And according to a 2005 analysis by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Haradinaj and his associates play a key role in "a broad spectrum of criminal, political and military activities that significantly affect the security situation throughout Kosovo. The group, which counts about 100 members, is involved in drug and weapons smuggling, as well as illegal trading in dutiable items."

More evidence you will probably never see. Drugs lords take care not to touch the stuff themselves. So they are usually convicted on testimonies of their employees. And that seems improbably to happen in this case.

The dutch press hadn't anything interesting to say about the ICJ Bosnia genocide verdict. Just the same kinds of comments that you see in the international press.

You must have missed some posts: I occassionally write about Bosnia and Macedonia as well. The focus of my posts are those subjects that are in the international news. I am specially focussed on what the international community is doing (you may have noticed that the url starts with "nation building").

The point of my last post was that "conditional indepence" according to the Bosnia model seems not a good idea to me. Please notice that I am saying exactly the opposite of the average radical Serb website. They tend to say: Kosovo is so criminal that they need supervision. I say: it will only stop when Kosovo becomes independent and responsible for its own affairs.

If you look at my profile you will see that I also write occassionally about Iraq (but it is so obvious what the Americans are doing wrong that I have stopped: enough other people write about the subject) and Europe (I believe Brussel is acquiring too much power).


Aleks said...

I'm not convinced. Neither is Carl Bildt - Saturday, January 27, 2007 (

"..There is the belief that if you take some sort of decision on the "status issue" you would automatically improve the economic and social situation. I fear that this is very far from what will happen, and that there is the risk of a rather rude awakening some time down the road..."

It sounds suspiciously like 'doing nothing is not an option' therefore 'independence is the only option'.

I believe that you are correct in saying that someone will have to be blamed, i.e. the "external" enemies (minorities) and the "international community".

What happens when there are none left? Will there be 'trouble' in Montenegro and Macedonia? Will they turn upon each other?

The big question is really how long people like Haradinaj can pull the wool over the eyes over the vast majority of kosovo albanians who want things to be normal? When is the realization going to dawn on them that their leaders are in fact supposed to be responsible to them?

Having all the trappings of an EU Member State won't help that much either (apart for the criminals of course)...