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          It is ungrateful but challenging task to examine the achievements and effects of "Sabre", the actions taken during the state of emergency by united forces of police, gendarmerie and army, in order to stamp out and eradicate organised crime in Serbia. In overheated political atmosphere, the representatives of the authorities were pointing out - pompously and self-confidently - this was "a unique case in the history" that "organised crime was defeated" in "such a short time" (only six weeks); not only the case if assassination of the Prime Minister was resolved and the most of the participants in the conspiracy were arrested but the state was introduced in "no-crime state", which makes it "one of the safest countries in the world". The representatives of the opposition, disparaging the results, pointed out "those are not such spectacular successes"; that the problem "has been just scratched a little bit"; and that many criminals are not only free but also "members of authorities are taking the side of one of the confronted criminal groups" since only "Zemun clan" was eliminated, while "Surčin clan" as well as some others were not touched at all. The apologists of "Sabre", naturally, find basis for their own self-satisfaction in the figures which are impressive, at the first glance: 11.665 persons were arrested; 2.697 persons were kept in custody; 3.560 charges were brought against 3.946 persons for 5.671 crimes; several hundreds of rifles and guns were taken from the arrested, as well as several kilograms of various explosives, detonators and other sabotage materials and equipment, 28,2 kg of heroin, 44,837 kg of marijuana, 463 grams of cocaine, 4.960 tablets of synthetic drugs and 688 stolen vehicles. On the other side, the opponents point out certain number of citizens who were arrested during the state of emergency were, in fact, disturbed and disdained in media, concluded out of the fact that three-fourths of them were released; that many of those who should have been taken into custody were not included in this action in any way but, moreover, had more room for their criminal activities. It has also been emphasised that the confiscated amounts of drugs make only a small part of what has been offered in the market and they can hardly cover a two-week supply.

          The most important result of "Sabre" certainly is respecting the fact that there is organised crime in Serbia. During the last two years and a half, Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) was permanently swaying in refer to organised crime. Although numerous international documents have underlined, since 90ies, that Serbia and Montenegro offer convenient circumstances for different transnational criminal groups - for smuggling cigarettes, trafficking stolen vehicles, smuggling drugs, human trafficking - and that local criminal groups cooperate with the international ones in smuggling arms, drugs, oil, immigrants, the representatives of establishment systematically ignored these facts, hid them before the local public or minimised them maliciously and even hesitated and stubbornly delayed facing and combat with organised crime in Serbia. Moreover, several times during this period, the highest state officials (interior ministers Duško Mihajlović and Zoran Živković, and even assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, himself) explicitly stated not only that there was no organised crime in Serbia but pure insisting that there is such a phenomenon is "an anti-reform and anti-state activity" aimed to disdain new government’s efforts to establish order in the country. At the same time, "White Book" was compiled by Serbian police, listing allegedly all criminal groups existing and operating in Serbian territory. But, instead of arresting, charging and convicting criminals on this list, there have been hesitation and denials that organised crime exists at all. It is hard to ignore the impression that some really tragical event, as it was Prime Minister’s assassination, was to happen in order for a determined action to be started against organised crime.

          Most citizens of Serbia did not feel declaring state of emergency was limitation of their own rights and freedoms, but a necessary frame for resolute and uncompromising combat with criminal structures, which threatened to occupy social space completely. Numerous murders committed according to a unique scenario - shots from Kalashnikov, through the window of a moving vehicle, expensive cars and jeeps with dark glasses, luxurious palaces under video surveillance and surrounded by obviously armed bodybuilders and arrogant and contemptuous behaviour of persons well known from the newspaper crime stories left no dilemma for anybody except the representatives of authorities that a "new class" is taking higher positions, making their fortunes illegally. This was the reason why hundreds thousands of people came out for the Prime Minister’s funeral, not only to honour the man who became a symbol of a new, modern and European Serbia but also to demonstrate their non-compliance with life in society lacking elementary safety and security. Therefore, the action "Sabre" has been welcomed as a real cathartic relief. Everyday detailed reports published by media on the number of arrested persons, publishing wanted circulars after the suspects, spectacular arrests and pompous parade, performed by the Gendarmerie members with net-like masks and rifles, along the streets and at the crossroads, were aimed to make firm impression in public that the authorities started final and uncompromising combat against the most difficult part of the previous regime’s inheritance. From their side, citizens did not hesitate to give all information they had on whereabouts and activities of wanted persons, which was a good sign that mutual trust between citizens and police has been establishing again.

