While I was in Macedonia and Kosovo, I met with various NGOs and organizations, including IOM (Skopje and Pristina), an NGO working in domestic violence and several organizations that deal specifically with trafficking in persons. Without exception, they denied that the trafficking route from Albania through Macedonia and on to Kosovo (and from there, the EU) had shown a marked increase since the speedboat moratorium. It was a route that had been in use for some time but that was not unduly impacted by the (temporary) change in laws. One of the difficulties in examining the phenomenon of trafficking is that, as laws have changed and police forces have become more aware of the issue, traffickers have increasingly gone underground. It makes trafficking harder to study and, therefore, harder to fight. What is the real story? It’s almost impossible to say. While organizations based in Albania claim that Albanians are trafficked through Kosovo, this is not borne out by the organizations working on trafficking in those countries. Who is telling the truth? Who knows what the truth is? I do believe, however, that speedboats are still traveling between Albania and Italy, carrying both drugs and human beings, though perhaps not quite as frequently as before the moratorium on their usage.
During my last day in Pristina, such a lovely, wonderful city that is difficult to believe the chaos and conflict that took place here not so long ago, I met with a woman, let’s call her Molly, who runs a trafficking survivor assistance NGO. Molly started the organization after she lost her job (she worked as an economist for the Ministry of Labor) when the Serbs fired all the Albanians working in government positions shortly before the war broke out in Kosovo. Initially, Molly’s organization dealt with returning refugees and then they began to see an increase in trafficked women as women and girls, both from Kosovo and abroad, who were bought and sold to feed the demand of foreign soldiers and peacekeepers. Kosovo is a destination as well as a transit and source country which, like Albania, has seen a growing trend in the number of women trafficked internally.
Then Molly told me a story about a well known and well respected businessman in Pristina who, to all outward appearances, is a successful business owner and entrepreneur. He is also heavily involved in trafficking women and girls. Several of these women were being helped by her organization. This businessman held on to the children of these women so that they would be too afraid to escape in case he harmed their children as retribution. He had called these women repeatedly, telling them that they would never make the money they made with him with anyone else, that he was the only one that understood them. Bravely, Molly phoned him and told him that these girls were fragile, that they were damaged psychologically and that they really needed some help. He agreed that they were “damaged goods” but he said that he wasn’t too worried because he knew they would return to him because only he could provide for them. Molly told him that he should be careful because one of them may call the police out of a desire for protection and that could cause him problems. He laughed and informed her that “the police are my friends. What do I have to fear?” And yet, to the outside world, this man was a role model to the community, somebody whose business success they would like to emulate.
On one of the main thoroughfares in Pristina, there is a huge billboard on the side of a building of former Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, an ethnic Albanian who was widely popular. Despite converting to Christianity later in life, he remains beloved, even in a predominantly Muslim nation. He is wearing the trademark scarf that he kept on even in summer. He wore this scarf to represent the “bondage of Kosovo” and he proclaimed that, when Kosovo was free, he would remove his scarf. He didn’t live to see this goal entirely accomplished, having died in 2006 of lung cancer.
While people in this region don’t wear scarves in summer, they do wear blinders. If people continue to idolize material goods without questioning where they come from, if they continue to lionize traffickers for their material wealth, if the government continues to pronounce trafficking dead, how can we fight it? Before trafficking can be effectively eliminated in the Balkan region, the bondage of outward appearances, the slavery to the superficial must be addressed.
Posted By Jennifer Hollinger
Posted Aug 7th, 2007