Advances in Anthropology
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 23-32
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 23
In the Shadow of the Serbian Paramilitary Units: Narrative
Patterns about the Role of Paramilitary Units in Former
Yugoslav Conflict
Maria Vivod
Laboratory “Cultures and Societies of Europe”, Strasbourg, France
Received October 16th, 2012; revised November 17th, 2012; accepted December 12th, 2012
This article1 offers several basic data about Serbian paramilitary units employed in the armed conflict of
the 1990’s during the decomposition of the former Yugoslavia, with the goal to depict the transformation
of the representation of the paramilitary unit members and their leaders essentially through Serbian media.
Once, at the beginning of the conflicts, represented as the “saviors”, “protectors” of the Serbian nation,
ever present as main figures of the public life of the 90’s—they have fallen into oblivion after a decade.
Their most notorious leaders are either dead or in prison. After the fall of the Milošević regime (2000)
their involvement in war crimes, looting and genocide reached Serbia. From being divinized gradually
they become diabolized. The contemporary events and happenings in Serbia are explained in the light of
the past of these paramilitary units.
Keywords: Paramilitary; Serbia; War Crimes; Genocide; Former Yugoslavia; Veterans
The fieldwork for this paper was done in the period 2005-
2010. Statements and press releases of public personages (poli-
ticians, journalists, artists, etc.) which appeared during that
period in the local media and on the web portals of independent
media about several events on the political scene in Serbia were
collected and analyzed in an ethnographic manner, in compari-
son and in the prism of the past events and media releases dur-
ing the time of the Milošević era.
In a relatively short period of time—a decade and in some
cases even less (the last conflict of the Yugoslav federation
decomposition was in 1999)—the “guys” from various para-
military units which were abundantly covered in the local me-
dia of the 90’s turned from “good ones” into “bad ones”. After
providing several basic data about the Serbian paramilitary
units, the article examines the shift of narrative patterns (public
opinion, labeling, metaphors) on these units. Seen as heroes,
amply exploited in the Milošević-era media during the years of
the conflict of former Yugoslavia, a decade after the conflict
they have fallen into oblivion: only few cases were prosecuted
in the mean-time for war-crimes and they sole existence and the
actual role they played in various war crimes and genocide still
uncovered to the Serbian public, they became a synecdoche of
the Milošević-era.
The ambition of the article is to analyze the shift in the pat-
tern of labeling and national imagery of this group of individu-
als: in the first stance the story about the Serbian paramilitaries
falls into a line of debate about how images from the national
history, in the Serbian case, from the epic songs and stories are
become visible and exploited during national mobilization. I
argue that the actual settings of wartime which largely contri-
buted to the exploitation of national and epic imagery also con-
tributed to their downfall in peacetime for an obvious reason
among others: the strived goal—victory and conquest of “Ser-
bian territories”—was not attained. In the process of “de-arma-
ment” strictu sensu of the political currents in Serbia and de-
agitation after a decade of war-cycles which goal was to “main-
tain the unity of the Serbian nation” the stories about these pa-
ramilitary units, former heroes of the nation became “unusable”
elements in the narratives about the Serbian nation and the Ser-
bian state.
Theoretical Background
Already at the beginning of the 90’s Ivan Čolović, a Serbian
ethnologist who analyzed press articles and its relation to the
Serbian folklore and in this manner marvelously dissect the
Serbian society at the time of fervent nationalism of the
Milošević-era put in the pivotal place, among the “Serbian con-
stellation of narratives” or narrative leitmotifs the narratives
about the “Serbian warrior and hero” (Čolović, 2000a). Inspired
from folklore, epic poetry and national (pseudo)history, these
narrative leitmotifs were abundant in political and public
speeches, press articles and individual stories “about oneself
and others” about “the Serbian nation and its destiny” (Čolović,
2000a, 2000b; Žanić, 2007; Živković, 2011, etc.).
At the beginning of the Milošević-era, the popularization and
the diffusion of ‘national heroes’ often compared or spoke of as
the ‘embodiments of ancient heroes’ from epic poetry and na-
tional pseudo-history was largely exploited in the regional eth-
nological literature (Čolović in case of Serbia, Žanić in case of
Serbia etc.) and was the topic of numerous newspaper articles,
tv-shows and even comics books (Čolović, 2000a). Taken as
1This article is partially based on a lecture given in Leiden, Holland at the
Ethnografeast IV
role-images for the young generations they have obtained a
tremendous amount of media attention and support which pro-
portionally declined as one armed conflict went by. During the
90’s in former Yugoslavia, and consecutively in Serbia, efforts
to sustain in various manners the process of a creation of a na-
tion-state (Banac, 2009) were tainted with fervent nationalism
which remained ever since interlinked and are used still in eve-
ryday politics in present-day Serbia.
The war-time which was produced by these efforts was such
a “sacred time” (Eliade, 1967) when acts of mythic heroes were
revoked and were distributed to those individuals which were
prepared (eagerly) to enter those “sacred time” when nation/
state building was scheduled.
Exploiting the link between festivity and war on the footsteps
of Roger Caillois and George Bataille who drew striking formal
correspondences between festivities and war as prominences of
excess, the waste, the destruction the flagrant violations of rules,
laws and taboos was already done by Mattijs van de Port (1998)
who did fieldwork in the city of Novi Sad exactly in that phase
of the mediatic glory of Serbian paramilitaries. And although
his book mentions these armed paramilitary men who filled
those times the restaurants with Gipsy music on those time in
Novi Sad, he clearly compares the circumstance of the war to a
‘feast’ of exuberances of all kind in which “[…] people who
in festive moods took the role of the barbarians” (van de Port,
1998: p. 17).
In such ‘sacred times’ in which no rules were to be respected
anymore, the rise of often anti-social (criminal) individuals
(Pavičević & Patić, 2007) willing to assume the role of the
“barbarians” who accomplish the bloody job of defending the
nation was logical.
Taken from another angle, Živković (Živković, 2011) exam-
ines another narrative leitmotif widespread in Serbian public
and intellectual life of those years which sustained tremen-
dously the mythical rise of the Serbian paramilitary units mem-
bers: the rise and fall of the Serbian nation was interpreted by
local intellectuals all the long of the 20th century as the strug-
gle between two “spirits”, two faces of the Serbian character
embodied in its populations according to its natural habitat: the
highlanders and the lowlanders. The highlanders being mar-
tially-oriented, living in tribal spirit which is genuine and un-
spoiled by the (à priori corruptible) civilizational influences (of
Europe) and the lowlanders who are soft, intellectually (pro
Europe) oriented, spoiled by the civilization and having a
rayah2—(servant) mentality (Živković, 2011). Of course, the
members of the numerous Serbian paramilitary units fit exactly
to that imaginary un-submissive mentality of the highlander
hajduk3 (Bougarel, 1999).
