Željko Ražnatović (Serbian Cyrillic: Жељко Ражнатовић, pronounced [ʐêːʎko raʐnâːtoʋitɕ]; 17 April 1952 – 15 January 2000), better known as Arkan (Аркан), was a Serbian commander of a paramilitary force in the Yugoslav Wars, called the Serb Volunteer Guard. He was on Interpol's most wanted list in the 1970s and 1980s for robberies and murders committed in a number of countries across Europe, and was later indicted by the UN for crimes against humanity for his role during the wars. Ražnatović was, up until his death, the most powerful crime boss in the Balkans. He was assassinated in January 2000, before his trial could take place.

Željko Ražnatović
Жељко Ражнатовић
Željko Ražnatović.jpg
Ražnatović and his "Tigers"
Željko Ražnatović

(1952-04-17)17 April 1952
Died15 January 2000(2000-01-15) (aged 47)
Cause of deathBallistic trauma
Other namesArkan
Political partyParty of Serbian Unity
Spouse(s)Natalija Martinović (div. 1994)
m. 1995)
Criminal charge
Wanted by
Interpol, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Early lifeEdit

Željko Ražnatović was born in Brežice, a small border town in Lower Styria, PR Slovenia, FPR Yugoslavia. His father Veljko, a descendant of the Ražnatović brotherhood, was born in Rijeka Crnojevića near Cetinje and had taken part in the Partisan liberation of Priština (Kosovo) during World War II.[1] Later on, Veljko served as a decorated officer in the SFR Yugoslav Air Force, earning high rank for his notable World War II involvement. The officer was stationed in Slovenian Styria at the time when his fourth child Željko was born.[2]

Infant Željko spent part of his childhood in Zagreb (SR Croatia) and Pančevo (SR Serbia), before his father's job eventually took the family to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade (SR Serbia), which Ražnatović considered his hometown.

Ražnatović grew up in Belgrade[3] with three older sisters in a strict, militaristic household with regular beatings administered by his father. In a 1991 interview he recalled: "He didn't really hit me in a classical sense, he'd basically grab me and slam me against the floor."[4]

In his youth, Ražnatović aspired to become a pilot, as his father had been. Due to the highly demanding and significant positions of his parents, there appeared to be very little time in which a bond was able to be established between parents and children. His parents eventually divorced during his teenage years.[3]

Teenage Ražnatović was arrested for the first time in 1966 for snatching women's purses around Tašmajdan Park,[5] spending a year at a juvenile detention center not far from Belgrade. His father then sent him to the seaside town of Kotor (SR Montenegro) in order to join the Yugoslav Navy, but Ražnatović had other plans, ending up in Paris at the age of fifteen. In 1969 he was arrested by French police and shipped home, where he was sentenced to three years at the detention center in Valjevo for several burglaries. During this time he organized his own gang in the prison.[3]

In his youth, Ražnatović was a ward of his father's friend,[6][page needed] the Slovenian politician and Federal Minister of the Interior, Stane Dolanc.[7] Dolanc was chief of the secret police and a close associate of the Yugoslav president, Tito.

Whenever Ražnatović was in trouble, Dolanc helped him, allegedly as a reward for his services to the Yugoslav secret state police (UDBA), as seen in the escape from the Lugano prison in 1981. Dolanc is quoted as having said: "One Arkan is worth more than the whole UDBA."[7]

Criminal careerEdit

Western EuropeEdit

In 1972, aged 20, he migrated to Western Europe.[5] Abroad, he was introduced to and kept contact with many well-known criminals from Yugoslavia such as Ljuba Zemunac, Ranko Rubežić, Đorđe "Giška" Božović, Goran Vuković, et al., all of whom were also occasionally contracted by the Yugoslav secret service, and all of whom were since assassinated or otherwise killed. He took the nickname "Arkan" from one of his forged passports. On 28 December 1973, he was arrested in Belgium following a bank robbery, and was sentenced to ten years in prison.[5]

