Invariably, the lives of the most ruthless and despicable make for the most fascinating reading. No matter how evil and grandiose their exploits might have been, we readers relish the written accounts of their unsavory, yet larger than life adventures. We fear, condemn and revile them but let’s face it, we love reading about these kind of people. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed reading Christopher S. Stewart’s 2008 book Hunting the Tiger: The Fast Life and Violent Death of the Balkans’ Most Dangerous Man. Yes, it was well-written. Yes, the pace flowed nicely. Yes, I thought the book’s editor did a fine job. But in the end, it was Stewart’s chronicle of Serbian criminal mastermind turned genocidal warlord Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic that makes this book a winner.
And who, you might ask is this Arkan person? Son of a high level Serbian officer in the former Yugoslav army, the rebellious and highly intelligent Arkan began soon to be infamous life with a youthful crime spree of robbery and mayhem before fleeing Yugoslavia for the greener pastures of capitalist Europe. After a string of burglaries, bank robberies, prison breaks (and marriages) across Western Europe (as well as one bold criminal operation in which he and his accomplices sprung a fellow gang member from a courthouse as he awaited his trial) he embarked on a second career as a contract killer in the service of the Yugoslav intelligence agency. After carrying out a series of successful assassinations against Yugoslavia’s enemies, he returned to his homeland to pursue his criminal activities.
Once war came to the former Yugoslavia, Arkan’s career would take yet another twisted direction. Starting with his band of Serbian soccer hooligan and hand-picked ex-convicts, Arkan’s forces wrecked bloody mayhem across Bosnia and Croatia. When the international community slapped an economic embargo on Serbia, Arkan and his cronies got filthy rich smuggling black market goods. Then, once the war died down he married once again, this time to the beautiful and up and coming singer Ceca, referred to by many as Serbia’s Madonna. But eventually, after the political winds shifted Arkan’s past finally caught up with him. In January of 2000 he would be assassinated in a hail of gunfire in the lobby of an upscale Belgrade hotel. Just like all infamous but larger than life characters his death would cause many to mourn, many to celebrate, but all to take notice.
If you’re looking for answers to how and why the former nation of Yugoslavia descended into such bloody chaos, then this is your book. Hunting the Tiger makes great follow-up reading to other books about the Yugoslav Wars, books like Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War and Misha Glenny’s The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. I have no problem recommending this excellent book.