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South Slavic: June 15, 2000

15 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 23

Why All The Murders In Milosevic's Yugoslavia?

Part II: Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss the background of a series of murders of public figures that have hit Serbia in the last few years. Our guests are Dragor Hiber, vice president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia and, until recently, professor of the Belgrade Faculty of Law, from which he was dismissed for being politically unsuitable; and Budimir Babovic, former head of the Yugoslav bureau of the Interpol as well as former vice president of that organization. Part I appeared on 8 June.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Hiber, is it possible that foreign organized crime--the Sicilian Mafia has been mentioned--is involved in these murders? For example, might the Belgrade mob have contracted somebody's killing with a foreign mafia?

Dragor Hiber: One cannot exclude that our mafia is connected with the foreign one. There were--and there still are--people here whose family names evoke--excuse me for simplifying things this way--certain connections with the Italian mafia. There were, as well, some Colombian connections, but I think that is all history now.

What I want to say, however, is that Yugoslavia is no longer an interesting market for any mafia. Its citizens have no money, and money laundering is no longer possible here since there are no international financial transactions via which money could be sent here. The country is too closed to be a smuggling transit route. Until recently there were no international flights.

By the way, our organized crime's activities are not typical for the world of crime. There are no bank robberies since there is no money in our banks. What we have here is the "importing" of gasoline, medicine, and cigarettes. I am not talking about small-scale smuggling. I am talking about hundreds of trucks and gasoline trucks, which is not possible without a tacit agreement between the police and customs, without the support of different state or quasi-state bodies.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Babovic, how do you explain that, for instance, the murder of the federal Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic or the killing of Radovan Stojicic--who used to be the most powerful man in the Serbian police--remain unsolved?

Budimir Babovic: There is a substantial difference between the two murders. The killing of the federal defense minister was done in a quite professional manner, and therefore no traces were left. Of course, a serious investigation might have come to some conclusions, although these conclusions could not form a trail leading to the murderer.

However, the killing of the deputy interior minister occurred in a restaurant frequented by policemen, in front of the army and the police. The murderer left the restaurant, running past some embassies that are always guarded by policemen equipped with walkie-talkies. After running one or two kilometers, he just disappeared without a trace. All these things meant that there was good material for a successful investigation, if--let me say it again--there was the will to conduct a complete investigation.

Dragor Hiber: Let me remind you that, when Mr. Vlajko Stojiljkovic was named an interior minister in Serbia, [Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav] Seselj--who was in the opposition in the parliament at that time--challenged that appointment, claiming that Stojiljkovic was completely incompetent. When the Socialist deputies replied to him that Stojiljkovic was not incompetent since he used to be the chief of police in Pozarevac, Seselj's response was that "there was not a single traffic light in Pozarevac at that time."

Why have I told you this story? Because the atrophy of all the institutions in Serbia and Yugoslavia has led to the atrophy of the police as well. My impression is that during the last ten years, a promotion in the police force is not a matter of competence but of some other things. The main task of the police is no longer to fight crime but to protect the regime and the constitutional order. The police have therefore become subject to a particular policy, which, of course, has eroded the professionalism of the force. One might ask not only whether the police want to or can solve the murders we are talking about here, but whether they actually dare to do so.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Babovic, do you think that the police aspect of the Ministry of the Interior has intentionally been destroyed in order to strengthen its military dimension?

Budimir Babovic: There has been a quite visible [deterioration] within the Serbian police, together with its growing politicization. The former militia used to be a politically and ideologically oriented force, but the present police in Serbia are far more politicized [than in communist times].

I am, of course, talking about the top of the hierarchy. They are more oriented towards the protection of the regime than the police once were. The [communist] police did take account of protection of citizens and the fight against crime; now that has been pushed into the background.

The police are completely militarized. With its 100,000 men, it has become an enormous force, and, at the same time, a huge burden for Serbia. The Ministry of the Interior of Serbia suffered two great defeats in its basic tasks--the fight against crime and the fight against separatist activities in Kosovo.

I do not know whether it happened due to the competence or incompetence of the minister, or due to something else, but the police in Serbia have obviously been heavily defeated. Instead of discussing that issue and searching for the causes of that defeat, the minister and his deputies are being given medals.

