Anything But Quiet on the Eastern Front
From Polski Kompott to the Russian Mafia - Part 1: Eastern Europe
Berndt Georg Thamm, Journalist, Founder of the German Association for Research on Drug Addiction Therapies, Berlin
Since the beginning of the 1990s Europe's political landscape, so familiar for decades, has been changing: the socialist-oriented regimes in Eastern Europe have fallen, Germany has been reunified, the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Warsaw Pact has been disbanded, the Baltic States have regained their independence, civil war is raging in the former Yugoslavia and - last but not least - Croatia and Slovenia have been recognized by the international community and Czechoslovakia has split into two independent states, the Czech and Slovak Republics.
The West's intelligence services predicted a gloomy future during these developments in the East. In a study submitted to the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in May 1991 by the CIA and DEA, two arms of the US secret service, it was said, for example, that 1991 would be an even worse year for the Soviet economy than 1990 had been. A few weeks after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991 the findings of a confidential analysis by the Federal German intelligence service (BND) became known. In the BND's opinion, according to its Vice-President, Paul Münstermann, speaking in early February 1992, the "combination of material poverty and burgeoning nationalism in the CIS states and Eastern Europe is highly explosive". The BND also saw the international drugs Mafia as a further and growing risk factor: "Drug trafficking and money laundering with turnovers higher than the value of total world oil production ... are consolidating the criminal structures of th
e international syndicates and penetrating economic and political life. Drug-related terrorism is growing and represents a major additional threat". In Germany this dramatic picture of the geopolitical situation led to repeated meetings of security experts.
In March 1993 an international congress of the Conference of Home Affairs Ministers was held in Frankfurt / Oder in the Land of Brandenburg. It was also attended by high-ranking representatives of the police forces in Poland, Russia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The security experts noted that, while "shadow economies with Mafia-like structures had emerged" in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, "established police structures, strategies and tactics were still largely lacking". Brandenburg's Home Affairs Minister, Ziel, advocated the formation of an 'East-West Security Council'. In July 1993 Heinz Eggert, Saxony's Home Affairs Minister, called for closer cooperation with Eastern European countries in the fight against organized crime, culminating in a 'kind of Eastern European FBI'. A few months later, in October, over 80 security professionals from 22 countries of Eastern and Western Europe met at Schloss Niederschönhausen near Berlin for a conference arranged by the independent Europa 2000
foundation. They concluded that organized crime in Europe will be one of the main issues in the coming decades.
The media too have taken up this issue in the past two or three years, with reports of the 'Eastern Mafia putting out feelers towards Germany' and of the 'drugs scene becoming a fixture in the East'.
In the last decade of this century Western and Eastern Europe are growing together to form a 'large geographical area of crime'. What problems do the countries of Northern, Central and South-Eastern Europe have today - in 1993/94 - with narcotics and crime? What is the situation in these countries as regards drugs and organized crime? Let us begin by describing this situation in the North-East of Europe, in the Baltic region.
Latvia regained its independence in September 1991. According to the Federal criminal investigation agency, the BKA, the Latvian drugs scene is dominated by home-made heroin produced from local and imported poppy seeds. Solvent abuse is also widespread among young people. Drug consumption has been rising since 1985. This is blamed both on the arrival of groups of criminals from the southern Soviet republics and on a change to other drugs after the campaign launched by Gorbachev against alcoholism (anti-alcohol laws of 1985). The abuse of pharmaceutical products is rare because of the shortage of medicines, the system of strict controls on storage and transport and the regulations governing prescriptions, which are, nevertheless, circumvented. In December 1992, for example, 600 kg of the synthetic drug MDA and the equivalent of DM 500 000 in 'drug money' were found in the laboratories of one of the country's largest pharmaceutical firms in Riga. Over three tons of this drug with an estimated value of a
bout DM 150 million were also seized by investigators at Frankfurt/ Main airport. It had been flown from Riga to Frankfurt as an influenza vaccine. Producers, dealers and couriers were arrested in Germany, Latvia and Czechoslovakia. Three Czech nationals arriving from Bratislava to oversee the transaction were also arrested. Further investigations in Czechoslovakia led to the arrest of other organizers and chemists. Besides manufacturing drugs, Latvia has become a transit country, its Baltic Sea ports being highly suited to the illegal import and export of drugs. Riga's container port, for example, is used both for the export of cannabis and opiates, smuggled into the country from Afghanistan through the CIS and sent on to, say, Canada by sea, and for the import of cocaine, which Colombian gangs smuggle in by sea from South America and then transport over land through Northern and Central Eastern Europe to Central and Western Europe.
