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Željko Ražnatović

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Željko Ražnatović

Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović
Arkan and his "Tigers"
Born 17 April 1952
Brežice, PR Slovenia,
FPR Yugoslavia
Died 15 January 2000 (aged 47)
Belgrade, Serbia, FR Yugoslavia
Nationality Serbian
Religion Serbian Orthodox
Criminal charge
Spouse(s) Natalija Martinović (1985-1994)
Svetlana Veličković (1995-2000)

Željko Ražnatović (Serbian Cyrillic: Жељко Ражнатовић, pronounced ; 17 April 1952 – 15 January 2000), known as Arkan (Аркан), was a Serbian career criminal and commander of a paramilitary force in the Yugoslav Wars, called the Serb Volunteer Guard. He was on Interpol's most wanted list in the 1970s and 1980s for robberies and murders committed in a number of countries across Europe, and was later indicted by the UN for crimes against humanity for his role during the wars. Arkan was up until his death the most powerful militia leader in the Balkans. He was assassinated in 2000, before his trial.

Early life

Željko Ražnatović was born in Brežice in SFR Yugoslavia, a small border town in Slovenian Styria. His father, Veljko Ražnatović, served as a decorated officer in the SFR Yugoslav Air Force, earning high rank for his notable World War II involvement on the Partisan side, and was stationed in Slovenian Styria at the time of Željko's birth. He spent part of his childhood in Zagreb (SR Croatia) and Pančevo (SR Serbia), before his father's job eventually took the family to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade (SR Serbia), which Arkan considered his hometown. His father was born in Cetinje (SR Montenegro), a descendant of the Ražnatović brotherhood, and had taken part in the Yugoslav liberation of Priština in World War II.[1] Arkan grew up in the 27th March Street, in Belgrade[2] with three older sisters in a strict, militaristic household with regular beatings administered by his father, in a 1991 interview he recalled: "He didn't really hit me in a classical sense, he'd basically grab me and slam me against the floor."[3] In his youth, Arkan aspired to become a pilot, as his father had been. Due to the highly demanding and significant positions of his parents, there appeared to be very little time in which a bond was able to be established between parents and children. His parents eventually divorced during his teenage years.[2]

Arkan got arrested for the first time in 1966 after snatching women's purses around [2]

In his youth, Arkan was a ward of his father's friend,[5] the Slovenian politician and Federal Minister of the Interior, Stane Dolanc.[6] Dolanc was chief of the secret police and a close associate of the Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito. Whenever Arkan was in trouble, Dolanc helped him, allegedly as a reward for his services to the Yugoslav secret state police (UDBA), as seen in the escape from the Lugano prison in 1981. Stane Dolanc is quoted as having said: "One Arkan is worth more than the whole UDBA."[6]

Criminal career

European years

In 1972, at the age of 20, hoping to find fortune through a criminal career, he illegally emigrated to Western Europe.[4] Abroad, he got introduced to and kept contact with many well-known criminals from Yugoslavia such as [4]

On 28 December 1973 he was arrested in Belgium following a bank robbery, and was sentenced to ten years in prison.[4] However, he managed to escape from the Verviers prison on 4 July 1979.[4] A Belgian police official was quoted as saying: "He's the most dangerous man I ever came across. He's no ordinary criminal, he's a rabid dog".[7] Though Arkan was rearrested in the Netherlands on 24 October 1979, the few months he was free were enough for at least two more armed robberies in Sweden and three more in the Netherlands. Serving a 7-year sentence at a prison in Amsterdam, he pulled off another escape on 8 May 1981 after someone slipped him a gun. Wasting no time, more robberies followed, this time in Germany, where after less than a month of freedom he was arrested in Frankfurt on 5 June 1981 following a jewellery store stickup. In the ensuing shootout with police he was lightly wounded, resulting in his placement in the prison hospital ward, where looser security allowed him to escape again only four days later, on 9 June, supposedly by jumping from the window, beating up the first bystander, and stealing his clothing before disappearing. At this point it is believed he was approached by the Yugoslav secret service and was interconnected with many other criminals.[4] His final European arrest occurred in Basel, Switzerland during a routine traffic check on 15 February 1983. However he managed to escape again within months, this time from Torberg prison on 27 April. It is widely speculated that Arkan was closely affiliated with Yugoslav security service UDBA throughout his criminal career abroad.[4] Ražnatović was even on Interpol's ten most wanted list.

He had convictions or warrants in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden (20 burglaries, 7 bank robberies, outside assistance to prison escape, attempted murder[8]), Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.

