The speech of President Jahjaga, at the Forum 2000 Conference, in Prague

The President of the Republic of Kosovo, Ms. Atifete Jahjaga who is participating at the Forum 2000 Conference, at the invitation of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, delivered a speech on “Organized crime in modern times”.

In the panel along with President Jahjaga participated Yakov Glinsky, professor of criminology at the pedagogical State University of Russia, Jose Maria Argueta, a former national security adviser to Guatemala, Yakov Kostyukovksy, sociologist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and moderated by Uzi Arad, former national security adviser to Israel.

Below we bring the full speech of the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Ms. Atifete Jahjaga, presented in this panel:

Modern organized crime – an anonymous stakeholder in the public sphere

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to start this discussion today by explaining the form in which modern organized crime appears in our societies and the danger that it represents for our democratic order.

I will first talk about the shift from the classic form of organized crime to the modern crime. Then I will speak of how organized crime creeps into our daily life, and lastly I want to sketch the way forward in order to prevent organized crime from becoming a stakeholder in the public sphere.

The problem begins with the lack of a generally accepted definition of organized crime.

This is due to its ever-changing structure and form in which what we now term as modern organized crime appears.

I share the view that the modern organized crime is led by the same principles as the so-called “old” organized crime.

At the most basic level, organized crime – dated or modern - is carried by elaborate networks that manage the illicit trade of drugs, human and weapons, and is engaged in operations like money laundering, forgery and production of counterfeit goods.

But there are some fundamental differences.

What sets the modern organized crime apart from the old form is its ability to exploit the technological advantages and the political and economic complexities of the 21st century.

The structure of modern organized crime groups often does not exhibit the rigid hierarchy of more traditional organized crime groups.

Globally, modern organized crime is a dynamic concept, which continuously adopts with the environment. With each passing day, organized crime is becoming more multinational, heterogenic and flexible.

To illustrate the difference: before the advent of the Internet and its widespread use, the street was organized crime’s zone of operation. This implies that the carriers of organized crime had to be in physical contact to maintain a network and carry out their activities.

Now the criminal networks have replaced the street with the vast cyberspace, which in fact is a transnational stage, with very little governance and too many transactions. As you may know, some organized criminal networks are virtual and carry out illicit activities online. Members rarely meet in person and individuals may be known by their online nicknames, making this form of crime difficult to prosecute.

Apart from defining it, our immediate concern is to identify the ways in which organized crime infiltrates our public sphere and damages the security and stability of our countries.

My analogy for it is that of a virus that destroys a healthy body.

For example, the revenues of organized crime throw off balance the country’s economy that leads to destabilization of societies and political systems.

Organized crime pollutes the public sphere by corrupting public officials in order to escape investigation, prosecution, or punishment. Corrupt political elite will not fight organized crime effectively because it has a stake in it. 

The consequences are dire because by infiltrating the political elite, the organized crime undermines and threatens our democracy because the public loses trust in the state institutions.

Illegal transactions such as counterfeit drugs and software to identity theft and credit card fraud infiltrate legitimate businesses because they are buried in billions of legal computer transactions across the globe.

These transactions are very difficult to monitor and police because in order to uphold the basic principles of democracy and to save our democratic order from distortion we need to respect the privacy of our citizens.

Modern organized crime is a major issue and one of the toughest to deal with. Organized criminals are dangerous individuals who have no limits to achieve their goals - to profit and gain power.

Southeastern Europe, the Balkans and my country Kosovo are no exception to this rule.

Modern organized crime neither begins nor ends in Balkans, but it was facilitated by a long period of vulnerability in the region. The transition from totalitarianism to democracy was characterized by a series of wars in 1990s, economic sanctions, postwar weak states, and along periods of security vacuum.

The upheavals of the last two decades have all left behind a ripe terrain for organized crime activities due to unemployment and shattered economies, as well as the potential for corruption in privatization process conducted without a sound legal infrastructure.

Regional organized crime networks are generally concentrated in drug trafficking, trafficking of stolen vehicles, oil smuggling, money laundry and human trafficking.

Similarly in Kosovo these types of organized crime have been present, but what we’re seeing lately is also an increase in thefts through Internet, as well as bank account or credit card thefts.

Which brings me to the fundamental question of how do we and our societies confront this threat.

To prevent and punish organized crime we need clear and decisive political will.

This means that our efforts may have to start from the top, by cutting the ties between organized crime and the structures in power, severing the lines of communication that enable the criminal structures to conduct their illicit trade, or that allow them to have a monopoly over privatization deals and public tenders.

We need to complete and strengthen our legislations so that politicians and influential individuals within society, including media tycoons, are conditioned by law to remain an honest caste. In particular, we need clear law articles that demand the declaration of assets and their origin, in addition to the law on confiscation of assets suspected to be fruits of organized crime and other illegal enriching.

This will, therefore, has to be coupled with strict implementation of national policies and strategies against organized crime, in accordance with European and international standards. Without these two elements, the governments will inevitably fail in prevention and fighting modern organized crime.

Establishment of democratic governance is of very high importance in new democracies and countries in transition. In today’s interconnected world, a failure in the transition of one country may mean a failure across the board.

And, we need a joint response.

As I said earlier, organized criminal groups became powerful by seizing new opportunities and by using new modern communication technology to create, save and broaden their national and international connections. By establishing transnational alliances they became more dangerous, more unreachable and flexible.

Keeping in mind this international dimension of organized crime, it is practically impossible to be successful in confronting this threat without the cooperation between regional and international law enforcement agencies.

We need to confront organized criminal networks jointly by working together in drafting strategies that would best respond to the threats regardless whether they appear in the Czech Republic or Kosovo.

Our police forces and judiciaries must exchange information and cooperate between each other.

Our countries should be ready to share their best practices and their expertise. Our institutions need to invest in educating citizens that they don’t participate in crime and they work to prevent it.

As leaders, we are aware that organized crime activities sow the seeds of distrust among us and corrode the moral values – justice and peace, equality and fairness, compassion and responsibility - that bind us together.

Hence, we need to encourage a culture of trust.

In fighting organized crime we need to be on the same page and speak with one voice. We need to show that we have zero-tolerance for it.

And finally let me conclude by saying that modern organized crime, along with terrorism, are among the greatest threat that humankind face.

We need to pull all our resources to confront it. The price our societies will pay because of it is much too high.

We cannot allow organized crime to become a stakeholder in the public sphere. There simply is no place for it because it will erode the fabric of our societies and the nature of our hard won democracy.

Thank you!