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The Belgrade Phantom: Soviet Bloc Defiance in a Stolen Porsche

The Soviet era was, for much of the 20th century, one of oppression. Almost all of the people who lived and died in the countries that formed the USSR did so under the thumb of oppressive, unelected and corrupt old men, seeking to serve only themselves and support the power structure which empowered only them.

To protest against such cruelty was a dangerous thing indeed, and time and again the Red Army was sent into Eastern Bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia and the Baltic States to crush any nascent opposition. It took a certain type of person to stand up to such oppression, and to defy the authorities was rare indeed.

But for one man in Soviet Yugoslavia, defiance was a way of life. He wasn’t even trying to make a point about communism, but his defiance of the rule of the authorities made him a star, and the public response showed Yugoslavia for the first time the extent of the unpopularity of the ruling elite.

This is the story of Vlada Vasiljević, the Belgrade Phantom.

A Tennis Player and a White Porsche

Vlada Vasiljević, nicknamed Vasa Ključ (“Vasa the Key”) was a car thief, famed for his ability to get any car to start. He was well known to the criminal underworld of the city of Belgrade, not least for his habit of stealing cars, driving them at breakneck speeds around the nighttime streets, and then returning them unmarked and even with a full tank of petrol.

However, this all changed when he stole the white Porsche 911 owned by famous Serbian tennis player Ivko Plecevic in 1979. He never returned this car, but instead his exploits while driving it would ensure his place in history.

Taunting the police that they would never catch him in it, he would race around the city streets with several police cars in hot pursuit. A favorite location of his was the Trg Slavija, a large central roundabout with many exist which he could use to escape.

Soon, people started to gather at the roundabout at midnight in the hopes they would catch a glimpse of this defiant man racing away from the authorities. Vasa never disappointed, and for ten days the crowds were rewarded with a white Porsche streaking across the roadways, dancing always out of reach of the chasing authorities.

One photographer, determined to catch a glimpse of the man hidden in the car, even, managed one night to snap a photograph which revealed the face of Vasa. But he chose not to turn the photo in to the police: Vasa had, for him and for the countless others who knew of him, become a hero.

Tito, the ruthless Yugoslavian dictator, had been abroad in Cuba, but with his return imminent and his disproval inevitable, the police hatched a plan. Fire trucks sprayed the Trg Slavija with water, and Vasa surprised by the slick road, lost control and crashed into a nearby bus. However the crowd, by this time some 10,000 strong, surrounded the car and Vasa escaped, once again evading capture.

It would be his underground contacts who eventually gave him up to the police. Finally arrested, Vasa was sentenced to 30 months in prison. But he would never serve his term.

Rumor says that the police sabotaged the car he was a passenger in by cutting the brakes. Vasa’s friend, who was driving, was killed in the subsequent crash, and Vasa himself was injured and taken to hospital. There, it was said, the police made sure he would never leave alive.

Was he a folk hero , defiant against the brutal oppression of the Yugoslavian authorities? Many certainly saw him as such, and the thousands that came out in support of his actions showed for the first time the popular upswelling of resentment against the ruling clique. Maybe he was just a common car thief, but this is not how many remember him.

His defiance was just what the people needed, to show them that things could be different, and to show them that so many others thought the same way.

Top Image: “Vasa the Key”, the Belgrade Phantom, raced the nighttime streets of Belgrade with the police seemingly unable to catch him. Source: Nicolas Serre / CC BY 2.0 .

By Joseph Green

Spiridon, C, 2022. The Rise and Fall of the “Phantom of Belgrade”, That Won the Hearts of 10,000 People . Available at: https://www.autoevolution.com/news/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-phantom-of-belgrade-that-won-the-hearts-of-10000-people-197120.html

Automotive Delight, 2020. Story of the Belgrade Phantom . Available at: https://automotivedelight.com/story-of-the-belgrade-phantom/

Adam, 2019. The Belgrade Phantom: the thief who for 10 nights mocked the Yugoslav police. Available at: https://random-times.com/2019/03/20/the-belgrade-phantom-the-thief-who-for-10-nights-mocked-the-yugoslav-police/

the belgrade phantom

Joseph Green

Joseph Green is editor for Historic Mysteries, which combines his background in English Literature with a lifelong fascination for the strange and the unexplained. Read More

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The Belgrade Phantom streaming: where to watch online?

