A string of violent incidents on Serbia's political scene in recent days suggests a showdown between the new pro-democracy authorities in Belgrade and the organized criminal allies of the recently ousted regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
Prague, 8 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The worst fighting in the last three months between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in southern Serbia's Presevo valley appears to be a mere sideshow this week to a series of violent acts in Belgrade and eastern Serbia.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says Serbia has experienced over the past few days "several direct and indirect attacks on leading state officials who are working to crack down on organized crime, by investigating past murders and assassinations and financial affairs linked to the former regime" of Slobodan Milosevic.
"I've come to the conclusion that this (the attacks) is proof that the government has finally started to work, because it is clear that these are interested groups that sense they are threatened. Our goal is to break them up so that there will no longer be interest groups in Serbia that, with their monopoly on finances, threaten the security of this country from within."
Last week (Jan 28) a masked gunman opened the door of an official car and shot the driver of Serbia's state security chief, Goran Petrovic, wounding him in both hands, while the car was parked outside Democratic Party headquarters. The security chief was inside meeting with Djindjic. Whether it was a warning to the driver not to talk to Petrovic or a warning to Djindjic to tread lightly against members of the former regime and their associates is not clear. Djindjic says the attack was an attempt by organized crime to intimidate the new authorities.
Then in the early hours of Tuesday morning, an overland vehicle (Pajero) belonging to the leader of the 18-party pro-democracy alliance (DOS) in the Serbian parliament, Cedomir Jovanovic, mysteriously caught fire while parked outside his flat.
Prime Minister Djindjic speaking at a government session, was quick to comment:
"I have information that a bomb was placed under the car of Mr. Cedomir Jovanovic."
Djindjic's Democratic Party issued a statement saying the fire was a "terrorist act directed against the political and economic changes which have begun in Serbia, ordered by the remnants of the former regime who are afraid of the people's judgment."
Similarly, Belgrade private detective Bozidar Spasic, who worked as a secret police officer in the Milosevic era, believes that Ivanovic's vehicle was blown up by an explosive device, probably a mine. He says the incident indicates what he terms "the beginning of pressure from remnants of the former regime on the new pro-democratic authorities."
"Milosevic's regime could not survive solely on the fear of people. These are some of the last attempts to warn the new authorities at a time of uncertainty and misfortune."
Then late yesterday, the dead body of one of Milosevic's closest aides in the Socialist Party of Serbia, Zoran Sokolovic, was found near his home, some 200 kilometers southeast of Belgrade. A revolver was found in his hand and there was gunshot wound to the head. It's not clear if Sokolovic, who had served from 1991 until last year as Serbian interior minister and later interior minister of Yugoslavia, was murdered or committed suicide.
Yugoslavia's current interior minister, Zoran Zivkovic, a former pro-democracy mayor of Nis, tells RFE/RL:
"All I can say is that Mr. Sokolovic was found, already dead a few hours, in the village of Lepena, that's near Knjazevac. He was found in his all-terrain Lada Niva, and at present the indications are that he committed suicide."
The secretary general of Milosevic's Socialist Party, Zoran Andjelkovic, says if Sokolovic did commit suicide he could have been provoked to do so by a "witch hunt" against members of the former regime.
But as a recently released anti-regime film completed in the final months of Milosevic's reign, Milutin Petrovic's "Land of Truth, Love, and Freedom," shows, political murders are routinely made to look like suicides.
There are plenty of people who might want to see the former Serbian and Yugoslav interior minister dead -- those who fear he knew too much and might have cooperated with the Hague war crimes tribunal, or perhaps those seeking vengeance for personal suffering that Sokolovic's forces caused in Belgrade's four wars between 1991 and 1999.
Yugoslav Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service today the new authorities will not allow themselves to be scared off.
"In particular, I think that with all those engaged in organized crime, and criminals in general, it's clear that there cannot be any compromise, that's our mandate from the elections, that we have to break up the criminal links between the senior ranks of the state and the top of the Mafia, to break off the drug and arms routes and cash flows."
As Zivkovic puts it, "they can no longer be sure they'll be able to enjoy this wealth and might actually lose it. This is a very nervous reaction."