In criminal markets, violence does not happen by accident – and it is seldom a first resort. The most efficient and controlled markets are those where violence is not even necessary, since one group has a monopoly. Violence can also be bad for business, since it attracts the attention of law enforcement, which increases risks. It can also trigger a deadly spiral of tit-for-tat killings.

Since 2014, several dozen Montenegrins and Serbians have been killed in a bloody feud between two criminal groups from the same small Adriatic town of Kotor, located on the beautiful Montenegrin coast. In the same period, criminal groups from the Western Balkans have quietly and efficiently become major players in the global distribution of drugs, particularly the supply of cocaine between Latin America and Europe.

These trends raise a number of critical questions. If Western Balkan criminals can co-operate or at least co-exist abroad, why are they killing each other at home? What does the violence tell us about the evolution of the feud, and the criminal ecosystem in Montenegro and Serbia? Is there a pattern to the hits, and how could the conflict end? These are among the key questions explored in this policy brief.

Making a killing: What assassinations reveal about the Montenegrin drug war

Download PDF
Share this article


Walter Kemp

Walter Kemp is particularly focused on GI’s work in South Eastern Europe, and bigger picture issues like dealing with the impact of drugs in urban environments as well as the relationship between crime and conflict. Before joining GI, Walter was head of the Strategic Policy Support Unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Between 2010 and 2016 he worked at the International Peace Institute (IPI) where he led the Institute’s “Peace without Crime” project. Previously he served for four years as spokesman and speechwriter at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Between 1996 and 2006 he was at the OSCE, including as Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and Senior Adviser to the Secretary General and OSCE Chairmanships. Walter, who is Canadian, has a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics, as well as degrees in political science and history from the University of Toronto and McGill University. In addition to his work at GI, he is a Special Adviser to the Cooperative Security Initiative. He also teaches at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.

Read more