May 4, 2017
Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe
“transplantation” of Albanian organized crime was intentional and strategically coordinated. Instead, she argues that Albanian crime groups operating in the West have generally formed much more spontaneously, without close “supervision” or assistance from groups in their country of origin, and that their success outside the Balkan region is often dependent on their ability to adapt to different environments and opportunities, thereby moving away from many of the core characteristics commonly associated with Albanian organized crime. Drawing on data which suggests that many Albanian offenders turn to crime only after their migration, Arsovska also emphasizes that we need to look beyond the common stereotypes about “inherent Albanian criminality and cultures of violence” and place more weight on the role of social exclusion and media stigmatism within their host societies in explaining this link. Arsovska’s study demonstrates that while popular images of Albanian organized crime do have some basis in truth, a broad gap often exists between myth and reality. The picture painted here is not that of a single, coordinated, hierarchical and ethnically homogenous Albanian “mafia,” but of a more diverse, loosely structured, spontaneous and flexible criminal underworld, encompassing both traditional mafia-type groups, and more modern, flexible business-oriented and entrepreneurial networks who work on a principle of reciprocal solidarity, often through cooperation with criminals from a range of other ethnic groups. The high levels of violence associated with Albanian organized crime have often been linked to the Kanun, a cultural code dating back to the fifteenth century, built around traditional concepts of besa (honour) and hakmarrje (revenge). However, while Arsovska acknowledges that many Albanian criminals have selectively utilized aspects of the Kanun to justify and regulate their criminal behaviour, she makes a convincing argument that today, the younger generation of Albanian criminals are more likely to be influenced by contemporary western pop culture than by a fifteenth-century “Kanun mentality.” Researchers face numerous difficulties when attempting to conduct reliable empirical research into organized crime due to its “concealed nature,” and these difficulties naturally magnify when they attempt to adopt a broader, transnational perspective. With this in mind, Arsovska does an impressive job of cutting through the mythology and objectively analysing the reality, combining theoretical analysis with practical examples, and weaving numerous sources – from law enforcement, intelligence analysts, media, victims and criminals themselves – into an incisive, well-researched and well-written narrative which goes a long way towards answering her original question of “who, or what, is the Albanian mafia.?” The end result provides an impressive survey of the origins, nature, activities and impact of Albanian organized crime, and offers an interesting commentary on political, economic and socio-cultural change in modern Europe.