Serbia is the leader in the region in the possession of legal and illegal firearms, but other countries are not far behind.
By Katica Djurovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 08/08/12
There are more than 4 million illegal weapons in the hands of Southeastern European citizens, according to experts. [Reuters]
Southeast Europe's are heavily armed – according to the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, people in the region legally own 3 million firearms and another 4 million illegal weapons.
Serbia leads the region in weapons, according to Ivan Cvijovic, police inspector at the public order sector of the Belgrade police department. The rate of registered firearms per 100 people is 15.81.
Montenegro has 14.36 weapons per 100 people, followed by Croatia (8.36), Bosnia and Herzegovina (7.97), Macedonia (7.63), Moldova (5.44), and Bulgaria (4.03). Greece and Romania have less than one licensed weapon per 100 people, Cvijovic said.
"Almost 45,000 pieces of weapons are in [the hands of] of 3,300 legal entities, while more than 1 million weapons are owned by 600,000 individuals [in Serbia]. It means that some people have more than one weapon. Often, only one is registered," Cvijovic told SETimes.
When it comes to illicit firearms, Serbia is again a leader in the region with about 1 million illegal weapons, according to a study by the Small Arms Survey NGO from Switzerland.
With both legal and illegal firearms are taken into account, the NGO said that Serbia has about 38 weapons for every 100 people.
According to Zlatko Nikolic, an analyst at the Institute for Criminological and Sociological Research in Belgrade, the possession of illegal firearms is a result of two decades of wars, conflicts, criminal and corruption. He said that the mild penal policy for having an illegal weapon also must be taken into account -- depending on the type of weapons and quantity, penalties range from three months in prison to probation.
Criminologists claim that at least 80% of the firearms that people hide at home are from the past wars.
Podgorica resident Novica S., 55, is a passionate hunter and has all papers for his hunting rifle. However, he also has an illegal Beretta handgun, a present from his father who fought in World War II and won a handgun as a trophy.
"We used it only for special occasions -- celebrating weddings, childbirth or Christmas. The new law says that the trophy weapons must have striker removed, so I have no intention of registering it. It won't be a gun then, but a toy," said Novica, who asked SETimes not to use his last name because of the illegal nature of his weapon.
In Croatia, there are 313,818 registered firearms. The number of illicit firearms is estimated at about 600,000.
Out of the 450,000 adult citizens in Montenegro, 103,700 of them have permission to possess firearms. There are 170,000 legal firearms in the country, but the interior ministry estimates there is the same amount of illicit firearms.
According to Macedonian NGO Civil, which heads a nationwide campaign to control privately-held weapons, one in four Macedonian families keep registered firearm at home. The number of illegal weapons in the country of 2.1 million people amounts to 250,000.
Xhabir Deralla, head of the organisation, said the country needs another disarmament campaign, as previous attempts co-ordinated by the police have been unsuccessful. The last weapon roundup, in January 2011, gathered 100 weapons, including guns, a mine and ammunition.
"Civil estimates that 110,000 to 170,000 people in the country hold about 500,000 illegal weapons," Deralla told SETimes.
The Belgrade Centre for Security Studies conducted a survey in 2011 on the sense of security among the Serbian citizens. Almost 70% replied positively.
"However, their sense of security is not ascribed to the efficiency of the state, but their own strength and their neighbourhood's. So, I think that when police and prosecutors start doing their job more seriously, there will be less doubt among people and they will be willing to surrender their weapons," Nikolic said.