While they fit perfectly to play a bloody role of the “sacred
times” of wartime, why were they than discarded in peacetime?
Times of Glory
In an article of the first edition of his marvelous book “The
politics of symbols” (1997) while analyzing the metamorphosis
of football fans into warriors—volunteers of the armed conflicts
which raged during the 90’s on the territories of former Yugo-
slavia, Ivan Čolović (Čolović, 2000a) predicted the victory of
the “hooligan-tribes” and the creation of a new “vandal-warrior
aristocracy”. This book, among others, was translated to several
languages and was well received by the public interested in the
tumultuous Balkans of the 90’s. The years that followed the
publication of that book proved that Čolović was right: the
“vandal—warrior aristocracy” forged in the cycles of war dur-
ing the first half of the 90’s reigned the Serbian medias, the
tabloids, the so called “jet-set” of the major cities.
Such a metamorphosis of football fans into paramilitary “sol-
diers” described by Čolović in that book is a known phenome-
non analyzed for its relation with genocide (Alvarez, 2006: p.
14). The young, mainly unemployed sport zealots transformed
into “fervent patriots” ready to kill for “higher purpose” are un-
fortunately one of the main vectors, a “perfect tool” for geno-
cide and ethnic cleansing (as f.i. in the case of the Interhamwe
in Rwanda). In Serbia’s case Arkan and his unit called the “Ti-
gers” is the best known example. This paramilitary unit was
composed from football hooligans and football fans “trans-
formed” almost overnight into professional soldiers, and later
constituted the hard-core of several other paramilitary units.
The “warrior aristocracy” was omnipresent in public life, es-
tablishing a social tendency in looks, behaving, ruling in every
manner with the help of the media of Serbian society. The
leaders of different Serbian paramilitary units had the status of
public figures and were the center of the public curiosity. Sto-
ries, anecdotes about their “glorious” past during the wars
(1991-1995) and especially their after war lifestyles were pub-
lished in tabloids with a wide circulation. Biographies of the
paramilitary leaders were published and sold out in bookstores.
Some of the leaders were regular guests in television broadcasts
with a status similar of a pop-celebrity (Čolović, 2000a; Vivod,
2009). The public was keen of all possible information about
them: what car do they drove, what clothes do they wore, where
they vacationed, etc. They represented an image of success, and
figures looked upon by the youth4. Money, political connec-
tions and the nimbus of loyalty to “serbianhood”5 followed
And then, just before of the fall of the Milošević regime
(October 2000)—one main paramilitary figure, the leader of the
“Tigers” Arkan was assassinated (January 2000). A couple of
other known paramilitary leaders, mafia bosses, were assassi-
nated also in a short period of time6. Those who did survive
were shifted from the center of the public attention: less and
less information about them reached the public.
After the fall of the Milošević regime, while the new gov-
4Commenting about the popularity of the paramilitary leaders during the
90es, an interlocutor of mine (at the time he was in his mid 20es) stated
referring to the popularity of Arkan and his folk singer wife: “Fxx the coun-
try where the ideals of the youth are a murderer and a prostitute.” [“
emlju u kojoj su idoli omladine ubica i k…a”]. (the swear-words are marked
with “x”).
5“serbianhood” or srpstvo in Serbian language is a concept based on ethnic
unity and ethnical belonging and orthodox Christianism; perceived as a unity
having the same characteristics as an individual: f.i. behave, have rights,and
even bleed as an individual (f.i. see Dučić, Jovan. (1871-1943) poet, write
and Verujem u boga i u srpstvo (I belive in god and in serbian-
hood), Centralni Odbor Srpske Narodne Odbrane u Americi, Cikago 1942,
page 18, 22, 23.
6f.i. in March 2000 Branislav Lainović—a mafia boss from Novi Sad—who
was also the right hand of Djordje Božović Giška the leader of the paramili-
tary unit “Serbian Guard”—Srpska Garda) and several other individuals
linked with organized crime as f.i. in February 2000 Mirko Tomić aka
Bosanac and twelve days later Radosav Trlajić aka Bata Traja; Interestingly
Yugoslavia’s (at that time the name of the country is Federal Republic o
Yugoslavia constituted from the federation of Serbia and Montenegro) de-
fense minister Pavle Bulatović was assassinated also during this troubled
month of February 2000…
3Outlaws in the Balkans during the Ottoman period.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ernment was working on reforms, there was another topic
which hit the main news of the Serbian media and which was
related to the Serbian units employed in one of the series of
armed conflict in territories of former Yugoslavia. One of the
so called “special units” the Red Berets (Jedinica za specijalne
operacije—JSO) had begun a strike which had all the appear-
ance of a military coup7. JSO was another paramilitary unit8
which was almost unknown to the public during the 90’s, or-
ganized by the Serbian Service of State Security. This military
coup was later linked with an event which transformed the ma-
jority of the Serbian public opinion about the paramilitary units:
the assassination of Prime Minister Đinđić in March 2003. Fol-
lowing this event, the Serbian state declared war against the
organized crime groups and it was a moment when the criminal
past of the paramilitary troops and their leaders came in the
center of public concern. As it turned out, some leading mem-
bers of the Red Beret unit were closely linked to an organized
crime group. They were accused and later sentenced (2005) for
the assassination of the PM Đinđić.
The years which followed after this assassination, Serbian
media reported several accusations, trials for committing war
crimes of several paramilitary leaders and unit members (the
Scorpios, the White Eagles, the Yellow Wasps, etc.). Video
tapes, testimonies of survivors and victims resurfaced in the
media—especially in independent media, the state media being
heavily under the influence of the nationalist political currents.
The time of glorification of these units and their leaders seemed
to belong to the past—at least publically.
Analyzing the past two decades, two main phases emerge of
the public image and representation of the members and the
leaders of the Serbian paramilitary units. In the first phase these
“volunteers” were depicted as the heroes and the protectors of
the Serbian nation in danger in its ancestral territories. Com-
pared to the epic champions from traditional epic songs, history
myths and legends they were represented as almost saints bat-
tling for the greater cause: for the nation, for the ones who were
incapable to fight for themselves—women, children, elderly—
and the protectors of Christianity (Čolović, 2000a; Vivod,
Although the glamorous lifestyle they led during the series of
incessant conflicts spread rumors in Serbia—in their “Matrix”—
of looting and other criminal activities in the war ravaged terri-
tories, the “fighters”, combatants of the paramilitary units were
represented in the Serbian media as mainly “volunteers” who
went to the war-ravaged former territories of Yugoslavia to
protect the Serbian “fellow countrymen” for no pecuniary rea-
son at all. The fact that some convicted criminals were ‘drafted’
in such units, and that several paramilitary leaders were mafia
bosses also added even more truth to the rumors which reached
Serbia. Speaking about the prior criminal “carrier” of the lead-
ers and unit members Čolović (2000) stated that the criminal
past of these leaders made them “more convenient” for the task
of protecting the nation, indicating a “parabola of the sinful
son” (“parabola o bludnom sinu”) and referring to this prior
criminal past as the “sins of a youth” (Čolović, 2000: p. 181)9.
