Niko Bellic is the main protagonist and playable character in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He is a 30-year-old former soldier who moved to Liberty City to escape his troubled past and pursue the "American Dream". Niko was persuaded to move by his cousin Roman, who claimed to be living a life of luxury, with beautiful women, sports cars and lots of money. It soon becomes apparent, however, that he runs a failing taxi business, has mounting debts and various criminals from Liberty City's underworld have put a price on his head. Aware of Niko's violent past, Roman had lied to convince his cousin to move to the city, knowing that Niko would fight against his pursuers, and eventually be the one to turn his lies into a reality. (It is also stated that Roman is motivated partially by desire to see his cousin again.) Niko, however, also has other, underlying motivations for moving to Liberty City, which are revealed as the story unfolds.
Niko's nationality is never specified in the game, although he speaks and reads Serbian and it is said he is from the Balkans. Niko's nationality has been a subject of some debate: prior to the game being launched, it was believed he was Russian and articles have interpreted the character as being from Croatia or Serbia. In-game, several different nationalities are mentioned by other characters when referring to Niko, including Serbian and Polish. Executive producer Dan Houser spoke on the matter saying that Niko is "from that gray part of broken-down Eastern Europe", suggesting that Niko's nationality was left intentionally vague.
Niko's father was a violent alcoholic, who abused him, his mother and elder brother. Niko's mother, Milica, who possessed a maternal and caring nature, regretted that her sons were forced to endure such hardships as children, since Niko and his brother grew up during the difficult times of the Yugoslav Wars. His elder brother was killed in action in the war, a war in which Niko participated as an enraged youth, motivated by ill-founded nationalism. Niko witnessed numerous atrocities during the war, including the murder and mutilation of over 50 children, which led to his cynical perspective on life, with certain degrees of regret, depression, emotional and social detachment. A defining moment in the war for Niko was when his army unit of fifteen young men from his village were ambushed by the enemy. Niko barely escaped the ambush, and weeks later concluded that the unit had been betrayed by one of their own soldiers, so he returned to the pit where his friends were buried and shoveled up, counted, and identified each of the corpses. From this he learned there were two other survivors: Florian Cravic and Darko Brevic. Niko vowed to search for the perpetrator, motivated not solely by revenge, but a need for closure and to move on with his own life. Despite this, Niko possesses certain skills which were acquired during his early army training, such as close quarter combat, shooting and swimming.
By the end of the war, Niko experienced difficulty finding work and leading a normal life. His cousin Roman decided to settle in the United States, in order to lead a new life in Liberty City before the war. Niko, knowing only violence, turned to the Balkanic criminal underworld for the following ten years, while at the same time trying to search for the two other men who survived the ambush. At some point during this time, he was briefly imprisoned. After he was released, Niko joined a smuggling and trafficking ring run by Russia criminal Rodislav "Ray" Bulgarin. Niko would eventually discover that Florian Cravic, one of the two survivors of the ambush, was also residing in Liberty City.
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