Željko Ražnatović or in Serbian Cyrillic writing Жељко Ражњатовић, (April 17, 1952 - January 15, 2000), widely known as Arkan or Аркан, was a Serbian paramilitary leader, nationalistic politician, assembly representative, folk hero, owner of a soccer club, shady businessman, mafia boss and war profiteer. Prior to that he had been an adventurer, delinquent, bank robber, gambler, hitman, mobster, secret police agent, soccer fans leader and ice-cream man.
Ražnjatović was born in Brežice, small village in Slovenia. His father was a Montenegrin, serving as an officer in the Yugoslav air force. As a child he often ran away from home to cause mischief, eventually ending up in a delinquents' institution. He took his nickname Arkan after a comic strip character. However, the word arcanus in Latin means 'mysterious'. He became a petty criminal in his early teenage years, before graduating to more serious offences as an adult.
In 1972, at the age of twenty, he departed to Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Italy. He was imprisoned in Belgium in 1974, escaped in 1977, rearrested in the Netherlands in 1979 but escaped again in 1981. He was injured several times in clashes with police. He fled from dozens of European prisons, including the building which today is a high security prison for war criminals in the Scheveningen suburb of the Hague. He was on Interpol's red list of ten most wanted men.
In his youth Arkan was a ward of the Slovenian politician Stane Dolanc, chief of secret police and a close associate of the Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito. Whenever Arkan was in trouble Dolanc helped him as a reward for his services to the Yugoslav secret state police (UDBA). In November 1983, an incident occurred that totally changed his career. Two federal policemen ambushed Arkan at his house in order to have him arrested and interrogated over some his activities. He resisted, pulled out his gun and shot and wounded both of them. An intervention from Stane Dolanc effected his release from prison only two days later. Dolanc, who once said: "Arkan is worth more than entire service" personally collected Arkan on his release from prison. Arkan was employed as an undercover agent from 1973, assassinating political emigrants and opponents of the ruling Communist regime.
He returned to Serbia in 1981 after nine years of turbulent life in Western Europe. He continued his career, also opening a number of illegal businesses. As the political, ethnic and religious situation in the former Yugoslavia in the early nineties became tense, on October 11, 1990 he created a paramilitary group named the Serb Volunteer Guard under the auspices of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) general staff. This was, ostensibly, an organization of Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda) soccer club supporters.
In November of 1990, Arkan traveled to Knin for a meeting of the council of war of the Krajina uprising. On the way back to Belgrade after the meeting he was arrested for gun-running by Croatian police at the border crossing between Croatia and Bosnia Dvor na Uni with five other Serbians on November 29 1990, and thus became the first political prisoner in Croatia. His group was accused of conspiracy against newly formed Croatian state and charged with attempted assassination of then newly elected Croatian president Franjo Tuđman. He was released from prison on June 14 1991 under unclear circumstances, after a sensational trial in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Some later claimed that his release was set up by a secret agreement between the Serbian and Croatian leaderships.
Arkan's Tigers, a paramilitary force he created, set up their headquarters and training camp in Erdut. His volunteer army saw action from mid 1991 to late 1995, initially in eastern Slavonia. It is reported that his irregular army consisted of 10,000 well-trained fighters equipped with modern weapons, including tanks and helicopters. His units were supplied and equipped by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs during the war in Croatia and Bosnia. It is estimated that some thousand of his soldiers perished in various battles, and many were severely wounded in the course of their encounters, although reported casualties were considerably reduced for public consumption.
When war began in Bosnia in April 1992, he and his units moved to Bijeljina, Zvornik, Brčko, Banja Luka, Prijedor and other cities and regions to engage in combat against Bosnian Muslims and Croats, culminating in the infamous Siege of Sarajevo. His forces were linked with the Vukovar hospital massacre, Srebrenica slaughter and other acts of Ethnic cleansing; he personally is said to have been associated with looting, plunder and smuggling operations. Arkan decorated medals to his bravest soldiers. Whilst his units were known to be disciplined, they nevertheless committed acts of unseen brutality against the non_Serb population. "Tigers" executed captured prisoners.