He managed to escape from the Verviers prison on 4 July 1979.[5] Although Ražnatović was apprehended in the Netherlands on 24 October 1979, the few months he was free were enough for at least two more armed robberies in Sweden and three more in the Netherlands. Serving a seven-year sentence at a prison in Amsterdam, he pulled off another escape on 8 May 1981 after someone slipped him a gun. Wasting no time, more robberies followed, this time in West Germany, where after less than a month of freedom he was arrested in Frankfurt on 5 June 1981 following a jewellery store stickup. In the ensuing shootout with police he was lightly wounded, resulting in his placement in the prison hospital ward, where looser security allowed him to escape again only four days later, on 9 June, supposedly by jumping from the window, beating up the first passerby and stealing his clothing before disappearing.[5]

His final European arrest occurred in Basel, Switzerland during a routine traffic check on 15 February 1983. However he managed to escape again within months, this time from Thorberg prison on 27 April. It is widely speculated that Ražnatović was closely affiliated with the Yugoslav security service UDBA throughout his criminal career abroad.[5]

He had convictions or warrants in Belgium (bank robberies, prison escape), the Netherlands (armed robberies, prison escape), Sweden (20 burglaries, 7 bank robberies, prison escape, attempted murder[8]), West Germany (armed robberies, prison escape), Austria, Switzerland (armed robberies, prison escape), and Italy.

Return to YugoslaviaEdit

Thirty-one-year-old Ražnatović returned to Belgrade in May 1983, continuing his criminal career by opening a number of illegal businesses.

In November 1983, six months after his return, a bank in Zagreb was robbed with the robbers leaving a rose on the counter – allegedly Ražnatović's signature from his Western European robberies.[5] Looking to question Ražnatović about his whereabouts during the robbery, two policemen, members of the Secretariat of Internal Affairs' (SUP) Tenth department from the Belgrade municipality of Palilula, showed up in civilian clothing at his mother's apartment on 27 March Street in Belgrade.[5] Ražnatović happened not to be home at the moment, so the policemen introduced themselves to his mother as "friends of her son looking to return a cash debt they owed him" and asked the women if they can stick around in the apartment to wait for him to return. His mother phoned him to say that two unknown males waited for him, which was enough for him to clue in that something's amiss.[5] He showed up with a revolver and proceeded to shoot and wound both policemen – shooting the first one on the spot and the other in front of the apartment building as he tried to flee the scene. Ražnatović was detained immediately; however, barely 48 hours later, he was released. The occurrence made it clear to all observers, especially his criminal rivals, that he enjoyed protection from the highest echelons of the political leadership in SFR Yugoslavia.

He spent the mid-1980s running a disco club, "Amadeus", together with Žika Živac and Tapi Malešević. Located in the Tašmajdan neighbourhood, the club was reportedly another perk of their contractual work for the security service.[5]

Furthermore, Ražnatović could be seen riding around Belgrade in his pink Cadillac and gambling on roulette in casinos all over the country, from Belgrade and nearby Pančevo to Sveti Stefan and Portorož.[5] Following a game of poker in a private apartment at Ive Lole Ribara Street in Belgrade, an elevator altercation started with a tenant from the apartment building. Ražnatović reportedly broke the man's arm after beating him with a gun. He could not avoid being charged this time and the trial saw an interesting exchange between him and the judge – during the pre-session identification, Ražnatović stated he was employed by the Secretariat of Internal Affairs. When this was challenged by the prosecutor, Ražnatović produced a document summarizing a mortgage loan he obtained from the Federal State Security for his house at Ljutice Bogdana Street. He ended up receiving a six-month sentence, which he served at the Belgrade Central Prison.[5]

Yugoslav WarsEdit


Only days after the Croatian elections in 1990, Ražnatović, who was the leader of the Delije (football club Red Star Belgrade's Ultras), was present at the away game against Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb at Stadion Maksimir on 13 May 1990, a match that ended in the infamous Dinamo–Red Star riot.[9] Ražnatović and the Delije, consisting of 1,500 people, were involved in a huge fight with the home team's football hooligans.[10]

