3 April 2003, Volume 5, Number 8
SERBIA AT THE CROSSROADS -- CRIME AND THE STATE.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Slobodan Kostic (in cooperation with Zoran Glavonjic). The program "Kontrapunkt" talks with Dragan Sutanovac, chairman of the Security Committee of the Serbian parliament.
RFE/RL: After the murder of Zoran Djindjic, nothing will be the same in Serbia. The state is facing a choice: is there the will and ability to finally settle scores with organized crime, which is closely linked with the former regime, or will the state jeopardize its own future?
Although the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is just another crime intruding on normal life in Serbia, nothing will be the same here after the tragic death of the Serbian prime minister. There is more to it than just the importance of his office, namely his political legacy.
For that reason, the highest state officials have stressed that this was not a simple attack on one man but rather on the entire state as well.
The government imposed a state of emergency and launched a crackdown. The partnership between different forms of organized crime will now be broken up, or the functioning of the state will continue to be threatened.
We will now discuss several aspects of this crucial choice that Serbian society is facing with the chairman of the parliament's Security Committee, Dragan Sutanovac.
Dragan Sutanovac: All these gangs are creatures from the past. They had close links with the former regime [of President Slobodan Milosevic] and its paramilitary and police forces. They certainly were not created during the past two years. They had more than a decade before that to hone their skills.
RFE/RL: We are also discussing the issue with Dragan Jocic, who is interior minister in the shadow cabinet created by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).
Dragan Jocic: Organized crime could not have functioned throughout the country if the government had not been kindly disposed towards it. I am not saying that they worked together, but it is obvious that the government did not interfere with their dealings during the past 2 1/2 years [since Milosevic was ousted].
RFE/RL: ...One of the first contacts between the people of questionable reputation and those who took the helm of the state [from Milosevic] took place during the events of 5 October 2000.... At that time, Djindjic noted that Milosevic had failed to apply the tough measures characteristic of his rule:
Zoran Djindjic: Wanting to apply tough measures and being able to do so are two different things. What I am trying to say is that I am sure that Milosevic is not sure that any attempt at imposing a state of emergency would be obeyed. I am also sure that if he had been sure it would work, he would have already done so...just like he did in the past.
RFE/RL: Obviously, there were not as many police on the streets [on 5 October 2000] as was the case in previous years during various protests, but the situation still was not completely peaceful. Some policemen even opened fire. Fortunately, there were no victims.
Many demonstrators later recounted how terror-stricken they were to see the Special Operation Unit [the JSO, or Red Berets] on the street, heavily armed.... When Red Berets started to return greetings and kiss the demonstrators, it was clear that they would not open fire. Everybody was relieved because that particular unit was considered the best-equipped, best-trained, and most capable one in Serbia.
Although Milorad Lukovic "Legija" -- the then-commander of the Red Berets -- enjoyed Slobodan Milosevic's trust, he did not, as many expected, take to the streets with his unit to prevent the demonstration. It was later said that he even refused to carry out an order to do so.
He was not very well-known to the public, but the media claimed that he had spent several years in the French Foreign Legion before the fall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Then he returned and joined Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan's" Serbian Volunteers' Guard, from which he joined the Red Berets.
[They] fought on all the battlefields in former Yugoslavia, including in Kosovo. It is thus no surprise that the crowd was so happy that the Red Berets did not intervene on 5 October. During 2001, after a shooting in a disco in Kula -- where the Red Berets were based -- and an incident in Belgrade's Stupica nightclub, Milorad Lukovic "Legija" left the JSO.
Prime Minister [Djindjic] once said that he met Milorad Lukovic "Legija" before 5 October to make sure the Red Berets would not intervene against the demonstrators. Djindjic reiterated many times later that all the credit for the transfer of power belongs to the citizens who voted in the election and then went onto the streets, [which some took to mean that everyone would start with a clean slate].
Did the leaders of the then opposition in any way use the services of people of questionable reputation while taking power in Serbia?
Sutanovac: I do not know under what conditions a group can be used. Certain political circles launched that thesis in order to [discredit] the government.
One thing is certain: Prime Minister Djindjic tragically lost his life because he intended to settle scores with that group...[starting] later that week. I do not think there should be any doubt about the good intentions of the government, prime minister, and Interior Ministry to solve the problem effectively and send those people to prison for many years.
Jocic: On 5 October 2000, the Belgrade City Assembly was a gathering point for all kinds of people, including those belonging to the former regime [and various kinds of people involved in] criminal activities. This is why I think that on 5 October Slobodan Milosevic was the only one ousted, while this entire hydra of organized crime remained. I am talking about everything that makes organized crime possible, including state security structures [that are actually part of criminal networks].
RFE/RL: To what extent was the new government ready to deal with the things that embodied Milosevic's Serbia, such as murders in broad daylight, hijackings, political murders, attempted murders, and a privileged status for war criminals?
Jocic: It seems to me that a new political era was launched without sufficient preparation. What I mean is that there was not enough attention paid to security.
The very first step should have been a reform of the judicial system and police, as well as an uprooting of the former regime's security structures that had permeated society. That was not done, and we have had to live with this problem ever since.
I do not know whether some people did not want to clean house or did not feel strong enough to do so. But I think that after Djindjic's assassination on 12 March, this casual approach has become history.
Sutanovac: I am not satisfied with the current situation, but I am very satisfied with the achievements of the ministry, bearing in mind the situation we had to face and what was going on around us. Our colleagues from the EU who have come here over the past two years share these views.
I think that the ministry's starting point was far below zero. Now we are on the upswing, but the citizens of Serbia -- including me, of course -- want even better results. It will take some time to achieve that.