The Balkans - a Criminological Space Sui Generis?
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.