Spending time at the Imperial Golden Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Japan, walking hand-in-hand with the chief monk, meant the greatest honour afforded to any European man in the Land of the Rising Sun… Japanese holy men taught him how to use the power of his mind, how to be healthy and strong, to create from his “own” karate a life philosophy, who gave him everything and thanks to whom he received everything in his life. This Serbian Samurai is proud to show off all the medals and decorations that he’s won as a top karate master. With special respect, he offers us to show how he was the only European man to receive special recognition from the Japanese Prime Minister at the time Mr Hashimoto for his contribution to the promotion of karate, as a special form (for the Japanese, perhaps the most important) of art and as a lifestyle:
“Here, see how I looked at the peak of my power when I smouldered and burned in karate! Forget about Bruce Lee. Who’s he? What can a person do who weighs 57 kilos dripping wet?!” He shows us an old black and white photo of Marko Nicović the young master. Ripped and toned. Without weights, anabolic enhancers and all other stimulants…
He’s long since entered his eighth decade, but he remains trim and strong. His muscle mass, of course, isn’t like it used to be (like in these photographs), because now he comes across bonier, as though carved from the angry rock of Kolašin…
One doesn’t know what to get to grips with first in the rich career of this native of Kolašin, who the world heard all about and came to admire long ago, almost as much on the sporting ‘tatami’ as in his career as a top police operative that once saw him gain the admiration of such a powerful organisation as America’s DEA, which was even able to learn something from him! The crowning glory of his career in the police came in 2004 when he served as the chairman of the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, INEOA, leading the coordinated fight against drugs trafficking. All of those fond recollections are contained in his spacious office in the loft of his villa in the elite Belgrade neighbourhood of Dedinje, where this top world policeman today spends his days working as a lawyer and spending time with his wife. Kindly, just as he was with his opponents – whether those in sport or those on the other side of the law – Marko Nicović is unable to respond to the invitations of all journalists for interviews or guest appearances on various television channels. The public is always enthusiastic to hear new stories from the rich professional opus of this “adopted” Belgrader.
Marko Nicović had the honour of being invited to the U.S. state of Georgia to attend a special training centre for all specialist services, together with representatives of another 33 countries. Nicović succeeded in being declared the best of all trainees who attended that course
Marko Nicović’s biography is as patterned as leopard skin, filled with all the varied details the represent life. Cheerful, healthy, but also courageous, at moments even beyond brave, filled with the spirit of adventure, dignified towards his nation and with a strong sense of justice and honesty… It was logical that he would switch to practising law towards the end of his career… We would conclude that this rounded off his career – from the time when he used the strength of his muscles and a brave heart to defend the weak and vulnerable, to total mastery of his mind and authority…
“After primary school in my native Kolašin, I completed high school in Peć,” says Marko as we sit on the comfortable and stylish dark blue furniture in the office of his Dedinje villa. He reminds us that it used to be the home of Vlajko Stojiljković, the Milošević-era interior minister, while his former next-door neighbours also included politician Borka Vučić and former foreign minister Jovanović… “All Sloba’s people, and it was precise because of his ignorance that I had lots of problems, as you already know very well,” he says with a wry smile, reminding us of the period from the end of the 1990s.
Although I’m known in Belgrade and Serbia as one of the more experienced journalists in the scope of police work and on issues of crime, I again listened with great care to his recollections of his high school days in Peć, “socialising with shqiptars”…
“I was a great student, and with that, there was no problem, but I had a problem with my marks from governance because I was constantly fighting with shqiptars [an ethnonym for Albanian] and always based on the rule of defending others,” he recalls everything as if it happened yesterday.
“It was known that without an adequate grade from governance you couldn’t enrol in college, but since my father was a first-defender, a Partisan, I somehow muddled through and thus arrived in Belgrade to study.”
It was as a high school pupil that Nicović began training karate and judo. A tall, bony, powerful young man, he was incredibly fast and agile, making him a genuine talent in martial arts. However, after two years of studying in Belgrade, the rebellious youth within him emerged:
“There were six children in my family. It was way back in 1964, as the eldest son, that I set off for Belgrade, for the Faculty of Technology. I lived in Studenjaka, the largest student settlement in the Balkans! In the second year, us students we took to the then famous viscose factory in Loznica! We entered the hall, and the stench of those materials was unbearable for me. I told myself that I should go to Paris for twenty days! And I stayed for two years!?
