Belgrade, January 16, 2000

Zeljko Raznatovic - Arkan, 1952-2000

Death of a criminal, or death of a witness?

Zeljko Raznatovic, worldwide known after his nickname Arkan, was killed on Saturday, January 15th 2000. Unknown assassins shot him three times in the head in the lobby of Intercontinental Hotel in Belgrade. Raznatovic died, as official report says, in Emergency hospital Center in Belgrade around 18:50 hours. During that time the Emergency Center was completely blocked - police allowed no one except Arkan's friends to get near the hospital. All patients, except critical ones, were "advised" to seek help in hospital on Bezanija or any other hospital. The explanation was that "Emergency Center is closed for the night." You could see, through the hospital windows, that SWAT team with automatic guns was patrolling the hallways. Belgrade County Court Medical Examiner Miodrag Paunovic said late on Saturday that in the lobby of Intercontinental Hotel, besides Zeljko Raznatovic, his personal bodyguard Milenko Mandic Manda (born 1956) and Dragan Gavric (born 1953) were also killed.

Criminal from the cradle...

Zeljko Raznatovic was born in Brezice, Slovenia, on April 17th 1952 in a family of senior officer of Yugoslav Army Air force Zeljko Raznatovic. He spent his childhood in Zagreb and Pancevo and graduated from high school and High Hotel and Restaurant Management School in Belgrade. He enlisted into the Naval school in Kotor, but pretty soon he reached Trieste as a stowaway. He started with petty criminal at the age of fourteen, and was booked first on 1969 when he was sentenced to three years in juvenile penitentiary. He served his first conviction in Valjevo and Pozarevac. Some unofficial sources state that, desperate, Raznatovic's father used his acquaintances in the State Security Services of SFRY, for which Zeljko worked ever since 1973, mostly the dirty jobs. Some say that Raznatovic's contact person was the lately deceased [Slovenian politician] Stane Dolanc.

In his younger days, Raznatovic accomplished an impressive "career" as international criminal. During the seventies and early eighties, Raznatovic was arrested three times: 1974 Belgian police got him for armed robbery, and sentenced him to 10 years prison on December 18th 1975. But, after three years and some, on July 4th 1979, he manages to escape from the Belgian prison to Netherlands. Late 1979 the Dutch police arrest him as accomplice in three armed robberies, and sentences him to seven years. He escapedthe Amsterdam prison on May 7th 1981. Later that year he got arrested in Germany during an armed robbery in Frankfurt. Since he got wounded during arrest, the naive Germans put him into the prison hospital, where he escaped from soon after.

At least two more Western European countries have Raznatovic in their files: Raznatovic and his partner Carlo Fabianni (known to Serbian public as Giovanni Di Stefano, a businessman) committed three armed robberies and twelve burglaries. Fabianni was arrested, but when he appeared before the court, Raznatovic stormed into the courtroom carrying two guns, like in a low-budget thriller. One he used to threaten the Swedish judge and tossed the other one to Fabianni. Both of them escaped through the window. Italy also knew him well: at the very beginning of his criminal carreer, the Italian police filed two attempted thefts, July 10th 1972, and September 14th 1973, after which there was an arrest warrant for Zeljko Raznatovic.

Interpol still has a warrant for arrest of Zeljko Raznatovic.

From hitman to notorious war criminal

Many find Raznatovic's succesful escapes from prisons Europe-wide connected with his activity in State Security Services. He had three passports - Yugoslav, Italian and British, with about 40 aliases, one of which is the nickname he made "famous" - Arkan. Belgrade press speculated on the connections of Arkan and assasinations of Yugoslav political emmigrants, ordered by state security top rank. Inauguration of "state killer" - Zeljko Raznatovic - is tied to the name of Stjepan Djurekovic, former CEO of INA [state oil company in Croatia] as a victim, and the aforementioned Stane Dolanc (police minister of SFRY in early eighties) as the order issuer.

Return to the country: During mid-eighties, Raznatovic returned to Serbia. He takes over the security of then popular night club "Amadeus" in Belgrade, and by the decade's end, with an unspoken support from the officials, he became the fan leader of the popular football club "Crvena Zvezda" (Belgrade RedStar). He changes the traditional nickname of the star-fans "cigani" ("gypsies") into "delije" (knights, fighters), introduces censorship into what fans will sing, and punishes anyone who says something against the regime. Unofficially, out of gratitude for the "reuniting" the "multi-party" fan camp, FC Red Star built Arkan a cake-shop near its stadium. Just across the street from the stadium, Arkan builds a house - several storeys high of kitch, marble, aesthetical nightmare, one of shameful "landmarks" of Belgrade.

