Žarko Laušević

Žarko Laušević (Serbian Cyrillic: Жарко Лаушевић, Serbian pronunciation: [ʒǎːrkɔ lâuʃɛʋitɕ][1]) (born 19 January 1960 in Cetinje, Montenegro, Yugoslavia) is a Serbian actor. Considered to be one of the most talented actors of his generation, he became a leading actor early in his career. By the age of 33, he was a major star across the former Yugoslavia on both stage and screen, displaying a wide range of dramatic skills.

In July 1993, Laušević entered into a quarrel with a group of local youths, together with his brother. This escalated into a fist fight, culminating in Laušević firing multiple rounds from his handgun, killing two of the youths and seriously wounding one. Sentenced by a Montenegrin (republic) court to prison initially, his conviction was overturned by the Yugoslav (appellate) court on the grounds that the first-instance court had improperly dismissed Laušević's self-defense argument, and the punishment was drastically reduced. Laušević served 4 years and 7 months in prison before his release. But he faced further legal battles. There were appeals by the Montenegrin prosecution, numerous retrials and inconsistent, ad hoc rulings by the Montenegrin court system. In 2001, the prison sentence was reinstated to 13 years by the Montenegrin courts.

In the late 1990s, Laušević left Yugoslavia for the United States. It is speculated that the move was made due to possible revenge by families of the deceased. He has been living in the United States since and is currently fighting deportation proceedings.

Žarko Laušević Biography

Žarko Laušević was born on January 19, 1960, in Cetinje, Montenegro (one of the republics, a federal unit, that comprised the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at that time). He fell in love with theater and acting in his early teens, and got his first TV role at the age of eighteen. In 1982, immediately upon graduating from the University of Belgrade’s Academy of Theatrical Arts, he was cast in his first lead film role. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he received mostly lead roles in 25 movies, 17 TV shows and numerous theatrical productions all across Yugoslavia. During this period, he became one of Yugoslavia's most popular movie and theatrical actors. Although young, handsome and very charismatic, it was his dramatic skills and range as an actor that propelled him to fame across the former Yugoslavia.

Controversy and Tragedy

In May 1990, Laušević accepted the lead role in a politically controversial theater production. The opening night performance at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in Belgrade was violently disrupted by nationalist extremists. Subsequently, Laušević started to receive numerous and repeated threats of bodily harm and even death. His car was vandalized around this time. In these violent and turbulent political times where murder or persecution of opponents of Slobodan Milošević often went unchecked by the authorities, these threats could not be taken lightly. Laušević became increasingly concerned for his own personal safety and that of his family. Upon recommendation of the police, he applied for and was granted a license to carry a gun.

In the early 1990s, Laušević's visible opposition to the civil wars in Yugoslavia made him a target of ongoing media attacks in the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. He was often harassed when he went to public places.

It was in this charged atmosphere that a tragic event occurred on a hot summer's night in Podgorica (Montenegro). On the evening of July 30, 1993, 33-year-old Laušević appeared at the premiere performance of a theatre production in the coastal town of Budva. Returning to Podgorica, Laušević and his brother, Branimir, stopped at a walk-in fast food kiosk called 'Apple' around midnight. The argument broke out between them and the group of locals hooligans, which escalated into a fist fight. Laušević fired 13 rounds from the CZ-99 gun, which he was licensed for, killing 20-year-old Dragor Pejović and 21-year-old Radovan Vučinić and also wounding Andrija Kazić. Quoting from the closing statement by the judge in his last trial: “Žarko Laušević was beaten on the ground and had the right to defend himself. In this difficult situation, he managed to pull the gun out of his bag and shoot several bullets at the attackers.” Two of the assailants were gravely wounded and eventually died; a third was wounded and fled the scene together with three others.

Legal Battles

What followed was a 16-year legal ordeal. There were four trials, three different courts considered his case nine times, rendering nine decisions.

