The Jadran Restaurant was the object of a bombing that killed its would-be perpetrator (insert). A Mafia war is feared.
photo: Plus 7 Dní/Slovak Police Corps
The violent gang first hit three bars in the Jadran shopping mall in the Ružinov district of the capital: the Daymond, Maxim Bar and Biliard Club - Lev. Ordering patrons to lie down and turn their heads, they began smashing furniture and bar equipment. Besides causing damage of 900,000 Slovak crowns ($20,000), they wounded six people, one of them the brother of the owner. The attackers also stole two guns they found in the Jadran complex, which they used in their next attack, this time on Café Regina in the heavily-frequented Old Town district.
Regina suffered much the same fate as the first three sites, with the men smashing bottles and furniture, but the savagery of the physical violence used was of a different order. Two men, again of Albanian origin, were dragged out of the bar, beaten and kicked, and then shot.
After arriving on the scene, police sent the injured men to hospital, but both victims refused to file charges against their attackers; other restaurant patrons also refused to identify the assailants. Since the incident had been captured on a security camera mounted nearby, police were able to identify three of the 20-strong shaven-headed group, and charged them with riotous behaviour and damaging property. But in the absence of charges filed by the hospitalised Albanians, police are not permitted under Slovak law to lay more serious charges.
Police explained after the incident that the attacks appeared to have been part of a power struggle between two underworld groups, one Slovak and one Albanian. This explanation was also given by the owners of the damaged bars.
"My family isn't going to forget this, there are 27 of us guys, and we're going to protect ourselves," said the owner of one of the Jadran bars, whose brother was hospitalised after being beaten. His reaction, reported in the daily Pravda newspaper, was also carried on the private Markíza television station.
The furious reactions of the Albanian bar owners, and press reports quoting 'unnamed sources' who alleged that Albanian Mafia members from surrounding countries were coming to Slovakia to the aid of their countrymen, had caused a mild form of public hysteria in the days following the incident, said police. Nevertheless, they were taking the matter seriously.
"We have information that they [members of the Albanian community] will want to take revenge for the destruction of bars whose owners were Albanian. We're not seeing any mass migration of suspicious Albanians, but we do have signals that they are gradually assembling," said Jaroslav Sahúl, spokesman of the Police Presidium, a senior law enforcement body.
The theory was supported by Jozef Majchrák, an organised crime specialist at the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank in Bratislava. "The Albanian Mafia is very tight, they cooperate on an ethnic principle, which is why it's entirely possible that Albanians from the Czech Republic and Hungary are coming to Slovakia," he said.
On March 8, a week after the bar attack, the first apparent response came when a citizen of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia - Hercegovina, Marek K., attempted to plant an army issue grenade outside the Slovak-owned Jadran Restaurant in the same complex that houses the damaged Albanian bars. The attempt backfired when the grenade exploded and killed the would-be bomber, damaging Jadran only slightly.
However, following the botched bombing, the Slovak and Albanian victims involved in the incidents distanced themselves from the hot words of the weeks before.
A 35 year-old Albanian, part-owner of one of the Jadran pubs, told The Slovak Spectator March 13 that he felt the attacks had been racially motivated, rather than part of an underworld struggle. "I don't know if this was some kind of tit-for-tat between Slovak and Albanian Mafia, but it looks to me as if it was generally an attack on foreigners," said the bar owner, who has lived in Slovakia 18 years. "There is an unbelievable amount of racism in Slovakia, I've been all over, but I've never seen such racists like they have here."
The Albanian, who asked not to be named, added that he would not seek revenge, and would leave the whole matter in the hands of the police. "I'm not interested in hitting back, I haven't called anyone from the Czech Republic or from Hungary, even though I can't rule out that some kind of response may come. I can't answer even for my brother, certainly not for anyone else. I'm leaving it to the police, but I don't know what anyone else is doing."
Jozef Surovčík, the Slovak owner of the Jadran Restaurant, also expressed doubts that a Mafia war had been behind the recent bombing. "I'm a businessman, not a Mafia member. I do business in the food industry, I have a stable clientele, and I employ 2,000 people," he said for the daily paper Sme.
The 35 year-old Albanian added that the grenade attack was unlikely to have had anything to do with the original bar-bashings. "It doesn't make any sense. The [dead] guy was a Serb, and we hate Serbs. If people just thought for a second, they would never be able to draw a connection with me or any other Albanians."
The police refuse to comment further on the motives for the attacks while carrying out their investigation.
However, the IVO's Majchrák said he believed the incident was Mafia-related, and that it was the product of a turf war between two relatively well-established groups.
Citing the latest police statistics, Majchrák said that the Albanian Mafia controlled 90% of the drugs trade in Slovakia, and that it was in a phase of "stabilising" its position in the underworld. The Slovak Mafia, on the other hand, was more established, and according to Majchrák was already trying to "legalise" its activities by laundering money through legitimate businesses. For that reason, he said, it was possible that the Slovak Mafia was trying to put down the 'upstart' Albanian competition.
Whatever the exact meaning of the recent events, Ján K., a bartender working in the Old Town, says he's had enough of both underworld violence and the inability of the police to contain it. "The best thing would be for these vagabonds to eliminate each other. If the police can't handle them, let them go at it and take care of the problem themselves," he said.
Majchrák, for his part, said this was a dangerous attitude, although a widely held one among Slovaks. "The settling of Mafia accounts is always dangerous for society. War between them never leads to their mutual destruction, but to one group emerging far stronger at the expense of the other."