Yugoslavia was the most aggressive among socialist countries in using assassinations as a means of protecting the state and the communist party. Over its 45-year existence, the UDBA, the Yugoslav State Security Service, dropped at least 80 bodies of its political enemies, mostly Croats, abroad. Some with the contracted assistance of Yugoslav mobsters. And after the death of Yugoslavia, members of state security services and their organized crime friends have played important roles in the newly independent states.

A story of state-sponsored murder, organized crime, and justice.

With Christian Axboe Nielsen, Paul Vidich, and Maria Vivod.

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Episode Transcript (and More)

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[JINGLE]

PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your intelligence analyst Peter Korchnak.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “It’s What It Is” by Ian Sutherland]

Five years ago, a court in Munich, Germany convicted and sentenced to life in prison two elderly citizens of Croatia, Zdravko Mustač and Josip Perković, for aiding and abetting a decades-old murder of their compatriot Stjepan Đureković. In July 1983, a team of unknown assailants killed Đureković, a Croat Yugoslav émigré, in his garage in a Munich suburb.

Đureković’s was no ordinary murder. Rather it was yet another in a string of assassinations the Yugoslav State Security Service, the UDBA, had been carrying out against enemies of the state since the socialist country’s founding.

And Mustač and Perković were no ordinary retirees but rather high-ranking officers of the UDBA at the time. Up to that point in 2016, they and their informant in the case were the only individuals convicted and imprisoned for assassinating Yugoslavs abroad.

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: This is not a good guys versus bad guys story.

PETER KORCHNAK: Far surpassing its Eastern Bloc counterparts, Yugoslavia was the most aggressive among socialist countries in using assassinations as a means of protecting the state and the communist party. Over its 45-year existence, the UDBA dropped at least eighty, and by some estimates over a hundred, bodies of its political enemies, mostly Croats, abroad. Some with the contracted assistance of Yugoslav mobsters.

And after the death of Yugoslavia, members of state security services and their organized crime friends have played important roles in the newly independent states.

MARIA VIVOD: There is a saying that you should speak only nice things about the deceased, o mrtvima sve najbolje, a Serbian saying. So people nowadays are very Yugonostalgic and they keep forgetting some shady stuff, which actually happened and are [sic] in a root of that country.

PETER KORCHNAK: Today on Remembering Yugoslavia: some shady stuff indeed.

Before we pull the trigger on the story of state-sponsored assassinations of Yugoslav émigrés, remember that it is your operational support that makes this story and this podcast possible. I am so grateful to every one of you who has stepped up and joined Remembering Yugoslavia as a supporter. Welcome and thank you new sustainers, Jen and Nicolette. And thank you, Billie, for your super-generous repeat donation.

If you like the show, kill me with your generosity and join these and many other agents in Operation Goldfish. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate to make a contribution today.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

The UDBA in the 1950s

[02:48]

PETER KORCHNAK: Before socialist Yugoslavia was even established, it gave the world the most famous spy. To be more accurate, a Serbian man named, Popov, Duško Popov

[02:56]

PAUL VIDICH: —who was the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

[03:01]

PETER KORCHNAK: Paul Vidich is the author of four Cold War-era espionage novels, with a fifth one upcoming.

[03:06]

PAUL VIDICH: During World War Two, he left Belgrade, he went to London, and then found himself sent to Beirut. Because he spoke a number of languages, he became friendly with a number of German generals, and the British discovered that and then used him as a back channel to acquire a lot of information about what was happening in Germany. But he was a bit of a ladies man, he was a big gambler, and Ian Fleming bumped into him in Lisbon, in I think in 1941-42. Ian Fleming at the time was part of MI6. And this character, the Serbian, became the inspiration for the James Bond character. So while the Balkans didn’t produce a whole lot of settings for international spy novels, they did inspire one of the world’s most well-known spies.

[04:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: During World War II, shortly after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established in 1943, the Partisans founded Odjeljenje za zaštitu naroda, meaning the Department for People’s Protection, better known under its acronym OZNA, O-Z-N-A. Its role: to defend the nascent country from its enemies within and without. The agency quickly acquired a reputation. A popular saying went, “OZNA sve dozna,” OZNA will find out everything.

Shortly after the war, a new organization succeeded OZNA. Uprava državne bezbednosti, the State Security Administration, later Service, was better known under its original acronym UDBA, U-D-B-A. And people knew that “UDBA je sudba,” UDBA is fate.

[04:46]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: A state security service is something that almost all modern states have, there’s nothing inherently sinister about a state security service. There’s nothing inherently communist about a state security service.

[05:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: Christian Axboe Nielsen is associate professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, researching the police in socialist Yugoslavia. In a way, UDBA was Nielsen’s fate as well. He was an expert witness in Mustač’s and Perković’s trial and he turned his report to the court into the book, Yugoslavia and Political Assassinations: The History and Legacy of Tito’s Campaign Against the Émigrés, published last year by IB Tauris, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing.


I’m running a giveaway for the book on Remembering Yugoslavia’s Instagram and Facebook pages so head over there and enter for a chance to win.

[05:31]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: A State Security Service exists, as the name would indicate, to protect the security of the state, and, in most cases, to protect the constitutional order of that state. Of course, in the case of communist countries, which were party states, in which there was only one legal party, that being the Communist Party, we have the specific situation that the Yugoslav State Security Service, like other communist state security services, was trying to protect not only the state, but also the party.

[06:08]

PETER KORCHNAK: Because of its World War II history and its unique position in the Cold War geopolitical system—

[06:13]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There were a whole heck of a lot of actors, both inside Yugoslavia and outside Yugoslavia who were out to undermine or even destroy Yugoslavia.

There were extreme Serb nationalists who despised communist Yugoslavia; there were even a handful of extreme Slovene nationalists who despised Yugoslavia; there were plenty of ethnic Albanians outside of Yugoslavia who conspired against Yugoslavia, etcetera. But the Croats, not least because of this genocidal legacy of the independent State of Croatia and because they were quite numerous, were very much the premier non-foreign state threat to Yugoslav state security.

[06:55]

PETER KORCHNAK: And the UDBA required a heck of a lot of people to deal with these threats.

[06:59]

PAUL VIDICH: I think the estimate is that there were 100,000 men and women who worked for the UDBA at that time.

[07:07]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: Of course, in the early days, it was almost exclusively people who had been members of the Partisan movement during the Second World War.

Once we get to a later stage, into the 50s and 60s, a lot of the people who were recruited into the Yugoslav State Security Service were people who had studied law and social sciences. Many of them were people who, for various reasons, patriotism, coming from communist families, had a very large appreciation for the communist state and wanted to help protect it.

Again, you know, there’s nothing inherently sinister for a person in the 1960s or 70s to want to go and make a career in the state security service.

