How to Smuggle: An Article

What were you doing in 1992? Did you go anywhere nice? Did you, perhaps, take a memorable holiday? Did you have food, water and electricity? You and I are lucky because many of the citizens of Croatia did not. The images above show the immense difference between life in Dubrovnik in 1991, and life in Dubrovnik in 2013.

At the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, Serbia and Croatia went to war. This conflict swallowed the entire region and other areas such as Bosnia and Herzegovina were plunged into a terrible state of conflict. This article will focus on a single consequence of that savagery: smuggling in Croatia.

In 1991, the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic used his power over The Federal Yugoslav People’s Army to invade Croatia. War had arrived, and the Croats were not prepared. To complicate matters, an international arms embargo on The Balkans prevented the Croatian government from importing weaponry to arm the defending nation. What was the solution? You guessed it: SMUGGLING.

The Croatian government encouraged citizens and soldiers alike to bring in all the guns and ammo they could manage. Of course, this was still very, very illegal, but when compared to being attacked without munitions, the people of Croatia choose to break a few rules.
When the Croatian Security Information Service was established in 1991, this official organisation took over smuggling operations, and the immense scale of the criminal activity became a state-funded task. There is no way of knowing exactly how enormous this project was, but from 1993-1995, over $308 million worth of weapons was smuggled into Croatia.
Slavko Degoricija, a Croatian Government Minister, famously told his troops that, “If we can’t bring in arms by plane or ship or lorry, then we must use our private cars.” He later explained to the international community that, “They the message, the cars started bringing arms in. Some got caught, but by god, a lot got through.”

Initially, Serbian artillery and heavy weaponry defeated the Croatian army, but eventually, the invading force was stretched too thin to continue attacking, and The Federal Yugoslav People’s Army (AKA Milosevic’s Serbian forces) were forced to retreat.

You might think that this would end the need for illegal smuggling; however, the government of Croatia was now faced with a new problem: poverty.

The war, like all miserable conflicts, was immensely painful to the nation and individual households alike. Taxes within the country were much higher than neighbouring nations, and the poorest of battle survivors simply couldn’t afford to eat. To counteract this, the clever people in charge of Croatia had a brilliant idea. Two hundred additional border crossings were opened (mostly to Bosnia and Herzegovina), which made it much easier to avoid high local prices by shopping in a neighbouring country. Once again, this was very, very illegal, so to be on the safe side, very few additional police were appointed to monitor the new crossings. Essentially, if you were desperate enough to need to shop in a totally different country, you were welcome to do so (as long as you didn’t get caught). This led to what is now known as “The suitcase trade,” which eventually threatened the national economy, and was consequently halted.

Today, Croatia has become the newest member of the European Union and to reflect this achievement, the most prominent contrabands smuggled through the region are drugs and human beings; just like the rest of the world.

Narcotics and human trafficking rings are a terrible blight on the global community and travelling to purchase inexpensive groceries is much, much more understandable to good citizens such as you or I. But let me ask you one final thing: Is the movement of slaves and heroin more terrible than an entire nation that is forced to smuggle weapons to defend against genocide? Or a region that is so afflicted with poverty that citizens simply cannot afford to eat in the cities within which they were born and raised?

If this article interested you, you might want to read the following references:

For information on modern smuggling operations in the Balkans-
Antolis, K. (2007). Smuggling in South Eastern Europe. Connections, 6, 71-84. Retrieved from,

For information on past smuggling operations in the Balkans-
Hajdinjak, M. (2002). Politically Correct Contraband. In Smuggling in Southeast Europe: The Yugoslav Wars and the Development of Regional Criminal Networks in the Balkans. (1st ed., p. 8-33). Sofia, Bulgaria: Centre for Democracy.

For a fabulous documentary on the conflict that arose due to the collapse of Yugoslavia-
Fraser, N., Lappy, B., Loza, T., Percy, N. (Producers) & Mitchel, P., Maqueen, A. (Directors). (2016). The Croatian War 1991-1995: The Death of Yugoslavia [Documentary]. United Kingdom: BBC.

For a non-fiction account of the conflict that arose due to the collapse of Yugoslavia-
Finlan, A. (2014). The collapse of Yugoslavia 1991–1999: Bloomsbury Publishing.

For a memoir written by survivors of the conflict that arose due to the collapse of Yugoslavia-
“Goodbye, Sarajevo,” by Atka Reid and Hana Schofield.

Image references:
-Denton, P. (1991). People queue for water at a standpipe [Photograph]. Retrieved from
-Kameraman1960. (2013). Crousers Tourism Dubrovnik Port [Photograph]. Retrieved from


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