Nevertheless, the open talk about their misdeeds and criminal
activities of looting, genocide, war crimes and rape were
printed in the headlines of newspapers or reported by television
channels only after the fall of the Milošević. Although there
was almost no open public debate in any form about their role
in war crimes, genocide committed or the support of these
troops by the Serbian (during Milošević) government, and since
the fall of the regime small efforts have been made to reveal the
past of these units, the chat rooms, blogs on internet were (and
remain) the battle field of the supporters, the fans of these “he-
roes of the nation” and the ones who are convinced that the
troops were the main vector, the tool of the ethnic cleansing,
the genocide in the former territories of the late Yugoslavia. For
the first group these veterans remain popular, untouchable and
their reputation uncontested: the mission of these units was the
protection of “serbianhood” and for the sake of this mission the
members of these units were and remain untouchables.
For the second group they are the source of all evil behind
what happened during the armed conflicts of the decomposition
of the country. After the fall of the Milosevic-regime negative
events which shocked the Serbian public are explained, inter-
preted—especially by the independent media—in the perspec-
tive of this very dubious past, as an unwanted “heritage” left by
these units. The origins of the contemporary events are investi-
gated through the looking glass of the ideology of the past
which instigated the formation of such units, the motivation of
the paramilitaries to act as they did, and consecutively the ad-
miration of the Serbian public mirrored in mediatic cover they
enjoyed. After a decade of the overthrow of the Milosevic re-
gime, these units and their former members are the embodiment
of the link between the past and the present.
I argue that at present we are witnessing a third phase of the
public image of these veterans: the current, especially the nega-
tive events are interpreted à posteriori in the light of not so
“glorious” past, which is more and more reviled publically. The
myth of these “warriors”, “heroes and protectors of the nation”
and their leaders linger on in the present, suffering a radical
alteration: from being the protectors and mythical heroes they
become the quintessence of violent behavior and intolerance,
the residuum of the nationalist regime. What was at the time of
Milošević reign a “virtue”, a socially accepted and well seen
behavior is at present finger-pointed, analyzed as a social pa-
The explanation offered through the independent media
claims that the roots of newest events are in the military virtue
popularized in the past, the ethno myths, the thinking and be-
having patterns inherited from this former regime, perpetrated
by the paramilitary units and maintained by their contemporary
followers (journalist, writers, sportsmen, etc.), with whom the
past Tadić-government was unable (or unwilling) to dissociate
9Interestingly, the “sins of a youth” can be “washed” by the activity in a
paramilitary unit: At the celebration of the 8th anniversary (in August 1999)
of the founding of the paramilitary unit Serbian Guard (Srpska Garda)
Jovan Otašević gave an interview to the Serbian daily Glas Javnosti (The
Voice of the Public) stating that bishop Atanasije of the Serbian Orthodox
Church declared that Djordje Božović aka Giška (the leader of this unit who
was shot and killed in Croatia in 1991) washed his earlier sins with his
subsequent activities (the ones committed in Croatia?) off. “Giška je grešio
kao mladić. Ali, znate, postoje stvari koje biste uradili kao devetnaes-
togodišnjak, ali ne i kao zreo čovek od trideset pet. Ali, kako kaže Vladika
tanasije, ako je i učinio nešto loše u životu, on se kasnije potpuno oprao.
7See final word of Attorney Srdja Popović in the case Serbian state vs Milo-
rada Ulemek et al., Belgrade District Court, 24th of April 2007.
8Although the JSO apparently was an armed unit which had all the appear-
ances (affiliation, armament, command chain, etc.) of special army or police
force, the author of this article opted to add them to group of “common
armed individual” (see infra) for two main raisons: the core of this unit were
from the Arkan’s Tigers and Captain Dragan’s Kninjas; secondly this unit
continued to recruit (after 1996) in the same manner as the several paramili-
tary units at the beginning of the 90es: using f.i. small adds…
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 25
itself and the present Nikolić-government is closely linked10. A
link between the present and the past which is actively created
in this manner in the Serbian media, reveals the belief that the
wrongdoings made in past still reverberate in the present, fol-
lowing the Serbian nation as an obsessive compulsive behavior
which prevent the modernization, the “Europeanization”.
As the events, such as war crimes and genocide, are disco-
vered and revealed every day, the conviction that present soci-
ety can’t, but yet again, must face the past is growing. In this
line of thinking the paramilitary units represent the quintes-
sence of the shady past that the divided public of present has to
discover and to face.
In order to scrutinize this argument it would be preferable to
mention some facts about the Serbian paramilitary troops en-
gaged during the wars in former Yugoslavia:
There were a surprisingly huge number or paramilitary for-
mations during the wars in former Yugoslavia (1991-1999)
from which several—the most notorious ones were the subject
of many studies or mentioned as the main vectors of committed
war crimes and genocide (Alvarez, 2007; Duffy & Lindstrom
2006; Judah, 1997, etc.). The shocking amount of unities, par-
ticularly employed by the Serbian forces pointed toward as if
every region had its own paramilitary unit which was employed
parallel to the official army in certain period of time.
The United Nations Security Council11 reported in 1994, that
in the conflicts on the territories of the Republic of Bosnia and
Herzegovina (BiH), the Republic of Croatia, and to a lesser
extent, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 82 “paramilitary
organizations”12 were employed.
Under the definition of the UN Security Council the:
Paramilitary organizations exist in several forms. Some are
highly-organized groups and operate in several theatres in con-
junction with regular military formations. Others are loosely
organized and act alone in a single village or on an ad hoc
basis. Some of the groups preceded the conflict, others followed
it. Still others were formed as the need arose during the conflict.
These groups have been organized by the governments or mili-
taries of the warring factions, by political parties, as well as by
local police, political, military or community leaders. The mem-
bers of these paramilitary organizations have been drawn from
the regular army, Territorial Defence forces, local militia and
police, local civilians, expatriates, and foreign nationals. Ac-
cording to some reports, the paramilitary organizations also
include criminals released from prison solely for the purpose of
forming these units.13
The paramilitary forces operating in the territory of the for-
mer Yugoslavia were classified into four categories: Special
Forces, “Militias”, “Paramilitary units”, and “police augmented
by armed civilians”.
Fabian Virchow (Virchow, 2007), although he refers to the
U.S. militia movements, gives a simple two-word-definition of
the term militia which covers well the semantic field of the
majority of the paramilitary units employed during the conflict
in former Yugoslavia and which are particularly interesting for
me: armed “citizenry”.
In my fieldwork I was interested in the members of Serbian
paramilitary units which can be put in the last category as
“armed citizens”, more correctly, armed s.c. “common indi-
viduals” or “actors” of normal situation in a a-normal situation
such as the war, the ones “from segments of a society that are
extremely vulnerable to indoctrination into ideologies and prac-
tices of violence” (Alvarez, 2006: p. 26).
