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Serbia Prepares for ‘Wedding of the Century’

February 16, 1995 GMT

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ It has been billed as Serbia’s wedding of the century. Rich, baby-faced Arkan _ Serbia’s most prominent warlord _ marries Ceca, a 21-year-old glamour queen and its most popular folk singer.

It matters not to the legion of breathless fans that much of the world regards Arkan as one of Serbia’s worst war criminals.

What matters about Sunday’s ceremony, Serbia’s answer to a Hollywood wedding, is the picture of love, beauty and riches lavishly drawn by magazine covers and photo spreads.

They provide an escape from the daily struggle here to get by, as well as a symbol of Serb nationalism.

``They are a perfect couple,″ said housewife Mirjana Trifunovic. ``Who cares what the world thinks of Arkan? They are a picture of Serbian beauty and pride.″

Papers with stories about the couple are sold out, and their interviews glue people to the TV.

The couple met when she sang for his Serbian Tigers paramilitary units. She also sang for some of his election rallies when he ran for parliament in 1993.

Sociologist Danica Spasic regards the public attitude as ``mass disorientation in a time of crisis. People are mixing good and bad because they believe in state-run propaganda, which has completely distorted reality.

``Everyone seems to have forgotten who Arkan is, or where did this money come from, at a time when the majority of Serbs have daily battles to make ends meet,″ she said.

The 42-year-old Arkan’s real name is Zeljko Raznatovic, and he has a criminal record long predating former Yugoslavia’s wars. He is wanted for armed robbery in Sweden.

The Tigers have fought in Croatia and Bosnia, spreading fear among non-Serbs and gaining a reputation for brutality. Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger identified him as a likely war criminal.

But in Serbia, Arkan is widely revered as hero, a Serb patriot and a successful businessman. Those Serbs who dare say it openly, claim he is one of Serbia’s richest men, with strong underworld and police links.

``I don’t consider myself a war criminal, but a man who did his duty,″ he told the daily Vecernje Novosti. ``I’m ready to do it again.″

Ceca (pronounced Tseh-Tsa), or Svetlana Velickovic, is a superstar who attracts tens of thousands to concerts of what is known here as ``turbo-folk.″ The unique mix of traditional Slavic tunes and rock music helps make Serb nationalism palatable for new listeners.


The cost of helping Serbs fight wars in Croatia and Serbia, economic mismanagement, and international economic sanctions have left half of Serbia’s work force unemployed and most people struggling just to survive.

But there is no sense of limit to this wedding, estimated to cost half a million dollars.

Five hundred people, including politicians, have been invited to the wedding at Belgrade’s Intercontinental hotel. The menu ranges from caviar and champagne to Serbia’s traditional plum brandy and roast lamb.

The couple will be driven to a church wedding in a white Rolls Royce accompanied by 50 jeeps from Ceca’s native village of Zitorodja, about 60 miles south of Belgrade. An honor guard of 200 of Arkan’s militia will be present.

Media reports say a race horse is among the presents Arkan will lavish on his bride. The couple are expected to honeymoon in Brazil.

Arkan already has seven children from two previous marriages.

Ceca told the weekly Ilustrovana Politika that she regards him as ``a real gentleman″ and that they mutually respect each other’s professions.

According to Serb tradition, Arkan must shoot an apple in front of Ceca’s house before she can become his wife. ``It makes me nervous,″ Arkan told the weekly Zena. ``Everyone knows I’m not used to shooting apples.″