21 November 2002, Volume 4, Number 38
IS ORGANIZED CRIME THREATENING THE FOUNDATIONS OF BALKAN STATES?
A telephone roundtable hosted by RFE/RL's Rade Radovanovic.
In late October, the police arrested and detained hundreds of people. The Interior Ministry claimed that it had discovered a new organized terrorist group that carried out some assassinations and prepared others aimed at ensuring a safer environment for future criminal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 October 2002).
Milos Vasic (a leading journalist of the Belgrade weekly "Vreme"): What worries me is that this time the matter involves some people in positions of authority.
This alleged terrorist group -- the truth about which will be known only when the investigation is finished -- is made up of some gentlemen who were previously known to the police but who have not been held for lack of evidence.
Up to now, such people have been killing each other off. The situation is curious, since [Serbian Interior Minister Dusan] Mihajlovic was too optimistic when he announced the arrest of the group. It turns out that only two of them are still in police custody on criminal charges, while the other hundred or so are free.
RFE/RL: Does it mean they were released?
Vasic: Well, I suppose so. They were brought in for questioning. One of them escaped and has already been put on Interpol's wanted list. He is the infamous Zeljko Maksimovic. The two gentlemen in police custody were caught with an entire arsenal of weapons and money, the origins of which they will have to explain.
RFE/RL: One of them was caught and immediately released.
Vasic: Yes, but right after that he was arrested again. The famous Belgrade hyperrealist painter -- Dragan Malesevic Tapi, who specialized in fake passports and visas -- unfortunately died of a heart attack during police questioning.
So, the score so far is one dead of a heart attack, two in police custody, and one at large. However, our political officials remain optimistic and boast that they have managed to find the thread, which, if they keep pulling, will eventually unravel the entire sweater. I sincerely hope so, but, on the other hand, I fear that they might be over-optimistic.
RFE/RL: It sounds as though in Serbia, together with the present government, or, let's say the existing state, there is another one that does not seem to be any less powerful.
Vasic: If we go back to the 1996-99 period and think about [President Slobodan] Milosevic's most rabid propagandists -- such as Ivan Markovic, Goran Matic, Aleksandar Vucic, Vojislav Seselj, Ratko Markovic, and Milovan Bojic -- we see how supposedly stunned they were when prominent underworld figures with links to officialdom were killed.
But then it turned out that all the assassinations had the same characteristics: excellent intelligence, great logistics, cars, apartments, money, weapons, telecommunications, cold-blooded professional executioners, and the fact that none of the cases has ever been solved. The exception was the murder of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, which was the work of amateurs.
RFE/RL: However, even those amateurs were professionals of a sort, since they were mostly police officers by profession.
Vasic: Yes, but technically speaking the assassination was carried out unprofessionally, and they were the only ones caught. If they had been professionals, they would have never been arrested, just like none of the others has ever been.
So, when you look at the series of some 40 murders, starting with August 1991 when Branislav Matic Beli was murdered, you can see a pattern. As a friend of mine from a certain security service would say, there is only one company in this state capable of doing this.
Finally, after the disclosure of the document showing that [the murdered journalist] Slavko Curuvija had been under police surveillance, it turned out that the state security service was involved [in the case] up to the moment of Curuvija's assassination.
So, let us not pretend to be imbeciles. This story is extremely serious. They pretend to be naive and keep repeating that a terrorist organization is attempting to kill Zoran Djindjic, Voja Seselj, Jovica Stanisic, me, my mommy, my cat, and all the rest of us. And they are the only ones we have to protect us from that.
RFE/RL: Back in 2000, Mr. Marko Nicovic, who is a police official of an international office for fighting drug-related crimes, told me that problems of this kind arise when organized crime has more of its own men within the police than the police has among the criminals.
Vasic: That is what is usually called the infiltration paradox.
Rezika Blazan (a teacher from Erlangen, Germany): I think that the biggest crime that could have happened in any region or society was the Balkan wars [of the 1990s].
RFE/RL: Do you find that there is as much crime in the region now as there was, let us say, 20 years ago when it all started?
Blazan: No, I think that there is far more today, and I find political crime the most serious. Then there is economic crime, which always accompanies political decline....
But for me, the biggest of all forms of organized crime is privatization in the states of our region. I am talking about the privatization of state properties that took place right after the war and during the war. More or less criminal activities were linked to much of it....
RFE/RL: Let me remind you that the privatized property you are talking about used to be called "public property" in former Yugoslavia. Something had to be done with it. What do you suggest? Nationalization?
Blazan: No, I do not think it should have been declared state property. [During previous nationalization,] the state applied coercion but the people wound up footing the bill.
RFE/RL: Yes, but some of our listeners and your fellow-citizens might tell you that...back in 1945, 1946, and 1948, the law on nationalization took that property from our fathers and grandfathers.
Blazan: I am not talking about the property that was previously taken from other people. I certainly think that what was previously expropriated should be returned.
That is, of course, if it is possible. But if a field was expropriated from me, I cannot demand to be given a town that was later built on that field; that would be absurd.
RFE/RL: Do you agree that some people have profited from the wars, and not necessarily legally?
Blazan: That is perfectly normal, it happens in every war...but this one was the worst that ever happened in our region.
We all knew what we were fighting against during World War II, but it was different this time. The great powers played a perfidious role by switching their support from one side to another, then pitting the two sides against each other, and finally getting into quarrel themselves.... Now, after only five years, they want to force us to fall into each other's arms....