He was feared and hated from neighboring nations as a butcher. He was regarded from Western nations as extremist and was proclaimed a notorious Warlord for committing alleged atrocities against civilians. He was considered a dangerous man despite having a baby face look. Arkan was known for his rough behavior toward his soldiers during wartime. He worked under surveillance of Radovan Karadzic and in cooperation with Biljana Plavsic. In the Serb rebel republic of Krajina his troops were stationed there to fight against the Croatian army, and he and regional leader of Serbs Milan Martic together organized defense of the republic. Arkan was an acquaintance of Zoran Djindjic and during the NATO bombing campaign, he advised him to leave the country because his life was in danger from secret state service. He had friendly contacts and political plans with Russian ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
He was a very controversial person and a powerful man with strong contacts and high-level connections. He had significant influence over all spheres of Serbian society. In private he was a man of his word, decisive, intelligent, cruel, unforeseeable and nervous. But sometimes he suddenly changed to compassionate, emotional, charming and humorous. He had many characters and features of his personality. Arkan provoked jealousy primary because of being so demonstrative and open in public. He organized and financed humanitarian aid for poor families and orphans by trucks. Arkan also gave monthly payment of alimonies to his crippled volunteers and families of slain soldiers.
In August 1998, Arkan wrote a letter of support to U.S. president Bill Clinton over Osama bin Laden's, Al-Qaeda Bombings of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania. In letter he expressed condolences and grieve for American victims that died in the attack, and warned Clinton on dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. Excerp from his letter: "Mr, President... do not allow that terrorism continues in this part of Balkan in Serbian state, who is for centuries friend of your state." Clinton ignored his letter and never answered him.
He was praised and glorified among nationalistic part of common Serbs, enjoyed war fame, there were war songs about him. Others hated and slandered him, mainly because of his exaggerate comfort, swaggering life style, and his enormous wealth. There were all kinds of gossip surrounding his life. He had a voluminous mansion in Belgrade elite settlement of Dedinje where politicians and foreign embassies reside in Serbian capital. Arkan highly respected Serbian Orthodox Church, and Serb Partriarch Pavle. Arkan was pious and frequently celebrated religious holidays.
Arkan learned many languages during his secret assignments by government in Europe. He spoke fluently English, French and Italian, and understood well German, Swedish and Dutch.
He had fathered nine children by five different women and was a womanizer. Arkan had lived with three older sisters and mother Slavka, his parents divorced in his youth. Arkan's father Veljko often beat him when he was young, and treated to his family harshly as to his army subordinates. Arkan's eldest son Mihajlo born in March 1975 from relationship with Swedish woman Agneta went to war with his father.
Family Raznjatovic is one of the most prominent tribes and fraternities in Turks in 1804 insurrection. That historical fact entered all Serbian libraries of resistance and heroism against Turkish tyranny of five centuries long occupation and slavery of Serbs under Ottoman Empire.
On November 3, 1993 Arkan with his followers founded Party of Serbian Unity, and was elected its president, but party lost parliamental elections and failed to won seats despite energy promotive campaign, because of prevailing popularity of Milosevic's socialists, and regime steal of votings. Arkan planned to candidate himself on presidential elections scheduled for autumn 2000.
He married Svetlana 'Ceca' Veličković, a popular folk singer ("turbofolk"), on February 19, 1995. They functioned as prestigious and glamorous couple often appearing in public. Their children are Veljko (b. December 1996) and Anastasija (b. May 1998).
In the postwar period after the Dayton agreement was signed, Arkan returned to sport and private business. Serb Volunteer Guard was officially disbanded in April 1996 with threat to be reactivated in case of war emergency. In June that year he took over an second class soccer team "Obilic" which later under his tutorship advanced and became national champion in one season. UEFA under American pressure permitted his team Obilic participation in European league because of its connections with war crimes. But Arkan stepped away from place of president of club and gave that seat to his wife Ceca, and his club Obilić played a matches against FC Bayern MŁnchen and Atletico de Madrid. Arkan was also chairman of Yugoslav kick_boxing association.
Arkan's "business" was mainly based on forcible protection, money extortion, smuggling of oil, luxurious cars and cigarettes. Later he legalized a good part of his jobs. Arkan had about 400 people working for him. He owned a casinos, companies, discos, gasoline stations, pastry shops, stores, bakeries, restaurants and weight lifting rooms.
Arkan was unofficially allied with Slobodan Milosevic, and moved under his control, although he was completely independent in front's actions and decisions. Contacts between them were done over mediator Radovan 'Badža' Stojicičić, police general and chief of internal affairs who was killed in pizzeria "Mamma Mia" on night of April 11, 1997. From his funeral exist a famous photograph where Arkan after brief conversation with saddened Milosevic stands right behind him and watches him a bit discerning. It was used for proving their close relations. But both Milosevic and Raznatovic were very careful to distance from each other in publicity.
When war broke out in unstable Serbian province of Kosovo in summer of 1998 Arkan ordered his commanders and units to join army and police in fight against Albanian rebels, but he personally did not went there to supervise the front situation. Before worst unrests began, Arkan visited Kosovo on several occasions as government official, trying to pacify Albanians and to give sense of security and hope to local Serbs. He also played important role in Kosovo war. His center of operations for Kosovo was in Pristina hotel "Grand" where he also owned a bakery "Kruna". After Serbian forces withdraw his hotel was confiscated by NATO troops in June 1999.
