Back to Balkan Spy Affairs

Back in 1984, fitting perfectly the year it came out, there was a Yugoslavian movie named “Balkan Spy”. The movie came out at a time when the upcoming disintegration of that country was becoming increasingly apparent. The film mainly dealt with the authoritarian mentality that had set in among the Yugoslav population and the chaotic results it could produce as the people were spending hours trying to “find the enemy within”.

That spy movie, with all its twists and turns, enemies real and imagined, with its authoritarian backdrop, and the typical Balkan setting, still remains relevant to today’s realities in the region, ultimately gaining cult status among film lovers in the Balkans.

To realize why the Balkan Spy movie still remains relevant, one has to look at some of the recent real life spy affairs in the region  that have hit the Balkan press in the last few months.

The Croatian Spy Affair

First up was a spy affair that hit the press on the eve of last month’s election in Croatia. Of course, its timing had everything to do with the election. It involved Cedo Colovic, a dual citizen of Croatia and Serbia, who happens to be a former member of the Serbian rebel forces in Croatia during the war in that country during the Nineties. Colovic was arrested as a “double agent” who, supposedly was promised by Croatia that if he passes confidential information to Croatian intelligence service, war crime indictments against him would be suspended.

After his arrest, no clear charges were made public, Colovic’s family received no official explanation, and there were rumors that Colovic will make a plea, but no official announcements were made. Taking into consideration the timing of the Colovic affair, his lawyer Djordje Kalanj,  previously defended a suspected spy in 2001, said that this charge of espionage “has to do with politics between the two countries.”

And when everybody thought that the affair will just fade away, keeping up with good old Balkan tradition, a new twist in the case arrived in late October. A court in the coastal city of Split, upon questions from the Croatian press confirmed that Colovic has been proposed as a prosecution witness in a war crimes case against former Yugoslav People’s Army general Borislav Djukic. Of course, further future twists are guaranteed.

Then there was a Montenegrin Spy Affair

Bratislav Dikic, former commander of one of Serbian elite police units, along with 19 other Serbian citizens was arrested in Montenegrin capital Podgorica in October 2016, the same day when the parliamentary elections in that former Yugoslav republic were held. The following day, Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic expressed his doubts that the accusations against Dikic and other had any merit.

A week later, the story changed. During a press conference, Vucic stated that the Serbian authorities arrested another group of citizens, their origin at that point being undefined, connected to the alleged coup d’etat in Montenegro. Vucic added that the Serbian authorities seized a large sum of money, uniforms, and other equipments, stressing at the same time that the arrested had “nothing to do with politicians in either country, but had connections to a third country”.

The same day, Serbian police minister Stefanovic announced that an unnamed high ranking official of the Serbian police was arrested for cooperation “with a Western intelligence for a while”, for Vucic again after a meeting of the Bureau for Coordination of Security Services, adding himself that Serbia was experiencing increased activity of foreign intelligence services “both from the East and the West.”

Then came the real twist. Suddenly without any previous notice, came the visit of Nikolai Patrushev, Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation to Belgrade. Patrushev had meetings not only with his police and security counterparts, but was also received by Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic and prime minister Vucic. Russian media reported that the visit was for discussions around international terrorism, the migrant crisis, and extremism in Kosovo and Metohija.

Officially, Patrushev proposed a memorandum of understanding to the Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) that is unlikely to be legally binding with the status of an international contract, but would create the necessary formal conditions for consultations on issues of mutual interest on a regular basis.

But then media report also surfaced stating that Patrushev’s main purpose was to address Russia’s concerns regarding the deportation of several Russian citizens from Serbia on terrorism related charges in Podgorica (Montenegro). Local experts also speculated that the visit’s goal was to “consider the Montenegrin case” and also to “attempt not to allow a scandal in Serbian-Russian relations.”

Daniel Serwer, a US Balkan expert and professor at John Hopkins University, opined it seems as though “Putin has lost in Montenegro, and will try to cause more problems” due to strong support Montenegro has for its accession into NATO and the EU in the wake of the elections in that country. Almost immediately, Russian government media TASS carried the official statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry that the recent media reports about alleged deportation of Russian nationals from Serbia are “absolutely false”.

Diplomatic and espionage manueveres are continuing in the Balkans as the West and Russia eye the region with their respective strategic interests. One thing is certain, there will be no shortage of evolving stories and backdrops for the movie sequel Balkan Spy II in the coming days.

About Ljubinko Zivkovic 5 Articles
Ljubinko Zivkovic is a columnist for The GeoStrategists. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Balkan Media and Policy Monitor. Ljubinko worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of former Yugoslavia. He also worked with the UN International War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

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