Foul Play: Serbia’s Football Hooligans Get Down to Business

Three-and-a-half years later, one of the bouncers is on trial at the Higher Court in Belgrade, charged with grievous bodily harm. Milovan Tadic admits kicking Vukic in the leg but denies delivering a serious blow to his abdomen.

The incident at Tilt was one of a string of attacks in recent years on Belgrade clubbers — some deadly, some debilitating — by bouncers acting more like hooligans than security staff hired to keep the peace.

Analysts say there is a simple explanation: nightclub security in Serbia is often in the grip of actual hooligans — gangs of diehard football fans infamous for violence both on and off the terraces.

Control the door and you control the drug-dealing that goes on inside — a lucrative side hustle, they say.

And despite new laws to keep thugs out of the security industry, hooligans are also employed as bodyguards, night watchmen and security guards — all entrusted with public safety.

Serbia has a history of tolerating hooliganism. In the Balkan wars of the 1990s, they swelled the ranks of paramilitaries, most famously the "Tigers" militia commanded by the late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, leader of a hardcore group of Red Star Belgrade supporters.

In times of peace, they have knocked heads together to shape public opinion. Having fought his wars, fan groups helped bring down Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. They are known for leading riotous protests against the arrest of war criminals, independence for Kosovo and LGBT rights.

With the rise over the past six years of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, analysts say the relationship between the state and football supporter groups has evolved into something like a working arrangement: in exchange for obedience on the streets, hooligans can pursue...

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