Lithuania regained its independence in September 1991. By that time the number of heroin consumers and users of other drugs is said to have tripled in only five years (1987 to 1991). As Lithuania is not yet established as a transit country and drugs from abroad are expensive, most of the drugs consumed are produced locally. The BKA estimates that about 90% are 'home-made'. Although the growing of the poppies needed to produce drugs has been banned since 1978, they grow wild in some profusion in rural areas of this Baltic republic.
Estonia regained its independence in September 1991. Little is known about its past where drugs are concerned. At present, according to the BKA, 'drug-related crime is not yet particularly widespread'. Drug abuse is still most likely to occur among Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian immigrants from the Soviet Union. The most frequently used drug is believed to be opium, little of which is thought to be produced in the country itself. Stimulants (ephedrine), cannabis, anabolic preparations, solvents and - not least - legal psychoactive drugs are also used. Medicines are still in short supply, unlike alcohol: alcoholism has long, almost traditionally, been a problem in Estonia. As in Latvia, drug imports rose sharply after the anti-alcohol campaign in 1985. Supplies were obtained from other Soviet republics. Given the variety available, the number of users addicted to more than one drug also grew.
The situation in the countries of Central Eastern Europe is far worse. This is particularly true of the country with which Germany shares a 431 km frontier: Poland.
Poland has been a member of Interpol since October 1990. The German and Polish police have been cooperating since June 1991 to prevent and combat crime. Poland became the 26th member of the Council of Europe in November 1991. The country has unprecedented drug problems. In 1990 the state alcohol monopoly was wound up, making it far easier to import spirits. As a result, the country's top monitoring agency concludes that the state lost just under DM 1.8 billion in tax revenues by the beginning of 1992. According to official figures, alcohol consumption rose by 40% in this period (1990 to 1992). The number of people suffering from alcohol-related diseases is estimated at one million (of whom some 10% are receiving medical treatment). Per capita consumption in 1992 was 10.5 litres of pure alcohol, compared with 7 litres in 1989.
Drug addiction, according to Deputy Home Affairs Minister Jerzey Zimowski, speaking in the autumn of 1993, is becoming a disturbing social problem in Poland. This trend has now continued for over 15 years. Chemistry students in Gdansk are said to have invented 'Polish stew' in 1977. This is a concoction of poppy stalks, acetic acid, acetone and other chemicals. The type of poppy used has been grown in Poland for generations, its seeds traditionally used as a spice and in the pharmaceutical industry. While farmers were once able to sell poppy stalks without risk, the legislation on narcotics has been amended to place poppy-growing under government control. The penalty for the illegal growing and selling of poppies is two years' imprisonment. 'Stew', a cheap drug, was so successful partly because the law prohibits only dealing and smuggling, not acquisition, possession, consumption, transport or storage. As early as January 1981 the Polish television showed a documentary (by the journalist Mieczyslaw S
iemienski) on 'narkomani' in the country. In the same year the subject was taken up by the western media ('Die roten Fixer' (The Red Junkies), Stern 46/1981). As in the West, the number of drug-related deaths in Poland has been steadily rising: 19 in 1979, 102 in 1982, 130 in 1991 and 167 in 1992. In the early 1980s 12 000 drug addicts were known to the police. In the early 1990s the number was put at 100 000 to 120 000. In 1993 the Health Ministry's estimate was 200 000 to 250 000. The number of people using drugs (including cannabis and solvents) is thought to total well over half a million. Most addicts are self-sufficient: according to the police, there are about 1000 'stew kitchens' in the country. For some time now dealers as well as addicts have been brewing the poppy-stalk stock, which has consequently been smuggled into Germany since the summer of 1992 as a cheap heroin substitute known by such names as Polish soup, Polish sauce, Polish broth and Polish heroin (the active ingredient being