Dragor Hiber: I remember that ten years ago, at the very beginning of this regime embodied in the person of Mr. Milosevic, possible connections between a group of policemen--criminal investigators--and organized crime were a major topic of discussion. They had allegedly crossed the fine line separating professional police work from crime--since every good policeman must have a contact within the world of organized crime. This is why those men had to be removed. This January, we had a situation in which a high police official was in Arkan's company when he was killed, and we all know who Arkan was. Mr. Babovic, is that not a clear sign of the erosion of professionalism?

Budimir Babovic: It is a clear indication of an enormous growth of organized crime in which some government bodies are necessarily involved, and the police force is one of them. I would also mention the corruption that has swept the police. If you only take a look at what some police officials own, you have to admit that they could not have possibly earned it by being penny-wise. They wallow in wealth.

All those things paralyze police work and make it unprofessional. The police are completely out of control. Normal parliamentary mechanisms of control simply do not function anymore. Only one man controls the police, which in fact means that they are out of control.

Dragor Hiber: Some police officials even drive stolen cars.

Budimir Babovic: That is no rarity.

Omer Karabeg: As far as the murders of some officials are concerned, the government always has the same explanation: they are victims of foreign intelligence agencies and foreign powers. However, recently the government has started looking for murderers within the opposition. This is why the student organization Otpor was blamed for the murder of Bosko Perosevic. Mr. Babovic, how do you explain that?

Budimir Babovic: Let me say that I am very worried about that. It seems to me that the line dividing an authoritarian from a totalitarian regime has been crossed. Things that happened and everything that was said after the murder of Mr. Perosevic remind me frightfully of what happened in Germany in 1933 after the burning of the Reichstag. I care too much about the future of my country and my children. This is why I cannot be indifferent to the fact that, after a killing in a public place, when the perpetrator had been already caught, the police started persecuting Otpor members all over Serbia, looking for those behind the murder of Perosevic.

Dragor Hiber: There is an important difference between the burning of the Reichstag and what is happening today. The burning of the Reichstag occurred in Germany as an excuse for settling scores with political opponents when the Nazi movement was on the rise and becoming stronger. The Nazis, actually, used the event to consolidate power in Germany and to start [what would lead to] the tragedy of World War II.

Milosevic's regime, however, is resorting to it long after reaching its peak. The regime is, in fact, falling or rather tumbling down. This regime has neither the power nor the energy--or at least I hope so--to do what was done in Germany. That does not mean that the regime here does not have the will to try to bring about such a scenario, but that would only precipitate its fall.

Omer Karabeg: Could we expect more and more murders as the regime feels increasingly threatened?

Dragor Hiber: Yes, I think that we can also expect different kinds of murders. We are talking here about so-called public figures' murders. I say so-called because, unfortunately, in our country some mafia bosses are considered public figures.

But, what we have overlooked is the general criminalization of society. The murders of Zika Petrovic and Bosko Perosevic have overshadowed the murders of a Belgrade couple--small business people--and their secretary. The three of them were killed in broad daylight at 9 or 10 a.m. in an apartment house with some 1,000 tenants--and it passed without notice.

Budimir Babovic: I recently heard something that sounds like a joke, but maybe it is true. A journalist said it on the radio. He said that a friend had called him from Boston asking how the things were going here in Chicago. That describes well the situation here. I must say that I expected--and I am sorry that it actually happened-- that Arkan's killing would lead to an increase the number of similar cases.

Omer Karabeg: And finally, could we say that none of the public figures, except Milosevic, is safe now in Serbia? Mr. Hiber?

Dragor Hiber: I agree with you. None of the public figures is safe. After all, the fact that no one can feel safe can be confirmed by a story that I have heard from many sources, that in some of the many Belgrade poolrooms there is a special half-secret form of betting. People bet which public figure will be the next victim. Perosevic and Petrovic seem to have been quite a surprise since they were far from the top of the betting lists.

Budimir Babovic: I agree with Mr. Hiber. What we have here is a vicious circle of violence, and we will not be able to get out of it until we change this regime.