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The BBC's George Eykyn
meets the gangsters in the Serbian mafia
 real 56k

Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 18:53 GMT
Analysis: Gangsters' paradise lost
Gangland killing
Gangland killings have become commonplace in Serbia
By Tim Judah

Was it the end of an era? With all eyes on the fall of Slobodan Milosevic few noticed that two other significant figures in Serbian public life also ended their careers a few hours either side of the former president of Yugoslavia.

Stalked by a gunman for three days, mafia kingpin Jovan "Simenda" Simendic was murdered on 4 October, the day before Milosevic fell.

President Milosevic
Now that Mr Milosevic is gone which way will the political wind blow?

And the night after Yugoslavia's peoples' uprising, the powerful gangster boss, Vladislav "Vanya" Bokan was gunned down by two men outside his house in Athens.

Over the last ten years Yugoslavia, or what remains of it, has been turned from a relatively crime-free country into a state in which gangsters have flourished.

Gangster state

They have carved the country into private fiefdoms and fought as shock troops in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

But, with the fall of Milosevic, an odd thing has happened.

Organised crime has suddenly ceased as the country's mafia bosses take stock of developments, and wait to see which way the political wind will blow.

According to Vojislav Tufegdzic, top crime reporter for the daily Blic, most gangland bosses are simply sitting on their hands waiting to see what sort of country will now emerge in the wake of Milosevic's demise.

"If our country becomes a serious state of law they can't expect anything good because they are the product of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and their future is not good." says Mr Tufegdzic.

The fact that the gangland bosses, who deal in everything from people smuggling to drugs to arms exports, are currently keeping a very low profile is having several immediate effects.

The first is that Serbia's heroin supply has suddenly dried up leaving addicts desperate and distraught.

Zeljko Raznatovic aka  Arkan
Arkan was the gangsters' 'boss of bosses'

Close ties

The links between the former regime and Serbia's underworld date from the early 1990s.

Serbia's gangsters rode to power and riches on the back of state-sanctioned plunder during the wars of the former Yugoslavia.

Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan", the infamous Serbian "boss of bosses" and paramilitary leader who was shot dead in Belgrade on 15 January was responsible for recruiting many criminals into special units outside the regular military and police structures.

These units did much of the dirty work of ethnic cleansing in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

According to Mr Tufegdzic, policemen were in a desperate position.

They arrested the gangsters but then politicians ordered their release or corrupt judges set them free.

Blood feuds

Belgrade anti-Milosevic demos
Yugoslavia's peoples' revolution has changed the rules for gansters
This led to the emergence of powerful groups of armed mafia barons who carved up Serbia between them, co-operating with the authorities when it suited them.

Now the wars are now over and Serbia is bankrupt.

While by the mid-1990s there were 10 big bosses, their constant internecine warfare, means that almost all of that generation are now dead.

The deaths of the big bosses has resulted in a fragmentation of the Serbian mafia. There are now believed to be some 80 small-time bosses, and it is they who are now waiting to see what will happen.

So, while many now sip coffee quietly waiting to see how things develop, Mr Tufegdzic believes some are considering the classic gangster "next step". They are thinking of "going legit".

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