Taxi drivers in Belgrade, like their counterparts everywhere, know almost everything about almost everything. However, they do not know who murdered the controversial commander of the Serbian Volunteer Guard (SDG), Seljko Raznatovic Arkan; Yugoslav defense minister Pavle Bulatovic; and several other public persons and big gangsters this past spring, but they know exactly who did not.

They are convinced that the organizers (or organizer) were not foreigners: not the CIA, MIS, the U.S. State Department, Albanian terrorists, the Pentagon, NATO, or any Western intelligence or military service.

“Rubbish,” says Milorad D—, a cab driver in his early 50’s, whose face shows he did not have an easy life. He does not buy the “evidence” publicized in the Serbian media that the order to kill Arkan came from abroad. The western powers couldn’t capture him when he was on his honeymoon in Brazil three years ago. They couldn’t even scratch his empire. He played with them for years; he made a mockery of their efforts to arrest him. Even their bombs couldn’t destroy him. How could they suddenly find a way to kill him? No, it was someone from here, someone much closer to Arkan.

Every taxi driver shares Milorad’s opinion about Belgrade’s most popular subject. It is very easy to conduct a thorough survey of taxi drivers, since public transportation in the Serbian capital has not functioned properly for a very long time. (Blame it on oil sanctions.)

Most Belgraders are convinced that the killers’ nationality is the same as the victims’. Young “wise guys” who still idolize Arkan, old ladies who were obsessed with his marriage to top folk star Sveriana Ceca Velickovic, fans of his soccer club “Obilic” and fans of rival clubs Zvezda and Partizan, businessmen who were amazed at his fortune and power, police and army officers who served minister Bulatovic . . . all agree with the drivers.

“Maybe they killed Escobar, but Arkan wasn’t such an easy target,” jokes Dejan S—, a 28-year-old computer engineer from Belgrade.

It seems nothing can change public opinion. Italian businessman Giovanni De Steffano (a close friend of Arkan’s who is currently serving a sentence in an Italian jail) claimed in a letter to the Belgrade media that the British government organized Arkan’s murder because it wanted to destabilize Yugoslavia and President Slobodan Milosevic. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, in a recent press conference, accused NATO countries of killing Minister Bulatovic. But these statements are not enough to make Serbs reconsider.

Arkan was murdered in Belgrade’s elite hotel, in the early evening of January 15, in front of many eyewitnesses, from close range, with deadly precision, in a way that leaves no doubt that the crime was organized, paid for, and managed by very experienced professionals. Belgrade police arrested at least three killers and two other men suspected to be accomplices, but there is no clue as to who ordered and organized everything.

Minister Bulatovic was killed three weeks later, in a restaurant, also in the early evening, from a distance, probably from a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, in a way that also leaves no doubt that it was done by professionals. In the Bulatovic case, no one has been arrested.

The first victim was believed to be the most powerful man in Serbia’s underground; certainly he was one of the most powerful men in Serbia. (He had his own private army.) The second victim was the state’s defense minister. Both had to be familiar with any danger to them from inside the country. Could they really be so careless as to let somebody plan and organize their murders? It is possible that the assassins escaped their attention, but maybe the assassins did not have to escape their attention—not if they came from outside.

Western intelligence and military services had an interest in killing Arkan and Bulatovic. Serbs know that. But they do not want to believe that some American or British or Albanian bigshot was able to eliminate Arkan and Bulatovic. They prefer to believe that their compatriots are responsible for that: perhaps President Milosevic, an opposing mafia clan, or even the opposition parties.

The reason is simple. Serbs know that the answer to the question, “Who killed Arkan and Bulatovic?” is also the answer to the most important question in the Balkans: “Who is in charge of Serbia?” And Serbs, like any other people, do not like it when someone else is in charge.

Western diplomats did not hurry to blame President Milosevic for killing Arkan and Bulatovic, as they have blamed him for almost every other crime that happened in the Balkans in the 1990’s. Instead, Robin Cook and Madeleine Albright made announcements in which they did not mention Milosevic’s involvement at all. (Both said something like “Arkan got what he deserved.”) Why do they want the world to think Milosevic is guilty of mass killings all over the former Yugoslavia, but not responsible for crimes that happened a few miles from his residence?