During the preparations for the Croatian war, on October 11th 1990, in the Pokajnica monastery at Velika Plana, he founded the Serbian Volunteers Guard, a paramilitary formation also known as "Arkan's tigers". Part of the hooligans from the "delija" fan ranks was drafted into "tigers". Early in the morning of November 29th 1990, Arkan and a group of his "soldiers" were arrested near Zagreb, armed up to their teeth. Among the arrested there was also Goran Hadzic, later an official of the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina. The group was charged with attempted assassination of the just-elected croatian president Franjo Tudjman. After six months of investigation, Arkan was sentenced to 20 months of prison for "preparing and participating in an armed rebellion against the state and sovereignity of the Republic of Croatia", but was released from the croatian prison after only 196 days, for reasons still unknown.

War in Croatia and Bosnia: At the beginning of the war "Tigers" joined operations within the "liberation" of Vukovar, and then they became known in public. The witnesses remember how "tigers" enjoyed a privileged status, compared with regular units of the army which was still named JNA. After the Croatian army units were expelled from Vukovar, the "tigers" began expelling the remaining Croatian civilians and looting their houses. Their cruelty earned them quick fame, and their commander was leding many operations himself.

During the Croatian war, Arkan was at very good terms with Radovan Stojicic Badza, then the commander of the Territorial Defense of Slavonia, Baranja and West Srem, who was murdered on April 11th 1997. Stojicic was probably one of the best informed men in Serbia, and as a member of the Serbian Ministry of Interior, he was responsible to Milosevic directly. The murder of Stojicic, just like 500 other murder cases in Serbia, are still unsolved. A photograph is remembered, where at Stojicic's funeral, Arkan is standing right behind Milosevic's back.

After Vukovar, Arkan founded Volunteer Training Center in an abandoned barrack in nearby Erdut. He is also working on his media presentation, selling tapes with footage of Tiger's training. However, paramilitary units from Krajina and their leaders were far more popular at that time with mysterious Captain Dragan as a media star. Besides the work on his image, Arkan focuses on (illegal) business. In Eastern Slavonia, near the Yugoslav border, he opened a gas station, which became a distribution center for smuggled gasoline in Serbia.

Soon after the Bosnian crisis crossed the point when it was obvious the war was inevitable, Arkan and his "tigers" move from Slavonia to Bosnia, which begins one of the darkest episodes in the region's recent history. Within the preparations for the establisment of a Serbian state in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Arkan's units rush into Zvornik and Bijeljina and expell moslem civillians (with mandatory looting of their houses). Their brutality and cruelty was stunning. The photographs from Bijeljina circled the world in early 1992, and Arkan's actions, as well as reluctancy of Serbian authorities to distance themselves from them, were the main pretext for the international community's decision to impose sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro.

Political career

Meanwhile, Raznatovic has, succesfully using the media who were spreading the nationalist hysteria, become a symbol of a Serbian hero, among those Serbs who were in moods for a war. At the 1992 elections, he was elected as an independent candidate in the electoral unit of Pristina (where his mother is from). But, his political appetites were not sated, so he started out founding a political party. Just before the 1993 elections he founded the Party of Serbian Unity, with expressively nationalistic programme and methods. During the electoral campaign, many understood this party was to replace Seselj's radicals for Milosevic, since the radicals were "out of control" at the time (which turned out to be only for a while), and posed as a strong opposition to Milosevic and his party.

Arkan invested lots of money in his campaign. Hardly could be a kiosk or a boutique be found in Serbia where his posters, flyers and emblems were not pasted. Some took the locations of the posters as a sign of where Arkan and his men "do the racket".

Regardless of that, Serbian voters were not particularly impressed - the Party of Serbian Unity got no seats in the Parliament. After failing the 1993 elections, Arkan gave up trying to penetrate the top politisc, and reverted to "business".

A businessman and football champion

Arkan's "business" was, as the well-informed said, mainly based on "racket", though he legalized most of his business later. Arkan's share in the total of Belgrade's crime is best shown by the popular nickname for "Cumic's alley", famous shopping centre in downtown Belgrade, nicknamed "Arkanzas" by Belgraders. Nevertheless, the official part of Arkan's business was his cakeshop and - soccer.