monoacetylmorphine). While a cubic centimetre (a 'cent') of 'stew' in a syringe costs about 25 000 zloty (roughly DM 2.10) in Poland, the 'soup' already contained in syringes can be sold for many times this amount in the West. However, Poland now occupies a leading position - alongside the Netherlands and Bulgaria - in the illicit production of synthetic drugs and may be Europe's main producer of amphetamines today. In 1992 Polish security forces put the number of illegal amphetamine laboratories as high as 200. Fifteen large laboratories are thought to be operating in the Warsaw, Lodz and Szczecin area alone. The necessary raw materials are smuggled in from Germany. The amphetamines are said to be of a high quality because well-trained chemists are employed to produce them. The trade in synthetic drugs is controlled by tightly organized (German, Polish and Scandinavian) gangs, who are now selling the stimulant in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia (particularly Sweden), the Czech Republic and Hung
ary. Besides Polish organized crime, South American and 'oriental' distribution rings have settled in the country. Russian organized crime is also represented. In 1993/94 Poland is popular as a transit country. Colombian gangs, for example, smuggle cocaine in by sea through such Baltic ports as Szczecin, from where it is sent over land to Central and Western Europe either by the direct route or via the Czech Republic. Natural drugs also arrive by land, Poland being the last transit country on the 'Caucasus Route', which used to pass through the CIS. More and more hemp- and poppy-based products from the Middle East are taking the 'Caucasus Route' now that the traditional 'Balkan Route' has become unusable.
The Czech and Slovak Republics (the former Czechoslovakia)
Until 31 December 1992 the Czech and Slovak Republics formed Czechoslovakia, which joined Interpol in 1990. Even in the early 1980s there were estimated (Mikula, 1981) to be some 3000 drug addicts in Prague and about 10 000 throughout what was then Czechoslovakia. In early December 1984 the communist party newspaper Rude Pravo reported that drug addiction in the country had clearly assumed proportions that made it impossible for all addicts to receive medical treatment. In June 1986 there were already reports of a 'drug wave striking an unprepared society'. In 1990, the year of the first free parliamentary elections, the number of drug abusers was estimated at between 35 000 and 100 000. About 7000 were registered. As in all the former socialist countries, local drug users were largely dependent on home-made drugs before the political system changed, and this is still true of the majority today, usually on financial grounds. In the Czech Republic the stimulant pervitin, known colloquially as 'pernik'
(gingerbread), is used far more widely than such traditional and expensive drugs as heroin and cocaine because it is easy to produce. So much of it is produced illicitly that Czech pervitin is also sold in foreign markets, which has even attracted the attention of the USA's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In April 1991 there were reports of another cheap drug, a codeine-based narcotic known as 'brown'. However, the Czech Republic not only produces drugs: it is also used as a base by gangs of criminals. Thus Czech organized crime is active both at home and abroad. Czechs in exile have, for instance, joined forces in the organized heroin trade on the North American coast, primarily in Canada. Like Poland, the Czech Republic has become a meeting point for international gangs engaged in organized crime: according to Jiri Vacek, adviser to the Home Affairs Ministry in Prague, Italian mafiosi and Russian and Ukrainian mafiosniks formed a joint 'drugs cartel' at a meeting in Czechoslovakia in early November
1992. According to the press in May 1992, 'the Prague underworld is terrified of the Russian Mafia'. The Aliens' Registration Office estimates that some 3000 former Soviet citizens are living illegally in the Czech capital alone. Almost all of them are alleged to belong to one of the ten large Mafia clans from the former Soviet republics. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1991 foreign criminals, Russians and Ukrainians for the most part, pushed their Czech rivals out of the market. Once the frontiers had been opened, the Czech Republic became geopolitically important because of its proximity to Germany and Austria. In 1992 the European Community was already expressing the view that 80% of the drugs destined for Western Europe were being smuggled through Czechoslovakia, since dealers from Russia, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan had, according to the police, moved into Prague. Czechoslovakia was also a traditional transit country on the Balkan Route used to smuggle d
rugs into Western Europe. Its successor states continue to play this role in 1993, especially as the smugglers' route that now runs north of the Balkan Route also passes through the Czech Republic. According to the BKA, the black market in drugs has revived like an epidemic as a result of the political and economic changes. Large quantities of narcotics are said to pass through the republic each day, and much the same can be said of a new transit country, Hungary.
