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The Impact of Organized Crime Syndicates on Poverty in Romania

Organized Crime Syndicates
After coming out of being ruled under a dictatorship for decades, Romania is still enduring political instability. Although more than 30 years have passed since the end of Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule, the nation is still struggling to find its footing, with the combination of widespread corruption and powerful organized crime syndicates leading to rampant poverty.

Effects of Corruption on the Romanian People

Since assuming office in December 2014, President Klaus Iohannis has had 13 different Prime Ministers and corruption has wormed its way into every aspect of Romanian society.

This volatility has made it difficult for the nation to recover from the damaging economic policies of Ceausescu. This instability has contributed to about 22% of the Romanian population living below the national poverty line in 2020, according to World Bank data.

How Criminal Syndicates Prey on Poorer Communities

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Serious Organized Crime Coordinator for Central and Southern Europe Richard Calver explained how organized criminal syndicates capitalize on poverty; “When political instability and grand corruption result in failing state services, organized crime groups will establish illicit economies.” These economies will undoubtedly target the poorest in society and exacerbate the issues they are facing by driving them toward crime and away from the possibility of support.

Calver elaborated on this describing how, “over time these established criminal dynamics can become culturally ingrained in poorer communities, further isolating them from state protection and perpetuating an acceptance of exploitation.” The venality in these communities also provides prime recruitment grounds for the syndicates responsible for the corruption in the first place.

Patrick Winn explains in his book “Hello, Shadowlands,” how widespread corruption inevitably forces politicians to turn to crime and pushes individuals into a state where they have to choose if they want to become predator or prey. If the government and law enforcement are in league with criminal persecutors, finding a foothold in the underworld can often seem like the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, criminality is not just prevalent among the residents of these poorer communities, corruption spreads through all levels of Romanian society. The crime syndicates strive hard to preserve this status quo since these poor areas are a lucrative source of money for them. The consequence of this is widespread bribery, corruption, violence and those in power overlooking the plight of the Romanian people.

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index that Transparency International released in 2021, Romania scored 45 out of 100, making it the second most corrupt nation in the European Union. These factors create a vicious cycle as the instability, poverty and organized crime all feed off each other and make it extremely difficult for the nation’s economic issues to be resolved.

The Search for a Solution

Calver speaks of the vital role understanding plays in solving these situations, stating, “When considering initiatives to tackle poverty, consideration must be given to understand the vested interests of criminal actors who profit from the suffering of others.” A large part of Calver’s work involves developing this understanding. His time in Romania and the hard work of his team promise to help both Western governments and humanitarian organizations address the issues the Romanian people face in a more effective manner.

One of the humanitarian organizations working to improve the quality of life for impoverished people in Romania is Habitat for Humanity. Habit for Humanity began working in Romania in 1996 to address housing poverty, particularly in rural areas where people “live in cramped and decaying apartments in condominium complexes,” according to its website. Its work involves constructing and renovating homes for low-income families throughout the country. Habit for Humanity’s building rehabilitation work targets low-income households living in dilapidated communist-era apartment blocks. In 2018 alone, the organization served 280 people in Romania through housing initiatives.

Calver and his team along with the international community and humanitarian organizations like Habitat for Humanity aim to improve the quality of life of Romanians amid corruption and the presence of organized crime syndicates. Despite the difficulties the nation’s people face, with an understanding of the intricacies of issues at play, there appears to be hope for change.

–  Henry Tuppen
Photo: Flickr