Fifty five paramilitary groups were operational in support of
the Government of Serbia, 13 of Croatia, and 14 were Bosnian
Muslim paramilitary units. The Serbian groups were known
under various names: several had very “picturesque” names—
possibly describing their battle-ideals—such as: the Tigers, the
Scorpions, the Panthers, the Wolfs, etc.—the names of “animal
predators” (Čolović, 2000a). Others groups used the names of
their leader (f.i. Jovićevci—the Jović-group, Dragina Grupa-
the group of Drago) or employed a name a geographical topos
indicating their origins (f.i. Bilogoroski Odred—The division
from Bilogorje, Knindže—“Ninja-s from Knin”), or names
inspired from history (Armada, Četnici, Dušan silni, Garda)
(Čolović, 2000a. UN report 28. 12.1994). These scenic names
reflect a hidden message, an ideology which inspired these
units: for instance the ones inspired from toponymes claimed
spatial attachment, or those using a “historical” name aimed to
maintain a temporal continuity.
The criteria which lead the UN officials to organize the pa-
ramilitaries was the actual support which the units got from
their “Matrix” (Yugoslavia for the Serb forces, Croatia for the
Croats, Bosnia for the Bosnians). The support was in money (in
form of salaries), armament and other equipment, such as the
vehicles, uniforms, fuel, back up, training bases, and volunteers
(Alvarez, 2006; Andreas, 2004; Glaurdic, 2009: p. 9714).
The members of these units were recruited in two manners:
informally—through publicity (via the medias, newspaper ads
(Čolović, 2000a), personal contact, friendship, family ties (see
testimonies of Scorpions) or formally—f.i. through party
membership15, organized sport supporters clubs, or drafted
14Interestingly in the interview of Der Spiegel with Siniša Vučinić the leader
of the Serbian Hawks (Srpski Sokoli) paramilitary unit he states that his
units is entirely financed from abroad, from the Serbian emigrants (S
41/1992: 201b) although he adds later that his unit maintain contacts with
the regular army (JNA) which “leaves [them] a lot of heavy armament” …
Source of the whole interview in Serbian language:
15Several Serbian political parties had “their own” paramilitary units which
were organized, entrained and financed through them. For instance the
Serbian Guard (Srspka Garda) was a unit organized by the Serbian Renewal
Movement (Srpski Pokret Obnove—SPO) with Vuk Drašković as a political
leader (Source: transcript statement: Witness VS-2000 page N14105 (re-
sumes) (open session). Cross examination by Mr Seselj; IT-03-67: Se-
selj[DOC] Public Transcript of Hearing 05 February 2009 (English, 99
Pages) Document Type: Transcript. Date: 05/02/2009. By: Trial Cham
III); Siniša Vučinić the president of the Royalist Movement (Rojalistički
) was also the leader of the paramilitary units the Serbian Eagles
(Srpski Orlovi) (see Spiegel 41/1992); the Serbian Radical Party (Srpska
adikalna Stranka—SRS) with Vojislav Šešelj (at present on trial for al-
leged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) organized the White
Eagles (Beli Orlovi) although Vojislav Šešelj denied his association with
this formation: “In previous wars (Bosnia, Croatia) there was a small para-
military organisation called White Eagles, but the Serb Radical Party had
absolutely nothing to do with them.” Testimony of Vojislav Šešelj, Tran-
script of 23 August 2005, p. 43081, lines 16-18. Nevertheless see: the testi-
mony of the witness VS 1055, a protected witness in the trial of Vojislav
Šešelj and see the interview with Siniša Vučinić (a self proclaimed “duke” o
the Chetnik Movement), Der Spiegel. 41/1992 201b. author Renate Flottau,
among many other documents, and testimonies stating the contradictory.
10According to some information published in the media (source B92): Niko-
lić himself was at time a member of a paramilitary unit (White Eagles under
the sponsorship of the Serbian Radical party which leader faces trial at the
ICTY in The Hague).
1128 December 1994 “Final report of the United Nations Commission o
Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 780 (1992)”
(S/1994/674/Add.2 (Vol. I Annex III.A).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
under command—in case of several professional soldiers who
were charged to lead, entrain the groups or simply to “lift up
the professional level” of a unity (see testimony of protected
wit- ness K-2 at the Trial of Slobodan Milošević at ICTY).
The groups were constituted from men of different ages, so-
cial classes and professional backgrounds. There were origin-
nated from: the territories under the conflict (as they like to
emphasize “they defended their village, their properties and
families”) such as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Ser-
bia (Spiegel 41/1992, testimonies of former Scorpio unit mem-
bers)—a country which “officially” was never at war, a state-
ment which was propagated through the machinery of the
Milošević regime (Biserko, 1999; Hartmann, 2002) and expa-
triates—first or second generation of Serbian citizens from
After the series of armed conflicts (1991-1999) the former
members of paramilitary units were dispersed. Some returned
to the territories in which they fought (or rather stayed on the
conflicted territories—being originally from there). A great part
went to stay in Serbia. There were several reasons for such a
migration: one of it was to reunite with their family members
who came as refugees during the conflicts, some of them be-
cause they had investments on the Serbian territory (f.i. they
purchased a property in a form of house, firm, etc.). Many of
them actually were originally from Serbia (Spiegel 41/1992). A
reason for this relocation was also a fear of retribution: they felt
unsecure, that they will be recognized and indicted as war
criminals (Vivod, 2009).
In the countries of the former federation—at the time the
“enemy”—the names of these units match with “genocide”,
“war crimes”. After the conflict, several former Serbian para-
militaries were indicted and sentenced as war criminals in local
special tribunals (in case of Serbia and BiH, in case of Croatia
the local, the županijski (district) tribunals were reinforced to be
able to handle the cases of war crimes), other were accused and
condemned in Hague by the International Criminal Tribunal for
the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Having the benefit of access to the “great Pantheon” of the
local Medias during the 90’s, they were presented in Serbia as
the stars, war heroes, the guardians, the defenders of the Ser-
bian people and its territories (Čolović, 2000; Jansen, 2000).
The leading personalities of these troops were present as public
figures in the political and in cultural life during the 90’s as f.i.
the notorious Ražnatović aka Arkan, Dragan Vasiljević aka
Captain Dragan, and others (idem).