[07:53]

PETER KORCHNAK: UDBA’s basic training entailed two years of physical training, language courses, and coursework in intelligence operations and criminal investigations. Agents stationed abroad operated under deep cover, as employees of embassies, consulates, or airline or tourist bureaus.

The UDBA barely got its feet underneath it (and eyes all over) when in 1948 Tito said NO to Stalin.

[08:14]

PAUL VIDICH: At the time I think Tito’s biggest fear, his paranoia, was that the Soviets would try to assassinate him, remove him, and create a coup that allowed them to take over, annex Yugoslavia.

[08:32]

PETER KORCHNAK: According to one account, the Soviets made 22 attempts on Tito’s life over the years. One of the alleged schemes had the assassin, a Soviet spy, code name Max, who had helped arrange Leon Trotsky’s death in Mexico and who was Costa Rica’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, give Tito a present in the form of a jewel box that when opened would emit a lethal gas. Other alternatives included releasing plaque bacteria at one of Tito’s diplomatic receptions or shooting Tito with a silent weapon concealed in a pen, lighter, cane, or briefcase.

Others say there were no such attempts made. At any rate, after Stalin died, a letter was found under a newspaper in his desk drawer. The note, written in 1950, was from Josip Broz Tito: “Stalin, stop sending assassins to murder me. We have already caught five, one with a bomb, another with a rifle. If you don’t stop sending killers, I will send one to Moscow and there will be no need to send another.”

In 1955, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khruschev, visited Belgrade, apologized to Tito for the assassination attempts, and congratulated him on his survival. Tito allegedly smiled and said: “After many warnings, Stalin evidently got a bit scared.”

[09:39]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: The 1948 Tito-Stalin split is an enormous shock to the Yugoslav state, and therefore also to the Yugoslav State Security Service where they’re suddenly in the position that they almost don’t have any friends anywhere in the world. And they are in an adversarial relationship with both the capitalist West and the Soviet-led communist East.

[10:01]

PAUL VIDICH: And that falling out was considered a very important event by the United States, because they were seeking to cleave from the Eastern Bloc as many countries as they could. There was a great deal of concern in the CIA and the White House that Stalin would take advantage of the Korean War and, in effect, launch a second front and invade Yugoslavia from Romania.

The Yugoslav secret police during that period of time were very engaged in seeking out Slovenians, Serbians, Croatians who were sympathetic to the Soviet Union and to communism.

[10:46]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: Even though Yugoslavia left the Soviet bloc in 1948, that didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that they jettisoned the communist mode of establishing and operating state security and intelligence services.

[11:00]

PAUL VIDICH: Many of the Yugoslav security forces had been trained in the Soviet Union. They used the same techniques as the KGB used, or the NKVD.

[11:10]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: They just repurposed that and after 1948 Yugoslavia is using Stalinist methods to combat Stalinists within Yugoslavia, and abroad.

[11:22]

PETER KORCHNAK: Throughout its existence, the Yugoslav State Security Service, the UDBA, had its eye on a number of internal enemies.

[11:28]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: It’s an extremely broad spectrum. I mean, if you go to the relevant archives, one can really be thinking, “Wow, I mean, are they really that afraid of that many different categories of actors?” And the answer is, Yes. I mean they’re protecting the Communist Party state against anyone who would, in any way, shape or form seek to undermine or destroy that state.

So in the case of Yugoslavia, we can start with all kinds of nationalists, from Slovene nationalists to Kosovo Albanian nationalists. We can talk about religious groups, from again, Muslim clergy, Orthodox clergy, Catholic clergy, various more non-traditional denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnessesň. We can talk about various human rights groups, Amnesty International, for example, or anyone associated with Amnesty International. We can talk about critical thinkers such as the famous Praxis group of philosophers and others that emerged in Yugoslavia. We can talk about people around Milovan Djilas. Anarcho-liberalists, this would be anybody who would advocate a more kind of pluralist Western system.

All tourists, all exchange students, all foreign journalists, all foreign diplomats, prominent researchers, as well—all of these people were suspicious in the eyes of the Yugoslav State Security Service. I mean, I have friends who are now my colleagues in academia, some of them are a bit older than me and had the opportunity to visit Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 1980s. And it’s not that unusual that I write to them or call them up and say, you know, “Hey, Kevin, you know, guess what? I was sitting in the Slovenian archive, and I came across your name. You visited Zagreb for the first time in 1983. Is that correct? I found your file, I found what they were writing about you.”

[13:33]

PETER KORCHNAK: One of these foreigners was Vidich’s father, Arthur Vidich.

[13:36]

PAUL VIDICH: He had just graduated from Harvard, had a one year residency in London at the London School of Economics. And a friend of his happened to work at the Voice of America. And discovering that my father was going to London, asked my father, if he would take a side trip to Yugoslavia, and do some research for the Voice of America. And my father needed the money, it was $500 at the time, and he was also very interested in visiting the small town in Slovenia, where his parents had been born, which is a town called Kropa. He was going to go there under the auspices of the State Department, which was in charge of the Voice of America at the time. But the ambassador, the American ambassador to Yugoslavia, at the time, didn’t want any direct connection between the State Department and Arthur Vidich’s research for fear that if it became public, that it would somehow affect Yugoslavia American relations.

So he instead traveled without official cover, from London to Slovenia, with my mother and there were two young children: one was six weeks, that was me, and my older brother, who was three years old.

And the research that he was doing was basically to establish what public opinion was towards the Soviet Union, towards Tito, and towards the United States. At the time, that research was interesting to the Voice of America, because they were broadcasting into Yugoslavia along with the BBC and they were curious how they should shape their programming in order to present the United States in the best possible light. With that remit, he took the train, the Orient Express, from Paris down to Trieste, and then they transferred to a local train.

And at the time, they entered in May 1951, they were among the first Americans to enter Yugoslavia, you know since before the war. And he thought of himself a bit like an amateur spy, although he wasn’t working for the CIA, but he had some concerns about you know, the questions he would be asking a whole variety of people.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “It’s What It Is” by Ian Sutherland]

[16:04]

PETER KORCHNAK: 1951 was also the year that Stjepan Đureković, the Croat émigré assassinated in Munich, graduated from the University of Belgrade with a degree in economics.

[16:13]

PETER KORCHNAK: And then he set about doing his research. And he was a bit of an odd character in a way because he was an American. And there hadn’t been Americans who had visited Yugoslavia. But on the other hand, many Yugoslavs had seen relatives emigrate to the United States so there was a sort of a familiarity and an embrace of this, this stranger who arrived to discover his homeland.

