Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000

Pavle Bulatovic
  Pavle Bulatović:
  Revenge killing?
S O U T H E A S T E R N    E U R O P E
Gangster's Paradise
The assasination of Yugoslavia's Defence Minister

Židas Daskalovski

Federal Defence Minister Pavle Bulatović was murdered on Monday, 7 February 2000 in a restaurant in the Belgrade suburb of Banjica. The reactions of the Serbian opposition and the Government to the murder were diametrically opposite. Whilst the Serbian opposition emphasised that the murder proves that the country is facing a grave political and security crisis, Serbia's ruling elite blamed the West and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The spokesman of one of the main opposition parties, Srpska Partija Obnove (SPO), Ivan Kovačević said that "this murder shows that we live in a state of organised terror and terrorism," while the president of Demokratska Stranka Srbije (DSS), Vojislav Koštunica, commented that the killing of Bulatovic is proof of of the difficult internal crisis of the state. The co-ordinator of the Savez za Promene (SZP) Vladan Batić, said that defence minister's assassination was "absolutely tragic, that it showed that the rule of law does not exist in Serbia, and that the ugly politics bring bloody results." Most of the Serbian opposition parties asked for resignations of high officials from the ministries of interior and the state security.

Accusations fly

Meanwhile, following an emergency session, the Yugoslav government said in a statement that Bulatović "was the victim of a classic terrorist act" and pledged to fight against "terrorism." Yugoslav Deputy Information Minister Miodrag Popović told the BBC that the nature of the killing pointed to a terrorist attack that could have been the work of the KLA. His superior, Goran Matic, said that "the state will do its utmost to stop terrorism and crime that is implanted [by foreign services] as a destabilising mechanism." The Serbian Radical Party accused British, French, and US intelligence services of masterminding the murder.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said on Monday night that the murder of Bulatovic was new proof that Milošević's regime was maintaining power by "spreading fear, crime and violence." State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told media that only a democratic Serbia could relieve its citizens of the evil, which controlled their destiny. Finally, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague announced that Bulatovic was under investigation for crimes perpetrated in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.

Minister Bulatović, 52, was dining in the restaurant of the soccer club Rad in the Banjica residential area when he was shot and wounded - as were two people sitting next to him, the restaurant owner Mirko Knezević, and the director of the YuGarant Bank, Vuk Obradović. According to the police, Bulatovic died later in the Belgrade military hospital. The Belgrade daily Glas javnosti wrote on Tuesday that Bulatović was a cousin of Belgrade underworld figure Darko Asanin who was also murdered in a Belgrade restaurant 18 months ago. The paper also claims that Mirko Knezević was related to the murdered defence minister.

More than a dozen prominent people, some close to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, have been killed in Belgrade in the past few years, and most of the killings have never been solved. Among those killed are: Željko Ražnatović, aka Arkan, the notorious Serb warlord; Slavko Curuvija, prominent independent journalist and publisher critical of Serbian authorities; Zoran Todorović Kundak, general secretary of the the Yugoslav Left party (JUL), led by Mirjana Marković, the wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević; and Radovan Stojičić, the head of its uniformed police in Serbia and deputy interior minister.

Theories about the possible motives and executors of the murder abound in Belgrade. One of the speculations links the murder with the tense relations between Milošević and the pro-Western government of Montenegro. Another possibility suggested by commentators is that Bulatović's death is most likely linked to Belgrade's underground. Since as defence minister, Bulatović played a key role in the crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, many believe that the KLA is behind his assassination. Finally, some commentators in Belgrade believe that Bulatović's killing was in fact revenge for Arkan's death. Which theory will eventually prove to be correct is difficult to judge. Most likely, Pavle Bulatović's murder will remain unsolved.

Židas Daskalovski, 10 February 2000


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