He was indicted on secret list for tribunal's chief judge Richard May by ICTY, branch of Hague Tribunal of international justice on September 30, 1997 for war crimes of genocide, killing civilians, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of Geneva convention of 1949 for customs and traditions of war. The warrant was kept sealed and was not made public until March 31, 1999, when joint NATO operation against Yugoslavia already started weak earlier. Arkan's indictment was made public by Louise Arbour, then U.N. court's chief prosecutor. The publication of Arkan's indictment was interpreted as a maneuver aimed at preventing him from deploying his "Tigers" paramilitary unit in the escalating conflict in Kosovo, where Serbs were trying to drove out ethnic Albanians. He decisively denied all war crimes charges against him in interviews he gave to CNN, BBC stations and other foreign reporters during bombing of Serbia. Arkan blamed NATO for bombing of civilians and creating refugees of all ethnicities, and stated that he would recruit his troops only in case of NATO direct ground invasion.
The scandalous bombing of Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in which three journalists were killed, and changed U.S.A. - China foreign relations, was a precise and deliberate target because its office of the military attache was being used by Arkan, to communicate and transmit messages to his `Tigers', Serb death squads in Kosmet.
The process of liquidating people close to Arkan in order to weaken him and his movement began immediately after end of Bosnian war. Serbian secret state police organized dozens of murders of his most devoted and trusted people. His colonels, majors, bodyguards, business associates, partners, and long-standing friends were all killed very professionally within a very short period of time. Arkan was angry and touched with this acts against him and felt sorrow for his fallen comrades. This circle of killings of specific types of people close to him continued even after Arkan's death.
Arkan was assassinated, on January 15, 2000, at 17: 15 GMT evening in lobby of elite five star Intercontinental Hotel, Belgrade full of hotel guests. His Assassin, Dobrosav Gavrić 23 years old policeman on sick leave who briefly was member of Arkan's militia walked up alone toward him from behind. Arkan was seating and chatting with two of his friends. Gavric waited for a few minutes and used calm, surprise and relaxed atmosphere to sneak to him and fire bullets from his duty pistol. Arkan was shot three times in back of the head and lapsed into a coma on spot fatally wounded from close range. His companions Milenko Mandić a business manager and Dragan Garić police colonel, were also shot to death by Gavric with him, while one woman was seriously wounded in further shoot out. Gavric was shot and wounded immediately after by Arkan's bodyguard Zvonko Mateović and fell unconscious. After complicated surgery he survived but remained an invalid in wheelchair as result of spinal wound. Gavric pleaded innocent and never admit that he committed the hideous crime. He was convicted guilty and sentenced to 20 years of jail, his accomplices received from 15 to 3 years each, after one year trial. However original court verdict has been canceled recently because of vagueness and new trial is to be conducted.
Arkan was still alive when bodyguard put him in the accidental passenger's car who was willing to help that drove him to emergency center where reanimation attempts to save his life failed. Doctors could only conclude his death, he actually passed away on wife's arms on the way to hospital. Police refused to drive him under excuse that they are not authorized to do such thing.
According to some reliable sources Arkan's liquidation was well prepared and thought-out plan that was carefully planned seven months. Murder was carried out in Mob-style which should make people to get impression of pure gang warfare, but it was actually of more complex political nature. Group of conspirators numbered many people. In conspiracy against him were involved criminals, businessmen, police generals, and top of leadership, who all gather together to get rid of him, all from their own reasons. Some of people from Arkan's close surroundings began making a very ambitious plans for their own path to ascension without him, and joined in plotting as inside spies for secret project. Huge account of money was promised for his murder, about 4,500,000 DM which after bloody job done they would split among themselves, as they dealt.
Slobodan Milosevic gaved secret order for urgent removal of Arkan in June 1999 to his henchman, former chief of secret state security Radomir Marković. Marković ordered his outside operative a "businessman" Andrija Drašković, to find killers and coordinate rest of mission. Drašković hired his fellow gangsters Dragan Nikolić called Gagi and Zoran Uskoković called Skole. Dragan Nikolić mixed his friend Dobrosav Gavrić and cousin Milan Đuričić, into secret mission. They were people in whom he had full confidence. Djuricic was his aunt's son while Gavric was the best man at his marriage. Together with Skole's men they secretly planned and organized Arkan's murder in Uskokovic's apartment. They were also wiretapping him shortly before murder. Four months they permanently followed Arkan's movement, whereabouts learning his habits.