He conducted 42 interviews over several hours each, in homes, in airport waiting rooms, cafes, farms, offices. Among the people he talked to were factory workers, party leaders, the old bourgeoisie farmers, plant managers, students, relatives.

And secretly he typed up his notes at night on a portable Smith Corona and produced a 115-page report that was sort of a snapshot assessment of popular opinion toward, you know, the Cold War adversaries.

Screenshot of Arthur Vidichs Voice of America report of interest to UDBA
Screenshot of the first page of Arthur Vidich’s Voice of America report. Report copy courtesy of Paul Vidich.

[17:19]

PETER KORCHNAK: Given the sensitive geopolitical situation and Yugoslavia’s paranoid outlook at the time, it’s difficult to imagine that Arthur Vidich wasn’t on UDBA’s radar.

[17:27]

PAUL VIDICH: If his interviews had been collected by the UDBA they probably would have been created a lot of suspicion about his work, because in Yugoslavia at that time, these types of opinions you would share only with people you trusted because it was inflammatory, politically, to openly address questions about loyalty to Tito and in concerns about the Soviet Union.

I suspect that a lot of the ease with which he was able to make contacts and move around the country had to do with the fact that his relatives were there a couple senior party members. And by virtue of being family and a party member and given the set of the political overtones of everything, they were willing to excuse him in a way they might not have excused somebody who simply shows up with a passport who happens to be an American.

Paul Vidich quote about UDBA

[18:26]

PETER KORCHNAK: Vidich researched the UDBA archives in Slovenia and Croatia but came away empty handed.

[18:31]

PAUL VIDICH: Unfortunately, the UDBA files in Belgrade remain closed and secret. And so I don’t know what information they had on my father. I assume they hold some information. Because when you look at the files that are available, they had a vast amount of information about the most miniscule things. And an American, traveling around the country interviewing that many people that openly would have created some interest. So I suspect that they were watching him very closely, but they might have taken the view that whatever he was doing was probably going to help American-Yugoslav relations. His questions about public attitudes towards the Soviet Union, towards the United States, might well have been seen as a helpful investigation towards some sort of a rapprochement between the United States and Yugoslavia.

[19:39]

PETER KORCHNAK: Upon his return to the US, Arthur Vidich was questioned by suits presumably from the CIA.

[19:44]

PAUL VIDICH: So here they had Arthur Vidich who had interviewed 42 people from all walks of life across the country delivering some of the most interesting and most accurate social intelligence about a country that was in a pivotal position in the Cold War.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “It’s What It Is” by Ian Sutherland]

[20:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: In mid-1950s, Đureković, a Partisan in World War II, married and had a son. He also started working at an oil refinery in Sisak, Croatia, a career decision that would seal his fate three decades later.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

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The UDBA in its Heyday, the 1960s and 1970s

[20:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: Beginning in the 1960s, Yugoslavia found its own, third way, inside and out with market socialism, self-management, open borders, Western economic assistance, and non-alignment.

Thousands of Yugoslavs took advantage of their government’s agreements with West Germany, Austria, France, Sweden and other Western countries. Most went to West Germany, where they became die Gastarbeiter, guest workers. In 1971, the Yugoslav Foreign Affairs Ministry counted over half a million Gastarbeiter abroad; Yugoslavia’s population was over 20 million at the time.

[20:57]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: Of course, the challenge, if you’re the Yugoslav State Security Service, what you’re immediately thinking is, “Well, wait a second, if Croats from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina get permission to live in Munich or Vienna or Hamburg and work there where we know there’s a lot of these old, extremely aggressive Ustaša types living, isn’t it plausible that they might become infected by this Ustaša virus, so to speak, and this will allow these older Ustaša groups to essentially recruit new younger Croats into the ranks of the Ustaša ideology?” And this is, really their primary concern identifying this, stopping this, and counteracting it when it happens.

[21:49]

PETER KORCHNAK: Other events conspired to sharpen the Yugoslavs’s vigilance.

In 1966, UDBA’s all-powerful head and Tito’s erstwhile successor, Alexandar Ranković, was ousted for allegedly wiretapping his boss and other functionaries. One result was that the UDBA was decentralized.

[22:04]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There was a federal state security service based in Belgrade, the country’s capital. And underneath that federal state security service, there were six republican state security services. And then there were also two provincial State Security Services within Serbia. So there was a hierarchical structure to be sure.

But particularly after 1974, there was really a lot of autonomy for the republican and provincial state security services.

[22:39]

PETER KORCHNAK: A state or provincial UDBA took the lead on threats to or within its borders. These branches would cooperate and coordinate operations when their targets moved around the country. And, under an unspoken agreement, each service took care of their own ethnic brethren, meaning the Slovenian service would be responsible for Slovenes, the Serbian one for Serbs, and so on.

UDBA’s Croatian branch oversaw cases involving Croat émigrés abroad.

[23:02]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: The greatest external threat other than foreign powers to Yugoslavia State Security is the relatively small group, but very active and very motivated group of Croat émigrés who are a very mixed bag of people. This is a group that combines several generations of actors, beginning with those members of the Ustaša regime from the Second World War who managed to flee abroad and who, of course, are first of all, extreme Croat nationalists, they’re fascists, they’re extremely anticommunist. For many of them, the establishment of socialist Yugoslavia is the largest catastrophe in their opinion to befall the Croats, and a number of them from their hiding places in Argentina, West Germany, Australia, and elsewhere, spend, in some cases, the rest of their days, scheming, planning, and organizing activities designed to essentially destroy Yugoslavia and enable the establishment of a new, independent Croatian state.

[24:24]

PETER KORCHNAK: The most prominent of these Ustaša Croats were Ante Pavelić and Vjekoslav Luburić.

Pavelić was the leader of the wartime Independent State of Croatia. He escaped to Argentina where he remained politically active and where the UDBA attempted to assassinate him in 1957. He survived the attack and fled to Spain where he died two years later.

Luburić had overseen the Ustaša concentration camps. He fled to Spain where he, too, continued his work to overthrow Yugoslavia. Having survived several assassination attempts, including by the Mossad, in 1967 Luburić was bludgeoned to death with an axe and a metal rod.

Like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 of my native Czechoslovakia revived fears of the Soviets invading Yugoslavia as well or at least supporting anti-Yugoslav émigrés in their drive to undermine the country.

As part of its non-aligned stance, Yugoslavia established cooperation with countries in the Third World, including on the military and intelligence levels where the UDBAši were—

[25:21]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: —training and assisting intelligence and security services in, for example, the Middle East and in Africa.

The Yugoslav State Security Service, in defending its interests abroad, actually, by the 1960s starts, to a limited extent, to cooperate with Western intelligence services. That’s something that’s quite unique among communist security services.

The Yugoslav State Security Service, while it always had an adversarial relationship with the West German, US, and other Western intelligence services, actually, because of this issue of émigrés ends up to a significant extent also cooperating with them to thwart émigré threats to Yugoslav state security.

One of the reasons this cooperation existed is because, despite their ideological, very strong ideological differences, the Americans and the Australians and the Germans and the Austrians could see that, “Hey, we also don’t like the notion that people on the territory of our states are planning terrorist attacks.”

[26:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: [The] UDBA’s ultimate goal was for the exiles’ hostile activities to cease.

[26:32]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSSEN: The best case scenario for the Yugoslav State Security Service was actually for an émigré just to stop doing or planning activities against Yugoslavia. And if he or she stopped doing it, then there was a significant chance that the Yugoslav state security service would close that person’s case and everybody would move on.

[26:52]

PETER KORCHNAK: The UDBA used all kinds of methods to pacify these threats. Informants, wiretapping, surveillance, and other information-gathering methods, often designed to intimidate the targets into quitting. Disinformation campaigns aimed at discrediting people or sowing discord within émigré groups. More involved operations included kidnapping people and smuggling them into Yugoslavia to be persecuted there. And—

[27:14]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: The most important thing that it was possible to show using the documentation of the Yugoslav State Security Service itself that they, in fact, in their toolbox, so to speak, included as a weapon of last resort, the actual assassination of émigrés, and that was also unfortunately the case for Đureković.

[27:35]

PETER KORCHNAK: It wasn’t necessarily UDBA agents who carried out these so-called neutralizations. The former head of UDBA’s Belgrade branch, Dušan Stupar, has repeatedly said that the State Security Service used “members of the criminal underground for the carrying out of certain tasks” abroad.

[27:50]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There are certainly cases—and the Đureković case appears to be one of them—in which the Yugoslav state security service cooperated with, hired as it were, or outsourced, one could say, the actual killing of the target to organized criminals who were Yugoslav citizens and who were very active in the criminal underworld in countries like West Germany as a way of providing plausible deniability to the Yugoslav State Security Service. In other words, if the operation, if the actual assassination went wrong, and let’s say the killer were caught red handed, then the killer would not be an actual agent of the Yugoslav state security Service, but would be a Yugoslav gangster, organized criminal type.

[28:46]

MARIA VIVOD: To my knowledge, this kind of practice to hire criminals went back to the 60s.

[28:52]

PETER KORCHNAK: Maria Vivod is an anthropologist researching folk medical practices in Vojvodina and connections between the Serbian state and the criminal underworld. She is the author of The Master and Its Servants: The Entangled Web Between the Serbian Secret Service, Organized Crime, and Paramilitary Units in Yugoslav Conflict.


[29:09]

MARIA VIVOD: According to the saying, bitter herbs on bitter wounds, or the Latin similia similibus curantur, you treat the problem with the same kind of remedy. So, these dissidents, political dissidents were considered as criminals to the socialist Yugoslavia. So why not employ criminals to deal with them?

This period of time also coincided with the rise of the sons of the political heads, communist functionaries. Their parents participated in the revolution during the Second World War. And they procreated, of course children, who were at ripe age in during the 60s and the beginning of the 70s. So these so-called kids had access to a good life and to travel abroad. And they were the one[s] who often engaged in illicit trade or illicit activities for themselves, but also for the state security apparatus. I will mention the example of Arkan. He was the son of a Party member, high ranking member, and he was already problematic during his teenage years.

[30:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: Željko Ražnatović, best known under his nickname Arkan, was born in 1952, shortly after Stjepan Đureković graduated from University. He was first arrested at the age of 14, in 1966 in Belgrade for purse snatching in a park. In 1969 he was sentenced to 3 years for burglaries; in prison he started his first gang.

[30:48]

MARIA VIVOD: He was actually pushed into that arena of working for himself, meaning the crime and criminal activities, but also paying his taxes, figuratively saying, to the state apparatus. So, we will leave you in peace and quiet to do what you do, if you do some shit for us.

So that second generation, the problematic generation was actually getting ripe to do the business but also do favors for the Party during the 60s and the 70s.

[31:22]

PETER KORCHNAK: In 1968 students in Belgrade mounted protests to demand reforms. In 1970, Josip Perković, like Đureković an economics graduate, joined the Croatian UDBA in Osijek.

The four-year political battle between nationalist reformers who enjoyed popular support and centralist hardliners in the Party, dubbed the Croatian Spring, ended in 1971 with the regime purging reformers and cracking down on protesters; one of those arrested was Croatia’s future president Franjo Tuđman.

While the reformers in Croatia were silenced, Croats abroad kept fighting. From the late-1950s and especially in the 1960s, the Ustaše exiles started to retire or die out (or be killed off, as the case may be), and another generation of émigré Croats emerged. Disillusioned by the lack of progress made toward Yugoslavia’s destruction and Croatia’s independence, this younger, more radical generation decided the only way to achieve those goals was armed struggle. To fight quote unquote “Serbo-communist” Yugoslavia’s violence they had to use revolutionary, guerrilla-style violence themselves. Beginning in 1962, they bombed trains, planes, and Yugoslav embassies and offices and other locations, including inside Yugoslavia; they hijacked planes; they took hostages; they assassinated Yugoslav diplomats. They were so prolific that Mate Nikola Tokić, in his book that’s actually a perfect companion to Nielsen’s, Croatian Radical Separatism and Diaspora Terrorism During the Cold War, out last year from Purdue University Press, placed them “among the most dynamic terrorists of the second half of the twentieth century. Worldwide, anti-Yugoslav Croats committed on average one act of terror every five weeks between 1962 and 1980,” Tokić adds.


They also conducted guerrilla incursions into Yugoslavia. The more dramatic one took place in the summer of 1972. In Operation Feniks, a group of 19 heavily armed Croat émigrés penetrated Yugoslavia from Austria to launch a popular uprising against the socialist regime. They hijacked a truck, drove it to the mountains near Bugojno, in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, and attempted to rouse the locals into rising up. The Bugojno Group were met with apathy and hostility and, after they attacked police and military stations, also 30 thousand Yugoslav troops, reservists, and police which took a month to crush the incursion, while the locals thought all the gunfire was part of filming of a World War II Partisan movie. Fifteen insurgents and thirteen soldiers died.

Allegedly beside himself with rage (I mean what an embarrassment), Tito decreed a so-called Special War against Yugoslavia’s enemies abroad. This entailed hunting down the most dangerous ones around the world.

In all, between 1946 and 1990 the UDBA eliminated dozens of Croat separatists abroad (estimates range from at least 60 to 73 to at least 80), and attempted many more assassinations. Most of the killings—and there were several of Serbs and Kosovo Albanians and others as well—remain unsolved to date. And in some of them, such as the 1972 assassination of the Croat terrorist Stjepan Ševo near Venice or the 1977 assassination of the Serb nationalist Dragiša Kašiković in Chicago, innocent bystanders, including children, died as well.

