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Belgrade underground: The Murder of "Centa"

22 February 1997 Many thought he was about to retire in peace, having lived to the age of 47, but someone denied this theory in a most brutal manner on the night between Friday and Saturday at around 3.20 a.m. Caldovic was murdered by an automatic weapon while starting his car parked outside the Serbian writers' association building in Francuska 7. Killed with him was Maja Pavic, 25, an anchorwoman on Studio B and Pink television, also known as the maid of honor to Ceca Raznatovic, a folk star and the wife of one Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, a local pastry shop owner.

There are no eyewitnesses to the murder, and the fact that no one heard the shots suggests that a silencer was used, although one should bear in mind that Belgrade citizens tend to go deaf dumb and blind when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The murder caused the usual kind of reactions. Daily newspapers were flooded with obituaries, there were 95 of them in the daily Politika on February 18. Caldovic was mourned by virtually all notorious Belgrade criminals. Arkan and his wife gave an obituary for Maja Pavic, but not Centa. His funeral drew a bigger crowd than opposition rallies in places like Vrnjacka Banja and Knjazevac. Judging by the appearance of most characters, the funeral had in it several thousand years of hard time.

There is a lot of hearsay about Caldovic's career and abruptly-ended life, but people who do actually know a few details are unwilling to talk. Known as one of the toughest Zemun fighters in his youth, Caldovic fled to Germany in the early seventies and spent two decades there. The talk of the town in those days were the "heroics" of Ljubomir Magas "Zemunac", his friend Centa, Djordje Bozovic Giska, Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and Goran Vukovic, who later made a name for himself by killing Ljuba Zemunac outside the Frankfurt city court. At that time, western Europe was the promised land for Belgraders with excessive energy and a lack of scruples.

The activities of Belgrade criminals in western Europe in the late seventies and early eighties were far more prosaic than the epic tales told to Belgrade teenagers dreaming of glory. Like all other Yugoslavs, they had a very low ranking in the crime hierarchy. They had the reputation of being boastful, outspoken and treacherous bullies. According to an "analyist" of their likes, "they all worked for the Yugoslav secret police, and the few who didn't boasted in bars that they did".

It is a fact that many local criminals did "certain favors" (quoting Boza Spasic, a former Security service agent), for the secret police. They regarded their engagement for "the state and the people" as an act of redemption for the sins they committed and, more importantly, as an investment for a safe future in Yugoslavia when Interpol was on their trail. The secret police too profited from the deal: engaging criminals as expendable material to do their dirty work for them meant sparing professional cadres, while "alien emigrants" were still efficiently combated with baseball bats and iron rods, not to mention some unsolved murders.

Caldovic's name was not mentioned all that often in that context - he was always around but never the main character. Frankfurt police did say he extorted money from wealthy Yugoslav expatriates in Germany, but found it hard to corroborate this with evidence. Caldovic, on his part, said people gave him money, from five to ten thousand marks, without him having to ask for it. That's how popular he was.

He returned to Yugoslavia in the early nineties, when tough immigration laws and police pursuits forced many of his colleagues to seek refuge in their homeland, where a war had just begun and gave them the possibility to get filthy rich under the auspices of the struggle for the "Serbian cause".

So Caldovic was in Zemun once again. Daily newspapers say he had a legitimate real estate business going. In the autumn of 1992, he was linked with the late Aleksandar Knezevic Knele. Knezevic allegedly seized a jeep from his brother-in-law, Miodrag Cvjetinovic, and sold it to one Darko Asanin, of whom the weekly Vreme wrote on a number of occasions. One versions says that the infuriated Caldovic intruded into Asanin's backyard and fired six bullets into the incriminated vehicle. Knezevic was later murdered in his Hyatt hotel room, and the only potential witness, Darko Stanojevic, was killed in Germany soon afterwards.

Meanwhile, Caldovic made peace with Asanin and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan although oaths and promises made by their likes are not worth speaking about. An explosive device went off near Caldovic's vehicle in 1993, but he escaped with minor injuries. His death naturally resulted in tons of rumors, some newspapers even came up with a theory that he was killed by the Russian mafia to avenge the death of a professional hitman called Aleksandar Solonin, also known as Sasa Makedonski and the "Khirgiz Rambo". The interesting thing is that no one has mentioned traditionally the most likely motive - money. Revelations about what kind of business he was into before his death could shed some light on the case and help apprehend his killers, if the investigation does come up with results.

However, the fate of Belgrade "legends" who made a name for themselves in Germany and other west European countries must not be forgotten: Ljuba Zemunac was killed by Goran Vukovic in 1986, while Vukovic himself was murdered in 1994 in Belgrade. Djordje Bozovic Giska was killed on a battlefront near the Croatian town of Gospic as commander of Serb volunteers in 1991. Rumour has it that he was killed by friendly fire. Of all the "stars" who did certain favors for the secret service, only Arkan is still alive. The fact of the matter is that Arkan found his feet back home so quickly that he was even a republican deputy for a while, and participated in the adoption of laws !?

Raznatovic hasn't made too many public appearances lately though, for he knows that times are hard and that no one is immune to "lead poisoning". The story that someone is getting rid of the "old team" in order to eliminate the witnesses to cooperation between secret police and criminals resembles the "conspiracy theory" far too much to be accepted without reservation. However, if the security service has anything to do with Caldovic's murder, expecting the investigation to give any results is a waste of time.
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