On 11 October 1990, as the political situation in Yugoslavia became tense (see Log Revolution), Ražnatović created a paramilitary group named the Serb Volunteer Guard. Ražnatović was the supreme commander of the unit, which was primarily made up of members of the Delije and his friends.[11][12][13]

In late October 1990, Ražnatović traveled to Knin (in Croatia) to meet representatives of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a Serb break-away region that sought to remain in FR Yugoslavia, as opposed to the Croatian government that seceded. On 29 November 1990, Croatian police arrested him at the Croatian-Bosnian border crossing Dvor na Uni, along with local Dušan Carić, and Belgraders Dušan Bandić and Zoran Stevanović. His entourage was sent to Sisak, and was charged with conspiracy to overthrow the newly formed Croatian state. Ražnatović was sentenced to 20 months in jail. He was released from Zagreb's Remetinec prison on 14 June 1991. It has been claimed that the Croatian and Serbian governments agreed on a 1,000,000 Deutsche Mark settlement for his release.[14]

In July 1991, Ražnatović stayed for some time at the Cetinje monastery, with Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović. His group of men, fully armed, were allowed to enter the monastery, where they served as security.[15][16] His group traveled from Cetinje to the Siege of Dubrovnik. On his return from Dubrovnik, he was again a guest at Cetinje.[15]


The Serb Volunteer Guard, commonly known as "Arkan's Tigers", was organized as a paramilitary force supporting the Serb armies, set up in a former military facility in Erdut. The force, led by Ražnatović and Legija, consisted of a core of 200 men and perhaps totaled no more than 500 to 1,000, but was much feared.[17] Serb Volunteer Guard which was organized as gang of criminals and armed by Belgrade, under Arkan command massacred hundreds of people in eastern Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[18] It saw action from mid-1991 until late 1995, and was supplied and equipped privately, by the reserves of the Serbian police force, and through capturing enemy arms.

When war in Croatia broke out, the unit was active in the Vukovar region. After the Bosnian War broke out in April 1992 the unit moved between the Croatian and Bosnian fronts, engaging in multiple instances of ethnic cleansing by killing and forcefully deporting mostly Bosniak civilians. In Croatia, it fought in various areas in SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (Serbian Krajina). Ražnatović reportedly had a dispute over military operations with Krajina leader Milan Martić.[19] In Bosnia, the unit notably fought in battles in and around Zvornik, Bijeljina and Brčko, mostly against Bosniak and Bosnian Croat paramilitary groups.

In late 1995 his troops fought in the area of Banja Luka, Sanski Most and Prijedor. In October 1995 he left Sanski Most, as the Bosnian Army reclaimed the city.[20]

Ražnatović personally led most of the operations, and rewarded his most efficient officers and soldiers with ranks, medals and eventually products of lootings. Several younger soldiers were rewarded for their actions in and around Kopački Rit and Bijelo Brdo. Ražnatović reportedly sent one of his most trusted men, Radovan Stanišić, to Italy to start a relationship with Camorra boss Francesco Schiavone. According to Roberto Saviano, Schiavone eased arms smuggling to Serbia by stopping the Albanian mobsters' blocking of weapons routes, and helped money transfer into Serbia in the form of humanitarian aid amid the international sanctions. In exchange the Camorra acquired companies, enterprises, shops and farms in Serbia at optimal prices.[21]

Post-war fameEdit

Ražnatović came to serve as a popular icon for both Serbs and their enemies. For some Serbs he was a patriot and folk hero, while serving as a target of hatred and fear to their enemies.