The Hungarian news agency MTI was reporting on drug problems in the country as early as October 1985. While no more than 200 addicts were known to the authorities in 1970, some 30 000 were registered by 1984/85. From 1980 to 1985 alone the number of drug users is said to have tripled. In mid-July 1986 it was reported that drug abuse among young people had led the authorities to launch a nation-wide education campaign. The aim of this ministerial programme was to prevent drug abuse in Hungary from assuming western proportions. In 1989, 33 years after the Hungarian uprising and the year in which the constitution was amended (to introduce the multiple-party system), the country was estimated to have between 30 000 and 50 000 drug abusers. According to the head of the police anti-drug department, Gyorgy Hollosi, speaking in May 1992, Hungary (like the Czech Republic) is developing into a 'hub of the international drug trade between the East and West'. The land of the Magyars and especially its capital, Bu
dapest, are attracting growing interest from representatives of large drug cartels, like those in Colombia, the USA (Florida) and Turkey, and also from smaller middlemen. In 1991 6.5 kg of cocaine was seized at Feryhegy airport. In the same year at least 10 tonnes of drugs are said to have been transported through Hungary. In recent years the capital has also attracted gangs from the Far East. In Budapest's 10th District - Kobanya - a Chinese quarter (primarily Hong Kong Chinese) has emerged, with some 8000 inhabitants (estimated in late January 1992), including members of Chinese organized crime (Triads). In November 1992 the Budapest Drug Department believed that Triad leaders were placing their people in the growing catering trade, i.e. Chinese restaurants, with a view to developing as many as possible into safe drug distribution points. Until the early 1990s no drugs were produced in Hungary itself. Today, it is quite conceivable that the country - following the Polish and Czech examples - is deve
loping into a producer of illegal synthetic drugs. In December 1992 it became known that a Hungarian chemicals factory was producing and exporting hundreds of kilos of amphetamines. While 54 kg were seized, 382 kg had probably already been distributed. The change to capitalism is making it easier to produce drugs at home. The 'northern alternative' to the traditional Balkan Route now passes through Hungary. This transit function is expected to lead to a rise in drug-related crime. Legislation is being prepared to enable the growth of crime to be combated more effectively. The Hungarian intelligence service is also involved in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism and is cooperating with other services to this end. As early as June 1991, according to the head of the secret service in Budapest, Andras Galszecsy, in an interview at the time, thought was being given to the possibility of cooperating with the KGB, even though the people would view this with suspicion only a year after the ousti
ng of the communist regime.
Romania has been a republic with a multiple-party system since 1991. According to the BKA in 1993, the country does not yet have a drug problem, but there have been signs both of growing drug-related crime and the emergence of Mafia-like organizations. Besides air and train links, ferries on the Danube-Black Sea Canal to the Rhine and Rotterdam provide numerous opportunities for drug-smuggling. As they are short of staff and equipment, the increase in crime is becoming a mounting problem for the police and customs authorities. It is a problem that is not confined to Romania, but affects almost all the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe. The countries in the South-East of Europe are no exception.
