Is there a crisis in Northern Kosovo?
Serbia and North Kosovo: hard drugs and sex trafficking
'And the most important verse was the one they made up in Montgomery, Alabama, We are not Afraid, there's a lot of people who know what's right and what's wrong, but they're not going to do anything about it, somebody has to, they sing: We are not Afraid
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid today
Because deep in my heart,
I do believe,
We shall overcome some day.'
North Kosovo: hard drugs not ethnicity
The answer to the question posed in the title of this essay is yes; but it is nothing to do with the fake crises you read about periodically in the newspapers. The crisis in North Kosovo is about something completely different. It's about hard drugs sales across Europe.
In this article we will try to emphasise the truthful parts of the narrative about the North Kosovo crisis, and we will seek to underplay the false or misleading parts - such as that there are current ethnic tensions between Serbs and Albanians in North Kosovo. (There are not.)
The international experts know nothing
The first point we wish to make is that there are no international experts in the subject of North Kosovo. We mean zero, and there is a reason for this as we will explain. We are not experts either. What we describe here is merely the tip of an unknowably large iceberg.
Foreigners who have lived in Mitrovica (the divided town that spans the Ibar River between Albanians to the south and Serbs to the north) know nothing about what is going on in Northern Kosovo. The handful of international 'experts' who occasionally go there (or try to) have barely any understanding of its problems. This is a dramatic assertion, and we want to expose it at the beginning of this essay, so as to assist the reader in the monumental shift in perspective that is necessary if we are even going to begin to understand what is really happening in North Kosovo. We will justify this remarkable assertion later on in this essay.
We also say now that this article will contain no policy recommendations for the international community in North Kosovo. We have some ideas; but they are not yet recommendations. Before we can even begin to start thinking about how to solve North Kosovo's problems, we need to start with the process of understanding it and our knowledge levels are currently near zero.
Fictions about ethnicity
Let us now set out a list of assertions that are totally false, even though the vast majority of international community officials who assert familiarity with the region will tell you that they are true.
Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of the Republiic of Kosovo in Pristina, wants to unify Kosovo by incorporating North Kosovo into the country's centralised political structures.
An accurate post-1970's map exists of North Kosovo.
Mr Kurti wishes to force the Serbs of North Kosovo to comply with Pristina's writ by requiring cars in North Kosovo to have Kosovar, rather than Serbian, or no, number plates. (This is formally true but not an accurate account of what is going on.)
Mitrovica Bridge is a flashpoint between Serbs and Albanians that is kept peaceful solely by virtue of an international community military presence (KFOR). The truth is that KFOR could disappear tomorrow and nothing would change.
The balance of peace and justice in North Kosovo is kept by a series of judicial and police institutions overseen by a European legal structure called EULEX. That institution as it currently operates could also be removed tomorrow with no consequences.
The economy of North Kosovo is kept alive by Belgrade paying enhanced civil service salaries to Serbian public officials in North Kosovo. (Belgrade does indeed pay such enhanced salaries, but not for these reasons.)
There are border clashes between Serbian and Kosovar forces in North Kosovo, including at the borders between North Kosovo and Serbia; and at the borders between North Kosovo and Kosovo.
The Russians' military presence in southern Serbia exists to deter Pristina's advance into North Kosovo.
Serbia's President Vucic and Kosovo's Prime Minister Kurti are unable to find common ground on the future of North Kosovo.
Prime Minister Kurti is opposed to a 'land swap' by which North Kosovo becomes part of Serbia in exchange for the Presovo Valley (ostensibly a part of Serbia with an Albanian majority) being run by Kosovo. Nobody in their right minds objects to the 'land swap', which reflects current reality (and therefore would require no de facto implementation at all - only a de jure agreement) except (a) some fools in the international community; and (b) some local people in North Kosovo and the Presovo valley who describe themselves as politicians but are nothing of the sort - in fact they are drug dealers.
There are coherent programmes of state-buikding, and development of institutions reflecting the rule of law, in either North Kosovo or the Presovo Valley.
Any of the prior assertions, despite being trumpeted repeatedly by the international community and indeed by Mr Kurti and various other people, are bullshit. As Harry Frankfurt told us, the definition of 'bullshit', a particularly common phenomenon in the theories of international relations affecting the Western Balkans, is 'nonsense intended to deceive'.