For instance, taking the example of the broadcaster Pink,
with headquarters in Belgrade which broadcasts nationwide,
who had a couple of TV shows in which Arkan (the leader of
the Tigers) and his folk singer wife Ceca were regular guest (f.i.
in the shows of Milovan Ilić-Minimax)17. Captain Dragan
(Dragan Vasiljković)18 the leader of the Kninjas—Ninja’s from
Knin (Knindže) was impersonated as main figures in a serial of
comic books bearing his name (Čolović, 2000a). A silver coin
was minted with his image. With one side stating that “Terro-
rism stops here” and the other side bearing the inscription of
“Captain Dragan Fund” (Fond Kapetana Dragana) created in
order to help wounded patriots and families of those who died
at the front. Djordje Božović aka Giška, the leader of the Ser-
bian Guard (Srpska Garda), a paramilitary unit initiated by the
Serbian Renewal Party (Srpski Pokret Obnove), was a topic of
numerous publications—books, articles and documentaries, as
other paramilitary leaders too19—as criminal who was con-
verted into a national hero defending the “Serbian cause”.
Most of these formations were dissolved after the conflicts,
and the great part of the Serbian paramilitary leaders died after
the conflicts—and not from natural causes—only a few re-
mained more or less “active” during the peacetime, particularly
after the fall of the Milošević’s regime in 2000. Two examples
are the Red Berets (Crvene Beretke) or JSO (Jedinica za Speci-
jalne Operacije) the Special Operations Units. The leader of
this unity Milorad Ulemek-Luković aka Legija, along with a
couple of his subordinates, were sentenced to 40 years prison
for the murder of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić in
2003 (supra).
Although there were rumors in Serbia—the Matrix of these
units—about the lootings, murders and rape committed by these
units during the 90’s, the criminal past of the paramilitary units
reached the public in Serbia through the Serbian media only
after the fall of the regime (2000). The most shocking evidence
of the activities of these units came to the Serbian public via
local media when a video tape of the Trnovo/Srebrenica mas-
sacre (1995) was broadcasted in 2007 first on B92 Television
(the documentary “The Scorpios, a home movie”20). A couple
of unit members of the Scorpios murdered, in cold blood, six
civilians from whom three were just teenagers. The premedita-
tion of this act is clearly evident when one of the unit members
asks seemingly the youngest of them if he ever made love (us-
ing a vulgar term). When receiving a negative answer the
shooter concluded with “And you won’t either”. The “Scorpio”
members shot these six individuals with bound hands while
making jokes, insisting that the cameraman shoot the whole
scene of the execution, delaying the last execution to make sure
that the camera’s battery isn’t empty.
The phase of the glorified image perpetuated in the Serbian
Medias during the 90’s was over. A special tribunal in Belgrade
was made in order to put on trial the individuals who commit-
ted war crimes. The IC Tribunal for the FY in Hague has in-
dicted and condemned some members of a couple of Serbian
paramilitary units (f.i. White Eagles—massacre of Ovčara-
Vukovar/Croatia). Some other former paramilitaries were con-
victed later in Serbia (the Scorpions, the Red Berets—for the
massacre in Trnovo, Srebrenica/Bosnia, and the massacre in
Podujevo/Kosovo, the Red Berets for the murder of P.M. Đin-
16Results of fieldwork.
17There is an urban legend which says that during one TV show on the Pink
television hosted by Minimax which was imagined as “interactive” (viewers
were allowed to call and ask question to the guest in the show), one women
called to ask Ceca from where she has the seemingly expensive necklace.
The women recognized a custom-made necklace from a relative of hers,
which was brutally murdered in the territories under the conflict.
18He is accused by the Republic of Croatia of being responsible for soldiers
under his command allegedly torturing, beating and killing captured mem-
bers of Croatian Army and Police in 1991 in Knin. On 12 April 2007, au-
thorities in Sydney granted Croatia’s extradition request. On 3 February
2009 Vasiljković appeal against extradition to Croatia was rejected by the
Federal Court of Australia.
The denunciations, the testimonies and the videotapes of cold
blooded murders revealed in the Serbian press and the televi-
19f.i. Marko Lopušina’s Commandant Arkan; Vojislav Milić’s
y son Đorđe
ožović Giška and many others.
20Documentary first shown in 2007. Realised with the financial support o
ational Trust for democracy (NED), USA and the Sweden Helsinky
Comitee for Human Rights (SHC), Sweden. The documentary contains
archive materials from the of the humanitairian Right (Fonda za humani-
tarno pravo), the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
(ICTY) and the materail filmed by the Scorpions themselves.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 27
sion, and the fact that in the case of the “Scorpios” the material
was actually filmed by the unit members, added to the notoriety
of these units in Serbia. Nevertheless the spotless “glory” of the
war heroes is still undisputable for at least a part of the popula-
tion. Their popularity is detectable by the number of fans of
“groups” or web communities on Facebook, or Youtube post-
ings dedicated to these units. For this part of the population
made by “enthusiastic” individuals and the extreme right wing
organizations very active in public life of the contemporary
Serbia (such as the “Cheek”21 [Obraz], the “National Align-
ment” [Nacionalni Stroj], the “Serbian Gates” [Dveri Sprske],
etc) the paramilitary leaders and the units are the undisputable
heroes serving the Serbian national interests22.
Dogs of the State
Since the revelations about their past and actual role during
the conflicts, the former paramilitaries are going under a less
glamorous chapter of their existence. The frustration about the
lost wars, the “lost years” (Vivod, 2009) during which they
were battling for the Serbian territories23, which are continuing
to shrink endlessly24, the individual and social impoverishment,
and the landmark trial of the former Scorpio members (2005-
2007)25 changed the perception of how the former paramilita-
ries are seen, and how they perceive themselves.
During interviews with the veterans of a militia the main
theme is regret and nostalgia toward “the good old times”
—when these soldiers where feared and respected in Serbia,
and when the media glorified them as the “epical heroes” and
“the protectors of the nation” (Vivod, 2009). The frustration for
being once venerated as the savior of the nation and being con-
sidered and rejected nowadays as war-criminal and war-profi-
teer is often combined with rage pointed toward those whom
believed to be responsible for this transformation. They feel
that the Serbian state has abandoned them (Vivod, 2009)26.
The veterans of former paramilitary units live better, even
now, than the average of Serbian population, although without
any (official) financial support from the Serbian state thanks to
the financial advantage which they gained during the 90’s by
starting some private businesses (opening a shop, developing an
export-import activity, etc.).
The wages, paid through unofficial channels during the war-
time although officially it was denied that these unit members
received any financial compensation (see for more in Spiegel
41/1992), were at that time considerable27. In fact, the salary
was so high that is was an additional motivation to join a “unit
of volunteers” (at the time used as an allegory of a militia) and
“serve the nation”. Several militia-leaders in fact, became very
rich through the looting of the population from the territories in
war28 (Andreas, 2004).They developed a “business” of smug-
gling of goods across several states (f.i. Ražnatović aka Ar-
kan/Tigers, Slobodan Medić aka Boca/Scorpions29). The series
of armed conflict were a “marvelous” economic opportunity
structure for clandestine commerce and made possible for the
enemy sides to establish cross-border smuggling channels (An-
dreas, 2004). The Serbian press speculates about the total esti-
mation of property of the leader of the Red Berets (JSO)
Luković aka Legija, which would be between fifty and one
million euro30.
