This Europe: Serbia's anxious mobsters seek out shrinks

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The Independent Online

Tony Soprano is not a Serb but he would be at home with in the waiting rooms of Belgrade's growing army of therapists and psychoanalysts.

There are the depressed and psychologically scarred for whom years of war in the Balkans have proved too much. But Belgrade's hitmen and mobsters, a legacy of the era of Serbia's organised crime, are also trying to escape their demons in the psychiatrist's chair – just like Tony in The Sopranos.

Until recently, most Serbs would have been ashamed to see an analyst. Revealing you were in therapy would have been tantamount to announcing you were clinically insane.

But times have changed. Since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, more and more people are seeking professional help. Jovan Maric, of the Belgrade Institute for Psychiatry, said: "They are struggling with depression, anxieties and fears."

More than 100 private therapists have registered in Belgrade since 2000 and business is booming. "The decade of Milosevic rule meant depression for many ordinary people," said one psychiatrist. "Each passing day brought more misery and problems." But besides the depressed, willing to pay a reasonable €15 (£9) per session, another class of patients is coming to analysts' offices.

"We have Milosevic-era criminals turned businessmen who cannot cope with their burden of fears and anxieties," the psychiatrist said. "They are constantly afraid for their lives, sit at home and avoid busy places. It's their wives who send them here, as the atmosphere in the family becomes unbearable."

The fall of Mr Milosevic also thwarted the careers of these mobsters. When Serbia was a pariah, they made millions out of busting sanctions and smuggling. Some of these mafia types went straight but others have kept a low profile, fearing newly democratised Serb justice or the revenge of rivals.

Abducting the Balkans super-rich is a new line of work for the remaining Serb mafia. At least three kidnappings of rich men or their families have resulted in millions of euros paid in ransom. The perpetrators have not been caught.

The abduction a few weeks ago of Milija Babovic, 43, one of Serbia's richest businessman, has heightened the collective psychosis. The abductors did not seek a ransom – the rumour is that he died in a settling of old scores.

One therapist said: "My patients from crime-related business call me even over my mobile. We have long nightly chats about their problems. But, in the end, they always say, 'Please, tell no one that I have contacted you. That would ruin my reputation'."

Just like Tony Soprano.

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