Arkan gained too much power and become dangerous for regime especially after publication of Milosevic's indictment in May that year. After Kosovo defeat Arkan did not needed them any longer and now became unpleasant witness to Milosevic secret sponsorship and state involvement in wars. Akan knew a lot about state inside function and they were afraid they could not control him any more. But the hidden reason why they wanted to slew him is envy, hatred and vanity they personally felt toward him.
After his violent death many concluded that he "get what he deserved", "died in same manner as he lived". Some stated that they preferred to see him on trial in Hague. But for some Serbs he represents a patriot and legend.
In last years of his life up to moment of his death Arkan calmed himself turning to family, friends and business, abandoning politics and contacts in the underworld. He began living a normal life and believed he get over all obstacles and worries in life. Arkan thought to wrote a self biography with memoirs. Title of that book would be as he once said to journalists "I, Arkan". His enemies did not allowed him to live longer growing old in peace, remorse for his sins nor to defend himself on trial by rights of law.
Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan was buried with full military honors and orthodox mourning ceremonial on January 20, 2000 some 20,000 people attended his funeral. There are still many speculations and doubts among Serbian public concerning his strange life and dark legacy.
- “Better to live one day as a lion, than hundred years as worm.”
- “I am going to become a Serb Wiesenthal.”
- “If only Russia was stronger, this chaos which is happening to us Serbs would have never happened.”
- “It is obvious that political platform of my party is much more in spirit of Dayton agreement then any of leading national parties in Bosnia and because of that my party is deserved to be subsidized by OSCE.”
- “Milosevic is a true Serb leader.”
- “I never hated Croats, I just shot at them.”
- “I was first for democracy after communism fell, but America must know that democracy is not imposed with bombs.”
- “As a proud Serb I would be more glad if those people bravely died in battlefield and that we can remember them as heroes which defended territories instead as disgracefully escaped wretched refugees.”
- “We are tigers and we certainly shall not allow that Serbian people be taken to slaughterhouse again. If they don't comprehend that, we do not left anything else than to march on Zagreb and completely military defeat them.”
- “Security doesn't exist even here because our enemies draw in, among us.”
- “I am watching all of you idlers.”
- “My only supreme commander is my partriarch.”
- “Serbia is in deterrent enemy encirclement.”
- “Here doesn't exist line of front, this is hellish war.”
- “Yes I was on the other side of law, but I wouldn't recommend it to no one, that is not way to solve any problems, just with decent life and sports.”
- “Did I ever said I was a good boy in my childhood or that I finished high school with success, no I was a mischievous little devil.”
- “They don't have to rape anybody. Serbian women adore my 'tigers'.”
- “We are in sanctions and isolation. Reason: we lost a media war.”
- “If we have managed to survive 500 years under Turks we can endure at least 100 years more in sanctions.”
- “As a warrior I am sending a message to Croats and their former masters Nazi Germany and all Catholic mafia who make us this problems: keep yourselves from a Serb Volunteer Guard and Serbian people.”
- “ I am fighting against Islam, dangerous disease which is spreading rapidly in Europe.”
- “Muslims in Bosnia have gone mad like vampires, and they don't want to realize that they are Serb martyrs who out of great misfortune turkized themselves.”
- “We can defeat everyone, even the whole world.”
- “They slaughtered my soldiers, what did you expect from me to do to set free those prisoners?”
- “I am not a rich man, I have raised credits in bad time, so I am in large debts now.”
- “I loved only two women in my life, I never was womanizer.”
- “If somebody wants to kill me he will do it no matter what stands on his way.”
- “There where we are, wrote freely, Tuđman got no chance.”
- “We shall manure Kosovo soil with terrorists.”
- “I have nine children I would be crazy if I want a war.”
- “I attacked in wedge of enemy like Caesar... When we finish with foreign enemies, we shall turn to Serbian traitors. We shall not kill or pursue them, we are going to whip them fifty times by buttocks to set them straight.”
- “I am not afraid of anyone and anything.”
- “First let them call in Hague Tribunal those who destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki those who killed civilians in that two towns, who attacked Panama and Grenada and after them me. When I was defending somebody else's houses and women I was defending myself.”
- “Hague to judge me? That is funny. I don't give a damn about that. I can only judge them.”
- “To threat me with murder, I risked my life thousand times, I got threats from everyone, it is silly, simply those things doesn't touch me at all.”
- “If you would have followed my entire life story way I do, you would see I am man of my own not a pion so I am not someone's man.”
- “I am proud if NATO is my enemy, that means I am good Serb.”
- “Brothers Serbs, what a cattle you are! ”