The Belgrade Phantom: the thief who for 10 nights mocked the Yugoslav police.3 min read
In August 1979, a stranger then nicknamed the Phantom of Belgrade drove the city police forces mad, which probably thanked heaven for the absence of President Josef Broz Tito, who went to Cuba to attend the conference of non-aligned countries.
If Vladimir Vasiljević is not a known name in the world, the story of his little personal rebellion, during the years of President Tito’s government in Yugoslavia, deserves to be told.
Before the return of the Yugoslav leader, the police force was subjected to strong pressure the capture of the Phantom, elevated to the status of a public enemy: during a strict state regime, this attraction was a major incident.
They did not succeed, but his businesses ceased anyway, for reasons of force majeure.
In that August of 1979, someone had borrowed the Porche 911 Targu owned by tennis player Ivko Plećević, who had won it at a tournament in Berlin. It was Vladimir Vasiljević, also known by the nicknames of Vasa Opel and Vasa Ključ (key). The first one due his predilection to “borrow” Opel cars, the second for his legendary ability to open and start any type of car, without using a key.
Of course, “Borrowing” is a polite way of saying that he stole them!
Vasa, during the night, loved to take a car for a ride, then took it back to the place where he had taken her, after filling up with gasoline.
The Belgrade Phantom became famous in those September days for its crazy rides at Slavija Square, in the heart of the capital. He arrived at full speed, driving like a madman on two wheels, always after 10 pm. During the ten nights (but someone says seven) in which he repeated the show, there was a crowd of spectators who wanted to attend his acrobatics, but above all to his ability to always escape from the police, which had no cars able to compete with a Porsche!
And, to be even more mocking, the Phantom called a local radio station, announcing what his path would be.
The last night the police prepared a trap: several buses had been set up to block the Phantom’s escape route, which actually crashed into one of them, exactly one minute after midnight.
Vladimir jumped out of the car and got lost in the crowd, which managed to protect his escape by identifying the Phantom with a rebel hero. Two days later, however, someone denounced him (although some say that he turned himself in), he was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Apparently he was a model prisoner, even though he once escaped from prison, to return three days later. It was just a stunt, “to prove to the cops that they hadn’t won”.
However, in the end, it seems that they had really won: in 1982, shortly after being released, Vladimir died in a car accident whose causes were never clarified. There were rumors that the police had tampered with the brakes on his car, to finally punish him for the humiliation he had inflicted on them.
Whatever happened, Vladimir Vasiljević died at age 32, becoming a legend for the city of Belgrade, because he was the protagonist of the first act of opposition in communist Yugoslavia (although in reality his aims are not known).
Many Belgrade residents did not believe that Vladimir Vasiljević was their Phantom, perhaps because the young Vlada did not respond to the hero’s characteristics, but was considered rather a small petty thief. It seems that there is still someone who, on summer nights, waits to see the Phantom appear on board a white car!