Return to Yugoslavia

Arkan returned to Belgrade in May 1983,[4] continuing his criminal career by opening a number of illegal businesses. In November 1983, six months after his return, a bank in Zagreb was robbed, with the robbers leaving a rose on the counter — This was allegedly Arkan's signature in West Europe.[4] Two federal policemen in civil clothes sought after him at his mother's house on the 27 March Street.[4] Arkan was not there, so his mother called him and said that two unknown males waited for him.[4] He brought a revolver with him and shot and wounded both of them.[4] An intervention Stane Dolanc effected his release from prison only two days later.

Role in the Yugoslav Wars


Only days after the Croatian elections in 1990, Arkan, who was the leader of the Delije (football club Red Star Belgrade's Ultras), was present at the away game against Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb at Stadion Maksimir on 13 May 1990, a match which ended in a riot.[9] Arkan and the Delije, consisting of 1,500 people, were involved in a huge fight with the home team's football hooligans.[10]

On 11 October 1990, as the political, ethnic, and religious situation in Yugoslavia became tense (see Log Revolution), Arkan created a paramilitary group named the Serb Volunteer Guard, possibly under the auspices of the Department of State Security.[11] Arkan was the supreme commander of the unit, which was primarily made up of members of the Delije and his friends.[12] In late October 1990, Arkan traveled to Knin to meet representatives of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a break-away region composed out of ethnic Serbs wanting to remain in FR Yugoslavia (with Montenegro and Serbia), as opposed to the Croatian government that seceded. On 29 November 1990, Croatian police arrested him at the Croatian-Bosnian border crossing Dvor na Uni, along with local Dušan Carić, and Belgraders Dušan Bandić and Zoran Stevanović. His entourage was sent to Sisak, and was charged with conspiracy to overthrow the newly formed Croatian state. Arkan was sentenced to 20 months in jail. He was released from the Remetinec prison in Zagreb on 14 June 1991 under unclear circumstances, without the notice of Josip Boljkovac, then Internal Minister. It is believed that the Croatian and Serbian governments agreed on a 1 million Deutsche Mark settlement for his release.[13]

In July 1991, Arkan was for some time at the Cetinje monastery, with Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović. His group of men, fully armed, were allowed to enter the monastery, where they served as security.[14][15] Arkan's group travelled from Cetinje to the Siege of Dubrovnik. At the return from Dubrovnik, he was again guest at Cetinje.[14]


Arkan's Tigers, a paramilitary force he created, set up their headquarters and training camp in a former military facility in Erdut. His volunteer army saw action from mid-1991 to late 1995, initially in the Vukovar region of Croatia. Arkan's much feared irregular military forces consisted of a core of 200 men and perhaps totaled no more than 500 to 1,000.[16] His units were supplied and equipped by the reserves of the Serbian police force during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Arkan had many soldiers from Western Europe countries like Germany, Russia, Greece and Belgium, all of which are linked with criminal activities in Europe.

After war broke out in the former Yugoslav republic of Croatia in the fall of 1991 and in the republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina in April 1992, Arkan and his units moved to different territories in these countries. In Croatia, Arkan's Tigers fought in various locales in SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia. In Bosnia, his unit fought in battles in and around Zvornik, Bijeljina and Brčko, mostly against Croat and Bosniak paramilitary groups.

In autumn 1995 his troops fought in the area of Banja Luka, Sanski Most and Prijedor. In October 1995 he left Sanski Most, as the Army of RBiH took the city from the Serbs.[17] Arkan personally led most of war actions, and rewarded his most efficient officers and soldiers with ranks, medals and eventually the products of the lootings. Several younger soldiers were rewarded for their actions in and around the former national park of Tito Kopacki Rit and Bijelo Brdo.

Arkan came to serve as a popular icon for both Serbs and their enemies. For some Serbs he was a folk hero and a patriot, while serving as a target of hatred to their enemies. His troops were also stationed in the Republic of Serbian Krajina to fight against the Croatian paramilitary forces, and he had a dispute over military operations with the Serbian regional leader Milan Martić[18] Arkan also had friendly relations with Russian ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Power and influence

Arkan was a powerful man with high-level connections in the state apparatus. He had significant influence over public spheres of Serbian society. As part of his public image, Arkan presented himself as a defender of Serbs and fighter for freedom and justice. He clearly fostered two types of images, that of a strong, stern, and often brutal leader in public as well as a caring and reserved family man in private.

