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Analysis: Mysterious Killing Rocks Montenegro

Montenegrin authorities and German forensics experts are continuing their investigation of a killing that has mesmerized the small mountainous republic since late last week. Dusko Jovanovic, who was the chief and responsible editor of the opposition Podgorica daily "Dan," was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his offices late on 27 May. It is not known who killed Jovanovic or why, but speculation is rife in a country where talking politics is a national passion.

Shortly after the killing, investigating Judge Radomir Ivanovic said that he has several people in mind as suspects but did not elaborate. Montenegrin police found a car containing an automatic weapon in Podgorica on 29 May, both of which are believed to have played a role in the killing. German forensics experts subsequently arrived to help with the investigation. At least two individuals were taken into custody, both of whom appear to be linked to the car and its history and may not necessarily be suspected of involvement in the crime itself.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic, journalists' professional associations, and opposition leaders were quick to condemn the killing, calling for the killers to be brought to justice. Interior Minister Dragan Djurovic offered a $1.2 million reward for information leading to solving the case, adding that he will resign if it remains unsolved. The government seemed to be at pains to show that it means business lest its reputation at home and abroad be damaged.

Montenegrin opposition parties held a candlelight vigil at the site of the shooting on 28 May. The previous evening, the opposition parties agreed they will continue to work to bring down Djukanovic's government, which they accused of corruption and involvement in criminal activities.

Jovanovic's funeral took place on 30 May, and the next day over 100 journalists attended a memorial meeting in his honor.

Speculation among the public at large and in much of the media turned to possible political motives behind the killing, with members of Jovanovic's own family hinting that unnamed people close to Djukanovic might have been involved. Lidija Bozovic, who handles "Dan's" legal affairs, said that Jovanovic had asked for police protection on several occasions but did not receive it. The police are known to be firmly under Djukanovic's control.

"Dan" generally reflects the views of the opposition, especially the Socialist People's Party (SNP), which was allied to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In the early 1990s, when Montenegro was a staunch ally of the Serbian leader, lawyer Jovanovic headed the Financial Police and then the Department of Public Revenues.

By 1997, Djukanovic decided that his and Montenegro's futures were best assured by breaking with Milosevic and appealing for Western support. When Djukanovic then solidified his grip on the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Jovanovic and his allies, led by Momir Bulatovic, left it and founded the SNP. That party in turn split in 2001, following which Jovanovic left active politics.

In recent years, Jovanovic, "Dan," and the YU Media Mont company have been the object of at least 30 lawsuits stemming from charges published in the daily that Djukanovic has been involved in cigarette smuggling and human trafficking.

A Serbian court issued an arrest warrant for Jovanovic on charges that he embezzled $400,000 in 2000 from the Zastava plant in Kragujevac. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him for contempt of court for publishing in 2002 the name of a secret witness who testified against Milosevic, dropping the charge after Jovanovic apologized.

In short, Jovanovic was not quite the typical poster boy readily embraced by NGOs and Western governments in supporting crusading journalists in countries with questionable democratic credentials. His killing nonetheless seems to fit a pattern well-known to observers of Serbian politics, where many killings before and after the fall of Milosevic -- including those of some journalists -- remain unsolved (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 12 December 2003).

But in Montenegro as in Serbia, caution is certainly in order in considering who might be behind a killing. Throughout much of former Yugoslavia, the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime mix and move together in ways hidden from public view. What might seem at first glance to be a crime with an ethnic or political motive behind it, for example, could eventually prove to be rooted in murky business dealings or long-standing personal feuds. What does seem sure in this case, however, is that no one is likely to have undertaken lightly the killing of such a prominent individual as Jovanovic.

Whatever the motive for the crime, his fellow journalists tend to see his killing as a direct attack on the freedom of the press. Mili Prelevic, who is an editor of "Dan," said that the daily will continue to publish and to write about topics that interested Jovanovic. He told RFE/RL that the killing was a "terrorist crime," adding that the government must surely know who did it because Montenegro is a small country in which everyone knows everyone else's business.

Elsewhere, the Association of Journalists of Montenegro said in a declaration that Jovanovic's killing was an attack on the media as a whole. Association President Savo Gregovic stressed that the killing is a death blow to freedom of expression in Montenegro, which has long been under threat. He told RFE/RL that this "serious crime" shows that Montenegro is nothing like the solid democracy that the government claims it is.

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told MINA news agency by telephone that the report of Jovanovic's killing was "shocking news."