Beauty and the Serbian beast

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The Independent Online
Belgrade - To Serbians, it will be a match made in heaven. To their enemies, they look like the couple from hell. Her name is Ceca, the biggest folk music star in Serbia and he is Zeljko Raznjatovic - better known as "Arkan", alleged war criminal and Serbian warrior par excellence. And on Sunday they will tie the knot in a fanfare of publicity.

Raised in a small village in southern Serbia, Ceca, the diminutive for her real name, Svetlana Velickovic, had a very ordinary upbringing. She is brash and self-confident beyond her 21 years and in the best country and western tradition has shot to fame as the leading proponent of the cacophonous modern Serbian "turbo folk" music.

Arkan, aged 42, is reputed to have carried out state-sponsored assassinations abroad during the Eighties. He is also wanted by Interpol in connection with bank robberies and murder in Europe.

In the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, he commanded the feared paramilitary Tigers, who were at the forefront of the bloodstained efforts to carve out self-styled Serbian states in the Krajina region of Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For this, he was branded a war criminal by the former US secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger.

Since then, he has had a short-lived career as a politician and has amassed a fortune through his "business" interests. He travels everywhere with a phalanx of bodyguards and in a fleet of ostentatious four-wheel drive vehicles.

In Serbian eyes, his prowess on the battlefield is matched by that in the bedroom. Arkan has already fathered seven children, and the newlyweds plan to have five children.

His bride-to-be said: "My parents are very proud because I am going to marry the bravest man in the country. He is polite, direct, a real man."

Some Serbians have elevated the pair to mythical proportions, likening them to the couple depicted in a painting of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, showing a beautiful Serbian girl tending a wounded warrior after Serbian soldiers were routed by the Turks.

Ceca is happy to oblige the fantasists. She will be dressed as the Kosovo Girl when she walks down the aisle. Arkan will be dressed as a World War One-era Serbian officer.

In Serbian folklore, the groom should arrive at the bride's house on a white horse. Arkan says he has not decided if he should come by helicopter or car.

"The story of Arkan and Ceca is truly our vision of Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding, " said an ethnologist, Ivan Colovic.

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