And almost a decade after the fall of the regime, a new law
went into effect in Serbia (March 2009) which provides under
estimations an extra income for the Government for 100 million
Euro: every property which is gained though crime and other
criminal activities will be confiscated. The list of 300 Serbian
citizens contains also the names of several paramilitary unit
leaders as well31.
The state media, and those who are close to right wing po-
litical parties provide a minimum of information about the trials
of former paramilitary unit members and their crimes. When it
comes to their role that they actually had in the armed conflicts
in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo and their financing, a certain
“taboo” is lifted, especially in the independent media (f.i. B92,
Vreme, etc.). The NGO’s are those who are organizing a public
debate and speaking, and openly spreading information about
the crimes of the Serbian paramilitary units (f.i. Humanitarian
Law Center from Belgrade, Women in Black, etc.). Very often
it is the private media close to a right wing political party or the
former ruling party of Milošević (f.i. the TV broadcasters Most,
or Palma) who are tacitly maintaining the status they had dur-
ing the 90’s of these units by omitting to report about the trials.
It is their past which is still under the discussion, their present,
as for instance where are the remaining members now, how the
invalids live, what happened to those who are accused of war
crimes, etc. is not a topic of the reports.
The media covers meagerly the news about the so called “the
veterans of the Kosovo war” who engage a strike (in summer,
autumn 2009, winter 2010), blocking the main roads and rail-
way in the region of their origins—mainly in central Serbia,
rarely at the capital city of Belgrade—reclaiming their unpaid
wages which the Serbian government owes them. The medias
report about 2000 law suits are ongoing against the government
for the unpaid wages in amount between 600 to 1400 Euro.
Interestingly the category of “war veterans” remains vague, it is
21Cheek is the symbol of honor in the Serbian language f.i. “having no
cheek” means that the person has no honor.
22F.i. see interview with Boško Obradović the editor in chief of Dveri Srpske
(review of the same name movement) Svetlana Lukić and Svetlana Vuković
the 24th of March 2005.
23“The perception by Serb nationalists of their national space tends to have
no relation to the actual extent of Serb-held territory: many still believe that
territories such as Dalmatia or Macedonia, whose populations are mostly
non-Serb and which were not occupied in the recent war, are nevertheless
‘Serb lands’.” (Hoare, 2006: p. 460).
24The declaration of the independence of Kosovo was seen as another loss o
25In the case of the Scorpios the trial for the massacre of Podujevo in Kos-
ovo started in 2002 and ended in 2004; for the massacre in Trnovo/Sre-
brenica in Bosnia they were trialed 2005-2007.
26The Movement of Serbian Veterans registered as a political party as an
effort to accomplish more rights for a part of a society which claims to be
forgotten. A general assembly was to be held the 28th of February 2010.
27see testimony of a former Scorpio member in the documentary “Scorpions,
a home movie”.
28See statement of General Manojlo Milovanović head of the Republika
Srpska Army-VRS in documentary of Filip Švarm Jedinica (The Unit) 2006.
29See testimonies of General Manojlo Milovanović head of the Republika
Srpska Army-VRS in documentary of Filip Švarm Jedinica (The Unit) 2006
and the the interview Der Speigel with Sinisa Vucinic.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
uncertain if this term covers the individuals who were drafted in
the regular army or it is mixture between the so called “volun-
teers” and the ones who were conscripts in the regular army32.
The statements made in the press by the newly registered po-
litical party of veterans points toward the second possibility33.
The actual Serbian public have a lot of difficulties to face
from the past, the deadly 90’s34, especially when it comes to the
war crimes committed by the paramilitary troops in the name of
the Serbian people and the Serbian nation. While grasping,
trying to understand the degree of the involvement of these
units in series of armed conflicts, the contemporary events are
discussed, interpreted in the light of past ideologies which lead
to the creation of these paramilitary units, the manner how they
acted and in the shadow of the acts they committed in the name
of the nation.
Using the independent media and the internet, journalists,
writers and thinkers are seeking the roots of unsocial, negative
behavior in the military in the military virtues nurtured by the
Serbian society during its history, heroic myths, national po-
litical ethnomyths perpetrated in public speeches, through the
medias during the past twenty years.
Incidents as for instance the demonstrations turned into hoo-
ligan disorder and looting (f.i. the demonstration in February
2008 when the independence of Kosovo was declared), an ex-
cessive and violent behavior toward the foreigners35, the ge-
neral xenophobia, acts often committed in the name of “patrio-
tism” are serving as a à posteriori explanation of the events
from the past decade. Links are made between the past ideals of
a Great Serbia, especially the military ideals which nurtured the
men which were between their twenties and forties at the time,
and who were ready “to serve the nation” during the 90’s, and
even to die for it, who used this pretext to commit terrible
crimes, and between today’s youth which aspires to the same
military virtues, but this time “at home”, on their “native soil”
where the aggressive conduct, the murdering and looting con-
tinues. It is seen as the same conflict, at present, interpreted as a
social problem only relocated in time and space by a new ge-
neration of perpetrators. Violent behavior carried out in the
name of “greater good”, in the name of “family values” and
“patriotism” by individuals, football fans or extreme right wing
organizations is directly linked with those “values”—now de-
clared as non-values—from the past, embodied perfectly in
paramilitary units and its members.
Other events, which shocked the Serbian public such as the
scandal of the Crna Reka drug rehabilitation center36, the mur-
der of a young French football supporter in Belgrade by a mob
(October 2009) or the cancelation of the Belgrade Gay Pride
parade only 24 hours before the event because government
officials couldn’t ensure public order and the peace and security
of the participants (September 2009) are just couple of exam-
ples which were decoded by the independent media by taking
into account the events of the 90’s.
Even the “outfit” of the former Prime Minister Tadić while
visiting the maneuvers of the Serbian regular army (October
2009) motivated a journalist37 to ask a rhetorical question in the
title of his article if “President Tadić is a paramilitary soldier?”
(Živkov, 2009) indicating that his taste of clothing may be the
sign that his imperatives are far from the values of a demilita-
rized civil society which he has been chosen to represent.
