Trpe Stojanovski is a university professor, expert in security and law. He spoke to CivilMedia on issues related to connections between illicit SALW proliferation and criminal and extremist groups in the country and the region. The conversation with prof. Stojanovski took place on December 13, 2021, as part of the activities within the CIVIL project “Past, present and future of arms control in the Republic of Northern Macedonia” with the support of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Resilience Fund.
“I’d like to start with a movie quote: ‘Most people respect the badge. Everybody respects the gun’ [Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Righteous Kill, 2008]. Due to their characteristics, weapons are an integral part of criminal groups which practice violence in their behavior, and in order to be protruding they use weapons. It should be understood as a weapon in a broader sense. We now aim at small arms and light weapons, however, there are other forms of weapons, depending on the criminal group, its training and the goals it seeks to achieve. Thus, weapons are an integral part or hallmark of criminal groups that practice violence, but weapons are also an integral part of all terrorist groups that practice achieving their platforms and their goals” – prof. Stojanovski told CivilMedia.
How are organized criminal groups related to extremist groups?
STOJANOVSKI: Not every organized criminal group has to necessarily be associated with an extremist group, on the contrary. The number of criminal groups associated with extremist groups is small, a smaller number than there are actually organized criminal groups. So, that’s also a question of their subjectivity. What do they do, what are their goals, what do they want to achieve, etc.
How do criminal groups get those weapons?
STOJANOVSKI: Weapons have their own historical tradition, for that reason, they are recognized to be used for criminal purposes as well. Weapons are available in every society. The question is whether it takes more or less effort to get weapons, I mean illegal weapons. And in that sense, what is the price to pay to get weapons. Unfortunately, we geographically belong to a region with a surplus of weapons due to the conflicts that took place at the end of the twentieth century, however, the tradition of illegal possession of weapons in this area is longer, due to the wars that took place, the First World War, other regional wars and actions, World War II, etc. We see today that in many orderly societies, explosives left over from the Second World War are being discovered. It only speaks to the porosity of states today, that they have consequences related to weapons and military action. The Balkans are especially interesting, and in that sense, it deserves special research, because, with the disintegration of the then Yugoslavia, which was bloody, many pieces of weaponry came out of the warehouses, which unfortunately ended up with criminal groups. On top of that, we will add the example of Albania in 1997, at a critical period, hundreds of thousands of pieces were taken out of military warehouses and ended up in unauthorized hands, and some of them in the hands of criminal groups. Weapons have a long tradition, which will certainly not wear out or disappear in the next hundred years.
Given that in unauthorized hands, it is a much greater danger to the environment and given that in our country, especially in certain ethnic entities, there is a culture of more frequent waving of weapons, these are conditions that, unfortunately, indicate that the problems with weapons shall continue to be in front of us for years to come.
You mentioned the First World War, the conflicts in the Balkans, but we also had a conflict in Macedonia in 2001. Do you think that all the weapons from that conflict have been handed over to the competent authorities, or do they still exist in some criminal structures?
STOJANOVSKI: There is no example that the weapons were handed over, conditionally speaking, by unauthorized people, in the hands of the state. Thus, the example of 2001, which took place with the mediation of international forces, and which has its own positive dimension, actually showed that several thousand pieces of weapons were collected, which looked more like backward trophy weaponry than current ones. So one should not be too wise here and say that only a symbolic volume of weapons was collected.
Thank you for your excellent answers, which I think will be useful for us and the institutions to deal with illegal weapons, that is, to find the channels of criminal groups that deal with illegal weapons. If you think you have something more important to share, please do.
STOJANOVSKI: This is a topic that deserves to be explored from many aspects. This was just a symbolic conversation of some eight minutes with you, which touched only on a few current aspects. The phenomenon of small arms and light weapons has a wide range of questions that need to be researched and answered. So I guess you will consult research and analysis of domestic institutions, and even more so of international institutions, the center that monitors weapons in the region, that is the Sisak center in Belgrade, that you will use other analysis, and you will come to deeper information and knowledge about the scope, quantity, challenges and dangers of small arms. Here I would especially like to refer to the Palermo Protocol, the Third Protocol concerning small arms and light weapons, and the ammunition used, which protocol was, in fact, the most difficult to adopt, compared to the other two protocols, one on Human Trafficking, and the second on Smuggling Migrants, which only says that even today, and those countries that prefer security, democracy, in fact, are the countries that are the largest producers of weapons, and the largest revenue in their budgets come from selling weapons. Of course through legal channels. However, there is little room for weapons to cross from the legal to the irregular path, so this is a phenomenon that deserves to be thoroughly researched, and certainly to contribute to more knowledge in society regarding the problems of small and light weapons.
Video editing: Arian Mehmeti
Translation: Natasha Cvetkovska
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