When the end of Bosnian war left him "unemployed", and since the Belgrade Red Star people understood they can do without a man of Arkan's fame, he decides to make his own soccer team. His first try, with FC Pristina in 1994 was, despite pompous announcements, a failure. Next, in 1996 he takes over the Belgrade's FC Obilic, a member of the Serbian league [third division], a club of a long tradition (founded 1924), but without major achievements and in deep debt.

He motivated the players with relatively high wages, "drafted" them from lower league clubs, induces military discipline and, if it won't work on the green, Arkan uses his manners to "persuade" the referrees, opponent's players and other actors, that his "Knights" must win. "Obilic" moves into higher leagues three years in a row and in its first season in the federal league 1997/98, after a very doubtable showdown and obvious consent on sharing the trophy with the regime's FC Partizan, he wins the Yugoslav championship.

He leaves the seat of Chairman of Obilic FC to his wife after UEFA decided not to allow his club to participate in European competitions because of the warrant from the Hague Tribunal for war crimes. In spite his withdrawal from the position of Chairman Arkan remains the boss in Obilic until his death. We hope that at least football competitions will recover some of their regularity after this.

The Nagging Flower

Arkan made additional media expansion by getting married - February 19th 1995 - with the star of Serbian folk scene, Svetlana Ceca Velickovic, in her birthplace Zitoradja in East Serbia. Arkan and Ceca became a first class media attraction.

The career of Svetlana Ceca Velickovic began 12 years ago on a festival in Ilidza near Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She had her first hit "The Nagging Flower", and she was only 15 then. She drove all the country [former Yugoslavia] at the time crazy about her.

She may be freely said to be a femme fatale. Her first publicly known relation was Shaban, the mafia "king" of Belgrade's Zvezdara quarter. It is suspected that Raznatovic killed him.

By the end of 1999. Ceca started promoting her new album "Ceca: project 2000", with a slogan "woman of the new millenium". She made a promotional video clip for the song "Evidence". The spot is about a double cheating: her husband cheats on her, she kills his mistress, and frames him.

Ten days before the murder of Arkan, they were guests on "Minimaxovision", the highest audience talk-show in Yugoslavia, which is retransmitted by many local TV stations in Bosnia, Macedonia and Slovenia. During the show, Minimax (the host) got a message on his pager: "Ceca, guard Arkan". Everyone in the studio understood it as if she should guard him from other women. Besides, Arkan was extremely quiet and absentminded, as if he was thinking of something else all the time. Ceca had complained that she can't travel to Western Europe, because of the visa problems (they are both on the list of FRY citizens which are not allowed to enter most of the EU countries). She said: "I'd like to go, but I can't get the visa. It's really about time to have some things solved".

Marriage with Ceca brought Arkan two more kids - girl Anastasija (2) and boy Veljko (4). From several previous marriages he has a son Mihailo (24), daughters Sofija (21), Andjela (19), Milena (17) and sons Nikola and Vojin (16).

Murder of a criminal or murder of a witness?

After the Dayton Agreement Arkan withdrew from the public, except when acting as Ceca's husband or as "advisor" in Obilic FC. Alongside that his "popularity" started to grow among western reporters, who competed each other in finding evidence of war crimes Arkan committed. Christian Amanpur, a reporter for CNN, was the leader of this and she made the first documentary in the history of CNN with Arkan playing the main part. In his interviews and statements to the press, Arkan denied all the charges and, immediately after this documentary was broadcasted, he announced that he would sue CNN for slander.

With he beginning of NATO intervention in Yugoslavia Arkan's name started to make headlines again. This time it was about Arkan's reassembling his Tigers and preparing to go to Kosovo. Arkan denied this, too, claiming that Tigers will reassemble only in case of NATO invasion on land.

Later he denied claims of Serbian independent media that he is preparing to negotiate the Hague Tribunal. The Head persecutor of Tribunal Louise Arbour announced on March 31st 1999 that she accused Raznatovic in September 1997. Just days before Arkan's murder rumors appeared in Belgrade and the media around the world, claiming that Arkan is ready to submit evidence against Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal in exchange for acquittal.

At the closing time of this text, January 17th 2000, 2pm CET, the police still has no official announcement regarding the murder of Zeljko Raznatovic - Arkan.

English version Verzija na srpskom