Currently you are able to watch "The Belgrade Phantom" streaming on realeyz. It is also possible to buy "The Belgrade Phantom" on Google Play Movies, YouTube as download or rent it on Google Play Movies, YouTube online.

Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979; a mysterious "Phantom" occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through the city streets.

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Story of The Belgrade Phantom

Story of The Belgrade Phantom

Story of The Belgrade Phantom is about 29-year old Vladimir „Vlada“ Vasiljević who in August of 1979 “borrowed” Porsche 911S Targa owned by tennis player Ivko Plecevic who had won the car in tournament in Berlin. This wasn’t uncommon of Vladimir which was known as “Vlada Opel” (for his love of “borrowing” Opel cars) and “Vlada Ključ” (“Vlada Key” in english; due to his ability to open and start any car without having a key) among his peers.

For 10 nights (some sources say 6 or 7) after 10 pm he would race the Porsche through streets like Bulevar kralja Aleksandra , Beogradska street ( 44°48’17.7″N 20°28’08.0″E ) and Slavija Square roundabout ( 44.8025°N 20.4664°E ). Hours before his rides he would call radio stations and inform about time and locations he would drive on. Word spread like crazy and tens of thousands of people would show up to cheer and witness the Belgrade Phantom in action.

the belgrade phantom

Although Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia wasn’t as poor and strict as USSR, exotic cars like Porsche were insanely uncommon. Very few people would have actually been lucky enough to have seen one with their own eyes, so you can only imagine what it would have felt to see one flying down the streets above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) when all you have seen were cars like Zastava 101, Fiat 126, Wartburg 353, Citroën 2CV (the infamous Yugo wasn’t even in production until next year) and maybe occasional Mercedes-Benz or Audi brought by those who worked in the west.

the belgrade phantom

While all of this was happening Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia, was in Cuba and was soon to return. Because of this government felt strong urgency to stop Belgrade Phantom and retain order, especially since some interpreted his actions as rebelling against the system. However despite knowing the place and time of his performances beforehand police felt powerless since their cars were no match for Porsche. So they had to get sneaky. On tenth night they decided to make a barricade with two Ikarus buses and block an exit they knew Belgrade Phantom would take.

It worked. Considering the speed at which he was flying it was probably too late to brake and avoid accident by the time he noticed them. At 12:01 am (1 minute past midnight) Vladimir Vasiljević crashed the Porsche 911S Targa into one of the buses. He was quick to react though as he jumped out of the Porsche and ran into massive crowd managing to escape.

the belgrade phantom

It’s not the end of the story however. He might have well escaped all the trouble if not for one anonymous call. Two days after the accident someone called police and informed them on identity of Belgrade Phantom. Information turned out to be legitimate and Vladimir Vasiljević got arrested and sentenced to serve 2.5 years in prison.

While serving his sentence he escaped prison through ventilation system 1 day after his sister visited him. He returned to prison voluntarily 3 days later and when asked why did he escape he simply replied: “I had to go for one more drive so the cops don’t think they won”. For this action he got 30 days in solitary confinement and other than this incident he served his time without any violations. Although he didn’t quite fit among other prisoners as he wasn’t the same type of criminal as them he was still respected by them.

Soon after being released from prison he got in a crash while driving a LADA with his friend Vidra whom died on the spot (it’s unclear who was behind the steering wheel at the time). Vladimir got transported to hospital in Belgrade in a critical condition. Soon, at the age of 32, Vladimir Vasiljević passed away. Only one doctor was allowed to see him and visits from relatives were forbidden giving birth to conspiracy theories that he was killed by the government.

the belgrade phantom

Rumors say he dedicated his drives to a girl he loved named Vesna, who apparently lived in the Bulbulder neighborhood. Others say that he did it for no reason at all, it was simply out of his nature. Few think he rebelled against the system, however to most this theory seems just ridiculous. Whatever the case is, Vladimir „Vlada“ Vasiljević is a legend that at least for a brief moment of his short life lived a life hard to believe. A men that remains a hero to many in Serbia.

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An eccentric guy from the capital who was driving from Slavia to Kalemegdan in a stolen Porsche in the seventies, driving the police nuts, was called Vlada Vasiljevic – Key or Opel, and after his venture he got the nickname “PHANTOM”!

The Belgrade phantom is an urban legend about a boy who stole white Porsche and for nights did a crazy ride downtown, defying the police, for the joy of many citizens who cheered for him. During a strict state regime, this attraction was a major incident and the authorities rushed to remove the “phantom” before President Josip Broz Tito returned to the country from a non-aligned summit in Havana.

