A World Safe for Kleptocracy
George Szamuely
New York Press


Now that NATO has been triumphant, trade in the Balkans can again flourish. The heroin trade, that is. It was tricky there for a while. While the Serbs were fighting grimly to save their country from disintegration, their opponents, the KLA, were fighting to save a $400 billion a year heroin business. By wiping out KLA strongholds in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic had inadvertently also wiped out the heroin supply network that links Central Asia to Europe.

The KLA has always been the armed wing of this Albanian Mafia. Its humiliating defeat at the hands of the Serbs was rather embarrassing for the United States. It was bad enough that the KLA was so lousy at fighting. Despite their sophisticated weaponry they could not stop 40,000 Serb regular and paramilitary forces from throwing out, in a matter, of a few weeks, 800,000 Albanians. But at least they could pay for their weapons.

Without the heroin money, however, they would no longer even. be able to do that. NATO had to intervene. 1t could not allow such a lucrative business to slip through its fingers.

The rise of the Albanian Mafia has been one of the most extraordinary phenomena of the last 10 years. For decades, the bizarre dictatorship of Enver Hoxha had isolated Albanians from the rest of the, world. The demise of Communism, however, had the effect of releasing the nation's pent-up criminal energy. Every kind of criminal scheme began to flourish. There were phony land deals, pyramid schemes and drug trafficking. Young women were transported to Italy to work as prostitutes. Children were sold to earn their keep as beggars in European cities.

And, of course, there was the lucrative ferrying of illegal immigrants across the Adriatic. Privatized state enterprises became front companies for laundering money. Albania became the paradigm of the post-Communist state in which former apparatchiki team up with the local Mafia to loot the people of their assets. The Kosovar Albanians dominated much of this criminal activity. In part, this was because they were from sophisticated, cosmopolitan Yugoslavia that had allowed its citizens the freedom to travel. In part, also, because they were already thoroughly experienced in heroin trafficking from the days when the Balkan Route for narcotics went through Yugoslavia.

The Balkan Route starts at the poppy fields of Pakistan and Central Asia, goes through Turkey and ends up in Western Europe. Yugoslavia's collapse into civil war in the early 1990s meant that heroin traders needed to find a more secure route. The heroin now went through Albania. Using the overland route drugs travel from Turkey to Greece and then to Macedonia. Albanians then transport the drugs by truck to the ports of Vlore and Durres. From there it is ferried by small craft either north toward the Dalmatian coast or across the Adriatic to Italy. Then it is taken to Germany and Switzerland.

The vast Albania Diaspora ensures easy distribution. Albanians who crossed the border into Kosovo could get Yugoslav passports. This enabled them to travel anywhere in Europe, where they could demand political asylum as refugees from Milosevic.

The Albanian Mafia is thought to control upwards of 70 percent of the illegal heroin market in Germany and Switzerland. More than 800 Albanian nationals are currently serving prison terms in Germany for heroin trafficking. The respected Jane's Intelligence Review recently reported:
"Albania has become the crime capital of Europe. The most powerful groups in the country are organized criminals who use Albania to grow, process, and store a large percentage of the illegal drugs destined for Western Europe... Albanian criminal gangs are actively supporting the war in Kosovo."

According to Germany's Federal Criminal Agency: "Ethnic Albanians are now the most prominent group in the distribution of heroin in Western consumer countries." The Albanian Mafia resembles the Sicilian Mafia in many ways. It is clan-based, driven by blood feuds that go on for generations, and has a definite geographic base from which it controls the Diaspora.

In no time the Albanians displaced the Turks in the heroin business. Armenians and Georgians who supply the raw opium base prefer doing business with Albanians than with Turks. Moreover, Kosovar Albanians who dominate the Albanian Mafia used the proceeds of the heroin sales to buy arms for the anti-Serb guerrilla war in Kosovo. Here the Central Asians can be very helpful. Raiding armories and selling weapons is a multibillion-dollar enterprise in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

In 1997 Interpol declared that Kosovo Albanians hold the largest share of the heroin market in Switzerland, in Austria, in Belgium, in Germany, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, in Norway and in Sweden." Thanks in part to NATO, the Balkans will soon come to resemble places like Colombia, where drug traffickers are so powerful that they effectively control the state. Politicians, political parties, provincial governments and security authorities are in the pocket of drug lords. This is pretty much already the case in Albania and Macedonia. It will be like that in Kosovo soon. "The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles," as the Rambouillet accords put it.

For the United States the establishment of a KLA state in Kosovo is a happy outcome. The KLA really does believe in the free market economy. What it understands by this is the opportunity to loot and pillage a people, so successfully accomplished in neighboring Albania. The securing of the Balkans Route means that the KLA will always be flush with money. With this it can take over the economy of Macedonia and Montenegro and also finance all kinds of prostitution and child slavery rackets in Europe. It will always be able to pay for its weapons should it decide to restart its war against Yugoslavia.

Happily for the United States, the costs of the heroin trafficking will not be borne by Americans, but by Europeans. They are the ones who will have to pay for the extra policemen, prisons and drug rehab clinics. The Albanian Mafia is their problem, not ours. On top of the financing the rebuilding of Kosovo, the clearing of the Danube of debris from the bombing and coming up with a Marshall Plan for the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to have a red cent left over for doing anything about their feeble defenses. Without NATO life has no meaning-that is the lesson they have been taught.

Meanwhile, Central Asian tribesmen take note! If you are in the heroin trafficking business and can thus pay for your weapons, feel free to make trouble. Should you meet resistance, plead helplessness and ask NATO for assistance. The United States will always lend a sympathetic ear to gangsters who disguise their pecuniary motives with the aura of victimhood.

Perhaps, like the Colombian terrorists last week, you'll even be honored by a personal visit from the head of the New York Stock Exchange.

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