[34:26]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: The assassinations, which were perpetrated, were criminal acts but we should also note that many of the people who were targeted by the Yugoslav State Security Service were in fact involved in perpetrating activities, which were what we would clearly call terrorist acts.

[34:48]

PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoslavia’s retaliation for the terrorist attacks prompted escalation in activity by the separatists and so on, in a vicious cycle of violence.

One important thing to note in all this:

[34:58]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There are many, many, many Croats and other Yugoslav emigres, and certainly a majority of them who never get involved in any extreme activities. So I think one mistake that we need to avoid is somehow tarring Croat émigrés as a whole or Serb émigrés or any other émigré group for that matter, as a whole with the brush of you know, extremism.

[35:22]

PETER KORCHNAK: The year the Special War started was also the year Arkan was released from prison and arrested again for a robbery. He escaped and fled to the West where he went on a crime spree throughout the 70s and early 80s, committing burglaries, armed robberies, and murders in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and West Germany. His signature was a red rose left behind on the scene. He was caught and escaped from prison a number of times.

Arkan’s father, a high-ranking Yugoslav military officer, attempted to lure him out of the life of crime by getting him a job in the UDBA. This backfired: Arkan became UDBA’s hitman, killing 7 to 12 dissidents in the decade from 1979. In exchange, the UDBA provided Arkan with money, weapons, documents, and assistance in escaping from prison. They also let him keep his loot.

The same year Arkan became UDBA’s hitman, Josip Perković was transferred to Zagreb and installed as the head of the department dealing with Croatian émigrés.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

[36:25]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: Right after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Yugoslav State Security Service was really worried that as soon as Tito died, the Soviet Union might finally invade Yugoslavia and, as it were, get revenge for 1948. And there were, you know, people in Yugoslavia, and of course, people who had emigrated who were pro-Soviets and who might, in the view of the Yugoslav State Security Service, come back and be the vanguard of a new pro-Soviet Yugoslavia.

Tito’s death in 1980 has enormous implications also for the State Security Service.

[37:06]

PETER KORCHNAK: In 1981 Kosovo erupted in riots, protesting the status and treatment of the Albanian community. The government declared martial law and crushed the uprising. The UDBA stepped up the pursuit of Kosovo Albanian nationalists.

By contrast, the death of Duško Popov, the Serbian James Bond, later that year in France, went unnoticed.

[37:24]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: We then have that final, very tense and very troubled decade where, as we see in the Yugoslav State Security Service as well, everyone is kind of trying to figure out how to reposition themselves in a Yugoslavia where there is really no single supreme leader left.

[37:43]

PETER KORCHNAK: As the 1980s progressed, disputes among the republics intensified, acquiring in the latter half distinct nationalist tones.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

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The UDBA’s Assassination of Stjepan Đureković

[38:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: The work of the Yugoslav and Western governments left the separatist Croat émigrés severely weakened. But the war continued: between 1980 and 1989 the UDBA neutralized as many as 18 Croat émigrés.

[38:12]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There were assassinations in France, in Italy, Belgium, a number of other countries but the fact of the matter is that the largest number of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Croat émigrés, by the Yugoslav state security service that we know of was in West Germany, which is explained at least in part by the relatively large number of emigre Croats that was living in West Germany.

And one of these people who was assassinated was the Croat businessman Stjepan Đureković.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “It’s What It Is” by Ian Sutherland]

[38:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: INA, I-N-A, Industrija nafte, or Oil Industry, was established in 1964, the same year Zdravko Mustač joined the UDBA. As an oil and gas company, INA was of strategic interest in Yugoslavia. And as the largest Croatian company and a major generator of foreign currency, it was also a tool in the political disputes between Croat and Serb elites, particularly in the 1980s.

In 1982, Mustač took over as the Croatian UDBA’s chief. That year, inflation in Yugoslavia reached 40 percent; unemployment was over 14 percent; the country owed USD20 billion to foreign creditors; and the GDP growth flatlined. Shortages of basic goods, including petrol, were getting worse.

As INA’s marketing director, Đureković traveled a lot for business, including with his mistress. It was on one of these trips, in June 1982, that he applied for political asylum in West Germany.

As he settled in Munich, Đureković soon got involved in the local Croatian community. Munich and Bavaria was a center of “hostile political activity” against socialist Yugoslavia, including people plotting or even conducting terrorist attacks. Infiltrated as the émigrés were by the UDBA, within weeks Đureković re-emerged on the Yugoslav state security’s radar.

[39:56]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: It’s really quite amazing when one one looks at a place like Munich if you read as many of these dossiers and case files as I’ve read, you kind of at some point get the impression that it was almost impossible for, let’s say, five or more Croats to meet in the 1960s, 70s, or 80s and for there not to be at least one of those five, and sometimes even more than one, who were reporting back to the Yugoslav State Security Service.

There’s both positive and negative incentives that explain why someone might want to cooperate with the Yugoslav State Security Service. So if we take, for example, Yugoslav citizens living in, let’s say, Munich, there’s people there who are coming there as guest workers, maybe come from communist or Partisan backgrounds, who are perhaps in a position that they see activities which they recognize as being suspicious or threatening towards Yugoslav state interests and who out of patriotic let’s call it motivation approach the Yugoslav consulate and say, “Listen, I think you guys need to know I have a tip about some people planning something that I think is wrong.”

As is the case with other intelligence services, there is also an interesting case of unwitting informants. This could be something that on the surface is completely innocuous, you know, someone calls someone in Munich and says, “Hey, we’re looking for this guy, Ivan, he’s my cousin from Osijek, you know, I heard he’s in Munich, can you help me find him?” And that person, you know, is thinking, “Hey, oh, you know, I just want to help this guy find his cousin,” and isn’t aware that he’s actually helping the Yugoslav State Security Service, find somebody who in the worst case might end up as the victim of an assassination.

In many cases, perhaps most cases, it’s the other way around, which is to say say that the the informants are rather identified by the Yugoslav State Security Service who leverage various types of compromising material, I mean, the Russians to this day talk about kompromat, that they may have that will allow them to essentially convince slash pressure slash blackmail that person into becoming an informant.

There’s also the full blown informants, who were assigned some kind of code name, who meet with a handler, and who, for a period that can range from weeks to many years, provide information to the Yugoslav state Security Service about émigré activities. Again, most of these people are themselves émigrés.

[42:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: One of such informants in the Croat émigré community in Munich, including on Đureković, was a man named Krunoslav Prates.

Thanks in part to information supplied by Prates, the UDBA promptly initiated “operational processing” of Đureković, that is, opened a dossier on him.

In Munich, Đureković also started a printing shop and published five incendiary, scathing books he had secretly written back home about Yugoslavia’s leadership and their mismanagement; titles included Communism: A Grand Deception, The Collapse of Ideals, and Yugoslavia in Crisis. He also published shorter works, anti-Yugoslav booklets and brochures (sample title: “How Yugoslavia Is Robbing Croatia”). Not only did he distribute thousands of copies within the local Croat community, he mailed copies to journalists back home. He gave interviews to émigré and West German newspapers and speeches to émigré organizations. He planned to start a radio station to beam “hostile propaganda” to Yugoslavia. And he was in contact with what the UDBA called “the extreme portion of the emigration,” that is people plotting terrorist attacks.

What also emerged was that since 1975 Đureković had been an informant for the the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or the BND, West Germany’s civilian intelligence service, potentially supplying them with insider information about Yugoslavia’s oil supply, including the locations of secret oil depots, and the Yugoslav military’s fuel requirements.

The spooks at home also uncovered Đureković’s alleged financial misdeeds at the INA. As INA’s top manager, Đureković also knew about the alleged criminal activities of his colleague Vanja Špiljak, the son of Mika, a member of the Yugoslav presidency.

A separate investigation into the accounting and hard currency goings on at INA was also conducted as a sensitive security matter; a scandal in Croatia’s biggest corporation would have been a huge embarrassment for Croatian and Yugoslav leadership and stoked interrepublican conflict at the time citizens were experiencing fuel shortages.

The UDBA’s interest in and their dossier on Đureković grew, as they saw him engaging in “hostile and otherwise criminal activities” against socialist Yugoslavia. A traitor, a thief, and a potential terrorist—that’s what Đureković was to the UDBA.

As Đureković rose in prominence within Munich’s Croat émigré community, he began to fear for his safety; he moved every few weeks and he hired bodyguards for protection. He wasn’t wrong. The UDBA monitored him through their networks of informants, including Prates; they conducted disinformation campaigns to discredit him among the émigrés; and they were in fact preparing to move against him in order to stop his works.

But, as was the case in all other operations like this one—

[45:18]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: This is not the case where if you read all of the available documentation, and this goes for a number of other assassinations that the Yugoslav state security service carried out, it’s not that you’re sitting there and suddenly they say, on page 1038, “On this in this day, we went and we hired some guys who went and killed the target.”

A lot of the documentation is circumstantial and they never specifically explicitly state, we, the Yugoslav State Security Service, have executed or have assassinated this particular person. But when you put it all together, and it’s very much like putting a very, very large and very complicated puzzle together, then it becomes incontrovertibly clear and conclusive that the Yugoslav State Security Service was in fact involved, not just once but on many occasions, in assassinating those immigrants who they believe to pose the greatest danger to the state security of Yugoslavia.

[46:25]

PETER KORCHNAK: It was up to indirect, indeed circumstantial evidence and trial witness testimony to determine what transpired.

Krunoslav Prates, the informant, gave his handler Josip Perković details of Đureković’s schedule. He also gave Perković a duplicate key to Đureković’s garage in Wolfratshausen. Perković then delivered the key to the ops team.

On July 28th, 1983, Đureković left his apartment in Munich to run some errands, including at his print shop. To lose any potential tails, he drove a circuitous route and parked a few blocks from the garage. As he entered the garage which only had a single light bulb, he left the door open. He was unaware of the two, possibly three men hiding inside.

The article he came to photocopy concluded with the words,

“The only thing I am afraid of is that the UDBA will from now on even more relentlessly search for me in order to kill me. But I do not fear death but only that they will thereby make it impossible for me to return together with our people to a free Croatian State and to partake of that great moment of our national history.”

As Đureković turned to leave, the assailants fired eight shots at him, five of which hit but did not kill him. They finished him off with a sharp object, possibly a meat cleaver. They closed the door on their way out. Their identity remains unknown.

[47:38]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: There are a number of theories regarding who would the actual perpetrators are of Đureković’s assassination.

[47:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: One theory has it that Arkan himself was involved. Stupar, the Belgrade UDBA man, later testified that Arkan had told him directly that he was involved in the operation against Đureković. According to another former agent’s testimony, two other men pulled the trigger.

At any rate, the operation followed UDBA’s playbook. Using informants and surveillance, the UDBA monitored the target’s activities. They used disinformation to stoke discord among émigré factions so that they could then blame the target’s death on the “internal settling of accounts in the extreme émigré circles.” And they hired criminals to kill the target at close range using a 7.65 mm Beretta pistol.

Three months after Đureković’s murder, his file was closed. Listed under “reasons for the cessation of processing”: “Processing is deleted because Đureković has died.”

In 1986, Slobodan Milošević took over the Serbian communist party. Josip Perković was promoted once again, becoming the director of the UDBA in Croatia. And Zdravko Mustač transferred to Belgrade to head the federal UDBA.

Fearful he might suffer the same fate as his father, Stjepan Đureković’s son, Damir, moved from Germany to Canada where he blended into the Croat community in Calgary and planned to complete the books his father had started. In 1987, Damir Đureković committed suicide. That’s the official version anyway; local Croats claim he was assassinated by the UDBA.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

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The UDBA After Tito

[49:28]

MARIA VIVOD: The 80s are the era when the state security, the Yugoslav state security [UDBA], gets greedy, gets hungry.

[49:34]

PETER KORCHNAK: Maria Vivod again, the researcher of connections between the Serbian State Security and organized crime.

[49:39]

MARIA VIVOD: So it’s not enough only to deal with the political opponents, which is actually you know, more or less useful, but it doesn’t cover expenses. So they are starting opening firms. For instance, at the time in Belgrade, a great enterprise was opened, it was called Genex, they still have a beautiful building. It was organized and it served to gather the means, the money means for the state security of Yugoslavia at the time.

So this is the time when politics or ideology it’s not enough anymore. So people are getting oriented toward money. So this is the time when those who are hired for the state security are not any more red, they are not really indoctrinated with the ideology of communism and socialism. They are actually nationalist[s].

[50:33]

PETER KORCHNAK: While the UDBA was financed from the federal budget, since the late 1940s it was also running hard-currency slush funds to finance its operations. The money came from smuggling and shell corporations abroad. These activities expanded dramatically in the 1980s. A lot of these companies were fronted or run by members of organized crime.

[50:52]

MARIA VIVOD: The state security, particularly during the 80s, and still nowadays, it’s financed by willing individuals who are willing to open firms and create capital, money for the state security. It covers their expenses, of course, but they also finance the state security.