The nickname “Phantom” was probably made because no one knew who the man was, why he did it, and because the police failed to catch him. All this happened in 1979 when Tito was in Cuba. Social life in Belgrade was boring, organized as everything else.. The boy was opposing with these runs to the system. It was known exactly when the Phantom would run through the center of the city, and people gathered every night at the same time and waited to see this legend. For fifteen days, he was raiding the streets of the city in the stolen Porsche, as some thought Goran Goran Bregovic owned it . However, the car was owned by the tennis player Ivko Plećević.

He played with the police every day and was told that an order had been issued for the Phantom to be caught alive or dead by emergency. The police set up two buses and blocked the street to were they trapped him in. The guy tried to pass one of the buses but failed. At the moment the police tried to arrest him, a large number of phantom fans ran and prevented them from doing so, so he managed to escape.

Belgrade Phantom – Vlada Vasiljevic was captured and acted in jail very correctly, respecting the house rules. He was middle-aged and he worked daily to keep his physical condition good. One day, after his sister’s visit, Vlada Vasiljevic escaped from the prison through the window. Three days later he returned to prison. On return, he said the guards that he had to do another night ride, that the police do not think they had beaten him. He was sentenced to 30 days in solitary confinement. After that, Phantom was a prisoner without any flaws. He was released, but he died in an old Lada, when he landed off the road near Pozarevac.

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Gerard Butler's 'Phantom of the Opera' Was Good, You Guys Are Just Mean

Underrated? Maybe. Over-hated? Definitely.

Ah, yes, everyone's favorite or least favorite musical movie. A film that you can ask someone about, and they will either sing its praises with fond nostalgia or go on an hour-long rant about how it's the greatest misuse of a stage production of all time . The Joel Schumacher-directed The Phantom of the Opera is by far not the worst adaptation of Gaston Leroux 's novel, those who have seen the 1998 Dario Argento film can verify, but it sure isn't the best. When I first became obsessed with the masked musician, I had many unkind words for the 2004 movie, and it's not as if all of my complaints were unfounded.

There are reasons that this movie is so polarizing. While the production is gorgeous, Alexandra Byrne 's costumes are amazing, the sets are sweeping, and the orchestra is on point, in short: it's a pretty movie. But how it fails is the two things the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical needs: it needs the depth of emotionality, and even more importantly it needs a great cast of actors to tie it all together.

RELATED: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Movie Musicals, Ranked

Patrick Wilson as Raoul De Chagny is a total exception; he was brilliant, perfect for the role, even. The supporting cast was also perfectly fine, but that's not where the real issue is, because the two characters people have their eyes on are the ingénue Christine Daae, here played by Emmy Rossum, and the Opera Ghost himself, played by none other than Gerard Butler . Rossum's issue was plain and simple: She was way too young, being 17 years old at the time of filming. This is even more uncomfortable considering how hard they leaned into the romantic and seductive elements of the story, given that both Wilson and Butler were twice her age.

Why Don't People Like Gerard Butler's Phantom?

Butler, on the other hand, is a whole other story, and a lot of it comes down to being given the burden of playing such an iconic character. This film has a very, very long production history, being in the works since the days of Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, who were originally considered before it became way too late. A lot of actors were considered to play the eponymous role, including Hugh Jackman and Antonio Banderas, which maybe would've been a shock to average moviegoers, but not to those in the know. Why didn't they just pull a Jesus Christ Superstar and cast understudies from the Broadway or West End production? I don't know. No matter which direction they went in, someone was bound to be upset either way. Eventually, Butler was cast, and people had some notes.

Let's get the complaints out of the way. No, Butler was not a classically trained singer, and his performance is at times mentioned in the same category as Pierce Brosman in Mamma Mia and Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. He wasn't awful, but a character like the Phantom needs to be more than not awful, being one of the most enduring and iconic roles in all of musical theater. The deformity that condemned him to a life of violence and seclusion looked more like a bad rash.

Those who took issue with this version of the Phantom just didn't like how purposefully attractive they made him, which is a perfectly valid issue to have. That was the direction that they went with for this film in most regards. The costumes are the same way, as are a lot of the directions for the performances. It's considerably easier to tell when comparing the film and the stage production side by side where the weaknesses are.