The reality: high margin hard drugs
Now let us attempt to sketch out some true propositions about North Kosovo. Some of these may be inaccurate; but they are all on the right lines. The fact that we cannot be more certain than we are about them illustrates just how little the international community actually knows about North Kosovo.
At any given time, the combined quantity of mass-volume heroin and cocaine stored in North Kosovo for transit purposes is well in excess of 100 metric tonnes (100,000 kg) - that is to say, a European street value of perhaps €7 billion. (This is the author's estimate, based upon information provided to the author. It is not a figure you will find anywhere else to our knowledge.)
The total estimated amount of cocaine consumption in Europe per year is estimated to be approximately €10.5 billion. The total estimated amount of heroin consumption in Europe per year is estimated to be approximately €6.8 billion. (These are EU figures.)
The majority of European cocaine and heroin is transited through North Kosovo.
The 2021 GDP of Serbia was approximately €63 billion.
The 2021 GDP of Kosovo was approximately €9.4 billion.
Dealing in high margin hard drugs (i.e. cocaine and heroin) are substantial proportions of both the Serbian and Kosovar economies.
The people who live in North Kosovo make their money, on the whole, by drug dealing and drug trafficking.
There are no ethnic disputes in North Kosovo, on the whole, because everyone is making so much money drug dealing.
The borders throughout the region are entirely porous and easy to cross without complications, for the obvious reason that there is so much money being made in the transit of drugs across those borders.
The Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians have every reason to cooperate, because hard drugs that arrive in the region for onward transit across Europe (typically from Spain, for cocaine; and from the Middle East, for heroin) typically arrive in ports in Albania that are mostly controlled by Albanians (Montenegrin ports are an exception; they are controlled by Montenegrins) yet the drugs have to transit across Serbia to reach their eventual European destinations.
Therefore the de facto ethnic peace that prevails in North Kosovo is the product of each of Serbs and Kosovar Albanians needing to cooperate in order to realise the massive margins inherent in hard drug trafficking across Europe.
Mr Kurti's attempt to impose common licence plates across North Kosovo is an objective to an extent shared by those Serbs in Belgrade and elsewhere who want to keep control over the massive extent of the drug dealing. The principal beneficiaries of the fact that cars in North Kosovo can travel around with outdated or wrongly registered Serbian licence plates, or with no licence plates at all, are the hard drug trafficking community.
The opponents of the 'licence plates regularisation' project in North Kosovo are the drug dealers, who cause riots, create militias, etcetera, to turn the licence plates into an ethnic issue when in fact the issue is all about the welfare of the drug dealers.
With an estimated population of 48,500, the mean wealth of each person in North Kosovo based upon drug storage alone is approximately €1,450,000 per person. This is our figure. That is before any land value or other economic assets whatsoever are included.
New-build apartment buildings are appearing across North Kosovo. We have no idea who is living in these properties because the population of North Kosovo is not to our knowledge going up. These apartments can be snapped up for as little as €300 per square metre. However Mitrovica North is not a particularly pleasant place to live. We suspect these apartments are being used mostly for storage purposes. However this is only a hypothesis - in the circumstances, it would be extremely dangerous to investigate it, because these drug dealers have a lot of guns.
Those in Pristina and Belgrade who try to resist the transformation of Serbia and Kosovo into narco-states, including President Vucic and Prime Minister Kurti, are broadly in agreement about the 'land swap' because it would provide an opportunity to formalise the borders in the region and hence to control the flow of drugs which for by far the most part transit the region using informal roads with no border presence on them, those roads not appearing on modern maps and being either unused by or even unknown to the international community. They are just drug trafficking backroads.
The reason the 'land swap', which is obvious common sense, fails is because the drug dealing communities in each of Serbia and Kosovo are so politically powerful given the volume of money they control and use as bribes and facilitation patments, that the political leadership of those two countries cannot defy them.
One solution to this problem would be for the international community to impose the 'land swap' on the Serbs and Kosovars, something for which both Vucic and Kurti would privately be very grateful despite the noises of complaint they would both make. The reason this doesn't happen is because Germany doesn't understand anything in this article at all, and is insisting upon respecting de jure international boundaries as a condition of EU membership when that is obviously not the solution to the region's principal problem which is not ethnic disputes but ethnic cooperation in facilitating drug dealing on a massive scale.