Arkan became an untouchable criminal figure in Belgrade and all of the former Yugoslavia. He was really so powerful, so strong financially that no one could do anything about him.... In 1993, I learned that Željko Ražnatović, Arkan, had in Belgrade kidnapped and taken to Erdut and there killed Isa Lero... also a man from the criminal underground who had come into conflict with Arkan. I even found a witness to the murder. I publicly accused Arkan. I submitted a report to the police. The police inspectors came to see me. We talked about it. I gave them all the information I had, but then the police inspector told me that they were aware of it but that they were unable to prove it because of the fear among the potential witnesses. So the police were quite well-informed about his criminal activities, but it was very hard to prove anything or to bring charges because his support network was so widespread, and this can be shown through various newspaper articles and so on. In one television statement, I told him when we were debating on TV, that he had pulled a sock over his head more often than I had pulled one on my feet.[citation needed]

In the postwar period after the Dayton agreement was signed, Ražnatović returned to his interests in sport and private business. The Serb Volunteer Guard was officially disbanded in April 1996, with the threat of being reactivated in case of war. In June of that year he took over a second division soccer team, FK Obilić, which he soon turned into a top caliber club, even winning the 1997/98 Yugoslav league championship. According to a book by Franklin Foer, How Football Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Ražnatović threatened players on opposing teams if they scored against Obilić.[citation needed]

This threat was underlined by the thousands of veterans from his army that filled their home field, chanting threats, and on occasion pointing pistols at opposition players during matches. One player told the British football magazine FourFourTwo that he was locked in a garage when his team played Obilić. Europe's football governing body, UEFA, considered prohibiting Obilić from participation in continental competitions because of its connections to Ražnatović. In response to this, Ražnatović stepped away from the position of president and gave his seat to his wife Ceca. In a 2006 interview, Dragoslav Šekularac (who was coach of Obilić while Ražnatović was with the club) said claims that Ražnatović verbally and physically assaulted Obilić players were false.[22] Ražnatović was a chairman of the Yugoslav Kickboxing Association.

Kosovo War and NATO bombingEdit

According to chief judge Richard May from the United Kingdom, the ICTY issued an indictment against Ražnatović on 30 September 1997 for war crimes of genocide against the Muslim population, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.[23] The warrant was not made public until 31 March 1999, a week after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia had begun, as intervention in the Kosovo War (1998–99). Ražnatović's indictment was made public by the UN court's chief prosecutor Louise Arbour.[citation needed]

In the week before the start of NATO bombing – as the Rambouillet talks collapsed – Ražnatović appeared at the Hyatt hotel in Belgrade, where most Western journalists were staying, and ordered all of them to leave Serbia.[24]

During the NATO bombing, Ražnatović denied the war crime charges against him in interviews he gave to foreign reporters. Ražnatović accused NATO of bombing civilians and creating refugees of all ethnicities, and stated that he would deploy his troops only in the case of a direct NATO ground invasion. After the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three journalists and led to a diplomatic row between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, the British Observer and Danish Politiken newspapers claimed the building might have been targeted because the office of the Chinese military attaché was being used by Ražnatović to communicate and transmit messages to his paramilitary group, the Tigers, in Kosovo. As neither paper offered any proof for this claim it was largely ignored by the media.[25]

Ražnatović showed a small rubber part of the downed F-117A, which he had as "a souvenir", to Western journalists during the NATO bombing.[26]

ICTY indictmentEdit

In March 1999, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that Ražnatović had been indicted by the Tribunal, although the indictment was only made public after his assassination. According to the indictment Ražnatović was to have been prosecuted on 24 charges of crimes against humanity (Art. 5 ICTY Statute), grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (Art. 2 ICTY Statute) and violations of the laws of war (Art. 3 ICTY Statute), for the following acts:[27]

  • Forcibly detaining approximately thirty Muslim Bosniak men, in an inadequately ventilated room of approximately five square metres in size.
  • Transporting twelve non-Serb men from Sanski Most to an isolated location in the village of Trnova and shooting them, killing eleven of the men and critically wounding the twelfth.
  • Transporting approximately sixty-seven Bosniak Muslim men from Sanski Most, Sehovci, and Pobrijeze to an isolated location in the village of Sasina, and shooting them, killing sixty-five of the captives and wounding two survivors.
  • Forcibly detaining approximately thirty-five Muslim Bosnian men in an inadequately ventilated room of about five square metres in size, withholding from them food and water, resulting in the deaths of two men.[citation needed]