Arkan was hailed as a war hero by a part of the Serb population, and was the subject of war songs. He owned a luxurious mansion in the elite Belgrade neighborhood of Dedinje where high-ranking politicians and foreign diplomats reside. Despite being raised an atheist in a family of communists, Arkan made a point of publicly showing respect to the Serbian Orthodox Church, especially its head Patriarch Pavle. Additionally, he observed and celebrated various religious holidays, often publicly. Some questioned the motives behind these public displays of his newfound religious spirituality and saw it as shameless self-promotion ploy in an attempt at ingratiation with the Serbian public.

On 3 November 1993, Arkan and his followers founded the Party of Serbian Unity, and he became its president, but the party lost parliamentary elections and failed to win seats despite an energetic promotional campaign. In the 2000 election, however, the party received 200,000 votes and won 14 seats in the Serbian parliament. Vojislav Šešelj, a political rival of his, described the power Arkan wielded as early as 1987 during his testimony at the Milošević trial in 2005.

Arkan became an untouchable criminal figure in Belgrade and all of the former Yugoslavia. He was really so powerful, so strong financially that no one could do anything about him.... In 1993, I learned that Željko Ražnatović, Arkan, had in Belgrade kidnapped and taken to Erdut and there killed Isa Lero... also a man from the criminal underground who had come into conflict with Arkan. I even found a witness to the murder. I publicly accused Arkan. I submitted a report to the police. The police inspectors came to see me. We talked about it. I gave them all the information I had, but then the police inspector told me that they were aware of it but that they were unable to prove it because of the fear among the potential witnesses. So the police were quite well-informed about his criminal activities, but it was very hard to prove anything or to bring charges because his support network was so widespread, and this can be shown through various newspaper articles and so on. In one television statement, I told him when we were debating on TV, that he had pulled a sock over his head more often than I had pulled one on my feet.[19]

In the postwar period after the Dayton agreement was signed, Arkan returned to his interests in sport and private business. The Serb Volunteer Guard was officially disbanded in April 1996 with the threat to be reactivated in case of war emergency. In June of that year he took over a second division soccer team FK Obilić which he soon turned into a top caliber club, even winning the 1997/98 Yugoslav league championship. According to a book by Franklin Foer, How Football Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Arkan threatened players on opposing teams if they scored against Obilić.

This threat was underlined by the thousands of veterans from his army that filled their home field, chanting threats, and on occasion pointing pistols at opposition players during matches. One player told the British football magazine FourFourTwo that he was locked in a garage when his team played Obilić. Europe's football governing body, UEFA, considered prohibiting Obilić from participation in continental competitions because of its connections to Arkan. In response to this, Arkan stepped away from the position of president and gave his seat to his wife Ceca. In a 2006 interview, Dragoslav Šekularac (who was coach of Obilić at the time) said that the claims that Arkan verbally and physically assaulted Obilić players were false.[20] Arkan was also a chairman of the Yugoslav Kickboxing Association.

Arkan has been accused of being involved in protection rackets, extortion, and the smuggling of oil and luxury items. Later he pursued more legitimate business and had about 400 people working for him. He owned casinos, discos, gas stations, pastry shops, stores, bakeries, restaurants, gyms, as well as a private security agency.

Arkan was unofficially allied with Slobodan Milošević, and operated under his control, although he was fairly independent in his day-to-day actions and decisions. Contacts between the men were usually carried out through a mediator Radovan "Badža" Stojičić, Serbia's police chief and Milošević's close associate, who was assassinated in April 1997.

In August 1998, when tensions over Kosovo had already begun, Arkan tried to get close to the West, writing a letter of support to U.S. president Bill Clinton over the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In the letter he expressed condolences for the victims that died in the attack, and warned Clinton of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. An excerpt from his letter reads: "Mr President... do not allow that terrorism continues in this part of Balkan in the Serbian state, which is forever a friend of your state." Clinton ignored him and never responded to the letter.

Role in the Kosovo War

According to chief judge Richard May from the United Kingdom, the ICTY issued an indictment against Arkan on 30 September 1997 for war crimes of genocide against the Muslim population, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva convention of 1949 for customs and traditions of war.[21] The warrant was kept sealed and was not made public until 31 March 1999, a week after NATO bombing in Yugoslavia had begun. Arkan's indictment was made public by Louise Arbour, then UN court's chief prosecutor.