The principal reason the Russians are stationed in southern Serbia (at Belgrade's request) is to prevent Belgrade from unilaterally enforcing the 'land swap' through military means, which lots of people In Belgrade want to do to eliminate the drugs problem and install proper borders. As Russian influence in the region wanes (as they lose interest due to their being ever more bogged down in the war in Ukraine), the prospect of a Serbian invasion of North Kosovo to eliminate the drugs problem increases. In other words Russian presence in southern Serbia keeps the peace, even though the international community thinks it aggravates things.
The anti-drugs community in the government in Belgrade (which is substantial) is talking about an invasion of North Kosovo to enforce the 'land swap' by a process of what the Russians might call 'reverse negotiation' within the next one to two years.
The drug money is keeping everything glued together in a de facto ethnic truce - at the expense of the health and welfare of Europe's youth who are consuming the hard drugs that transit through North Kosovo.
Probably the reason the Germans are taking the hard-line position they are about the 'land swap' and the consequent impossibility of Serbian and Kosovar movement towards EU membership is because they don't want to pay the huge subsidies involved to these two disorganised and corrupt countries as they make preparations to join the European Union. What the Germans don't realise is that their policy on the Western Balkans is to the massive detriment of western European young people who are spending billions of Euros a year on very unpleasant hard drugs (no serious person denies that heroin and cocaine are very bad narcotics for the common weal) that are available to them in virtually limitless quantities because the Germans are unwilling to impose and enforce a solution upon the region involving a 'land swap'; a proper exercise in cartography of the region; and a comprehensive system of internationally supervised borders.
The kernel of the crisis: the drugs money is starting to disappear
This is the real crisis in North Kosovo: the massive drugs flow through the region. And it is particularly difficult to solve because if the drug money is taken away (and it is starting to disappear), then real ethnic disputes are liable to start and this could result in a renewal of ethnic civil war in the region.
The reason there are no international experts in this crisis is obvious: the local people hide every aspect of the drugs trade from foreign experts because otherwise virtually everyone in North Kosovo would be arrested for conspiracy to deal hard drugs.
The crisis becomes worse, as the money disappears ever more
The reason the crisis is becoming more acute at the time of writing (early January 2023) is because the European youth are consuming fewer expensive hard drugs by reason of the cost of living crisis. They are cross-substituting into cheaper recreational narcotics, that do not involve transit through North Kosovo but can be made 'at home' (e.g. MDMA and amphetamines). Hence there is a contraction in demand. This is giving rise to turf wars between drug dealing groups in the Western Balkans region. This is compounded by the fact that neither heroin nor cocaine exhibit high price elasticity of demand, because all the costs lie in transit and those transit costs are not flexible. It is expensive to shift hard drugs because it is both physically (other drug dealers may kill you) and legally (you may be caught and go to prison for a very long time indeed) extremely dangerous.
Hence heroin and cocaine cannot drop in price in order to maintain demand in the face of economic contraction of purchaser markets; they have no flexibility in that direction, because the transit costs are high and fixed. Put another way, nobody is willing to accept such grievous risks to life and liberty for less than the current margins. There are other things they can do for less money, that are less dangerous.
The net result is that people with less disposable income (this is the European cost of living crisis) consume less heroin and cocaine, leaving the hard drug transit points in Mitrovica North (inter alia - there are others) full of cocaine and heroin they can't sell (and presumably they owe a load of money to some other violent people for, as the whole business seems to rely upon extended and tenuous lines of credit).
In this essay we have only attempted to explain (simply) the problem of North Kosovo. Nobody has any solutions yet. We are going to think about it - if anybody wants us to, which they may not. They may prefer Europe's youth to remain addicted to hard drugs, as a price to be paid for inaction and failure to invest logically and sensibly in the Western Balkans. And they may be happy with the drugs gangs fighting it out between themselves as already brittle standards of rule of law in both Serbia and Kosovo deteriorate still further.