[51:14]

PETER KORCHNAK: The 80s were the post-Tito decade when simmering inter republican disputes came to a nationalist boil. As Yugoslavia’s final decade expired—

[51:21]

MARIA VIVOD: The State Security still deals with its political opponents abroad. One of the most known examples of the time is Vesko Vukotić and his assistants who murdered the Kosovar political activist Enver Hadriu.

[51:38]

PETER KORCHNAK: Hadri was assassinated in Brussels in February 1990. At the time, he was planning to submit to the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee a list of Kosovo Albanians killed by the Serbian government.

[51:48]

MARIA VIVOD: So they kill him, you know, and Vesko Vukotić makes a lot of mess, you know, one of his guys start to speak about the murder about what they did. And Vesko is asked to clean up his mess. So he cleans Andrija, one of his guys, and he goes abroad. He’s caught in Spain—

[52:09]

PETER KORCHNAK: —in 2006.

[52:10]

MARIA VIVOD: He is extradited finally to Serbia but the State Security still don’t have the courage to deal with him because he’s one of the kind, one of their own. So if they clean him up, that would be, you know, not wise. So they keep on hiding him. And he of course gets into trouble often. He’s even judged in a local court for shooting at a person near Novi Sad but everything is postponed because, oh my god, he has a heart condition. So he’s let out. And he’s still among us, you know, and the state security protects him because he has a lot of dirty things about them. It’s better for the state security not to touch him.

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The UDBA, Uninterrupted: The 90s Transformation of Yugoslav State Security Services

[53:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: The 1990 multiparty election in Croatia resulted in Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union, the HDZ, assuming power. Just as Yugoslavia and its republics vied for influence, within the Croatian UDBA there were agents—

[53:17]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: —who basically don’t like what is happening and who are loyal to the dying Yugoslav state and who end up going into retirement and are never heard of again.

And then there’s people like Josip Perković who, as it were, see the writing on the wall and decide that it would be best for them, professionally and personally, to throw their lot behind Franjo Tudjman who of course, is a former communist general turn dissident historian, who becomes the first president of the independent Croatia. And people like Perković are instrumental in helping the HDZ get established in the early 1990s. They’re also instrumental in helping key émigrés such as Gojko Šušak, who becomes defense minister in Croatia and who was Croat émigré in Canada, come back to Croatia, giving them passports, giving them safe passage at a time when they, in theory could easily have been arrested and put on trial and sentenced to long prison sentences.

Which is of course highly ironic, because now we have these very unusual bedfellows: extreme nationalist Croat émigrés [and] Croatian nationalist dissidents, such as Franjo Tudjman, who are becoming the new leaders of what is going to be an independent Croatia are now cooperating with the very agents of the Croatian State Security Service, which viewed Croatian nationalism, and them in particular, as enemies of the state and had monitored them, harassed them, imprisoned them, in some cases assassinated some of their friends or associates. These people are now allies. And similar things are happening in other republics.

The Croatian nationalists and these émigrés, they’re, in essence, going to have to fight what is an existential battle against Serbs, the Serbian minority in Croatia and the Milošević regime in Serbia, both of whom are forming a very powerful and dangerous coalition. And the émigrés and the nationalists realize that they are very likely going to lose this fight or this war, as it in fact becomes in the summer of 1991, they are going to lose the war for independence, if they don’t have really well-trained military and police, veterans, who essentially know how to conduct not just the war, but one could say a dirty war.

And so you could say that, that there’s basically a calculation: Tudjman turns to people like Perković, and says, “Look, why don’t we let bygones be bygones, let’s forget about what you guys did to our guys in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and let’s look at the future. Let’s look at defending this independent Croatia that we’ve now decided we both want. So if you guys promise us that you will put all of your tools, all of your knowledge, all of your know-how at our disposal, we, in turn, will not ask any questions or initiate any investigations or prosecutions regarding the operations you conducted against Croat émigrés and against Croat nationalists in Croatia and abroad in the period up until 1991.

This is a very uneasy marriage of convenience. And sure enough, by the mid 1990s, it really starts to rupture because there are quite a lot of the hardcore Croat nationalists who are extremely dissatisfied with having to forsake lustration, investigation, or prosecution of the veterans of the Croatian state security service.

[57:17]

PETER KORCHNAK: In independent Croatia, Mustač assisted in coordinating intelligence and defense activities and was close to president Tudjman. For his part, Perković continued working in state security services within the interior and later defense ministry.

Meanwhile, in Serbia too the UDBA, now in the service of the Milošević government, turned to warfare and the criminal underworld to both conduct the state’s business and to make money.

[57:38]

MARIA VIVOD: They hired criminals to lead the paramilitary units, which would actually act for the interest not for the country or the people but for the state security.

The State Security cut deals, you know, you can take what you want, but we want our cut, our share.

So this is like a way to get resources from the battlefield. It was a way to get rich,.

It would be very wrongful to claim that there is war and there is war as a criminal enterprise because [the] two concepts are very interlinked. There is a Serbian saying that war is someone’s enemy or death and war is someone’s brother. So war is imagined as a way to get rich or get better but also to lose life. You understand? So war is not just a way to get rid of your enemies but to gain advantages economically. So this came as a wonderful, stylistically saying, wonderful opportunity to get rich quickly and at home in the media to be presented as a hero of the nation. So it was an opportunity too good to be missed.

So do the job for us, clean, Višegrad, for instance, for Arkan, and keep the business going. And that’s it. We don’t know, we don’t want to know what you do elsewhere.

Maria Vivod quote on UDBA

[59:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: One of these paramilitary units was the Tigers led by Željko Ražnatović Arkan who transformed his hooligan group into an essentially private army. Wearing signature red berets, his well-organized units rampaged through eastern Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina throughout the war, gaining notoriety for killing hundreds if not thousands of people, mutilating, raping, imprisoning, and deporting civilians. Arkan made a huge fortune during the war from looting and from smuggling cigarettes, alcohol, oil, drugs, and weapons. The deal was clear: Arkan and his Tigers will help the Milošević regime with its military and financial aims and in exchange do and keep what they want on the battlefield (and later run businesses in Serbia).

Testifying as an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in the Hague, Christian Axboe Nielsen confirmed that cooperation between Arkan’s unit and Serbian security officials was very close. “Arkan’s unit was for all intents and purposes a unit of the State Security Service of the Ministry of Interior of Serbia,” he said. People at the ministry running these units remained in Serbia’s employ after the war. And some former Tigers fought in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

[01:00:03]

MARIA VIVOD: Some units were scavengers. These units for instance Arkan they took the infrastructure or what was big and easy to move. Oil, wine, fridges and television[s], windows from houses and doors, you know, specialized to get what remained after the big ones.