In the Republic of Slovenia, independent since June 1991, new legislation is currently (June 1993) being drawn up to combat drug abuse and trafficking, following a sharp rise in consumption. Slovenia is a transit country for all kinds of drugs. Heroin, for example, is still being smuggled over the traditional Balkan Route. Cocaine is brought into the country from Colombia by couriers through the airport near the capital, Ljubljana. Cannabis is smuggled in mainly from Spain and Morocco, while most LSD comes from the Netherlands.
The former Yugoslavia
As far as drugs and organized crime are concerned, the BKA still (June 1993) regards the former Yugoslavia, where an uncontrollable civil war has been raging since the spring of 1991, as a single entity, with Slovenia excluded.
As early as November 1979 a government report referred to the growing threat of drug addiction and drug trafficking in Yugoslavia. While only 250 cases of drug addiction were registered in the country in 1970, the figure had already risen to over 5600 by 1978. In the late 1970s the drug problem was largely confined to the cities of Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana. In early October 1980 German Home Affairs Minister Baum and his Yugoslav counterpart, Herljevic, signed a protocol in Bonn and Belgrade that provided for closer contacts between the two countries in the fight against crime. They particularly wanted to cooperate more closely in combating drugs, since Yugoslavia was one of the traditional transit countries on the Balkan Route. In 1987, according to official figures, a total of 2000 drug addicts were registered. The number of undetected cases was assumed to be very high, most estimates being around 10 000.
At the beginning of the 1990s the multi-ethnic state collapsed. Slovenia and Croatia became independent in June 1991. Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its sovereignty in October 1991. Serbia and Montenegro, all that was left of Yugoslavia, formed a federal republic and in April 1992 claimed to be the legal successor to the former Yugoslavia. The collapse of the country was followed in the spring of 1991 by the outbreak of a civil war that has raged in the former Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina since April 1992. According to Bosnian government figures, some 137 000 people had been killed or gone missing by July 1993 and 1.3 million people had fled their homes because of the war. The UN fears the conflict may spread across the frontier to Macedonia (which declared its independence in September 1991) and Kosovo, which belongs to Serbia and whose Muslim ethnic Albanians (90% of the population), who want independence, have been suppressed by the Serbian authorities. In August 1993 some UN peace-keepers were repo
rted to be involved in various shady deals, including heroin smuggling. A special commission of the UN Military Police then began investigating these serious accusations against the UN troops in Sarejevo, which had been under siege since the spring of 1992.
The war-torn former Yugoslavia is still a transit country on the Balkan Route and, like the former Czechoslovakia, has also gained in importance as a 'depository' country. Heroin and cannabis are smuggled in from the Middle East on their way to Western Europe. Security agencies assume that, with the war making the situation in the country unclear, the former Yugoslavia is being used by criminal organizations as an operational base.
Since the death in 1985 of Enver Hoxha, for many years head of state of the then People's Republic, his successors have shown signs of attempting to open up the country, which has been a presidential republic since 1991. Many years ago there was an 'Albanian Connection' that ran cigarettes across the Adriatic from Italy to Albania, the Albanian end of the operation being the port of Durrës. Supplies arrived from the Italian port of Brindisi 140 km away, which is one of the centres of the Nuova Sacra Corona, the Apulian Mafia. The Tobacco Trading Association in Rome estimated in 1990 that the Italian members of the 'Albanian Connection' were earning some DM 500 million a year from this extensive trade and that the Italian Treasury was losing the equivalent of about DM 1.2 billion as a result. The possibility of this illegal trade being extended to include drugs other than tobacco in the 1990s cannot be ruled out. Bulgaria showed what can happen in the 1980s, when a socialist state-trading enterprise form
ed a disastrous drug-trafficking alliance with Sicily's Cosa Nostra.