He Might Be Underrated, But He Was Absolutely Over-Hated

However, none of this is Butler's fault, and he tried his absolute best. He was not an experienced singer before shooting this film. He was in a rock band as a student, and he was aware of how strange it was to be in that position. But both Schumacher and Webber believed Butler's singing voice had an edge to it that they felt fit the character, and Butler put the hard work in to be ready for this movie. More importantly, in spite of the idea that the director and producer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, had in their head for the Phantom, which was more of the darker side of a love triangle than a sympathetic villain, Gerard's performance as the Phantom is actually pretty underrated.

This role makes so much sense when you learn that it was his performance in Dracula 2000 that drew Schumacher's eye, playing a darkly brooding, revenge-driven monster. Singing aside, which really was just fine, where Butler shines is in the acting performance of The Phantom. He almost works in spite of the emotionally clumsy direction, and the whole Mills & Boon vibe the movie had. He wasn't afraid to go to a terrifying and ugly place when he needed to, like in the murders, and at the moment when Christine rips off his mask. He played the role as if his charm is a very fragile veneer for something furious and unstable. He can act superior around the people he's haunting, throwing his voice around and openly mocking the Opera House staff because he knows they're too scared to do anything about it, but when Christine shows him affection, he fully breaks down and weeps like a lost little kid.

An Olive Branch For 2004's Phantom

The Phantom, as a character in any of his many adaptations, is one with a lot of layers. Just watching one man slowly chip away bit by bit until the ending gives way to the center: Someone who has been devoid of love his entire life and is desperately crying for help. Butler plays his layers quite well. Starting off with seductive, dominant, and alluring, then becoming volatile and domineering, and the Final Lair where he stands in front of Christine and just starts sobbing. It still gets me, Gerard Butler had his moments as The Phantom, and does it with an edge and a danger that someone who would go on to play Leonidas could give it.

I really do anticipate that both camps won't really be happy with my conclusion, either in saying that Gerard Butler as the Phantom is okay, or in saying that it was just okay. I think it's time this film moved into the same territory as the first Twilight movie, and that we, those who really didn't like this movie, made peace with its existence. The first eight years were undeniably hard, at a loss for any other version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that was accessible. But 2012 came along, and the 25th-anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall was released on DVD. So if you want a definitive version with a cast that many consider to be the best, there it is. There is so much more to the story beyond one musical and one movie , needless to say, Gerard Butler's Phantom is not the end of the world. Was it the greatest musical adaptation ever? No, far from it. But it had its strengths, and there are people out there who do love it, and now that I'm older, and hopefully wiser, I can kind of see why.

IMAGES

  1. The Belgrade Phantom Extended Trailer (English)

    the belgrade phantom

  2. The Rise and Fall of the "Phantom of Belgrade", That Won the Hearts of

    the belgrade phantom

  3. The Rise and Fall of the "Phantom of Belgrade", That Won the Hearts of

    the belgrade phantom

  4. Poster The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    the belgrade phantom

  5. Trailer: The Belgrade Phantom

    the belgrade phantom

  6. The Rise and Fall of the "Phantom of Belgrade", That Won the Hearts of

    the belgrade phantom

VIDEO

  1. Dji Novi Pazar Drone Phantom Balkan

  2. Sierra Cosworth Getaway and Raid, Unigate Depot 1993

  3. Muzika iz filma Beogradski fantom (u izvođenju Bisere Veletanlić)

  4. Khai mở thế giới Phantom Triệt tiêu thế lực hắc ám

  5. PETER GRIFFIN → Phantom Meowscles → Contract Giller Kick

  6. The Legendary Ferrari Police Car

COMMENTS

  1. The Belgrade Phantom

    The Belgrade Phantom (Serbian: Београдски фантом, romanized: Beogradski fantom) is a Serbian historical, drama, thriller and documentary film directed by Jovan Todorović.It was released in 2009. This film combines archival television footage, and current interviews with witnesses and participants of the events from 1979, as well as acting scenes.

  2. The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    The Belgrade Phantom: Directed by Jovan B. Todorovic. With Marko Zivic, Radoslav 'Rale' Milenkovic, Nada Macankovic, Andrej Sepetkovski. The film is about Vlada Vasiljević, a citizen of Belgrade, who in 1979 stole a white Porsche 911 Targa S, and for about ten evenings taunted the police with his reckless driving.

  3. The Belgrade Phantom: Soviet Bloc Defiance in a Stolen Porsche

    The Belgrade Phantom: Soviet Bloc Defiance in a Stolen Porsche. by Joseph Green October 24, 2022. 1. The Soviet era was, for much of the 20th century, one of oppression. Almost all of the people who lived and died in the countries that formed the USSR did so under the thumb of oppressive, unelected and corrupt old men, seeking to serve only ...