So they were organized to clean whatever was to be sold later at markets, street markets. I remember there were looted goods everywhere, boats, luxury boats, and art artifacts, whatever, you name it, it was on sale. And it was cheap.

The Milošević regime was organized in this way. Loot and let others loot.

[01:00:49]

PETER KORCHNAK: In her book Vivod tracks “the entangled liaisons between professional criminals, organized crime group members, and Serbian State Security” in great detail. Gangsters whom state security services had hired to do Yugoslavia’s dirty work became paramilitaries, hired by the same security services to do Serbia’s dirty work in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and to make money for themselves and the country under embargo. Back home, the top paramilitaries were hailed as national heroes, serving the nation on the battlefield.

[01:01:17]

MARIA VIVOD: But what the state security didn’t take into account [was] that these people will come home, they will return and they will become an elite per se.

So they came home, the boys, so called boys, and some of them became [an] encumbrance for the regime. Arkan, he was rich and he started meddling into the cigarette business, smuggling cigarette business, which was at the time, the business of Milošević son, Marko Milošević. So he was annoying, he had to go, he served his purpose and he was just, you know, [an] encumbrance.

[01:01:52]

PETER KORCHNAK: The former common criminal, UDBA assassin, hooligan, warlord, member of parliament, and businessman Željko Ražnatović Arkan was assassinated on January 15th, 2000 while filling out a betting slip in the lobby of Hotel Intercontinental. Five days later, he was buried with military honors.

He was one of many members of the underworld, some now respectable businessmen, to have been eliminated after the war. After Milošević fell, some of the others were extradited to the ICTY, and many more arrested. But the connection between the state and organized crime remains strong, it’s just new batches of people on both sides.

[01:02:28]

MARIA VIVOD: Even now, today, it’s a criminal regime. I might end up in prison for saying this. But it is. This is a regime, it’s oriented to take as much as it can. During the 90s from former citizens of Yugoslavia, you know, the Croats and the Bosnians and the Kosovar. Now it’s oriented to looting and taking from the Serbian citizens. Nothing changes, but there is no war so they cannot loot that abroad. So they loot at home.

[01:02:59]

PETER KORCHNAK: But that’s a whole another story.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “Death” by Coolzey]

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Justice in the Đureković Case

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “It’s What It Is” by Ian Sutherland]

[01:03:14]

PETER KORCHNAK: Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustač retired in the late 1990s. In 1999 Đureković’s remains were reburied at the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb.

In 2005, German federal police issued a European Arrest Warrant for Josip Perković for his involvement in Đureković’s assassination.
In 2008, Krunoslav Prates, the informant, was tried and sentenced to life in prison for being an accessory to Đureković’s murder; he is serving his sentence in Germany.

Aerial image of the Justizpalast Munich
Justizpalast Munich, seat of the court that convicted the UDBA men Mustač, Perković, and Prates. Image credit Carsten Steger

In 2009, Germany issued warrants for Zdravko Mustač and a number of other individuals for the assassination.

Croatia, which did not allow extradition of its citizens, refused to act, even passing a law to protect Perković (and all that he knew) that prohibited the European Arrest Warrant from applying to crimes committed before 2002. It wasn’t until the country joined the European Union in July 2013 and under pressure from Berlin and Brussels that Croatia succumbed. Both Perković and Mustač were arrested on New Year’s Day 2014 and extradited to Germany.

Three decades after Đureković’s death, both the man who at the time headed the Croatian UDBA’s émigré department and the very boss of the Croatian UDBA were to stand trial for the assassination. The trial began in October 2014.

After nearly two years, both Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustač were convicted for aiding and abetting the murder of Đureković and sentenced to life in prison. They were 71 and 74 years old, respectively.

At the time they were the only individuals ever convicted for assassinating Yugoslav émigrés. Later in 2016, a court in Brussels convicted and sentenced in absentia a former Serbian UDBA agent Božidar Spasić and two gangsters, Andrija Drašković and Veselin Vesko Vukotić for the murder of the Kosovo Albanian dissident Enver Hadri. All three men live in Serbia, unencumbered.

In 2018, Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustač both appealed their convictions but the German court denied their appeals.

The following year, both Perković and Mustač were repatriated to Croatia where their sentences had been reduced to 30 and 40 years, respectively.

The two are now suing Germany at the European Court for Human Rights for being denied a fair trial. The case is still pending.

[01:05:30]

CHRISTIAN AXBOE NIELSEN: The question one could also ask is, why is it that there are so many other cases of assassinations of Croats, Serbs, and others, by the Yugoslav state security service [UDBA], which have not been, as far as we know, investigated, and certainly not prosecuted with the same amount of energy that was applied to the case of Đureković.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Miss Moon” by Mello C]

[01:05:59]

PETER KORCHNAK: A lot of UDBA’s files were destroyed in the early 1990s; both Yugoslav and Serbian UDBA’s archives in Belgrade remain sealed. With a lot of UDBA’s special program operations, we will simply never know.

The shady stuff the UDBA did all over the world certainly has parallels, from totalitarian to authoritarian to democratic regimes. The CIA has assassinated or tried to assassinate its fair share of enemies throughout its existence; of course now we do the business with drone strikes. Putin’s Russia has in recent years conducted a string of well-publicized assassinations and assassination attempts. In every country people die because they get in the way of the state’s business (and sometimes in the state’s as well as the organized crime’s business).

This is of course not to make any moral comparisons among these countries. All of them do what they do to protect the state, to keep their respective countries alive, to keep the ruling regime in power. But questions of morality are pertinent: is it acceptable for a government to kill its citizens? Generally speaking, not to mention in secret and without due process? The UDBA helped keep Yugoslavia together in peace and in one piece—until it didn’t—so was a few dozen deaths, many of them actual terrorists, not worth it? Was socialist Yugoslavia itself worth saving?

By the way, INA, the oil company, is still around. You can pump your gas at one of nearly 500 INA stations around Croatia and Central Europe.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]

[01:07:25]

PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia:

ROBERT KAPLAN: It took on a policy significance which I never intended and which has caused me, you know, as you can imagine, tremendous remorse. What people should have been saying, “Hey, things are really bad there.”

PETER KORCHNAK: Robert Kaplan’s book Balkan Ghosts has had an unparalleled and multifaceted impact on former Yugoslavia. On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, we’ll hear about the legacy of Balkan Ghosts from the man himself.

Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.

[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]

[01:08:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, sources, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.

Operation Goldfish is permanent. So grab your briefcase and head over to RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate to make a swap today.

Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Additional music by Ian Sutherland, Coolzey, Mello C, and Petar Alargić licensed under Creative Commons. Special thanks to Chris Deliso, Ian Sanders, and IB Tauris / Bloomsbury Publishing.

I am Peter Korchňak. Over and out.

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