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Western Press Review: Comments Concentrate On Arkan's Murder

By Don Hill, Dora Slaba, and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 17 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The flamboyant death in Serbia of the flamboyant war criminal Zelijko Raznatovic -- known as Arkan -- captures the attention and the imagination of commentators in the Western press.

OBSERVER: Arkan cheated justice

The Observer, London, says in an editorial that multitudes wished for Arkan's death. Yet the Observer expresses regret that he now can never be judged by an earthly tribunal. The Observer says this: "With the Serb General Ratko Mladic, [Arkan] was responsible for untold misery among the Muslims of Bosnia and a cruelty even Mladic would have found hard to stomach. The barbarity of [Arkan's] paramilitaries known as the Tigers achieved a special notoriety. The mass rapes, executions and torture that he and his men practiced will be remembered for generations."

In the words of the editorial: "His death will be greeted with bleak satisfaction throughout Europe. But whatever the grim toasts made to his killer this weekend, there will be a lingering sense that Arkan cheated justice."

AFTENPOSTEN: Justice would have dispersed the mythology surrounding Arkan

The Aftenposten in Norway concurs. Its editorial says: "Many in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia will say that [Arkan] got what he deserved." As the editorial puts it: "Even though Arkan's case is a case of the murder of a murderer, his demise is a great loss. The victims of his Tigers deserved to have him brought to justice. This would have dispersed the mythology surrounding him, and would have exposed his crimes for what they really were: crimes against both individual people and against humanity."

TIMES: Arkan's murder suggests that Serbia's rulers are increasingly fearful of retribution

London's The Times said in an editorial Sunday that Arkan was just one among many former allies of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic who have been leaving this life. In The Times' words: "Only in a state as psychologically warped and criminally ruled as today's Serbia could Arkan have continued to flaunt his power so brazenly."

The editorial said that Arkan was a thug whose followers were thugs. As The Times put it: "The rabid nationalism that recruited such dregs of society was ready to embrace as a hero a man who boasted of the massacre of 250 people in Vukovar and set the standard for brutality in the campaigns of terror against the Croats and Muslims of eastern Bosnia."

The newspaper added this: "His murder [suggests] that Serbia's rulers are increasingly fearful of retribution for the crimes committed in their country's name in three separate wars. One by one, those with whom Mr. Milosevic's name has been linked have disappeared."

LA STAMPA: This was no normal murder

From Italy, La Stampa says in an editorial: "This was no normal murder, not only because [Arkan] had become a symbol of a dissolution of an entire country. It looks far more like the beginning of settling accounts on a grand scale, a kind of Kristallnacht (the assault on Jewish property by Hitler's early followers in Germany) in the Balkans. A wave of murders is to be feared which may reach the front ranks of the politicians."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is a long series of unexplained Mafia-style murders in Belgrade

Several commentaries in the German press take off from the Arkan murder to indict Serbia generally. Bernhard Kueppers, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, calls the slain man "the Tiger Who Knew Too Much." The commentator writes this: "There is a long series of unexplained Mafia-style murders in the organized crime world of Belgrade. Many of the victims were -- like Arkan -- internationally wanted criminals who were said to have been tasked by the secret police during Communist times to kill unpopular emigres in foreign countries. Later, the Serbian plunderers acquired wealth as paramilitary 'heroes' through the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims or by smuggling goods in defiance of international sanctions. There are various attempts at explanations in Belgrade, either that by these murders the criminals who got rich in the war are settling accounts among themselves, or that the regime is getting rid of some of them, or that some part of the police is acting on its own initiative."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Serbia is hardly a land ruled by law

In a commentary titled "The Sudden Death of the Big Cat," Matthias Rueb writes this in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "The mass murderer came to a bad end by being murdered himself." Rueb says that because Arkan was never convicted of a capital crime, in legal terms he should properly be described as only a "suspected" war criminal, murderer, weapons dealer, smuggler and underworld king. But Rueb says Serbia is hardly a land ruled by law, as the many unsolved murders of prominent Serbs show.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: A gangster dies in gangland

A scholar of Yugoslavia, commenting in the Wall Street Journal Europe, says that those who indict Serbia generally are correct. Author Stephen Schwartz says this of Arkan's murder: "A gangster dies in gangland." As Schwartz puts it: "In following the siren call of communism-turned-fascism, the Serbian nation -- including many prominent intellectuals, seemed to have believed it had entered into a new phase of modernity, as it once embraced Romantic nationalism, humanistic Marxism, and other fads. But history has proved a cruel teacher of the Serbs. They are learning the hard way that civic responsibility, accountable institutions, human rights, and respect for the lives and property of their neighbors are much more than empty phrases."