In the week before the start of NATO bombing – as the Rambouillet talks collapsed – Arkan appeared at the Hyatt hotel in Belgrade, where most Western journalists were staying, and ordered all of them to leave Serbia.[22]

During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Arkan denied the war crime charges against him in interviews he gave to foreign reporters during the Kosovo War. Arkan accused NATO of bombing civilians and creating refugees of all ethnicities, and stated that he would deploy his troops only in the case of a direct NATO ground invasion. After the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three journalists and led to a diplomatic row between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, NATO and various Western media claimed the building might have been targeted because the office of the Chinese military attaché was being used by Arkan to communicate and transmit messages to his paramilitary group, the Tigers, in Kosovo. As no one had any proof for this claim it was immediately withdrawn from the media.[23]

ICTY indictment

In March 1999, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that Željko Ražnatović (Arkan) had been indicted by the Tribunal, although the indictment was only made public after Arkan’s assassination.

According to the indictment Arkan should have been prosecuted on 24 charges of crimes against humanity (Art. 5 ICTY Statute), grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (Art. 2 ICTY Statute) and violations of the laws of war (Art. 3 ICTY Statute), for the following acts:[24]

  • Forcibly detaining approximately thirty Muslim Bosniak men, in an inadequately ventilated room of approximately five square metres in size.
  • Transporting twelve non-Serb men from Sanski Most to an isolated location in the village of Trnova and shooting them, killing eleven of the men and critically wounding the twelfth.
  • Transporting approximately sixty-seven Bosniak Muslim men from Sanski Most, Sehovci, and Pobrijeze to an isolated location in the village of Sasina and shooting them, killing sixty-five of the captives and wounding two survivors.
  • Forcibly detaining approximately thirty-five Muslim Bosnian men in an inadequately ventilated room of about five square metres in size, withholding from them food and water, resulting in the deaths of two men.

It is claimed that Arkan was individually responsible for the crimes alleged against him in this indictment pursuant to Art. 7 § 1 of the ICTY Statute. But Arkan was also or alternatively criminally responsible as a commander for the acts of his subordinates pursuant to Art. 7 § 3 of the ICTY Statute, since he had at all times the complete authority to direct and control all of the actions of the members of his paramilitary unit.


Hotel Intercontinental

Arkan was assassinated, on Saturday, 15 January 2000, 17:05 [27]

According to his wife, Svetlana Ceca Ražnatović, Arkan died in her arms as they were driving to the hospital. Arkan's companions Milenko Mandić, a business manager, and Dragan Garić, a police inspector, were also shot to death by Gavrić. Gavrić was shot and wounded immediately after by Arkan's bodyguard, Zvonko Mateović, and fell unconscious. A female bystander was seriously wounded in the shootout as well. After complicated surgery, Gavrić survived, but remained disabled and confined to a wheelchair as the result of a spinal wound.

Arkan's grave

Commemoration ceremony in Arkan's honour was held at Dom sindikata on 19 January 2000 with writer Brana Crnčević, Yugoslav Left (JUL) official Aleksandar Vulin, media tycoon Željko Mitrović, singers Oliver Mandić, Toni Montano, Zoran Kalezić, Aca Ilić, Rade Jorović, and the entire FK Obilić first team of along with club director Dragoslav Šekularac in attendance.[28]

Željko Ražnatović Arkan was buried at Novo groblje with military honours by his volunteers and with funeral rites on 20 January 2000. Around 10,000 people attended the funeral. In reaction to the death, Serb sentiments varied across the political spectrum.


Dobrosav Gavrić pleaded innocent and never admitted to committing the crime. He was found guilty and sentenced to 19 years in prison. His accomplices received from 3 to 15 years each, after a year-long trial in 2002. However the district court verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court because of "lack of evidence and vagueness of the first trial process". A new trial was conducted in 2006, ending on 9 October 2006 with guilty verdicts upheld for Gavrić as well as his accomplices Milan Đuričić and Dragan Nikolić. Each man received 30 years in prison.[29] Only Nikolić is actually serving the sentence while Gavrić and Đuričić have been on the run for years.


Still, the murderer's background and the identities of the person(s) who ordered it remain unclear and subject of rife speculation. According to one rumour, [27] Yet another rumour claims that Borislav Pelević, Arkan's close associate and his successor as president of Party of Serbian Unity, served as the "inside man" for the plot against Arkan. Security services also wiretapped Arkan shortly before his murder; for four months the group allegedly followed Arkan's movements and whereabouts, learning his habits. On 15 January 2008, the eighth anniversary of Arkan's death, his sister Jasna Diklić accused Andrija Drašković, a controversial businessman with alleged ties to the Mafia, of being behind her brother's murder. She further accused Serbian state institutions of "protecting Arkan's murderers Gavrić and Đuričić, and not doing anything to apprehend them."

