Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


All News Is Lies: A Falling-Out Among Thieves?


"A Falling-Out Among Thieves?"

April 7, 2003

Popeye Takes On Ali Powell

In the middle of the war in Iraq, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, did an extraordinary thing. He left Washington for a week to undertake a trip to Turkey, to Nato HQ in Brussels and…to Serbia. Can Belgrade really be on a strategic par with Ankara and Brussels at this critical time for US foreign policy?

Serbia is presently reeling from the effect of the assassination of its prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, on the morning of 12th March 2003. The government has used the killing of Djindjic as an excuse to conduct mass arrests of anyone suspected of any complicity in the plot. In a purge worthy of the counter-revolutionary conspiracies “discovered” under Stalin, and parodied so perfectly in George Orwell’s novels, the Serbian government announced on 29th March, without a trace of irony, that it had arrested “1,984 people” in connection with the assassination. [1]

The Serbian government has also confirmed that it is going to amend the criminal code, using the powers it has granted itself under the terms of the decree of a state of emergency. [2] Changes will include a new provision allowing people to be held in detention without charge for 60 days. [3] Even under the terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1989) in Britain, a person suspected of involvement of terrorism may be detained for 48 hours, extendable to a maximum of five days if permission is granted. It is therefore difficult to exaggerate the draconian nature of these measures.

Shortly after the purges started, the police claimed to have found the body of the murdered former president, Ivan Stambolic. Stambolic had disappeared on 25th August 2000 and the Western media immediately blamed the federal president, Slobodan Miloševic for his murder, just as they also blamed his allies for killing Djindjic. Although the Serbian police claimed that they had arrested Stambolic’s “murderers”, [4] and that they had killed two suspects in the assassination of Djindjic, [5] the deputy prime minister of Serbia, Žarko Korac widened the net of suspects by saying that “so-called patriotic forces” in general were responsible for the murder of both Djindjic and Stambolic. In an interview of BK TV, he said, “Mrs. Miloševic is a part of these forces”. [6] An arrest warrant was duly issued for her and she has not been seen since – even though Korac added that no connection had been established to substantiate his claims. The Interior Minister repeated the same charge when he said that the assassination of Djindjic was “part of a plot by so-called patriotic forces, headed by war criminals and profiteers and instigators of the policy of crime from the ranks of parties in power under the regime of former president Slobodan Miloševic.” [7] For good measure, the minister, Dušan Mihaijlovic, tossed in the Serbian Radical Party as a co-conspirator with the Socialists and their allies as part of the “plot”.

Armed with these extremely vague accusations, the Serbian police have rounded up large numbers of the government’s political opponents. Those either detained or imprisoned to date include: Zoran Piperovic, the deputy chief prosecutor of Serbia, who is accused not of involvement in the assassinations, but instead of the catch-all crime of “corruption”; the former chief of the general staff, General Nebojša Pavkovic, who ran in the presidential elections last September; the president of the “Sloboda” (Freedom) organisation which campaigns on behalf of the jailed former President Slobodan Miloševic, Bogoljub Bjelica; Goran Matic, former information minister and currently the Vice-President of the Yugoslav United Left, the political party headed by Slobodan Miloševic’s wife, Mira Markovic; and the managing editor of the Socialist Party’s newsletter “Smisao” (Thought), Uroš Suvakovic. Police have taken away the professional and private computers of someone I know quite well in Belgrade, Vladimir Kršljanin: my own e-mail address, dear Reader, is probably even now being studied by Serbian police as part of the conspiracy. The new prime minister, Zoran Zivkovic, said that he had “irrefutable proof against all suspects” on 29th March. [8]

Most dramatically of all, the government announced immediately after the assassination that the man guilty of planning it was a certain Milorad Lukovic, known as “Legija” and also known as “Milorad Umenek”. In fact, Legija is said to have various aliases. Legija, so-called because he once served in the French foreign legion, is systematically presented as “an ally of Slobodan Miloševic” but, as discussed in All News is Lies on 24th March 2003, Legija is in fact an ally of Zoran Djindjic, whom he helped to power in 2000. Legija’s men were also the forces who arrested the former Yugoslav president in April 2001.

While it eagerly blames Legija for the assassination of Djindjic, and attacks Legija as the had of a vast crime syndicate, the Serbian government has also admitted the links between itself and Legija’s paramilitary force. On 14th March, Beta news agency reported that deputy prime minister Žarko Korac confirmed that Legija’s group, sometimes referred to as the “Zemun gang,” “occasionally assisted the state in the clashes in the Bujanovac and Preševo areas,” and that it “had contacts with the police”. In other words, these paramilitaries were the Serbian state in its ongoing battles with Albanian insurgents in Southern Serbia. By implication, therefore, the Serbian government itself is part of the vast network of organised crime which it now so energetically denounces.

Allegations that Djindjic himself was a crook are so banal in Belgrade that they are taken for granted by most ordinary people. (The same goes, by the way, for the current prime minister of Montenegro, Milorad Djukanovic, members of whose governments have had international arrests warrants issued against them for drug smuggling, and whose personal involvement in the smuggling of cigarettes into the European Union is a subject of perennial discussion. Djukanovic has been assiduously courted by the West for years, ever since he agreed to join the anti-Miloševic camp in the 1990s.) Ever since he travelled from Tito’s Yugoslavia to Germany in the 1970s - in search of the true Marxism which, weakened in Communist Eastern Europe, flourished in the universities of the West - Djindjic was notorious for using his student activities as a cover for import-export deals. Because these allegations against Djindjic and his friends were so common, some of them inevitably made their way into the Belgrade media.

The Interior Ministry has confirmed that it now treats as suspicious any media outlets which criticised the late prime minister before his death. [9] In particular, the Minister of Culture and Information is looking into one magazine, Panorama, which aired the allegations that Djindjic was himself involved in organised crime: that magazine is now in turn accused of being part of the murderous “Zemun gang” and its owner is being pursued by the police. Several media outlets have already been shut down in Serbia, for infringing the emergency media law which requires all outlets to carry only official Serbian government press statements.

In Macedonia and in Serbia, the rumour is that Djindjic was murdered on the orders of the international community. Shortly before his death, he had indeed started to complain that the Western powers were living up to their promises of delivering aid. The West had also complained that not enough was being done to arrest various people wanted by The Hague, and memorabilia bearing the images of the most wanted war indictees, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadžic were on sale at a political rally in central Belgrade addressed by Djindjic last September. [10] On the basis of the old Mafia rule that you can tell you killed a man by seeing who sheds the most crocodile tears at his funeral, the presence of numerous international luminaries at Djindjic’s obsequies in Belgrade might prove this claim.

Certainly, the West has not been able to contain its enthusiasm for this massive crackdown in Serbia. The Union of Serbia and Montenegro (as Yugoslavia is now known) was admitted last week to Europe’s main human rights body, the Council of Europe – at the height of these purges and mass arrests. This recalls the admission of Russia to the same institution, at the height of the first Chechen war in 1995, when Russian troops were acting with appalling brutality against insurgents and civilians in their Southern province. The Council of Europe naturally emphasises its continued support for the “reformers” in Belgrade, while the all-powerful US ambassador in Belgrade, William Montgomery, also stated that “the international community supports the Serbian government’s fight against organised crime”. [11] As Montgomery added, again without a trace of irony, that a contract had just been signed between US Steel, based in Pittburgh, and the Sartid company to buy the steel works at Smederevo for a paltry $23 million, a deal made all the sweeter by the fact that the company’s $1.7 billion debt is not being assumed by its new owners. [12] One assumes that the Serbian state will take care of it instead.

It is well-known that the West spent an enormous amount of money getting Djidnjic into power in the first place. Apart from the $30 billion or so spent on Nato’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, the US spent at least $100 million to unseat Slobodan Miloševic one year later. It is perhaps because those considerable investments apparently went up in a puff of smoke when Djindjic was assassinated that General Powell travelled all the way to Belgrade last week; alternatively, it was to keep the lid on a situation which the West had itself created, if the rumour-mongers in the country concerned are right.

I cannot pretend to know, from here in London, exactly what the truth is. At the very least, we can however conclude the following.

(1) The somewhat infantile obsession with removing particular personalities from power (Slobodan Miloševic in Belgrade, Saddam Hussein in Baghdad) is a high-risk policy. Although it has been going on for decades, the policy of installing “our son of a bitch” is always as reliable or unreliable as the assassin’s aim against the SOB in question.

(2) The Western powers are giving their support to a crackdown, and to mass arrests, the likes of which would never have been tolerated or even contemplated under the man they call a dictator, Miloševic, whose period in office was characterised by untrammelled opposition activity both within the normal political process and in the media. There is now, by contrast, no effective political or media opposition in Serbia, and anyone even suspected of sympathising with them is liable to be locked up.

(3) There is now clear evidence of support by the West for extremely powerful members of organised crime syndicates in the Balkans. I have reported in previous editions of this journal how Nato troops in Kosovo protect the access road to the military headquarters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, one of the biggest organised crime syndicates in the Balkans and therefore the world. [13] (The same is true of the Iraqi Kurds, who are currently our allies in the war against Saddam, and whose control of people-smuggling and drugs routes is unquestioned.)

It is also a matter of record (see above) that the pro-Western government of Zoran Djindjic was itself deeply enmeshed with extremely serious criminals in Serbia, forces who inter alia were used to overthrow Miloševic on 5th October 2000. Whether Djindjic’s assassination was simply the result of a falling-out among the thieves in Belgrade, or whether he was deliberately eliminated by the West, cannot be ascertained with certainty. What is also certain is that the continuing control of the Balkans must be extremely important for the US Secretary of State to make a special trip to Belgrade in the middle of the war against Iraq.



[1] “1984 persons arrested,” Tanjug News Agency, 29th March 2003

[2] Beta News Agency, 2nd April 2003

[3] Beta News Agency, 2nd April 2003

[4] Tanjug news agency, 28th March, 2003

[5] “Djindjic ‘executioner’ killed in gun battle,” Alex Todorovic, Daily Telegraph, 28th March 2003

[6] Beta news agency, 30th March 2003

[7] Tanjug news agency, 21st March, 2003

[8] Tanjug, 29th March 2003

[9] Beta news agency, 31st March 2003.

[10] See “All News is Lies” 7th October 2002.

[11] Tanjug news agency, 1st April 2003

[12] Radio Free Europe Newsline, 3rd April 2003.

[13] “All News is Lies,” 25th February 2002,

******* ENDS *******

© Copyright Sanders Research Associates Ltd. 2003. The contents of the following, either in whole or in part, may not be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the written permission of Sanders Research Associates. While considering the contents to be reliable, SRA take no responsibility for the information set forth herein.


Tel : 044 01442 842401


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Gordon Campbell: On The Saudi Oil Refinery Crisis

So the US and the Saudis claim to have credible evidence that those Weapons of Oil Destruction came from Iran, their current bogey now that Saddam Hussein is no longer available. Evidently, the world has learned nothing from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when dodgy US intel was wheeled out to justify the invasion of Iraq, thereby giving birth to ISIS and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. More>>


Veronika Meduna on The Dig: Kaitiakitanga - Seeing Nature As Your Elder

The intricate interconnections between climate change and biodiversity loss, and how this disruption impacts Māori in particular. More>>


Gordon Campbell: On China And Hong Kong (And Boris)

In the circumstances, yesterday’s move by Lam to scrap – rather than merely suspend – the hated extradition law that first triggered the protests three months ago, seems like the least she can do. It may also be too little, too late. More>>


Dave Hansford on The Dig: Whose Biodiversity Is It Anyway?

The DOC-led draft Biodiversity Strategy seeks a “shared vision.” But there are more values and views around wildlife than there are species. How can we hope to agree on the shape of Aotearoa’s future biota? More>>


There Is A Field: Reimagining Biodiversity In Aotearoa

We are in a moment of existential peril, with interconnected climate and biodiversity crises converging on a global scale to drive most life on Earth to the brink of extinction… These massive challenges can, however, be reframed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally change how humanity relates to nature and to each other. Read on The Dig>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog