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South Slavic: June 8, 2000

8 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 22

Why All The Murders In Milosevic's Serbia?

Part I: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss the background of the series of murders of public figures that have hit Serbia in the last few years. (This program was recorded before the recent killing of Goran Zugic in Montenegro.) 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 II will appear on 15 June.

Omer Karabeg: The recent killing of Bosko Perosevic, a high-ranking official of the ruling Serbian [Socialist] Party and head of the government of Vojvodina, is the eighth case of murder of a public figure this year. The victims are either from the top political structures, or criminals who were, in one way or another, connected to the regime.

The murderer of Bosko Perosevic was the only one caught. All the other murders remain unsolved, as well as some 20 other cases of public figures' killings that occurred in the last seven or eight years. Mr. Babovic, do you think those murders are still unsolved because they were perfectly done, or simply because the government did not want to find the murderers?

Budimir Babovic: Let me first correct you, so to speak. There is another allegedly solved murder--the murder of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan. His murderer has reportedly been caught by the police, but that has never been definitely confirmed.

However, some of the murders were committed under circumstances that undoubtedly indicate that the murderers or those who ordered the murders might have been found. Let us just remember the killing of Deputy Interior Minister Radovan Stojcic in a restaurant full of policemen, or the murder of Zoran Todorovic, an assistant of Mrs. Mirjana Markovic, that took place in front of some 20 citizens near a bus stop. The circumstances in which all those murders were committed were such that one could easily assume that the killers might have been found. Since all those cases remain unsolved, one must presume that there was no will to solve them.

Dragor Hiber: I have already said once that most of these murders were committed in such a professional manner that the police can afford not to solve them. What remains unclear though is whether the police wanted, meant, and dared to clarify the background of the murders. I find the background sometimes more interesting than the identity of a perpetrator.

Omer Karabeg: Most of those killed--except for journalist Slavko Curuvija and a few others who opposed the regime--belonged to the top structures of the regime or were close to it. Do you think that those people were liquidated because they knew too much and because they did some dirty things for the government, which might have made them unwanted witnesses? Or, were they simply--as Vuk Draskovic said--people who made some serious mistakes and therefore had to be gotten out of the way?

Budimir Babovic: I would not eliminate any of these hypotheses. A few other reasons might be added like, for instance, some personal motives or some disagreements. None of these possibilities should be eliminated, but there is not enough evidence to corroborate any of them.

Dragor Hiber: The hypotheses advanced in the questions suggest that there is one power center that decided, ordered, and organized those murders. However, besides that assumption, which I do not exclude, it also possible that there are a few other power centers involved. That seems even more probable to me. What I want to say is that in the last 10 years, politics, crime, and the economy have come to operate together--and in some cases they are united by some personal unions.

There are all sorts of mutual interactions, and therefore the causes for those murders are different--such as killings of rivals fighting for the same market, settling old accounts, killings of unwanted witnesses, or [eliminating] those who stopped being obedient or reliable. It is very hard to establish the causes for these murders. However, it seems to me that there is one cause that unites them all: this monstrous system that has been created during the last decade.

Omer Karabeg: There was something very revealing said at the funeral of Bosko Perosevic when Zivorad Smiljanic, speaker of the Parliament of Vojvodina, asked: "Why are only our men killed?" It seems that those belonging to the ruling elite are aware that they have become targets. What do you think about that, Mr. Babovic?

Budimir Babovic: I do not know what Mr. Smiljanic meant by calling the victims "our men." Does this include men such as Zoran Uskokovic and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan? He might only exclude Curuvija since he called them "our men." I do not find it appropriate when a high-ranking official calls all those killed in the last 10 years--and whose murders remain unsolved--"our men."

Dragor Hiber: ...[The Novi Sad] murder is quite different from all the others. The perpetrator is known and he does not seem to be a well-balanced person. Another very important point is that he was linked to the victim, and there is a relationship that has nothing to do with the politics, crime, or economy.

However, the fact is that all those liquidated belonged to the same social environment. That is the environment of those who--in one way or another and in different domains--rule this country. They were leading political figures, as well as those who ruled the economy. Let me mention Zoran Todorovic Kundak (rifle butt), who was a secretary-general of [Mira Markovic's] United [Yugoslav] Left and a director of a big petrol company, or Zika Petrovic, who was director of JAT airlines and a top official of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

Many of the murdered bosses of organized crime had their hands in politics and in the economy. Arkan fits the paradigm since he used to be a member of the parliament, while some other criminals helped with the violent breakup of opposition rallies. And finally, another characteristic of these murders is that there are also policemen among those liquidated. Therefore, the victims belonged to the same social milieu, and the term "our men" might have considerable meaning.

If there is something in common to all those victims, it is the fact that they belonged to a new social class that has emerged in Serbia [over the past decade or so], the social elite made up of a para-economic, para-political, and para-criminal elite. By using the prefix "para," I want to say that all of them pretend to be something else--criminals pretend to be businessmen, businessmen pretend to be politicians, policemen, too, pretend to be politicians--while all of them actually emerged from this calamity that engulfed this country--and which they use to their advantage.

Budimir Babovic: What is indicative about the case of the murder of Mr. Perosevic is that the steering committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia made the first statement instead of the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia.

Soon after that, the main interpreter of what happened was federal information minister instead of someone from the Ministry of the Interior. The federal information minister thus practically assumed the duty of a head of the information office of Ministry of the Interior of Serbia.

What could that mean? It could mean that, after the murder of Perosevic, the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia first informed the Socialist Party of Serbia asking them what to say, and then they issued the statement.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Babovic, was, for instance, Arkan liquidated because he might have become a witness in The Hague? There were rumors that he had certain contacts with the Hague tribunal.

Budimir Babovic: That is very hard to say. We can only guess. The press wrote--and that is a reliable piece of information--that he had made some contacts with the Hague tribunal, but in which context and with what intentions remains unclear.

Dragor Hiber: It is quite possible that Arkan was liquidated because he knew too much about what went on in Bosnia and Croatia, in places like Bijeljina, Erdut, etc. [the reference is to ethnic cleansing and related atrocities during the conflicts that ended in 1995.--ed.]

Arkan entered the world of politics from the world of crime thanks to what he did in Bosnia and Croatia. The reason for killing him might thus have been to hide the traces of a policy that was rightfully called criminal by the international community. Those responsible for this policy are supposed to appear before the international tribunal in The Hague.

However, at the same time, it is quite possible that he was killed in a fight for a market--the one on the periphery of the legal economy, the fight for the export-import business that brings a huge profit. He might have been killed in a struggle among the mafia bosses for the most influential position of a "capo di tutti capi"--the way we saw it in movies that were popular 10 years ago. Each and every one of these motives or causes are equally possible.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Babovic, as far as you know, are the perpetrators criminals coming from abroad, or are they local criminals?

Budimir Babovic: There is no information that they came from abroad. In most of these cases, they were connected with the police, in one way or another. Let's recall the Arkan case. He was connected with the police even before the breakup of Yugoslavia. He even boasted about that. Later, he was allowed to become a member of the parliament, regardless of his criminal record. He was even a presidential candidate [at one point].

Dragor Hiber: It is hard to believe that the perpetrators were foreigners. This country is quite closed to them and it is very hard for a foreigner to enter it. It is hard for a foreigner to get a visa, and in such a claustrophobic atmosphere, once a foreigner gets in he is closely watched. There are police checkpoints on all our roads, every 50 km or so, where every foreign car or a person speaking a foreign language undergoes a control procedure.

The hypothesis of foreign involvement in these murders could only mean that foreign intelligence agencies are involved, but that is not very probable. If someone wanted to change the regime with terrorist attacks and murders, they would have probably picked different victims. I do not believe in the theory [of a foreign plot].

According to what we know so far, local people are involved, and they were often connected with the police, or they were former policemen. Sometimes police were even among the victims, which is, for instance, the case of Mr. Mandic, who was killed together with Arkan.