The death of a single individual no longer constitutes a tragedy here. In today's Serbia, the death of anyone, no matter how important, is just another statistic.
A reporter dies - it is just a drastic form of censorship. A businessman is liquidated - it is just the Serbian custom of dividing the spoils. A politician is killed - it is just a payback for a broken promise to a businessman.
But what does it mean when a defense minister is killed?
Speculation over the culprits has been rife, with Albanian radicals and Montenegrin separatists suspected. The most likely perpetrator of the Bulatovic job, however, may be a private internal grouping - a secret brotherhood - combining that special Serbian mix of political, business and security interests stirred up through a decade of war and black-market profiteering.
Whatever else it may be, Pavle's murder certainly is an act of terrorism. But terrorism is only the manner in which he was killed; what remains unclear - as in the Arkan case - is the manner in which he was sentenced. No judge, no jury, no attorney and no right to appeal. Who is doing this, why is it being done and how come it is always successful?
Even in the Serbian system of social cannibalism, in the collection of our misfortunes and ludicracies strung at regular intervals like a Chetnik cartridge belt, the assassination of the minister of defense sends a clear message.
First, the state monopoly on the apparatus of physical coercion has been totally and irretrievably destroyed. Every Serb is consequently more afraid of the judgment of hidden centers of power which pass only one, uncontestable judgment. These centers of power may be hidden inside the legal system itself or, as was especially apparent in the case of Bulatovic, outside of it.
Second, all of these centers are eliminating people according to their own criteria which demonstrates a complete lack of fear, hesitation of any type and, most interestingly, the lack of any form of negotiation with the indicted. Therefore, the perception of the person who is doing the condemning is that the death of the marked person is the cheapest and surest method for achieving his own goals. The more spectacular the death, the more unlikely the spot, the more witnesses there are - the clearer the message, and those in the know are decoding it without error.
Third, it's as if the team of the liquidated Serbs, concluding with Pavle, their place inside the hierarchy of social or financial power, were telling the survivors that in a system like this there are no immortals, no untouchables, no goals set too high, no protected family names and that no one is free of paying their dues if he participated in the creation of a Serbia whose heart is in someone's wallet. Since Bulatovic's death is directly detrimental to the Slobists - the ones still calming the waves of Arkan's demise - it is clear that the group which ordered this assassination is throwing a gauntlet in the face of the regime. That group, that organization, that individual or that secret system is provoking the state to reconsider: who, in fact, rules Serbia? Whose power is greater?
The system has clearly been sent a message that this secret brotherhood strikes at whoever it wants to if it assesses that its interests are in danger, that they have been betrayed, that someone is attempting to take their place in business or simply, that someone has made a move which has struck at their honor, strategy or brought their reputation into question.
Fourth, the strategic message of this assassination - of course, under the condition that it was not ordered and carried out by Albanian or some other terrorist-spy group, shows the clear intention of those who gave the order and those who directly executed it to survive the end of this regime and create a foundation for doing business, protection of their position and contacts with some other, new Serbian government. It is not excluded that such groups, rejected by their former patrons, will offer alliance to the opposition in turbulent times of power transfer - an optimistic term for intentional chaos and directed stupidity which will bring violence to the level of everyday life - and thus to expiate their sins, secure their ownership and legitimize themselves as business people who have moved from the gray area into the official business zone.
Therefore, that is the general side of the tragedy of Bulatovic and his family. But everyone who knew him - regardless of whether they shared his political convictions - will say that he was a gentle highlander, temperate in his politics and accommodating, a man who never refused to help anyone, if he could help. His countrymen say that he liked to sit with friends, that he relaxed in cafes, that he could drink and hold his own in doing so, that he was devoted to his family and, rare among the Mountain People [Montenegrins], that he did not display great ambition in anything. They claim that he ended up at all high functions more as a result of mobilization than his own efforts.
At one point Sloba subjected him to an important test. Namely, as [Yugoslav Prime Minister] Panic's chief of the Federal Police, Pavle - they talk about this only in private circles - had a hard time with the break in of Serbian special forces into the building of the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. This was on the night when Serbia was closest to civil war. If [the President of FR Yugoslavia at the time] Cosic had ordered the Army to free the Federal Police, if shots had been fired, God only knows how the whole affair would have ended. As it was, Bulatovic, without public protest but, although a Slobist, without a sense of triumph, vacated his office and spent some time living like a novice on bread and water.
When Sloba saw the solid behavior of his jobless countryman - and since he never forgets neither good nor evil done to him - he called upon the good-humored Pavle to be the Minister of Defense in Rajo Kontic's government and to continue in this capacity with the man who shared his family name, Momir. Evil tongues say that by doing this Sloba gained the freedom, after five years of increasingly chilly relations, to draw the Army closer once again. However, the knowledgeable know why Pavle's name does not appear on any list for The Hague; everything which was critical for internal or foreign affairs, for Bosnia or for Kosovo - passed without his approval. This is why the theory of a foreign conspiracy for liquidation - whether by Albanians or NATO spies - fails the test of common sense.
What is more, Bulatovic was not in the innermost circle of Slobo's men who could be counted on and men of action, which is strange considering his official function. He did not protest because of this; when the mood was right, he spoke fondly of his professorial days in Podgorica. Conclusion: all the great storms circumvented the minister; he was somehow well-balanced even in the Kosovo crisis, and in the current conflict of Milo and Momir, as is well known, he did not show himself to be a werewolf in any form.
The media like to stress that he was the uncle of Darko Asanin; he was. However, Darko made a career for himself - in his domain - far before his uncle. Which means that when Asanin had already become rich, when he was the feared master of the Yugoslav, and of the European, "gray" zone, Pavle was a petty professor in Podgorica. He died in accordance with his view of himself: he was killed without a single bodyguard at his side, a mandatory sign of power of all prominent Serbs, while some generals who reported to him do not leave their homes without the accompaniment of jeeploads of special forces men.
Every single European state would be shaken up from top to bottom by the murder of the Minister of Defense. Here, in the middle of Serbia anesthesized by evil, the story will last all of seven days. The ten year-long production of hate toward everyone, the fact that the most vocal Serbs have shown themselves to be the greatest thieves, the collapse of the judicial system, the removal of every root of stability of the state and the nation, have produced indifference toward everything, including crime. In vain are the stories about Serbia as a beacon of the battle against the New World Order; in vain are reconstruction, reform and television advertisements. We are what we are - a great morgue in which the barely alive pick through the leftovers and bewail the recently dead. Corruption, crime, assassination, the highest number of unresolved murders in Europe, the highest rate of murders in the world, the highest reduction in longevity in the region, an open war between the entangled "gray" and official powers, barbarism as the highest form of ethnic development in which people are prepared to kill or be killed for trivial reasons - is this Serbia entering the 21st century?
Nervousness as a result of the ever shrinking bounty is destroying the usual ethic in the "gray" zone and now a hysterical reaction has started which introduces violence into every form of Serbian public life: politics, economics, the media, the judicial system, hospitals, schools, the street, elections, the cafe, the hotel. And we Serbs, like a pack of the damned and despairing, predestined for our own destruction, are waiting in line. The news is that there will be no exceptions among those in line.
And in such Serbia, someone before us or someone behind us is an executioner. The rest are ordinary victims! What a future! What an empire of lies, death and misery. What a simple message in the Serbian decade: in such Serbia, crimes are hiding behind every wealth, behind every success, behind every power! And behind the crimes, there is a judgment!