Initially, Laušević was convicted of double murder and sentenced to a 15-year prison term (his brother was sentenced to 2 years in prison). This sentence was later reduced on appeal to 13 years. Subsequently, the Yugoslav Federal Court threw out the 1996 conviction. Yugoslavia's highest court determined that the Montenegrin courts incorrectly rejected Laušević's self-defense argument. The 13-year sentence at the retrial was also thrown out on appeal. At the third trial in February 1998, Laušević received a 4-year sentence. He was immediately set free since his time served in prison (4 years and 7 months) exceeded the sentence. Following another appeal, Montenegro's highest court ordered another retrial. At the fourth trial in October 1999, the 4-year sentence was reconfirmed and Laušević remained free.

Seeking refuge from the blood-feud threats repeatedly made against him since the first trial, Laušević left Yugoslavia altogether and joined his wife and daughter in the United States.

In March 2001, while reaffirming the lower court’s factual assessment of the case, Montenegro's Supreme Court made an ad hoc change to the verdict by reinstating the 13-year prison sentence. At that time, the Yugoslav federation was disintegrating and Montenegro was boycotting jurisdiction of federal institutions. Montenegro's court system blocked Laušević from exercising his legal and constitutional right of appeal to the Yugoslav Supreme court.

Since 2001, Laušević has been engaged in an unending struggle for reinstatement of his legal and constitutional right of appeal. There was no longer a Yugoslav court system in which to file an appeal. Montenegro declared independence and now has a separate court system. The Serbian court system has no jurisdiction with respect to Montenegrin matters.

Lausevic's Disappearance and Reappearance

After his release from prison, Laušević did not act for years. He appeared in just two more films but his acting career was effectively finished. He did not appear in another film in Yugoslavia after 1999. Although no public threats were made by the deceased's family, Laušević fled Yugoslavia for the United States. With his departure, he disappeared from the press for the most part, except for sporadic articles which recalled his case and the tragic fall of the popular, young actor. Virtually nothing was known about his life or circumstances in the United States. Laušević did not pursue acting after leaving Yugoslavia and it is rumored that he took manual labor jobs in the U.S.

Eerily, life seems to have imitated art for Laušević. In 1993, prior to his legal troubles, he had taken a role in the film "Bolje od bekstva" (translation: Better than Escape) in which his character is involved in a murder and subsequently flees to the United States.

In July 2009, Serbian press reported that Laušević was detained in the United States due to lack of proper immigrant documentation/status and was facing deportation hearings. Based on these limited news reports, it is assumed that when he entered the United States, he never obtained proper visas or documentation to stay and work. Immediately, his old case and the circumstances were discussed once again in the Serbian and Montenegrin media. There was speculation whether he would be deported from the United States to Serbia or to Montenegro.

In Montenegro, Lausevic would be subject to the outstanding decision of the Montenegro Supreme Court which reinstated the 13-year prison sentence; this would mean he would face more prison time if returned to Montenegro. Technically, he probably has Montenegrin citizenship—he was outside the country when the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was dissolved, and he was unable to transfer his citizenship to Serbia at the time. However, it is not known for sure what citizenship Laušević has. According to Serbian press reports, his local lawyer raised the issue of Serbian citizenship. If Laušević has Serbian citizenship, he would be deported to Serbia and by-pass the Montenegrin court system. If returned to Serbia, it would be unlikely that Serbia could extradite a "Serbian citizen" to Montenegro, as proscribed by Serbian law. In this situation, the Serbian court system might presumably have jurisdiction to review any outstanding issues related to Laušević and rule on the matter. The Serbian government has provided no indication if it would get involved in this matter.

Laušević has been married twice. His first marriage, which produced a son and a daughter, dissolved after his release from prison.He later married a second time to a woman who worked in film and theatre as well. Laušević has been living with his wife, his wife's daughter from her first marriage, and their daughter in the United States.

Laušević's case in the United States is still pending. He has hired an American lawyer to fight U.S. deportation proceedings.

On December 29, 2011, Serbian president Boris Tadic gave Laušević amnesty from further charges regarding the 1993 double murder.[2]

On February 1, 2012, Serbian deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dačić granted Laušević Serbian citizenship and passport.[3]


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