As a sign of gratitude and respect for the results of Nicović’s team, the DEA donated 32 VW Golf vehicles with special turbo engines to the Belgrade police, as well as three special surveillance vehicles
A powerful Highlander with an extremely lean build, his beautiful facial lines didn’t go unnoticed in the City of Light. Although he admits that he spent several nights sleeping in the hall of the central railway station… Until he met “some of our people”, who immediately noticed the martial arts talent of their countryman from Kolašin!
“I met Stevica Marković, Ratko Belić and others, who were already part of the elite jet set, so they found me work around the discotheques.” And he enjoyed it. His two years of “Parisian youthful craziness” passed in a flash, although karate remained his favourite hobby and main love.
And then he was “bowled over” by a letter… “A letter arrived from home, from my father – my mother had died back when I was only six years old! My father called me to come back, as the eldest son, to take care of my brothers (there were five of us siblings) who had started studying at college in Belgrade! So, in 1968 I returned to Belgrade. I also returned to my karate. Plenty of karate clubs had then already been formed in Belgrade. I began to deal professionally with karate and continued my studies. Already by the next year, I was a national team representative in karate.
And then something happened that would ultimately turn around Marko’s life from that of a very successful young karate fighter. At the Belgrade Law School, where he’d gone to enrol in postgraduate studies, he met famous Valjevo native Toma Jeremić, who was then “a god and a bludgeon” of the Belgrade police:
“Come and work with us,” said, Jeremić, inviting him personally, and then continuing without waiting for Marko’s response, adding: “you’ll work as an inspector on homicide squad!?”
“It was all over in a day, and so I ended up from the Law School working on homicide squad of the Belgrade City Police Department! The way it looked was just like in Fellini’s films… The captains drove those famous “100s”, while the inspectors had those little Fiats! I was already known in the city through sport, and as a trainee, I was being tested by my colleagues. When I started solving the most complicated murder and rape cases, there was a lot of jealousy, because the best officers received a 10 per cent bonus on their salary, and that 10 per cent was subtracted from those with poorer results!? The cashier then paid salary instalments at the police station, not at a bank as they are today. And I also withdrew that bonus and then returned that money to my colleagues who’d been punished for their poor results”!?
Japanese holy men taught him how to use the power of his mind, how to be healthy and strong, to create from his “own” karate a life philosophy, who gave him everything and thanks to whom he received everything in his life
Marko, thus, found the “catch” for them to accept him, for his colleagues to like him, but primarily respect him… His fellow inspectors gossiped about him at the beginning of his career, claiming that he was young, pretty and highly educated (only three others in the homicide squad department were college educated!?), who spoke fluently English, French and Spanish, who needed a police badge to seduce girls around the city, in order to be a reveller around town… But his working performances were impressive from day one: there were no unresolvable cases or fears for him. His colleagues reminded him constantly, “you have to have a noose and brains”.
All of this was accompanied by swift progress through the ranks of the Belgrade police, which meant that in just four years of work he’d bypassed many levels that should really have required 12 years of the highest quality work! He recalls fondly that his “classmate” was Tito’s grandson, Edvard, but he didn’t succeed in the police and quickly left to join the stewards …
If the invitation of experienced police operative Toma Jeremić paved the way for the young Nicović in the police, it was the 1983 murder of the Turkish ambassador in Belgrade’s Tašmajdan Park that led to him becoming a world-renowned police officer respected by members of police forces worldwide! An Armenian terrorist organisation had at that time murdered 76 diplomats around the world, as revenge for the genocide committed by Turkey against the Armenian people in 1912! Nicović managed to resolve this case and arrest the two Armenian assassins quickly. One was found in Belgrade and ended up being shot in the back by a police officer during his arrest! His accomplice was later arrested in Novi Sad, following a long and extensive investigation led by Nicovicć, as a senior Belgrade police inspector.
“I opened up the arrested Armenian, after long and exhaustive questioning, and that was only thanks to our mutual love – karate,” says Marko, recalling the details that made his career as a policeman global. “He revealed to me their entire chain of command of the organisation, so I was shown special respect by the then Federal Minister of the Police of Yugoslavia, Stane Dolanc, at the level of the republic by Svetomir Lalović, and by Srđan Andrejević, as the head of Interpol in Belgrade”… Congratulations were received from almost all police services around the world. And everyone was asking who that policeman Marko Nicović was?
But trouble also came. On the horizon. In the act of retaliation, the Armenian terrorist organisation threatened to kill Yugoslav ambassadors and other diplomats around the world!? Nicović hit the road: Lebanon, Syria, Beirut, Egypt… A compromise was made, with the arrested Armenians released after just a few years of imprisonment! Testifying to how important they were to their organisation and their people was the fact that they had streets named after them in Beirut! Marko received a decoration of the nation from the State of Yugoslavia. A promotion also came, with him soon appointed as the chief of narcotics for the City of Belgrade Police Department!
