The Balkans - a Criminological Space Sui Generis?

The Max Planck Partner Group (MPPG) represents a pioneering effort to establish a centre of criminological and criminal justice research excellence focused on the Balkan region. It has been jointly established in January 2013 by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law and the Zagreb Faculty of Law, based on the decision of the President of the Max Planck Society – Germany’s most successful research organization.

It should be pointed out that currently (as of 07/01/2013) some 37 MPPGs are in operation worldwide, three of these in the humanities and social sciences section. The MPPG for ‘Balkan Criminology’, led by Dr. Anna-Maria Getoš Kalac, is conducting scientific research and building up a regional network of experts in the field of criminology and criminal justice.

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The Zagreb Faculty of Law with its long tradition in criminological institutionalization, teaching, and research, dating back to 1906 and the establishment of the Chair for artes adiutrices juris criminalis et sociologia under the leadership of Ernest Miler (1866-1928), is geographically but also culturally located at the crossroads between the Balkans and Central Europe (Getoš 2009; 2011b). This crossroads position provides a Zagreb-based Max Planck Partner Group (MPPG) for ‘Balkan Criminology’ with the necessary insight and understanding of the region, whilst allowing for enough emotional detachment from it, in terms of scientific objectivity. Both these issues – insight and detachment – have been ignored, at least to some extent, when it comes to Balkan-focused criminological research rooted either clearly in or far outside the Balkans.

The MPPG for ‘Balkan Criminology’ focuses on 3 main research issues, relevant not only for the region itself, but also of importance to the rest of Europe. The research focuses (RF) of ‘Balkan Criminology’include:

In addition to the research focuses which are covered by individual research projects, the MPPG conducts so called ad hoc projects. These are aimed at involving the MPPG in the relevant international and European criminological research area.

The scientific research of the MPPG is being conducted as a joint effort by the head and the members of the group: Filip VojtaReana BezićKarlo Ressler and Sunčana Roksandić Vidlička. The work of the MPPG is being managed by the Head of the MPPG Dr. Anna-Maria Getoš Kalac.

In the long-term perspective, the MPPG should also get involved in the major criminological quantitative studies, such as the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics and the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS).

ernest miller

Besides conducting criminological research in the region, there is a strong need to connect and interlink all the present research potential – from the Balkans as well as from outside. Numerous activities and projects are being implemented in the region by a vast number of local, national, regional, European, and international players. Yet, all this activism in pursuit of security and stability for the Balkans often unknowingly overlaps and unnecessary duplicates itself. The ‘Balkan Criminology’ Network should enable a synergy of efforts in the field of criminology and criminal justice, a field that can currently be best described as chaotic, uncoordinated, and overlapping (Albrecht & Getoš). Outside players as well as those from inside the region desperately need a focal point, where they can establish the necessary contacts and receive the basic information for their Balkan-focused activities.

A central listing of all major ‘Balkan Criminology’ Events (conferences, courses etc.) and relevant ‘Balkan Criminology’ Publications (especially security reports and crime trends from the region itself, but also a listing of relevant scientific journals) dealing with the mentioned research focuses should as well lead to a synergy of all the criminal justice efforts put into the region and from the region. A collection of relevant ‘Balkan Criminology’ Links points to other relevant institutions, NGOs, scientific actors etc., whereas the ‘Balkan Criminology’ Contact provides for further information on the MPPG and deals with all inquiries. Finally, the ‘Balkan Criminology’ References list the sources used in the texts of the project page.

There is no doubt that the Balkans are an integral part of Europe (in depth see Sundhaussen, Todorova and Brunnbauer). However, the Balkans, or to be more exact, the states of Southeast Europe feature certain common political, historical, cultural, and structural traits that make it plausible to focus criminological research on the area as a whole. The simplification that goes along with the construction of such historical spaces is inevitable, but still justified, at least as long as it helps to improve scientific knowledge on the phenomenology and etiology of crime in the Balkans.

According to Sundhaussen (1999, 637), history provided the Balkans with common structures, as well as patterns of perception and behaviour, allowing for differentiation in respect of other parts of Europe. The mountainous and small-chambered structure of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as the exposed access paths on its peripheries (e.g. its bridging character connecting Central Europe and Asia Minor) have throughout history facilitated immigration and military invasion form outside, just as they hampered any stabile governmental pervasion into the internal area. During long periods the Balkans were part of large empires (Roman Empire, Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire) that were rooted either outside the region or reached far beyond it. This historical setting could explain the specific understanding and perception of state power in the Balkans.

Adding to this the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, a huge part of the region has been and still is affected with the consequences of wide spread ethnic conflict and ongoing state-building, whereby the criminal justice system plays a major role. Finally, European criminological research, especially quantitative surveys, have so far usually covered only some parts of the region (EU member/candidate states – see the EU ICS 2005 study), creating an ‘empirical black hole’ in the very center of the Balkans, and making a regional approach far overdue (for an exception see Gallup).

Therefore, a regional approach is not only historically and sociologically plausible, but it also takes into account the transnational nature of organized crime and illegal markets – the main security challenge in the Balkans (UNODC). Since conventional and violent crime seems to play a far less important role in the region than compared to the rest of Europe (UNODC), it again seems justified to look at the region as a whole in search of the causes for such findings. Whether and how this relatively high level of security is reflected in the feelings and perceptions of (in)security and crime in the Balkans is another challenging research question. In addition the region can be explored in terms of new methodological trends in violence research (“phenomenologically thick description of violence”; see v. Trotha and Sofsky) due to the presence of large-scale mass-violence, and the empirical potential this holds for criminological research. A last issue concerning not only the Balkans, but also international criminal justice at a global level deals with international sentencing: How should perpetrators of the most heinous crimes be dealt with, what is the purpose of their sentencing, which principles should govern the sentencing, and shouldn’t there be a minimal range of sentences for the ‘worst of the worst’ (Albrecht)?

The just highlighted issues present the research focuses of the MPPG for ‘Balkan Criminology’ at the Zagreb Faculty of Law.