          Although existence and strengthening of organised crime is not some Serbian exclusivity but a global phenomenon, here it had special characteristics making it different from organised crime in other countries. It grew out of war conditions and embargo and during 90ies it became firmly connected with the ruling nomenklatura and its established kleptocratic system. This connection could be spotted in multiple ties - between families, godfathers, friends and parties - and also supported by the hardness they got in joint battles and actions in theatres of wars and fields of death. During the last few years of Milošević’s regime, crime was promoted in the rank of state project. Those who had come from criminal milieu were turned into state officials, provided with police identity cards (mostly of State Security Service - SDB) and, together with protected "business people" (in fact, those who made profit in wars) and veterans from various theatres of war, completed the jobs for ruling family. All these activities were done under the protection but also under strict control of chosen police (SDB) officials so all money flows in the country - legal and illegal - were concentrated in Milošević’s family and his closest associates. The jobs, which were not directly controlled by this structure, were heavily racketeered and therefore the pyramid of kleptocratic establishment was completed, turning Serbia into a private feud. Patriotic rhetoric, spiced with ultra-nationalism not only justified criminals, but turned them into national heroes. The chiefs of organised crimes ritually swore to stay loyal to the ruling family and protected the final line of regime defence against the opposition and citizens. Joint businesses of mafia members and state officials were celebrated in mass media as successes in combat against "non-justified and non-motivated embargo" or, even, cruelty of "new world order".

          After the regime had been changed, new authorities hesitated to start resolute combat with this cancer structure, leaving it undisturbed as a parallel centre of power. Certain parts of Milošević’s criminal organisation managed to secure, through different deals, status of non-disturbance, to keep their fortunes and even to win new, protected positions. On the other hand, stamping out some of widely spread kinds of organised crime - stolen vehicles mafia, smuggling oil and different goods - meant, for organised crime establishment, only the need to switch to some other jobs - drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling cigarettes. Some of criminal groups started legalisation of their illegally earned money, on their own initiative or inspired by new authorities, investing in certain industries (building industry, for example) and buying mainly broken companies in the process of privatisation. Those who made huge fortunes thanks to wars and embargo paid relatively symbolic sums of money to get abolished from any responsibility so they continued with their business completely undisturbed, presenting themselves as parts of the new ruling nomenklatura. All of these contributed to the situation in which, for less than two years after the previous regime had been ousted, citizens’ energy melted completely, the energy which had caused the changes so trust in new authorities disappeared, as well as readiness to carry the burden of necessary reforms.

          Citizens welcomed the action "Sabre" as a delayed but still possible answer to dregs left over after the times of troubles and suffering. It was expected to "cut and clean" everything that has not been done in October 2000 and even the loudspeakers of authorities talked about "October 6 is happening". Unfortunately, the results of the action can hardly justify all those expectations and easy given promises. The structure of organised crime in Serbia has only been touched. The main part of "Sabre" attacked those who came from criminal milieu. Honestly speaking, they were the easiest to notice and, certainly, most arrogant but they are by no means the most powerful or most important. Those who profited in wars were not disturbed this time either. Moreover, some of them stood out in accusing and premature convicting the arrested, using all the means available and popular TV stations (Pink and BK) were the loudest among them. Economy and business oriented part of Milošević’s structure of state organised crime still enjoys in the fruits of robbing the people and they have no fear from "Sabre" or empty announcements for new actions (like "Scalpel"). The protectors of organised crime, among the police and SDB members, excluding few exposed ones who are, at the same time, possible passengers for The Hague, are still free and not found responsible for what they did. When all these facts are summed up and examined rationally, "Sabre" is only one more event in a long raw of what our epic folk art described as "Just a mountain out of a molehill."

        • Tags: Sabre, state of emergency, Zemun clan, organised crime, DOS, Prime Minister’s assassination, Serbia
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