The political parties in opposition are using the same argu-
ments to criticize the government. The leader of the League of
Vojvodina Social Democrats (Liga socijaldemokrata Vojvodine,
LSV) a center-left regionalist social democratic political party
in Serbia, Nenad Čanak responded on the question why the
Serbian authorities remain inactive on the incidents of the ex-
treme right-wing movement:
The police in Serbia, and not only in Serbia, possess always
these informal groups which are serving the state with a false
identity card. How much paramilitary, under quotations marks,
units had we during the 90’s which ravaged across Bosnia and
Croatia, and then at Kosovo, and even here, so you had as a
result a beating up of people who attached posters by unnamed
individuals. Afterwards it is determined that all of them have
official legitimization and that they were members of the Ser-
vice of the Serbian State Security.38
These events are presented as a prolongation of the war
crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, committed
by the same authors—perpetrators or their spiritual “inheritors”
for whom they served as an inspiration. The fact that the pre-
sent government didn’t separate itself from the crimes commit-
36The Crna Reka scandal came to light after a video was released showing
center staff beating one of the center’s wards. The magazine Vreme (May
2009) has reported that at a clerical-run rehabilitation centre treating addicts
in Crna Reka, patients have been brutally beaten by “caregivers” and thera-
pists and that this practice is a part or a “regular therapy”. A video posted on
their website shows a patient being beaten with shovels and punched on the
face. The centre’s representatives told his family that the contract (signed
mainly by the patients parents) permitted them to use any form of treatment,
including light and “more severe” beatings. Initially, the centre was blessed
by the local Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Artemije. Interestingly when this
scandal exploded through the Serbian medias in public, the extreme right
wing organization Obraz organized a support rally for the priest who runs
the center.
In a interview (June 2009) I had with a journalist who interviewed a cou-
le of former patients of this rehabilitation center in Crna Reka stated that he
have been told that the employed guardians of this rehabilitation center
(described as a dog guarded prison camp) are former members of paramili-
tary units as for instance Arkan’s “Tigers”.
37Ljubomir Živkov Govor Tekstila 10.10.2009.
38“Zašto se u Srbiji žmuri na pretnje i pozive na linč desničarskih organizacija,
okušao je da odgovori predsednik Lige socijaldemokrata Vojvodine Nenad
Čanak. “Policija u Srbiji, oduvek, ne samo u Srbiji, uvek ima te neformalne
grupe koje služe kao država s lažnom ličnom kartom. Pa koliko smo imali
90-tih godina paravojnih, pod navodnicima, jedinica koje su Harale po Bosni
i Hrvatskoj, po Kosovu, pa i ovde, pa ste ovde imali prebijanja ljudi koji su
lepili plakate od nekih neimenovanih lica. Posle se ustanovi da svi oni imaju
službene legimacije i da su bili u članstvu Službe državne bezbednosti
Srbije.” Source:
category=12&nav_id=381665 translation by the author of this article
32One of my interviewed person picturesquely explained this situation that
“the state won’t feed its dogs who were sent to kill for it”.
li-mup-u_141175.html The president of the In August 2009 the president o
the assembly of the city of Zrenjanin was accused by the Party of Veterans
for “extremism and disrespect of the Serbian veterans and of the Serbian
state” for receiving in his office the representatives of the Croat Society o
lawyers “Vukovar 1991” and supported their idea of raising a monument in
two villages where they were held as war prisoners in detainee camps.
34For instance the song of a prominent Serbian singer-songwriter Đorđe
Balašević, popular in countries of the former Yugoslav federation called
“Nineties” expresses the public sentiments toward the “deadly nineties”:
“Then, the nineties have come, sorrowful and grievous… Phobic… Ordi-
nary bums broke into text- and reading-books… It is too late to panic… We
gave a chance for the madness to become official… And now we are like
simply surprised…
35The Serbian media reported 3 - 4 assaults on foreigners in the capital city
of Belgrade during the period of September-October 2009; the media re-
orted that there were no other raisons for these assaults except the fact that
these individuals were foreign citizens.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 29
ted in support of the former regime is an additional proof, an
argument for its opponents that the present political elite and its
institutions are in fact quiet supporters of the same great-Ser-
bian warmongering ideology which caused almost a decade of
suffering of all kind.
We are witnessing the third “stage” of the public image of
paramilitary unit members who made a great step, better said
‘fall’ from being divinized and represented as the ideals, role
models of the Serbian society to become a symbol of all evil of
the past. No more heroes, doubted and feared, ignored by the
present government, they occupy a marginalized social role.
Their characteristic which were their advantage in the past
(criminal past, violent, asocial behavior, etc.) appears to be the
main ground of today’s criticism and transfers the public to-
ward a reinterpretation of the past events. Spatial and temporal
continuity is constructed with the events and the actors of the
past, as if the civil wars are still raging, putting at present the
conflicts on the soil of Serbia, which was spared from war on
its territory until 199939 when NATO engaged airstrikes against
the country.
The warriors, protectors of the weak made from “noble” vo-
lunteers, from the group of the so called “simple people” were
the incarnation of archetypes (in Jungian sense) battling for a
just cause. The story archetypes in a form of epical heroes,
which stepped out from the cycles of epical poetry for the de-
fense of Christianity, the “week ones and the unprotected ones”
turned into collective shadows (Sandić & Sandić, 2006). The
fact that several of them had a criminal past, made the “sacri-
fice”, to embrace the role of volunteers and “go off” to protect
the week ones, even more “noble” and attractive. As if this ear-
lier “sin” was a necessary element toward the “correction”
which came through joining such a unit, in order for one to
become “righteous” in a Christian sense of the term40.
The fact that is has been discovered in the meantime that
they abused their power, situation and status of the “protector
and heroes” for looting, rape and crimes makes them at present
even more hateful. An à posteriori explanation, that these units
were made of football hooligans, criminals and that they were
organized, supported and financed by the Milošević regime is
an appealing explanation, simple by its mechanism. The crimi-
nal activity of these units is considered under the previous
criminal past of its members, which used the conflict as a con-
tinuation of their criminal carrier. The promiscuity maintained
by the Milošević regime with the secret services which already
used criminals during the Titoist regime to “do the dirty work”
(as for instance to eliminate political dissidence at broad41) is
offering an additional explanation why these troops committed
so many war crimes and massacres in Croatia, Bosnia and
Kosovo. A support to this reasoning is an additional argument
of the politicians in opposition, the independent press, the
journalists and writers, that the regime financed most of these
units and then denied to be involved in any armed conflicts
which followed the decomposition of the former Yugoslavia.
As the information about the genocide(s) or “war crimes” is
becoming wide spread, finger pointing is evolving toward two
main causes: the blame is put on the Milošević regime and his
partisans and secondly, toward the personality of the men who
were recruited in a paramilitary unit. There are mainly imag-
ined, pictured as asocial individuals, criminals, unemployed
young males—the “residuum of the society” (društveni talog
as one of my interlocutors expressed). The responsibility is
therefore equally distributed between the former regime and the
‘bad nature’ of the men who made up these units. In the press
articles making the link between the past and present through
the speech of Milošević at Gazimestan-Kosovo (in 1989) and
the violent behavior of hooligans in Belgrade and the raping
military units during the armed conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia
are embodying such an opinion in the press in opposition42.
The civil, demilitarized society of the sober, present-day
Serbia is defended by and personified in journalists, thinkers,
layers, writers, the representatives of the “intelligentsia” as they
portray themselves. The “sacred times” of war which served for
state creating purposes are over. This part of the society is in
binary opposition with the class of semi-illiterate, unemployed
men of inferior social ranks, as they usually are imagined, who
choose to embrace the military virtues in order to become war-
riors. They are the embodiment of the past, and the past values
are in another pole in time, in social class and even in terms of
the future when it comes to economical projects of a whole
nation. Two sides of this interior dynamics are imagined and
represented in opposition such in urban/rural, pro European/pro
Russian paradigms—since Russia is very much present as an
imaginary bloc standing in opposition of the European Com-
munity. These two oppositions are the interior forces of the
contemporary society which seemingly keep the whole country
as its hostage.
Of course there is a possible deeper, seemingly irrelevant
cause which makes this gap between theses strata of the Serbian
society even more profound. It is motivated by the mytheme
expressing a unity and according which the metonymic repre-
sentatives of the collective (Jansen, 2000), in this case of the
whole serbianhood. In this case the metonymic part is the pa-
ramilitary units. They are the “brothers of the same blood” of
the entire contemporary Serbian nation, and they gave a “bad
name” to the whole nation with their actions in the past43. Very
41Former police inspector Mladen Lojović gave an interview to Naša Borba,
from Belgrade April the 20th1997, speaking about Đorđe Božpvić aka Giška
a convicted criminal and the leader of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, a para-
military unit organized by the Serbian Renewal Party (Srpski Pokret Ob-
nove): “Giška was one of the people who in the 80s had contacts with the
State Security forces and carried out their dirty work abroad. He didn’t know
nor did others that they would become disposable”.
Božidar Spasović gave an interview in the documentary “See you in the
obituary” (1995) directed by Janko Baljak based on the book The Crime
That Changed Serbia by Alekasandar Knežević and Vojislav Tufegdžić. He
stated in the film that he was the chief during nine years of a special unit in
charge for abroad “actions” of the Yugoslav State Security and he personally
“helped” 120 individuals, “criminals” to go abroad and secured them with
falsified passports and documents.
42Milošević’s made a reference to the possibility of “armed battles”, in the
future of Serbia’s national development; For example: Nikola Samarđžić,
ez nasolva i bez muzike(Without title and without music) 23.09.2009.; Ivan Torov, 01.10.2009.
Sistemsko Nasilja (Systematic Violence), etc.
43Milošević’s made a reference to the possibility of “armed battles”, in the
future of Serbia’s national development. Nikola Samarđžić Bez nasolva i bez
muzike (Without title and without music), Biljana Srbljanović, Ka
orastem ubiću kengura (When I grow up I will kill a kangaroo) 02.10.2009.
39Interestingly the word “war” is used by many of the informants only when
referring to the period of March to June 1999 while the NATO bombing
campaign lasted.
40The notion of Christian value of paramilitary soldiers is/was taken very
seriously: in the documentary “Škorpioni-Spomenar” (The Scorpions—a
home movie) a scene is filmed by a Scorpio-member where an orthodox
priest is giving a blessing to the member of this unit.
During the armed conflicts in Bosnia Serbia was imagined as a bearer o
authentic Christian values, and as a last bastion against Islam (Vivod, 2010).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
often the substantive “we” (mi) is used abundantly in the arti-
cles is expressing the idea of this unity. For the contemporary
deadlock in society “they” are the true culprits, for they have
committed those acts, those atrocities which discredited the
Serbian nation. Furthermore there is a darker shadow which
remains almost unmentioned but nevertheless is present in the
idea of the failings of nation’s “heroes” which brought dishonor
to the nation: they didn’t actually do the job… the territories
were lost. The hopes of a “Great Serbia” melted to nothingness.
Allegations are in “vogue” by a part of the media and politi-
cal parties in oppositions. Unfortunately there is great lack of
desire (or courage?) in Serbia to face the past openly and pub-
lically about what happened during the 90’s. The elements of
two main trials which shackled the public (the members of the
Scorpios, and the members of the Red Berets for the murder of
PM Đinđić) were presented in the press, mainly in the inde-
pendent press (f.i. Vreme, B92, etc.). However the details about
these units, the number of men who were employed in them,
the benefits they enjoyed and especially their crimes remain
obscure to a great part of the public. Efforts are made by a cou-
ple of NGOs (f.i. Women in Black, the Humanitarian Law
Center, the Helsinki Committee of Human Rights in Serbia, etc.)
which are publishing books, articles, financing the making of
documentaries. Unfortunately their work touches only a handful
of individuals.
As the current situation of the former paramilitary units
members is an uncovered topic by the media, also the many
other Serbian paramilitary units remain unmentioned in public.
What happened to these other paramilitary units and their
members after the everlasting series of armed conflicts of the
90’s seems to be irrelevant. No serious research (scientific or
otherespecially initiated by the Serbian government) is made
about the exact role that these units played. Their activities
remain in obscurity leaving a lot of space for guessing and pre-
sumptions. The author of this article is regretting the lack of
serious studies and the lack of will to organize more open and
public debates which could determine their actual role and ac-
tivities during the armed conflicts following the decomposition
of former Yugoslavia. What is even more regrettable is the
inappropriate sentence of the Serbian Supreme Court (Vrhovni
Sud) in the case of the Scorpios44 which leaves a bitter taste for
the victims and those who are willing to face this past. As if
there is a general desire to leave this past behind without any
further analysis.
What Čolović (2000a) calls “the constellation of narratives”,
Živković (2011) compares it to “Serbian dreamwork” in which
imaginaries are relived, embodied and eternally dreamed. In
that ensemble of narrative patterns the imagery about the Ser-
bian paramilitaries has found its place during the 90es. The
Serbian paramilitaries as the “heroes and the saviors of the Ser-
bian nation” were replaced by other “heroes” of the nation, he-
roes in the peacetime. Their mediatic popularity started sky
rocketing at the beginning of the 90’s and assured them a status
of pop stars, an untouchable and guaranteed position in their
communities. Lifted up by the medias in the pantheon of serbi-
anhood in the “sacred times” of the war when they served their
purposesince only the media can assure such a spotlight and
instant glory, they were once in the center of public attention,
making seemingly everlasting their invented merits. As the
embodiment of the past regime and its ideology, their destiny of
“fallen Gods” remains uncertain. In the peace-time they are
uncomfortable corpus delicti to the present government of Ser-
bia, in which the process of the nation-sate is completed, and in
which Milosevic’s political party is partially bleached, restored
in power and his protégé is the Minister of Interior. At present
they are a suitable topic for those who are seeking the traces of
the past regime in contemporary Serbian society. The question
remains, will they face an unpunished oblivion and will the
Serbian society consecutively risk their resurgence and maybe
even a restoration somewhere in the future and will more light
be shed on the true nature of those numerous paramilitary units,
the identity of those men who belonged to them and the true
role they played in the decomposition of the former Yugoslavia,
remains very current and pertinent and it is to be answered in
the near future not by the whole Serbian society.
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