“In homicide squad, I’d worked until then in response to events, while in the narcotic squad you work ahead of events,” explains Nicović. “My existing connections around the world via karate helped me a lot in my new job at the police. Belgrade was becoming a real graveyard for smugglers, so they started falling in areas they’d previously passed through easily. In many major cases of drugs seizure, I’d been the agent provocateur, the man who conducted arrests and seizures. The officers of America’s DEA even heard about me, and in 1984 they came to personally meet one of the top three police chiefs in Europe! They dubbed me the “Grey Fox”, because of my skill in organising ambushes and seizing large quantities of narcotics en route to Europe.”
Nicović was invited to hold lectures at the American Academy… Imagine a police officer from communist Yugoslavia! Nicović was then also Party Secretary of the League of Communists in the Belgrade police. But that didn’t bother them, as they were only interested in the results of the fight against world drug traffickers. Marko is still grateful to then-City Secretary (the title of the then top man of the Belgrade police) Branko Kostić, who allowed him to tailor 46 members of his anti-drug department according to his standards and to assign them with tasks.
“I brought them together and told them to let their hair and beards grow, to wear worn-out jeans, earrings, ripped t-shirts and sports shoes, and to smoke on the streets because that’s the best way to disguise ourselves for the job we need to do! My people were installed in hotels, as receptionists, waiters, porters, girls as maids, all to conduct arrest and seizure operations”…
That was very bold for the then Belgrade police, which was still suffering from its former rigidity! And they were reported on to the city secretary, in the style of “those officers of Marko’s look like scumbags and not like police officers; what exactly did Marko want” They were protected by Kostić thanks to the exceptional results achieved in the fight against drug smugglers. Kostić responded to critics of Nicović’s method of working with a question: “does he have results? Yes, he has. Then let him work how he wants!”
Thanks to Marko Nicović and his outstanding results alone, Yugoslavia was given the honour of staging the 1976 General Assembly of Interpol in Belgrade, which was attended by 161 interior ministers of countries from all over the world
Thanks to Marko and his outstanding results alone, Yugoslavia was given the honour, in the fight against narcotics traffickers, of staging the General Assembly of Interpol in 1976, which was held at Belgrade’s Sava Centre and attended by 161 interior ministers of countries from all over the world. Nicović attracted special attention from the experts of America’s DEA, becoming a party to major operations on Europe’s mainland aimed at cutting off international narcotics smuggling channels. They were also part of the operation that led to the “fall” of the Mayor of New York City… Nicović became a frequent guest lecturer from Yugoslavia at their academy! His fame as a police officer grew to massively exceed the function he then performed at the Belgrade police. Journalists enjoyed hearing the juicy details of operations conducted successfully and Nicović became a favourite of the nation. Smugglers fled from Belgrade “like the devil from the cross”!
Then the unfortunate wars of the ‘90s arrived on the territory of Tito’s Yugoslavia. The City of Belgrade Police Department lost its independence from the Serbian Interior Ministry due to completely bizarre reasons:
“A story broke that immediately made it to Milošević, about how the powerful Marko Nicović had his team on the streets that could kill anyone, even Milošević, alluding to some activities of the Federal Security Services of Yugoslavia around the world, and particularly after they resolved the murder in the “Nana” nightclub,” says Nicović. “And then Milošević, who was uninformed, listened to those gossipers and just said “Clean him out!”, having become convinced that I belonged to the Americans!? And I was reassigned, “overnight”, to the position of an advisor to the Interior Ministry, practically without any authority. And, I wanted to arrest all the war profiteers, which was why I ended up in a serious conflict with Badža [then Serbian police chief Radovan “Badža” Stojičić, who enjoyed the full trust of Milošević until his death], who constantly filled the president’s head with stories of “how I wanted to arrest those who bled for Serbia, and that cannot be allowed!”
Regardless of what had happened, the career of world-renowned and recognised police officer Marko Nicović experienced a political revival in Serbia, while his service remained very well appreciated and respected around the world… The Milošević era passed, but Marko didn’t seek the complete restoration of his reputation in response to everything he’d experienced and survived in the Serbian police. He was satisfied with the international reputation he still enjoys today, while he has practically no contact with the Serbian police… that is except, of course, if they have to contact him in some case that he has today as a lawyer…