RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
The Serbian Interior Ministry has ignored an official request seeking documents to shed light on a politician's allegation that Russian diplomats attacked his teenage daughter at a Belgrade McDonald's two years ago before they were whisked away and the incident was swept under the carpet by police.
An opposition leader and Milosevic-era dissident targeted by assassins in the past, Liberal Democratic Party head Cedomir Jovanovic announced last month that he was breaking his public silence over the incident after Serbian police told him they were withdrawing protection for his family.
He has since filed a complaint accusing the Serbian chief of police of dereliction of duty and had a run-in with police after a late-night skirmish with "hooligans" blasting nationalist songs near his Belgrade home on June 2, prompting prosecutors to order criminal charges against him.
Jovanovic called the charges retaliation for his complaint against police chief Vladimir Rebic and pledged to tell the prosecutor everything he knows about hooligans. But he also told B92 that "I will ask who is responsible for the assassination attempts against me, the attacks on my daughter, [and] for planting a bomb under my car."
The outspoken Jovanovic, who has had police protection since a bomb tore through his car in 2001, said the authorities asked him to stay quiet after they were called to respond to the summertime confrontation and scuffle involving his then-14-year-old daughter.
He accuses authorities in Belgrade of trying to "bury" the incident, in which he says three men with Russian diplomatic passports assaulted his daughter's friend and a bystander, then forcibly laced her drink with the hallucinogenic drug known as ecstasy.
His accusations come with tensions high between Moscow and Western governments over years of alleged Russian military-intelligence poisonings and other attacks on targets abroad, including in Britain, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic.
Serbia's Interior Ministry and other officials have declined RFE/RL requests for comment on Jovanovic's charges about the alleged attack on his daughter, which he originally aired in an interview with news outlet Blic on May 14.
Within hours of their publication, Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Aleksandr Botsan-Harchenko called the allegations "malicious fabrications."
Jovanovic said Serbian authorities told him verbally that they had closed the case without any charges and were recently under Russian pressure to put the incident behind the two allies.
"[They told us] the case was closed because we, as parents, gave our statements a few days after the event [at the McDonald's], those people [named in the report] never responded, and, in the last few days, at the request of the Russian Embassy, the MUP (the Serbian Interior Ministry) has been doing the documentation to try to bury it all somewhere deep in the past [and] that way put an end to it all," Jovanovic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.
The 50-year-old Jovanovic has been a fixture on Serbia's shifting political landscape since organizing student protests against Slobodan Milosevic's leadership in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
He was said to have been a key figure in negotiations leading to Milosevic's peaceful surrender after masked government troops stormed the ousted president's villa in March 2001. After the surrender, Milosevic's daughter, Marija, reportedly fired a shot at Jovanovic, who years later said he declined to testify against her to avoid "making an already hard situation for her even harder."
But that early exposure has not translated into election victories.
Jovanovic has variously joined, quit, or founded multiple centrist political parties in the subsequent decades and made unsuccessful presidential bids in 2008 and 2012.
He has been a consistent Russia critic and backed a pro-Western path for Serbia that, controversially among Serbs still bitter over Western intervention during the conflicts of the 1990s, would include eventual NATO membership.
Copyright (c) 2010-2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.