Serbia After Djindjic: The Maelstrom of Its Own Crimes

There is no doubt that [assassinated Serbian Prime Minister] Zoran Djindjic did a lot for Serbia. But, as in a classical tragedy, he seems to have done more in his death. The events following his murder have pushed Djindjic himself into the background and given a central role to those who sowed death throughout the Balkans for more than 10 years, believing that their end would never come.

Serbia has been in a state of emergency since Djindjic’s March 12 assassination, but ordinary people have never felt more normal. Newly appointed Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic’s statement that “the state of emergency is not aimed at citizens but at criminals” has been accepted as true. After being leaderless for several hours, because at the time of the assassination Serbia had only an acting president, the government quickly consolidated its power and proved that it was capable of controlling the situation.

Paradoxically, although Djindjic was the most disputed politician in Serbia, the country’s citizens, in a magnificent farewell, voted [by marching, by the hundreds of thousands, in the streets] to support his policies and ask the new prime minister to continue them. 

Among the authorities themselves, the only significant voices of dissent have come from [former Yugoslav President] Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). The DSS has accused the government of using the state of emergency to settle accounts with its political opponents. DSS Vice President Dragan Marsicanin has called for the state of emergency to be abolished, saying the situation is normal and all state institutions are functioning. Apparently, the DSS began to worry about its fate after [the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS, coalition] indicated that it intended to ban some political parties if it was proved that Djindjic’s killing was politically motivated and that “patriotic” forces were behind it. Parties from both the right and the left can be recognized among these forces.

A glimpse of normalcy, which has returned to Serbia after a long absence, can also be seen in the new policy of calling the dregs of society by their real names. These perpetrators of organized crime have gotten out of control—as have those responsible for state terror, crime, and robbery. These people are finally being sent to their rightful place, but because civilian prisons are quickly becoming full, the time for military jails has come.

Justice Minister Vladan Batic, in announcing that trials would be held soon, said that military courtrooms could again be used, despite the fact that they were abolished when the union of Serbia and Montenegro was founded. The police, meanwhile, say they have detained more than 2,000 suspects, half of whom remain in prison and will probably be charged. [The state of emergency allows police to detain suspects without a warrant and keep them in detention for up to 30 days without charge. —WPR]

For these new tasks, a new judiciary was needed. Pressured by the deputies [of the Serbian Parliament], the chairwoman of the Serbian Supreme Court, Leposava Karamarkovic, was forced to resign. Deputy public prosecutor Milan Sarajlic was arrested and accused of working for the Zemun gang [who are suspected of being behind Djinjic’s assassination—WPR]. Public prosecutor Sinisa Simic was sacked, and district prosecutor Rade Terzic stepped down.

Today, before daily newspapers appear on newsstands, information is already old. Members of the Zemun gang are being arrested every day. Two leaders, Dusan Spasojevic, alias Siptar, and Mile Lukovic, better known as Kum [Godfather], were killed [by the police] when they “resisted” arrest. Because of their deaths, they will no longer serve as models for young people. And girls will not dream of being Ceca [Svetlana Raznatovic, the country’s most famous folk singer] anymore: This widow of [notorious warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as] Arkan has moved from myth to prison and jokes. [Ceca was arrested a few days after Djindjic’s murder when police found a significant quantity of weapons and ammunition in her house. She is suspected of having provided shelter to the main suspects before and after the assassination. —WPR]

The relationship between citizens and police has changed since the police started cracking down on organized crime. And the search for inspirers, organizers, and financiers has yet to begin. We will have to wait for answers to questions such as: Why was the prime minister’s security not strengthened while he was on crutches? [Djindjic was recovering from a football injury when he was assassinated. —WPR] Why did his security run away? Who turned off the cameras outside the government building where he was killed?

We are also left without an answer to the question of why all of Djindjic’s ministers were left without security when the “red berets” [the elite paramilitary Unit for Special Operations, or JSO] mutinied in November 2001, and why Yugoslavia’s then-President Kostunica [who was Djindjic’s fiercest rival] saw nothing wrong with this. The mutiny ended after secret police chief Goran Petrovic, who was said to be determined to reveal the murders that the police had committed in the final years of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, was replaced. Petro-vic’s replacement was thought to better understand the red berets.

Whether coincidental or not, Djindjic was killed just after the federal authorities’ pro-European wing took control of the army, and pressures to hand over [Bosnian Serb wartime military leader] Ratko Mladic [wanted by the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or ICTY] reached the top. The U.S. Congress moved the deadline for handing Mladic over to the court from March 31 to June 15, the date by which U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has to certify that the country is cooperating with the tribunal if it is to get financial aid from the United States. Media outlets that did not support Djindjic speculated at the time that new charges would be brought against Milorad Lukovic [also known as Legija or Legionnaire, the main suspect in masterminding Djindjic’s murder], Jovica Stanisic [the Milosevic era’s secret police chief], and Franki Simatovic [also known as Frenki, the founder of the red berets]. 

After the red berets’ Deputy Commander Zvezdan Jovanovic came under suspicion for shooting Djindjic, the group’s leaders were arrested and the unit, made up of Milosevic’s praetorian guard, was disbanded. An investigation is under way into how many of them are criminals and who will be jailed; the rest will be reassigned to the police in order to prevent their possible regrouping. The government said that this group, which carried out robberies and smuggled oil and cigarettes for profit, acquired a fortune by undertaking kidnappings and getting millions of German marks in ransom. Besides that, the group’s most profitable jobs were in the drug trade, which explains why they had a very good relationship with Colombia’s drug dealers.

We have been promised that Lukovic, the main suspect in Djindjic’s murder, will probably be arrested in the coming days; his offer to provide information about [the ICTY’s most wanted fugitives Radovan] Karadzic and Mladic in return for a new identity was not accepted.

“Patriotic” forces in political parties [such as the Serbian Radical Party, Milosevic’s Socialist Party, Milosevic’s wife’s Yugoslav Left, and Arkan’s Party of Serbian Unity] are very nervous because of the government’s announcement that the motive behind Djindjic’s assassination was political, and their use of statements of these party leaders as evidence. The two most famous statements have come from radical party leaders. [Ultranationalist leader] Vojislav Seselj said before going to The Hague [where he surrendered to the ICTY on Feb. 24] that there would be a “bloody spring in Serbia.” His party deputy, Tomislav Nikolic, warned that “[leader of communist Yugoslavia Josip Broz] Tito had had problems with his leg before his death,” alluding to Djindjic’s injury, which he received during a football game with a police team.

Beside politicians, “journalist-patriots,” who organized a campaign against Djindjic and “therefore were creating an environment for his liquidation,” also have been accused. The tabloid Identitet, financed by Lukovic, has been banned, as has the daily Nacional, which did not spare words to ruin the government’s reputation. More than 200 charges have been brought against the daily. Some journalists are accused of having published articles against Djindjic “for mafia money.” The government has engaged a team of experts (media analysts, independent journalists, and lawyers) to analyze the reports that had attacked Djindjic and his government.

After Prime Minister Zivkovic’s statement that Serbia would be the only country in the region without organized crime (because more than 70 percent of the country’s criminal structure has been broken), information surfaced tying the Zemun gang, the intelligence services, and the Army of Republika Srpska [the Serb-run entity of Bosnia] to a plot to carry out a coup d’état. After the police probe was extended, former Yugoslav army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic and the senior official of the Yugoslav Left, Ivan Markovic, were arrested.

For her part, Mira Markovic [Milosevic’s wife] went to Moscow on Feb. 23 and thereby avoided detention after the remains of [former Serbian President] Ivan Stambolic [who vanished in August 2000] were found.