In September 1992 Germany and Bulgaria signed an agreement on cooperation in the fight against organized crime, drug-related crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. As it is on the Balkan Route, Bulgaria was originally an important transit country for drugs transported over land from the Middle Eastern countries where they were grown or produced. The 'Bulgarian Connection' is said to have emerged in 1967, during the Cold War, when the heads of the Warsaw Pact security services asked themselves 'how they might exploit and promote the degeneracy of western society'. These deliberations continued at a follow-up conference of officials of the Bulgarian state security service, the KDS (later known as the DS), in Sofia. The secret service was well aware of the illegal movement of drugs from the Middle East through Bulgaria to Western Europe (and North America). The new approach adopted in 1970 was to take advantage of drugs or drug trafficking as a tactical weapon against the West. The Bulgarian state-trad
ing enterprise Kintex, a major earner of foreign exchange from imports and exports of merchandise of all kinds, was used for the purpose. Kintex officials began to sell drugs that had already been seized (heroin and morphine base) to certain Middle Eastern and European dealers. Drug dealers soon got to hear of Bulgaria's 'new' role. Quite a few moved their headquarters or branches to Bulgaria, Sofia being the preferred centre. In the late 1970s the DS officials at Kintex were supplying a selected group of some 20 dealers and middlemen. The consortium they formed controlled almost 50% of the drug trade with the Middle East. Through a heroin distributing organization, which had its headquarters in Milan until 1980/81, the consortium was also able to establish contacts with representatives of the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra). Some laundered drug money was reinvested with Kintex in purchases of weapons, which were shipped from the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas. Countries short of foreign exchange a
nd financially weak guerrilla movements were particularly interested in bartering drugs for arms. Western intelligence and investigation agencies believe, for example, that in the early 1980s some 40% of all light infantry weapons acquired by the PLO were bought with cannabis (from Lebanon) and morphine base or heroin (from Syrian laboratories). The activities of the 'Bulgarian Connection' did not remain a secret from the western anti-drug organizations, including the USA's Drug Enforcement Agency, for long. In 1980 the US Ambassador was instructed by Washington to issue a warning to the Bulgarian Government: this trade must stop. But the USA's warning long went unheeded. The socialist country became a republic in 1990, survived a government crisis in 1992, joined the Council of Europe in the same year and signed the Convention on Human Rights four months later. Despite this, it continues to act as a transit country for drugs. Following the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia in 1991 the traditi
onal Balkan Route was moved to the north. This 'Northern Balkan Route' now passes through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics. As, however, Bulgaria's strategically favourable position next to Turkey has made it, according to the BKA, one of the main channels on the Balkan Route, criminal organizations are now busily setting up entrepots, where heroin from Lebanon, Syria and the Far East is repackaged and cut. As the security at Sofia's international airport is poor, it has probably become popular with drug couriers in transit from Asian and African countries to Western Europe. However, Bulgaria is not only a traditional transit country but also a drug producer. While Poland produces synthetic drugs illegally for the European market, Bulgaria is probably the largest producer of fenetyllin (captagon) and amphetamines for supply to the Middle East and some African countries. Well structured organizations run by Afghan, Iranian, Turkish and Yugoslav nationals are becoming increas
ingly important in Bulgarian drug smuggling and trafficking.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria have become, or are becoming, new Eastern European hubs of the drug trade and meeting places for international organized crime. The people with whom both Colombian cocaine dealers and members of the Italian Cosa Nostra discuss business are not infrequently Russians and Caucasians. The 'Russian Mafia' is present and active in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in almost all the Eastern European countries and now in Western Europe and overseas (Israel and the USA). Organized criminals from the Russian Federation, the Ukraine and the Caucasian and Central Asian republics are now involved in all manner of criminal activities, including, of course, drug trafficking. The second part of the series, which will appear in the next edition, is therefore devoted to the development of this organized crime, from the 'red Mafia' in the Soviet Union to the international 'mafiosniks' of the CIS, describes the drug situation in the Commonwealth and presents the v
arious CIS members, from Belarus to Tajikistan.