One conclusion we have reached however is that leaving it all to get worse is no longer credible. Some sort of international intervention is not just needed, but desired by everyone involved including the drug dealers because they don't want to die which is what is goijg to happen if the increasing accumulation of heroin and cocaine in North Kosovo without sufficient onward buyers continues on credit terms with South American, Spanish and/or Italian serious criminals who are responsible for transit of these drugs to Albanian and Montenegrin ports.
Eastern European women used in sex trafficking, because there's not enough money in hard drugs
To give the policy analyst an example of just how serious the problem has become, we have heard of stories of cocaine being sold at 10 per cent of European street value on the streets of Belgrade. There is no reason in economics for such a fire sale unless one has a serious cashflow problem. In other words Serbs in North Kosovo are so indebted to the criminals who do the transporting to Albanian and Montenegrin ports (and debts in this business are enforced by murder) that they are selling all this excess cocaine for any amount they can get for it, just to repay something to their extremely dangerous and violent creditors. Of course they do this in ways that keep their teeth in the purchasers at a discount, e.g. credit terms provided to those purchasers that need to be satisfied by female addicts becoming international sex tourists and other horrendous things.
Another curiosity we have observed is that, wondering why they are not getting proper returns on their investments, South American drug dealers, as well as Albanians and Montenegrins who run the ports involved in this network, have started showing up in Belgrade in the last few months to investigate the problem for themselves, suspicious that the Serbs they deal with are just ripping them off with stories of inability to sell but actually realising that these stories are probably true as the European market has dropped out of cocaine in particular.
A book has been written about North Kosovo. It is called Dragon's Teeth: Tales from North Kosovo. It is an atrocious book, lacking in content and entirely failing even to explore the narrative we set out above. Instead it languishes in old fashioned tales about ethnic animosities and partnerships in North Kosovo, anachronisms relayed to the author with blind-eye acceptance on his part over lunches with copious liquor.
It is not a hanging offence to write a dreadful book. But it is more serious a crime to write a book replete with blind-eye nonsense, intended to deceive decently-minded domestic and international policymakers.
The author, who had lived in North Kosovo with a different North Kosovar wife prior to his current North Kosovar wife, learned there to participate in North Kosovo's flourishing ski season. He boasted of his close relationship with Oliver Ivanovic, the Kosovar Serb drug kingpin over at least 18 years with ties to the Italian Mafia and who was assassinated with a Zastava M70A (an Serbian manufactured rare assassin's handgun) in January 2018 in broad daylight in central Mitrovica North, right in front of the main government building. The weapon fired several shots from the window of a car, a car that nobody appeared to follow. Nevertheless it is not clear how the authorities concluded what sort of gin had been used given that the weapon was never recovered and the perpetrators never found. (Ballistics experts can narrow a gunshot down, if they recover the bullet; but they cannot narrow it down to a handgun make from a specific country.)
It seemed Ivanovic had been getting too greedy. Although there were ample witnesses and even armed international officials in the area at the time (EULEX's Mitrovica North miission, always a singularly ineffective institution, is just over the bridge in central Mitrovica North, next to the government building, and the bridge itself is occupied by KFOR troops), nobody was ever convicted of the murder of Ivanovic. We wonder why not. Perhaps all the CCTV cameras, in what ought to be one of the most secure areas in Europe due to the international presence, were having a simultaneous bad day.
We cannot with honour or indeed accuracy trace the author's biography since the death of his good friend Oliver Ivanovic save that he had to move to Belgrade and marry a new Kosovar Serb wife. However more recently, the author had a significant skiing injury involving ten or more stitches and correlative remedial surgery. Whatever one thinks of this, his behaviour, in cutting a part out of North Kosovo's tragedies for himself, rather than acting in the common weal to promote human dignity and wellbeing in the face of crisis, was not just somewhat unsatisfactory but really quite horrifying as an iinternational official with a mandate to keep the lawful peace and to promote legitimate regional economic development. The reader may tell him that we shall not rest until we bring him to justice.
This is a shameful disgrace, and it will be dealt with through the wheels of justice of His Majesty's Courts of Justice, or otherwise. Accept our honest apologies and now leave us to rectify matters.
This region of Europe is in a disaster zone of drugs and sex trafficking. It's going to need brave people to sort it out. And we are looking for them. If you think you might be one of them, please contact us. We hire strictly on merit, but we demand total financial propriety and professional integrity in a region where these qualities are abjectly lacking.