Hotel Intercontinental

Ražnatović was assassinated, on Saturday, 15 January 2000, 17:05 GMT, in the lobby of Belgrade's elite Crowne Plaza Hotel (at that time InterContinental), a location where he was surrounded by other hotel guests. The killer, Dobrosav Gavrić, a 23-year-old junior police mobile brigade member, had ties to the underworld and was on sick leave at the time. He walked up alone toward his target from behind. Ražnatović was sitting and chatting with two friends and, according to BBC Radio, was filling out a betting slip. Gavrić waited for a few minutes, calmly walked up behind the party, and rapidly fired a succession of bullets from his CZ-99 pistol. Ražnatović was shot in his left eye and lapsed into a coma on the spot.[28][29] His bodyguard Zvonko Mateović put him into a car, and rushed him to a hospital, but he died on the way.[30]

According to his widow, Svetlana, Ražnatović died in her arms as they were driving to the hospital. His companions Milenko Mandić, a business manager, and Dragan Garić, a police inspector, were also shot to death by Gavrić, who in turn was shot and wounded by Mateović. A female bystander was seriously wounded in the shootout as well. After complicated surgery, Gavrić survived, but was disabled and confined to a wheelchair as the result of a spinal wound.[citation needed]

Ražnatović's grave

A memorial ceremony in Ražnatović's honour was held on 19 January 2000 with writer Branislav Crnčević, Yugoslav Left (JUL) official Aleksandar Vulin, singers Oliver Mandić, Toni Montano, and Zoran Kalezić, along with the entire first team of FK Obilić with club director Dragoslav Šekularac in attendance.[31]

Željko Ražnatović was buried at the Belgrade New Cemetery with military honours by his volunteers and with funeral rites on 20 January 2000. Around 10,000 people attended the funeral.[citation needed]


Dobrosav Gavrić pleaded innocent but was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison. His accomplices received from 3 to 15 years each, after a year-long trial in 2002. However the district court verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court because of "lack of evidence and vagueness of the first trial process". A new trial was conducted in 2006, ending on 9 October 2006 with guilty verdicts upheld for Gavrić as well as his accomplices, Milan Đuričić and Dragan Nikolić. Each man was sentenced to 30 years in prison.[32]


NPR reported that Ražnatović simply knew too much when war crimes trials were becoming a reality for the Milošević regime.[30]

Personal lifeEdit

Željko Ražnatović fathered nine children by five different women.[33]

His eldest son Mihajlo was born in Gothenburg, in 1975, from a relationship with a Swedish woman. In 1992, 17-year-old Mihajlo decided to move to Serbia to live with his father. During this time the teenager was photographed wearing the uniform of his father's paramilitary unit during the Yugoslav Wars and according to a Swedish tabloid report the youngster participated in combat operations in Srebrenica.[34] Mihajlo has since lived in Belgrade where he played for the Red Star Belgrade ice-hockey club off and on between 2000 and 2009, also representing Serbia-Montenegro on the national team level between 2002 and 2004.[35] During this time he also ran a sushi restaurant in Belgrade called Iki Bar and dated Macedonian pop singer Karolina Gočeva.[36] He left Serbia after that.

