Arkan and his Tigers
15 January, 2000, gunmen inside the seafood restaurant of the Hotel Belgrade Intercontinental, shot of 38 rounds mowing down Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan. At the time of his death Arkan was one of the richest men in Serbia, owning real estate, oilfields, rado stations, a chain of bakeries, a football club, and business centers. He was also a notorious war criminal indicted by the International Tribunal of War Crimes at the Hague for his genocide of Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
A story that started in the terraces of the Red Star Belgrade stadium where Arkan would watch matches against FC Partizan, their crosstown rivals. Arkan headed the notorious Delije, the notorious ultranationalist fans of Red Star Belgrade. This group was given orders to turn in, threaten, and maim fans who were perceived as anti government, anti-Communist.
During the Balkan conflict, as Yugoslavia started its slow disintegration in the 1990’s, Arkan was tapped by Slobodan Milosevic and his Interior ministry to provide the shock troops that would carry out the official policy of ethnic cleansing. Arkan quickly formed a paramilitary brigade of a 1000 men mostly drawn from the Delije. They underwent a spartan lifestyle that included weapons training, physical fitness, abstinence from alcohol, regular shaves and crew cuts. This group was called Arkan’s Tigers. A group of soccer hooligans transformed into a genocidal unit.
Arkan’s Tigers were dispatched to the forefront of the fighting where they looted and plundered anything that they could get their hands on, stores, homes, and banks of Croats and Bosnian Muslims. They controlled the black market and charged outrageous prices for gas (This should resonate with the current situation out here!!), food, water, and provisions lining their pockets. In the infamous Vukovar massacre, Arkan’s Tigers raided a hospital, and bundled hundreds of patients onto a bus, driving them to a deserted field, shooting them one by one.
They were there again at the outset of the Bosnian war at Bijeljina in 1992, killing or running the terrified Muslim population out of town and looting their homes. The things they did there would make Arkan and his men infamous throughout the world. That same year, Arkan was elected to parliament; in 1993, he founded his own political party.
In 1995, Arkan bought his own football club, IIIrd division amateur Obilic FC. This after his overtures were spurned by Red Star Belgrade on buying out their club. It would have been a dream, a long time ambition to own the club he grew up in and watched matches with his father.
Within three dizzying years, Obilic FC was on top of the Yugoslavian football league and playing in the European championship. Arkan simply brought his successful managerial style to Obilic FC. He kidnapped and murdered rival football players and coaches. Opposition players would get threatening calls overnight to lose the matches played next day. Arkan was also known to march in with his supporters into opposition dressing rooms on the day of the matches and threaten to kill the players if they did not forfeit the match.
In 1999, the International Tribunal of War Crimes at the Hague, indicted Arkan for war crimes. He would have been potentially the most damaging witness against Slobodan Milosevic and his policy of state sanctioned ethnic cleansing. But he was gunned down before that.
Arkan’s followers are now plotting to create mayhem and disrupt the present World Cup. In January of this year, the Delije of Red Star Belgrade formed an alliance with their bitter rivals the Bad Blue Boys of Dinamo Zagreb, an alliance that would not have been possible fifteen years ago. A series of meetings in which plans to target the new common enemy, the black soccer player, were put into motion. In particular, Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright Phillips of the English squad were mentioned.
Arkan’s legacy continues on in with the Ultras of Real Madrid, AC MIlan, and Lazio.
Lazio’s Ultras, soccer’s most notorious xenophobes commemorated the first death anniversary of Arkan by unfurling a huge banner with the legend ‘Onore Alla Tigre Arkan’ (Honour to Tiger Arkan). An act that resulted in widespread condemnation.
What is worrying is that FIFA that had introduced stringent measures imposing match suspensions and stiff penalties on a country for the racist misbehavior of their fans have now made a volte face and are targeting the players, team officials, and the coaches for racist statements. With a number of Red Star, FC Partizan, and Dinamo Zagreb fans expected to be there watching their countries play (Both Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia are in this World Cup), the situation could get difficult to handle given the watering down of FIFA’s punitive measures. In particular, black players should be protected.
Arkan’s legacy should be halted and this World Cup will be a test for future European venues of international soccer matches, to ensure that fascism and racism is controlled before matches are played there, especially that involve black, Muslim or Jewish players.