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The death of democracy in Serbia

SerbiaWhile the fight for democracy continues in Egypt and Libya, it has been all but snuffed out in Serbia. Eight years after the death of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, questions remain as to whether his real killers are behind bars, writes Milly Stilinovic, who was part of the 2000 revolution which saw the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic's oppressive regime.

10 April 2011

As U.S. Tomahawk missiles rain on Libya, my belief in the old adage of ‘history repeating’ is fortified.

On 15 January 1999 NATO forces commenced operation Merciful Angel in the former Yugoslavia. Merciful Angel saw a 78-day bombardment of the nation’s capital, and surrounding areas, in a bid to rid the former Yugoslavia of the bloody reign of Milosevic.

The reality, however, was a far cry from NATO’s ideal objective. For civilians, Merciful Angel meant nothing more than a reign of Western terror. Our power supplies were cut off, staple foods became treasures and the subdued atmosphere – which is known only to those that have lived under civil defence sirens – became intolerable.

I can say, as a witness, that Tomahawks did not rid us of an oppressive leader. It was the people of Serbia who fought and obtained their freedom not long after bombardment.

However, we were unable to sustain it.

Eleven years after Serbia fought for democracy and won, eight years after the assassination of the Prime Minister of Belgrade, Dr. Zoran Djindic, civilians are still unsure as to who is responsible for the death of democracy.

The birth of democracy

On 5 October 2000, the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, was engulfed in a sea of chaos.

After tearing down Government House, with an onslaught of molotov cocktails, the angry demonstrators moved to tear down the Police headquarters.

Once again we had realised that our votes had been tampered with. Many had found that their deceased relatives had voted in the name of the communist party and their oppressive leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Demonstrators were bowled over, heaving and spitting up bile, as we moved towards the bee’s nest. The Police Headquarters were a symbol of Milosevic’s violent pacification. For years they would lift their fortified batons up against demonstrators, lock up civilians and torture them, in a bid to sustain the party’s tyrannical rule.

It wasn’t long before the police surrendered to the angry mob, handing over their shields and batons, in a sign of defeat.

This signified an end to a dictatorial regime, and the beginning of a free Serbia.

Soon after Vojislav Kostunica, the leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, was sworn in as the President of Serbia and Dr. Zoran Djindjic as the new Serbian Prime Minister.

That same crowd, three years later, regrouped to strew flowers behind the coffin of the late Prime minister.

Two former Red Beret commandos and prominent members of a notorious Eastern European mafia ring, Zvezdan Jovanovic and Milorad Lukovic, were convicted of organising and orchestrating the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. It was believed they collaborated with the late President, Slobodan Milosevic, to rid Serbia of the man who was extraditing alleged Serbian war criminals to the Hague.

Today, there is speculation that Djindjic’s real killers are not behind bars.

Although it was proven that Jovanovic was involved in the shooting that took place in front of Belgrade’s Government House, it is believed that Lukovic and Milosevic are not guilty of orchestrating the assassination.

The Djindjic trial may be reopened. Jovanovic and Lukovic may have their 40-year sentences reduced as their defence lawyers are set to contest the convictions placed on their clients in 2007.

The story as stands

At 12.45pm on 12 March 2003, a procession of BMWs pull up to the parking lot of Belgrade’s Government House. Several hundred metres away, in a nearby tavern, Jovanovic’s agitation grows. Being a former special forces officer he does not appreciate that things are not going according to plan.

The door to the roof of the tavern, from where he had the cleanest shot, was locked. Having to improvise he situates himself on the top-level windows and rests his Heckler and Koch G3 assault rifle on the ledge.

Police later found four bullet cases, three black and one white, strewn amongst the drops of blood in the parking lot and predicted Jovanovic did not work alone.

The fatal bullet, belonging to the white shell, came from the tavern. The other three were shot from the two cross roads on either side of Government House.

Two black BMW?s sped off to the nearby emergency ward where a team of doctors attempt to resuscitate the unconscious Premier. By 1.30pm the Prime Minister of Serbia, Dr. Zoran Djindjic, was pronounced dead.

Based on the former sequence of events Zvezdan Jovanovic and Milorad Lukovic were convicted for the assassination of Djindjic. Twelve other Zemun Clan members were also sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Two members were shot dead resisting arrest in 2003. Five are still on the run.

The usual suspects

“Look at the leading suspects, war criminals, Red Berets and Zemun Clan. It would have been very easy to frame them,” Bojana Marjanovic tells The Scavenger.

Marjanovic is the former editor-in-chief of a prominent Serbian newspaper Express Politika. She reveals that she has witnessed several documents, from the Express Politika archive, that dispute the strong motives of Lukovic and Milosevic.

“Jovanovic did pull the trigger [but] Milosevic was in the Hague. Who really ordered the assassination?” she said.

According to Marjanovic, the relationship between the Red Berets and the late President Milosevic is an easy one to establish. Several sources claim that the Serbian Red Berets were a group of hardened mafia members and criminals, pardoned by Milosevic, for the purposes of creating a protective force for himself and his political associates.

Miroslav Zivanovic, Colonel of the Former Yugoslav People’s Army, confirms the Red Berets were assembled by Slobodan Milosevic and head of the Serbian State Security Service, Franko Simatovic, as a military police force.

“They were certainly present during the Bosnian war. I can’t say where” he said. The 63 year-old could not go into further detail as he faces trial for charges he cannot discuss.

Post-war, the Red Berets collaborated with Zemun Clan, a mafia ring that monopolised Eastern Europe. On more than one occasion the clan were found guilty of drug trafficking, terrorism, kidnapping and for over 50 murders orchestrated in Serbia and bordering countries.

“They made millions drug trafficking, spent $50 000 (US) a day on their lifestyle, yet to arrange a murder they charged a measly 20,000 Deutsch Marks each” Marjanovic said.

It was assumed, as another probable motive, that the Zemun Clan would have taken action after Djindjic, in early 2003, commenced an attack on organised crime in Serbia.

“It is too easy to say Milosevic and Lukovic were behind the assassination. One didn?t want to go to The Hague and the other wanted to continue the blessed green light,” Marjanovic said.

An inside job

The assassination of Djindjic resulted in a state of emergency being imposed. The very next day, Serbian news outlets announced a warrant for the arrest of the leading suspects. These outlets were supplied with names, mug shots and details of how Lukovic, Jovanovic, and other prominent Clan members, had organised the assassination.

“No one was arrested yet. No one had grassed. If they knew all this why didn’t they stop it?” Marjanovic said.

The information was supplied by Vladimir Popovic; the Democratic Party’s Chief of Communications who was asked by Djindjic himself, two weeks prior to the assassination, to step down due to corruption allegations.

Marjanovic was able to disclose information regarding the possible motives of the Democratic Party to rid themselves of Prime Minister Djindjic. There is mention of an alleged friendship between ministers of the Democratic Party and Zemun Clan.

“Heavy money was dropped. The truth could have hit the public,” she said.

Eye witnesses claim Democratic Party ministers often visited the lavish mansions of the Zemun Clan. Although clan members assured their residences were under 24-hour surveillance the footage, along with their mansions, was destroyed after Lukovic and Jovanovic were taken into custody.

A source, who cannot be named, was a bodyguard to the leader of the Serbian Radical Party: Vojislav Seselj. They believe, without a doubt, that the assassination was aided and abetted by the Democratic party. “Djindjic didn’t wear a bullet proof vest that day which is out of procedure,” they said. “Also the trees planted in front of Government House were cut down the night before.”

The death of democracy

Although the preliminary stages of the appeal are still ongoing, those who remember Djindjic and his legacy, head to the steps of Belgrade’s Government House to place wreaths and single stemmed roses on its steps to commemorate the loss of the first Serbian pro-Western leader.

They know it was Zvezdan Jovanovic who pulled the trigger, but question who really killed Dr. Zoran Djindjic.

To the freedom fighters of Libya I say do not give up hope. Democracy is obtainable but must be cherished for – like the candle that symbolises peace – it can be snuffed out in the blink of an eye.

Milly Stilinovic is the editor-in-chief of an Australian B2B monthly magazine. In her spare time she writes freelance for various online publications. Milly lived in Serbia during the Bosnian war, NATO bombings and 2000 revolution which saw the overthrow of Milosevic’s regime. She remains composed by subjecting herself to various experiences and writing about them. From exposing the truth behind pro anorexia, running from protein guilt, to sweating through Bikram Yoga and a blood type diet or two.




0 #2 Jo 2011-04-10 00:42
Such an interesting topic, and broached very well by the writer. Also very relevant with the current uprisings throughout the Middle East and Africa. Regarding the first comment by Ranko - where is the racism towards Serbians in this article? It looks like the writer cares very much about the fate of the Serbian people.
0 #1 Ranko Tutulugdzija 2011-04-09 20:40
If you want to see what is killing anorexia go to - and enough of the hate towards, how can you not be ashamed of the constant hate you and the world think is ok to bury Serbia with - enough is enough! STOP the racism towards Serbs!!

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