Balkan weapons trafficked in to France still ‘major problem’

A year after jihadists used weapons manufactured in Serbia to gun down victims in Paris, Balkan countries are struggling to end the scourge of illegal arms trafficking.

Balkan weapons trafficked in to France still 'major problem'
Photo: AFP

The killers who opened fire at the Bataclan theatre, cafes and restaurants in the French capital last November used Yugoslav-era assault rifles produced by Serbia's Zastava Arms.

Months earlier the Kouachi brothers, behind the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, carried a rocket launcher from the Balkans, a region littered with weapons since its 1990s civil conflicts.

According to a top French magistrate, Robert Gelli, Serbian citizens come up in nearly a third of international arms trafficking probes carried out in France.

“The weapons getting through to western Europe and the effects they have is still a major problem,” said Ivan Zverzhanovski, who leads a United Nations Development Programme project in the Balkans to help combat illegal arms trafficking.

The international monitoring project Small Arms Survey said in late 2014 that an estimated 3.6 to 6.2 million firearms were in civilian possession in the Western Balkans, a region home to less than 25 million people.

In Serbia alone there are between 200,000 and 900,000 unregistered weapons, according to authorities, despite various amnesty campaigns launched since the assassination of reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003.

“It is a fact that in Bosnia there are weapons that are not under control and traffickers buy these weapons,” Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic told news portal recently, stressing that the problem existed across the region.


Zverzhanovski told AFP that, based on information from law enforcement agencies, a gun bought for 250 to 500 euros on the Balkan black market could sell for 3,000 to 5,000 euros in a country such as Sweden.

The weapons are rarely transported by the truck-load but a few at a time, in private cars or the countless buses that link the Balkans with Western Europe.

Some are sent in pieces to be reassembled later and some are even sent by post, experts say. Smuggling on this micro-scale makes the problem difficult to tackle.

“Until now, no serious groups of arms traffickers have been dismantled in Bosnia,” said Jasmin Ahic, an analyst from Sarajevo's faculty of criminology.

The arms have their roots in communist Yugoslavia, where large stockpiles were kept across the federation for use by civilian-staffed “territorial defence” units, designed to defend against a surprise foreign attack.

They ended up deployed in inter-ethnic civil war as the federation collapsed, while more weapons were smuggled into the region to build up armies in the face of international sanctions.

'Turning point'

Such arms went untracked in the chaos of conflict until resurfacing again on the streets of Aachen, Stockholm or Paris, where 130 people were killed in the attacks on November 13, 2015.

“The Paris attacks were a turning point on many levels,” said Zverzhanovski, referring to growing cooperation within the EU and between Balkan law enforcement agencies.

Serbian and French officials signed an accord in October to form joint teams to investigate arms smuggling, and Belgrade's prosecutor for organised crime Mladen Nenadic said “determination and clarity” were needed to tackle the problem.

In April, 5,000 police officers were mobilised in all former Yugoslav republics in a 48-hour Interpol-led operation — but it resulted in the seizure of just 40 firearms and six kilogrammes of explosives, along with 22 arrests, according to Bosnian police.

According to Zverzhanovski, efforts are “still relatively ad hoc, case-based,” and the EU needs to help to build Balkan police forces' capacity, along with plying political pressure on the region to deal with illegal possession.

“This is the moment to tackle it, before these countries come into the EU,” he said, noting that Croatia's efforts on firearms dropped off significantly once it joined the bloc.

by AFP's Jovan Matic, Rachel O'Brien

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Does Austria have a problem with violence against women? 

Austria is the only EU country where more women have been killed than men in 2021. Is this a statistical anomaly or does it speak to a deeper problem in Austrian society?

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

In early May, a 50-year-old woman and her 76-year old mother were shot and killed in the Salzburg Flachgau region.

Just days before, a woman was killed in Vienna.

This led to demonstrations against ‘femicide’ (the murder of women) in the capital and prompted the Minister of Social Affairs Wolfgang Mückstein to says, as the father of two daughters, he was “sad and angry” about the deaths.

