Slavija Square and the Legend of the Belgrade Phantom
Sounds like a Harry Potter book, doesn’t it? But this story is about a white Porsche, not wizardry. A stolen Porsche that was driven through Slavija Square at breakneck speeds in the middle of the night, taunting police and captivating Belgrade for seven days. You can’t make this up.
Actually, I did think it was made up. I first read about “the Phantom” in Momo Kapor’s A guide to the Serbian Mentality. Kapor has a breezy style, and I wasn’t sure how much of the story was true. Information is hazy in English, but in 1979 there was a man who drove a stolen Porsche through the square in the wee hours of the morning. He taunted police by alerting them that he was coming and evading capture with superior driving skills. People started coming to Slavija Square at midnight just to catch a glimpse of this madman speeding through the square, thumbing his nose at the law. The guy was a combination of NASCAR, Evel Kineval, and Houdini. Beogradjani were enthralled. The police were apoplectic.
Tito was out of the country at the time, prompting speculation that the drive was politically motivated. Some thought he was a romantic. Others believed he was a bored car thief. In any case, he had a great advantage: one Porsche vs. a couple of police-issued Yugos.
Not much of a contest.
After a week, the police constructed a barricade using a bus. The Phantom crashed into the bus but escaped in the crowd. He was caught several days later and went to jail.
The Phantom was Vlada Vasiljevic, a common car thief. Some doubted he was truly the Phantom; but there is a rumor that he escaped jail to complete another night drive, and returned the next day. Vasiljevic died in a car accident several years after his release. The car, a Lada, was stolen.
The Phantom lives on in a Serbian movie that was released last year, and I’m eager to find a subtitled copy. I’ve posted the trailer below. As I hunt for a copy, I’ll think of the Phantom every time I drive through Slavija Square. I imagine many Beogradjani do the same-which explains some of the driving I see there.
Thanks to Belgraded.com for providing details about the Phantom.