  4. The Belgrade Phantom streaming: where to watch online?

    Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979; a mysterious "Phantom" occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through the city streets.

  5. The Story of a Stolen Porsche 911 and the Belgrade Phantom

    Who would steal a Porsche 911, successfully escape, and then announce their joyrides each night for days on end? It sounds like a forbidden fantasy to many c...

  6. The Belgrade phantom official trailer with english subtitles

    In september 1979 young guy stole a Porsche 911S Targa. He was driving crazy on Slavija, central square in Belgrade for 2 weeks. Every night he was there, to...

  7. The Belgrade Phantom

    Yugoslavia, 1979. While president Tito is in Cuba on international affairs, a mysterious Phantom captures the attention of Belgrade. Using a stolen white Por...

  8. The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979. While Yugoslav president Tito is in Cuba settling international matters, a mysterious Phantom occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through the city streets.

  9. The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    The film is about Vlada Vasiljević, a citizen of Belgrade, who in 1979 stole a white Porsche 911 Targa S, and for about ten evenings taunted the police with his reckless driving. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979. While Yugoslav president Tito is in Cuba settling international matters, a mysterious Phantom occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade.

  10. The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979; a mysterious "Phantom" occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through the city streets.

  11. The Belgrade Phantom

    Yugoslavia, 1979. While president Tito is in Cuba on international affairs, a mysterious Phantom captures the attention of Belgrade. Using a stolen white Porsche car he performs daring stunts through the city streets. As rumours of his cat-and-mouse games with the police spread, people started gathering to watch him at night.

  12. Story of The Belgrade Phantom

    Learn about the legend of Vladimir Vasiljević, who stole a Porsche 911 and raced it through Belgrade streets in 1979, attracting thousands of fans and police attention. Discover how he escaped, crashed, and died in mysterious circumstances.

  13. The Belgrade Phantom

    The Belgrade Phantom. Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 1979. A mysterious Phantom occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through the city streets. Through the radio the Phantom challenges the police to try and catch him. What started as a game turned into a ...

  14. Belgrade phantom

    The Belgrade phantom is an urban legend about a boy who stole white Porsche and for nights did a crazy ride downtown, defying the police, for the joy of many citizens who cheered for him. During a strict state regime, this attraction was a major incident and the authorities rushed to remove the "phantom" before President Josip Broz Tito ...

  15. The Belgrade Phantom

    Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1979; a mysterious "Phantom" occupies the attention and hearts of Belgrade. Every night, he exhibits spectacular driving maneuvers using a stolen white Porsche car through ...

  16. The Belgrade Phantom

    The Belgrade Phantom. 6.8 /10. The Belgrade Phantom ( Orig. Title ) Action, Drama 1 h 17 Min 2009. This is a true story about a real Belgrade rebel. The legend of the Belgrade phantom was born on one spring night when he stole the Porsche "Targa 911 F" from a famous tennis player. Since then, every night after 22:00 hours, thousands of Belgrade ...

  17. The Belgrade Phantom (2009)

    Beogradski Fantom, or the Belgrade Phantom was a legend from the late 70s. A young rebel and a wacko Vlada Vasiljevic, also known as Vlada Opel or Vasa Kljuc was thundering throughout Belgrade's streets for 10 or so days during 1979 in a stolen white Porsche. This is one of Belgrade's famous urban legends and something my parents and older ...

  18. The Belgrade Phantom

    Feature fiction film. 82'. thriller. It is1979. While Tito, the Yugoslav dictator, is in Cuba settling international matters, a mysterious Phantom captivates the attention and hearts of people in the capital city ? Belgrade. He tears through the city streets every night, performing spectacular driving maneuvers with a stolen white Porsche ...

  19. The Belgrade Phantom Trailer

    Trailer for the documentary The Belgrade Phantom.Licensed by Bondi Rights ManagementEdited by David M. Sula

  20. Where to see

    Silent Night | Tráiler Oficial | Lionsgate | Joel Kinnaman | Director John Woo. 2.2K. 461. r/movies. Join. • 28 days ago. I have watched 500 Horror Movies on the TUBI app and summarized, micro-reviewed, and categorized each one. Would like to share our updated list for everyone's convivence. docs.google.

  21. The Belgrade Phantom, Movie, 2009

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