More women than men killed in Austria

So far this year 11 women have been murdered in Austria, making it the only EU country in which more women were killed than men

While across the European Union 65 percent of those killed are male, more women than men were killed in Austria in 2021 – as well as 2015 and 2016.

READ MORE: Outrage in Austria over ninth woman is murdered in 2021

This has led some to ask whether there is a problem with violence against women culturally embedded in Austrian society. 

Little consensus

Despite widespread political and academic discussion on the topic, there is no consensus on why murders of women are so prevalent in Austria. 

Austrian writer Gerhard Ruiss, who created the initiative ‘Femicide – It’s All About Us’, told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung that violence protection projects and women’s shelters are chronically underfunded in Austria. 

Ruiss also indicated that an assessment of femicides often shows major police failings, particularly as the offenders often have long histories of violence and are “known to the authorities”. 

However, a representative of the Archdiocese of Vienna claimed in a Die Presse newspaper comment piece that Austria did not have an unusual level of femicide in a European comparison, saying the country was “only remarkable” because it recorded very few murders of men in an international comparison.

Home ‘most dangerous’ place

Speaking to The Local, Teresa Ulleram of domestic violence charity Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt in der Familie (Vienna Intervention Centre against Violence in the Family), agreed this could be the reason women seemed to be statistically more likely to be murdered than men.

“Most murders here do not happen on the streets or in public spaces, but actually at home, ” she said. “Domestic or family violence is a phenomenon that is primarily directed against women and children.”

Ulleram said in the vast majority of cases of femicide, the perpetrators are male, and are even often close relatives.

Not necessarily related to immigration

Despite claims to the contrary by some political parties, the statistics show the increase in murders is not necessarily related to immigration.

In 2020, the suspects in all femicides were Austrians in 21 out of 26 cases. In the year before, 22 of the 43 suspects were Austrians, Der Standard reports. 

Maria Rösslhumer, the Head of the Association of Autonomous Austrian Women’s Shelters, told Zett magazine that the problem was too widespread in Austrian society to be blamed on immigrants. 

“Politicians try to play down violence against women by increasingly labelling it as an “imported problem” that came to Austria through migration. But that’s not true,” she said.

“There is a problem in Austria with violence against women that cannot be reduced to migrants. Every fifth woman experiences physical or sexual violence in her life.”

Do Austria’s gun laws need reform?

The Local has reported previously on Austria’s relatively relaxed laws on gun ownership. 

In May, Austrian gun manufacturer Glock prompted outrage with an advert in which a gun was shown in a Mother’s Day advert. 

EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?

However, Ulleram was not convinced stricter gun laws would make the problem disappear. She said more gun control was “important” but perpetrators also used weapons such as knives or even their own hands to commit murders. 

Although Austria signed the Istanbul Convention (an international treaty creating binding legal norms against violence against women and domestic violence) in 2011 and ratified it in 2013, not all the conventions recommendations and measures have been implemented yet in Austria, Ulleram said. 

She called for a variety of measures to prevent femicides – such as more budgeting for victim protection institutions, and greater funding for the police and justice. 

‘Very good laws’

One positive aspect is women in Austria are protected by “very good laws,” Ulleram said women were particularly vulnerable just before or after a separation.

In Austria the Protection Against Violence Act was passed in 1997, and since then, women no longer have to automatically leave their homes and go to a women’s shelter in the case of violence in the home. Instead perpetrators can be made to leave by the police. 

Last week, a government round table took place at which a package of measures against violence against women and to strengthen violence prevention was decided.

More money will be made available for violence protection institutions and for work with perpetrators such as men’s counselling.

Violence against women can be attributed to ‘many causes’

However, these more steps will not totally address the most fundamental root cause of violence identified by domestic violence charities  – the patriarchy.

Ulleram said that violence against women can be attributed to many causes, and in Austria was “deeply” embedded in patriarchal and historically developed social structures. 

One telling statistic is that Austria is still one of the EU countries with the largest gender pay gap between women and men.