According to 1994 relation of SISMI, Arkan sent one of his most trusted men, Radovan Stanišić to Italy to start a relationship with Camorra boss Francesco Schiavone. Arkan asked Schiavone for arms for his guerrillas and the participation of Schiavone in quieting Albanian mobsters who were blocking his weapons route, and making money arrive in Serbia in the form of humanitarian aid. In exchange the near entrepreneurs clans acquired at optimal prices companies, enterprises, stores, masserie, breedings in half Serbia.[30]

Finally, former French Intelligence Officer Pierre-Henri Bunel suggested that perhaps foreign powers, specifically "the executors of the political dirty work for the White House" who may have used Arkan as a puppet, were fearful of the disclosure of revelations of which they would rather prefer U.N. prosecutors to remain ignorant.[31] Bunel corroborates his claim by indicating that "... c'est justement parce qu'on ne le cherche pas où il faudrait qu'on ne trouve pas l'ennemi public numéro 1 du moment". Arkan was, as stated above, on Interpol's Most Wanted list for nearly two decades.


Arkan fathered nine children by five different women.[32]

His eldest son Mihajlo was born in [33] Mihajlo has since spent time in Belgrade where among other things he played for the Red Star Belgrade ice-hockey club off and on between 2000 and 2009, also representing Serbia-Montenegro on the national team level between 2002 and 2004.[34] During this time he also ran a sushi restaurant in Belgrade called Iki Bar and dated Macedonian pop singer Karolina Gočeva.[35] He left Serbia since then. In 2013 he was in the news in Serbia again following the conclusion of a court case that dragged since 2005 over Ražnatović's failure to meet the repayment terms on a RSD1.1 million car loan he took out in 2002 from Komercijalna banka. After continually not meeting his monthly payments, the bank wanted the loan paid off in full in August 2005 and in late 2007 took him to court. In June 2010 he was ordered to pay RSD3.3 million based on the interest on the original loan[36] In the end, the verdict stated he owed the bank RSD2.9 million.[37]

Then followed two daughters: Sofia from relations with a Belgian woman and Anđela (born 1980) with a Belgrade actress Ljiljana Mijatović. Arkan acknowledged paternity of each of his three children that were born out of wedlock.

Arkan's first wife was Natalija Martinović, a Spanish language professor, with whom he had four children: daughter Milena, twin sons Vojin and Nikola, and another daughter Maša. Their divorce became official in December 1994. All four of their kids decided to carry their mother's last name Martinović rather than their father's Ražnatović.

Arkan's best known wife Ceca, famous Serbian folk singer

Since 1993 Arkan was involved with the popular folk singer Svetlana "Ceca" Veličković, 21 years his junior. Their lavish wedding ceremony on 19 February 1995 occurred as a day-long media production carried live on TV Pink with different locations and changes of clothing (at different points of the ceremony Arkan alternated between World War I Serb military uniform and traditional Montenegrin attire). Ceca bore him two more children, son Veljko and daughter Anastasija.

In June 1994, sometime after her separation from Arkan, Natalija Martinović and their four children left Yugoslavia and moved to Athens, Greece where Arkan bought them an apartment in the suburb of Glyfada. After Arkan's death Martinović disputed his will,[38][39] claiming that Ceca, his second wife, doctored it. In May 2000, she sued Ceca over ownership of Arkan's assets including the villa at Ljutice Bogdana Street in which he and Ceca lived (and Ceca continues to reside in to this day), claiming it was built with funds from a bank loan Martinović and Arkan took out in 1985.[40] The court eventually ruled against Martinović.[41] The court agreed with her assertions that the villa was built with money from a 1985 bank loan taken out by her and Arkan, but also found that she forfeited any rights in future division of that asset when she signed the property over to Arkan in 1994 before moving to Greece.

In 2012 Arkan's and Natalija's son Vojin Martinović again accused Ceca of falsifying Arkan's will.[42] In response, Arkan's former associate Borislav Pelević said that the villa at Ljutice Bogdana Street wasn't even mentioned in Arkan's will because he signed it over to Ceca already.[43]


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  • "Interview in RTV BK". RTV BK Telecom. 20 July 1997. 
  • "British reporter John Simpson interviews Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović in Belgrade, March 1999". March 1999. 

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