Music for militias

Serbia's most famous singer said her life was the stuff of fairytales - the poor peasant girl who became her country’s most famous singer before the age of 30.

But why, if 10 million Serbs adored her, she asked, couldn't the rest of the world?
The answer is 29-year old Svetlana Raznatovic - "Ceca" to fans and foes alike - was married to one of the baddest men on the planet.

Arkan was a charming and baby-faced war criminal, mafia leader and psychopath whose hectic career ended after walking into a hail of bullets in a posh Belgrade hotel at the turn of the new millennium, because he was too vain to wear a bullet-proof vest.

But until recently, Mrs Arkan could do no wrong – until she got arrested that is. In March dozens of armed police in ski masks came knocking on her door.

Days earlier Serbia's Prime Minister – a Balkan Tony Blair suffering from a footballing hamstring injury- was shot by snipers as he limped to his limousine.

But if this chain of events was shocking to the Serbian public, there was more to come.

A secretly recorded video of Ceca schmoozing with two mafia henchmen blamed for the hit was broadcast on TV news and 88 illegal weapons were found stashed in her cellar.

Was it a case of a girl having to defend herself?

Belgrade can be tough: Ceca’s casino-haunting desperado husband hadn't helped - recreating the city in his own unholy image. The incident saw record sales slump overnight.

Her Turbo-folk music was toe-curlingly terrible. Ceca claimed no one could define this curious pop/folk crossover but I’ll give it a shot.

Turbo-folk was a ticket to stardom for scantily clad girls from the provinces.

But none pouted and gyrated to the traditional Turkish-type music like Ceca, whose husky vocals coated a concoction of accordion flourishes and cheesy synths.

I went to stake out the villa where she still held court after Arkan was murdered.

The trouble was that our car stalled and efforts to start it attracted the attention of a shaven-headed goon on steroids who leaped from her doorway.

He looked like a condom stuffed with walnuts.

If the goon held out a pair of crocodile clips, I guess it would be safe to say he wouldn’t be offering us a jump-start.

Luckily, our Yugo's lawnmower engine saved our skins.

As we drove off we chugged past the Red Star football stadium. In the early 90s Arkan built a tunnel which connected the cellar of their house to the pitch.

Before kick-off he would stroll into the roar of the terrace faithful - the roar he would later take with him to the battlefield.

Just days after our sharp exit, Ceca made her comeback at the same ground.

She wowed a sell-out crowd of 100,000 that contained her two young children who were wearing combat fatigues in honour of their warlord father.

A friend met Ceca afterwards, to my lasting envy. P<> She told him the concert was her life's wish.

I never did get to meet her and unless she pulls off the kind of jail breaking stunt that her dead husband was famous for, I probably never will.

That night I made do with black-market whisky in Belgrade's Hotel Splendid ("Where the stars go," says the sign outside).

Ceca's gig was going strong on the bar's flickering TV set.

The shaky camerawork switched to an awestruck teenage face in the crowd dreaming of following in her heroine’s footsteps.

Another Ceca waiting in the wings perhaps? One can only hope not.