From Russia, Markovic said that the government’s search for her was “a retaliation, a punishment for the great and dignified, smart and brilliant personality of Slobodan Milosevic [that has been shown] before the court in The Hague.” Calling the government’s behavior an attempt to destabilize Milosevic and to “tie his hands, hurting him through me,” Markovic added that she “as a smart person, is a serious political opponent” who the government felt needed to be neutralized. 

One of the arrested members of the red berets had taken the police to Fruska Gora [a mountain in northern Serbia], where Stambolic had been killed and thrown into a ditch full of quicklime. On that day, two and a half years after his abduction, the mystery of Stambolic’s end was resolved. Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac said that JSO Commander Dusan Maricic Gumar had been directly involved in Stambolic’s murder, playing the role of the fifth executioner. In addition, the investigation established that Lukovic paid 20,000 German marks (US$11,000) to each of the five executioners, but they did not know “how much Lukovic had taken for himself.” The police are aware of who gave the money, but in the interest of the probe, the name has not yet been announced.

The kidnapping has been directly linked to Milosevic and Markovic as well as to Rade Markovic [Serbia’s former secret police chief, who is not related to Mira Markovic]. This is what Stambolic’s family members, lawyers, and the committee for his liberation have claimed from the very beginning. It was said that a motive for Stambolic’s murder was his intention to be a candidate in the elections in [September] 2000, as representatives of the international community and a group of army generals in Serbia had suggested. But leaders from the DOS [then the main opposition force, now the ruling coalition] did not accept him because of his communist past. 

The present government inherited a country in which “the state, state security, and organized crime” were linked, [said Deputy Prime Minister Korac]; when it tried to split these, the JSO mutinied [in November 2001] and threatened to use its weapons. “The JSO had the support of some new authorities at the time of the mutiny,” Korac said. “It appeared Milosevic’s people were still very strong. What they could not do on Oct. 5, 2000 [when Milosevic was ousted in a popular uprising], they did on March 12 this year by killing Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.” Korac then announced that an international arrest warrant would be issued for Mira Markovic, saying, “If Russia does not respond to our request, relations between the two countries will fall to a very low level.”

The government decided to organize a state funeral for Stambolic as a former Serbian president in Merit Alley at the main Belgrade cemetery, but his family wanted to bury him in a family vault at Topcider cemetery, named after a Belgrade suburb. His daughter, killed in a car crash under unclear circumstances after Stambolic’s clash with Milosevic, is already buried there.

When Stambolic was abducted, media outlets around the world reported the story—but the major ones in Serbia did not. Five days after the kidnapping, the daily Politika [then Milosevic’s mouthpiece] linked it with “dirty business” in Republika Srpska and Montenegro. Several days later, Ivan Markovic, then-telecommunications minister, derisively said: “If anybody should know where [Stambolic] is, it is his wife, who should know where he went if he has been gone for six days.”

Did [the Bosnian Serb premier at the time, Milorad] Dodik have an answer? Soon after the Committee for the Liberation of Ivan Stambolic was formed, it offered the public an appeal for his liberation; although thousands of citizens signed it, nothing could be learned about his disappearance.

Nongovernmental organizations, members of the media, and liberal individuals led a strong campaign to find him, but everything indicated that he was no longer alive. The committee addressed then-Serbian President Milan Milutinovic but received no response. The same thing happened with then-Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic and with the Congress of [Milosevic’s] Socialist Party. Kostunica has said that upon the committee’s appeal he talked to leading members of the secret police and that Rade Markovic told him that although they knew nothing about Stambolic, information should be demanded from Vukasin Maras, who was then Montenegro’s secret police chief, and Dodik, who was then Republika Srpska’s premier. New authorities, particularly Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, said that this case, like other murders, was a governmental priority but that “almost nothing was known” about Stambolic.

It was Djindjic’s murder that opened the doors of hell. Now the tangled web of evil has begun to unravel. The Committee for the Liberation of Ivan Stambolic will not stop its work until “those who organized and particularly those who ordered this bestial crime have been arrested and brought to justice.”