Over the last few months, if not years, the UK media has reported claims by law enforcement authorities of an upsurge of serious, complex criminality conducted by Albanian organised crime groups, often referred to as the “Albanian mafia”.
Without dismissing the plight of the victims of human trafficking or intelligence agency analysis of the drugs trade, what we are witnessing here is another example of how a myth is created, constructed and then perpetuated.
In this case, it is the “mafia myth”, a specific construction of an underworld where ethnicity is the prime characteristic of an “other” that is on one side feared and on the other glamourised.
Excellent fieldwork conducted by academics, including interviews with offenders, judicial cases and ethnographic accounts, has already shown how criminal Albanian groups actually lack coordination when acting abroad, such as in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. In most cases, they also lack direct connections with criminal groups in their country of origin.
To a degree, the idea of a highly organised, global Albanian mafia remains a myth that creates negative stereotypes about, and animosity within, the global Albanian migrant diaspora. It also misses the point that the global criminal underworld is often a combination of complex opportunity structures and a delicate equilibrium of different roles, which are played by a huge variety of individuals. Shared ethnicity might facilitate or enable this to some extent, but it certainly does not create it.
Jana Arsovska, who teaches at the City University of New York and has followed the doings of Albanian criminals for more than 15 years, the “Albanian mafia” is a myth. The showy wealth and extreme violence of criminals hailing from Albania and Kosovo does not mean they belong to a structured organisation with common rituals like Sicily’s Cosa Nostra or the yakuza syndicates in Japan.