By Blerim Abedini, The Institute for Security Studies and Development, ISSD-NM

– The economic crisis that swept through Ukraine after the war has profoundly impacted the citizens of the Balkans and beyond. As businesses struggle to stay afloat, many have been forced to close their doors, leaving employees without jobs and causing a ripple effect throughout the economy. To make ends meet, many individuals have been forced to emigrate in search of employment opportunities, leading to a noticeable decrease in population. This has also decreased general consumption, as people are forced to save their money for essential expenses. Furthermore, the economic downturn has also affected household inventory and the ability of families to purchase household appliances, further diminishing their quality of life. Unfortunately, this dire situation has also created a breeding ground for negative phenomena in society, including the rise of black market trade and criminal groups, particularly in the realm of narcotics. The constant reports of these activities in the media only add to the sense of despair and hopelessness in the wake of the economic crisis.
The indolence of the state in addressing negative phenomena has become an all too familiar pattern, especially when it comes to resolving judicial disputes. This inaction has indirectly allowed these incidents to flourish, giving the judiciary an easy excuse to wash their hands of the matter. In the Balkan states, corruption has become alarmingly rampant, particularly in those countries aspiring to join the European Union. Privatization of state property, including former factories and businesses, has become a breeding ground for illegal activities. It is no secret that the leadership of the judiciary, along with those closely associated with it, have taken advantage of this situation through acts of bribery and corruption. From prosecutors to lawyers, judges, and even swindlers, everyone seems to have their hands in the pot. This state of affairs speaks volumes about the current state of affairs and the lack of accountability within the system.
As reported by Transparency International, the Balkans in 2023 saw a disturbing trend of corruption, with Bosnia receiving the highest ranking of 108. Following closely behind were Serbia at 104, Albania at 98, Kosovo at 83, and North Macedonia and Hungary tied at 76. Corruption seemed to be a pervasive issue in these countries, with Romania and Montenegro ranking at 63, Greece at 59, Croatia at 57, and Slovenia at 42. Such high levels of corruption have resulted in the creation of bureaucratic states, where the government seeks to suppress citizen participation and free thinking. In addition, the countries aspiring to join the European Union have struggled to establish a plural political system, reminiscent of the one-party rule of the past. This paints a worrying picture for the state of democracy and transparency in the Balkan region.

The recent falsified elections in Serbia have created a tense and unstable atmosphere in the Balkan peninsula. This has resulted in strained political relationships between neighboring countries, leading to delays or outright prohibitions on joint economic projects. One such project, the railway from Europe to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast through North Macedonia, has been neglected for decades due to political tensions and lack of cooperation. This railway, which would span 89 kilometers and receive support from EU funding, has the potential to greatly benefit citizens by improving connectivity, quality of life, and economic development. However, the current state of political affairs in Serbia and the Balkans is hindering progress and causing uncertainty for the future. One stark example of corruption in Macedonia is the pollution of the Vardar River. The degree of pollution in the river is alarming, with harmful chemicals and waste being dumped into the water, posing a serious threat to the environment and public health. The lack of infrastructure for households in the region also contributes to pollution, as proper waste disposal systems are not in place.

In Kosovo, the Enka Bechtel project serves as another illustration of corruption. The project, which aimed to improve infrastructure in the country, doubled in price during its implementation due to corrupt practices. This not only wastes taxpayer money but also hinders the progress and development of the whole country.

Corruption is a cancer that eats away at the fabric of society, undermining trust in government and impeding progress and development. The examples of corruption in the Enka Bechtel project and the Macedonia-Bulgaria gasification project in North Macedonia are just a few instances of how this pervasive issue can have far-reaching consequences.
In the case of the Enka Bechtel project, the raising of the project price due to incorrect expenditure estimates is a clear example of corruption at play. When projects are deliberately underestimated to secure contracts, it not only leads to financial losses for the government but also erodes public trust in the systems.
So, it can be seen that many corrupt affairs have been created within the Balkan states. It is crucial for state administration to prioritize the fight against corruption and to be vigilant in preventing its spread. Corruption has a detrimental impact on the economy, society, and overall progress of a nation. It is especially alarming when there are wealthy individuals who have been created through corrupt practices by previous governments. These individuals often wield immense power and influence, making it difficult to eradicate corruption from within the system. Therefore, it is imperative for state administration to take a firm stance against corruption and implement strict measures to ensure transparency and accountability. Failure to do so will only perpetuate the cycle of corruption and hinder the growth and development of the nation.