In 2013 he was in the news in Serbia again following the conclusion of a court case that had dragged on since 2005 over Ražnatović's failure to meet the repayment terms on a RSD1.1 million car loan he took out in 2002 from Komercijalna Banka. After continually failing to meet his monthly payments, the bank wanted the loan paid off in full in August 2005, and two years later took him to court. In June 2010 he was ordered to pay RSD3.3 million based upon the interest on the original loan.[37] In the end, the verdict stated he owed the bank RSD2.9 million.[38]

Ražnatović also fathered two other children out of wedlock.[citation needed]

Ražnatović's first wife was Natalija Martinović, a Spanish language professor, with whom he had four children. Their divorce became official in December 1994. All four children decided to carry their mother's surname.[citation needed]

Ražnatović's best known wife Ceca, famous Serbian turbo-folk singer

Since 1993, Ražnatović had been involved with folk singer "Ceca", 21 years his junior. Their lavish wedding ceremony on 19 February 1995 occurred as a day-long media production carried live on TV Pink with different locations and changes of clothing (at different points of the ceremony Ražnatović alternated between World War I Serb military uniform and traditional Montenegrin attire). Ceca bore him two more children.[citation needed]

In June 1994, sometime after her separation from Ražnatović, Natalija Martinović and their four children left Yugoslavia and moved to Athens, Greece, where Ražnatović bought them an apartment in the suburb of Glyfada. After Ražnatović's death, Martinović disputed his will,[39][40] claiming that Ceca, his second wife, doctored it. In May 2000, she sued Ceca over Ražnatović's assets, including the villa at Ljutice Bogdana Street in which he and Ceca lived (and where Ceca continues to reside), claiming it was built with funds from a bank loan Martinović and Ražnatović took out in 1985.[41] The court eventually ruled against Martinović.[42] The court agreed with her assertions that the villa was built with money from a 1985 bank loan taken out by her and Ražnatović, but ruled she had forfeited any rights in future division of that asset when she signed the property over to Ražnatović in 1994 before moving to Greece.[citation needed]

In 2012, Ražnatović's son by his first wife, Vojin Martinović, again accused Ceca of falsifying Ražnatović's will.[43] In response, Ražnatović's former associate Borislav Pelević said that the villa at Ljutice Bogdana Street was not mentioned in Ražnatović's will as he had already signed it over to his second wife.[44]

In popular cultureEdit

  • History Channel's 2003 documentary Targeted includes a part on Ražnatović, Baby Face Psycho.[45]
  • In the 2008 Serbian film The Tour, a group of Serbian actors go on a tour in war-torn Bosnia. Among other factions, they meet an unnamed paramilitary unit wearing insignia similar to those of the Serb Volunteer Guard. Unit's commander (played by Sergej Trifunović) is obviously based on Ražnatović.[citation needed]
  • In the 2014 Serbian docu-drama series Dosije: Beogradski klanovi, one of the episodes tells the story of Ražnatović.[citation needed]
  • Jormugand character Dragan Nikolaevich is based on Ražnatović.[citation needed]


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  • Stewart, Christopher S. (8 January 2008). Hunting the Tiger: The Fast Life and Violent Death of the Balkans' Most Dangerous Man. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0-312-35606-4.
  • Vojin Ražnatović (4 July 2014). Stories About My Father: An Intimate Portrayal Of Europe's Most Controversial Paramilitary Commander. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1494311209.
  • Marko Lopušina (2001). Komandant Arkan (in Serbian). Čačak: Legenda. OCLC 48273593.
  • Živorad Lazić. Arkane, Srbine! (in Serbian). Belgrade: Grafiprof.
  • Vladan Dinić. Arkan, ni živ ni mrtav (in Serbian). Belgrade.


  • Interview with Jim Laurie, 23 December 1991. Video on YouTube
  • Interview with local Bosnian Serb TV after takeover of Bijeljina, 1992. Video on YouTube (in Serbian)
  • Interview with RTV BK, 20 July 1997. Video on YouTube (in Serbian)
  • Interview with BBC, 1999. Video on YouTube (in German and Serbian)
  • Interview with ABC, 6 April 1999.
  • Interview with British reporter John Simpson, March 1999. Video on YouTube
  • Interview during NATO bombings, 1999. FP7EGGVX2aM on YouTube (in Serbian)
  • Interview with B92, April 1999. Video on YouTube (in Serbian)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit