The weekly magazine of The New York Times claims it has discovered Serbian President, Alexandar Vučić’s ties to the organized crime. The lengthy article written by journalist Robert F. Worth explains in detail how Veljko Belivuk, leader of the Janjicari (a notorious so-called football fan group) committed crimes. He and 29 other members of the group were arrested in 2021.
“In a closed-door court session, Veljko Belivuk said that his band ‘was organized by order of Alexandar Vučić and for the state needs’, according to court transcripts,” says the journalist in his article.
“He described some of the deeds the group supposedly had done for the government, such as intimidation of political rivals” and that he had personally met with the Serbian President. Vučić however has denied these accusations.
The journalist says he doesn’t believe that Vučić has created national Serbian criminal bands, but he undoubtedly used them to strengthen his power.
“Serbian nationalism fueled the war in Yugoslavia in the ‘90s. It has been around for a long time and the same can be said for the organized crime. I think he is an opportunistic politician, who really wants to be in power. He has been very effective in controlling almost all levers of power in Serbia, and for this he has used all opportunities,” says The New York Times journalist for the Voice of America.
John Hopkins University professor and observer of developments in the Balkans, Daniel Serwer shares the same idea.
“There is no politician, who in actual situations, can rise to power in Belgrade, without adapting to the organized crime and its Secret Services. This is clear. The question is whether Vučić is part of the problem, or part of the solution. According to his behavior, I’m convinced he’s part of the problem. He has reinstated autocracy in Serbia and has tolerated not only football bands, but also the organized crime,” analyzes Serwer for the Voice of America.
The New York Times article mentions the risk that the Serbian president might entice a war in order to create the “Serbian World”, a nationalist idea of controlling all territories where Serbs live. This also means sending the army for the annexation of the north of Kosovo.
According to The New York Times, this keeps European diplomats up at night. Professor Serwer, however, says that Europeans as well as Americans continue to offer unwavering support to the Serbian government.
“They are lying to themselves and they’re doing it for a reason. They’ve given up on liberal democracy in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, in the Balkans in general. What they’re doing is that they’re trying to use nationalists to stabilize the region. This is an idea that has ever been present in the West, but has become prominent in the Biden administration and it leans heavily towards being positive about Belgrade, no matter what happens,” says Serwer.
Going back to the article, the American journalist says that Serbs think the situation in their country in general, is even worse compared to Slobodan Milošević’s time. The journalist goes as far as saying that he may have been spied during his time in Serbia and that this is a feeling shared even by former president Boris Tadić, who in a meeting with Robert F. Worth, whispered to him that “a few friends of Belivuk are probably seated near to us”.