Engineers Needed: Framing the Gaps between International and Local Perspectives on Organized Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina
December 15, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES discussion with Christopher Corpora, PhD Candidate, American University.

While conducting research on policies to combat organized crime in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Christopher Corpora recognized another widespread regional problem. His review of the literature led him to conclude that, within the wealth of articles and reports prepared by international organizations, NGOs and foreign governments, there was little or no reference to local perspectives on the problem. As a result, he resolved to determine whether the lack of local input affects policy outcomes.

From 2003 to 2004, Corpora conducted interviews with a number of local professionals in four cities—Banja Luka, Brcko, Sarajevo and Mostar—to gain insight into the institutional, sociological and legal impact of organized crime and corruption on the state. His respondents included opinion makers (such as those who work for nongovernmental organizations or universities), people in the legal professions (police, lawyers and judges), and business professionals.

Corpora's data revealed gaps in communication, information and expectations between local and international actors. Corpora traced these gaps to several factors. For instance, most Western international institutions operate primarily outside the region. When they do work inside the region, international actors interact with only a small, insular group of locals the so-called "Sarajevo 100." Relatedly, international actors have a limited understanding of the basic social problems that allow for the proliferation of organized crime and corruption. Two examples are unemployment, which is as high as 40 percent in some areas, and veza or schtela, which refer to the informal social network that has marked BiH culture for centuries. Being able to differentiate between these informal networks and actual criminal organizations without knowing the cultural context is difficult. Corpora asserted that the problems of crime and corruption in BiH and the broader Balkan region are nested within local contexts. His research revealed that international actors will not be able to resolve them if they continue to view these problems as separate from the society.

Corpora concluded that local professionals should be given a voice in analyzing and attempting to fix their social problems. Moreover, because peacekeeping troops are often the only international presence in certain areas, Corpora argued that they could better assist the international community, in terms of gathering information and implementing programs, if they were trained in civilian as well as military activities. Democratization and state-building initiatives would benefit greatly from a broader dialogue with local actors. By learning more about the people, institutions and culture of the region, the international community's initiatives would be more likely to succeed.