by Haris VELIJEVIC
A two-meter wall surrounds Nekic's house in the center of Prizren. At the top of the wall German KFOR soldiers installed barbed wire to protect Nekic from attacks by Albanian extremists. "Many long to get hold of my estate. Potential buyers are calling me daily. But I put up a sign: 'Not For Sale.' I won't sell it for my life and this is what I told a German officer," said the elderly Nekic.
Nekic said that recently, prominent Kosovo Albanian politician and human rights activist Adem Demaci visited him to film a television program that aired on TV Kosovo. After that, he said, the attacks subsided.
The ground floor features rather simple furniture, reminiscent of times past. Small windows facing north let in very little light. Others on that side are boarded up as protection against stones, which local ethnic Albanians have hurled at his home over the past three years. All the windows on the eastern side of the house facing the street are barricaded. Some are reinforced with stone, because, as Nekic says, boards tend to break, especially those in the bathroom, which receive the greatest punishment.
In the hall there is only one table, and the bedroom is old-fashioned, with a rickety bed and mattresses that look as if they are decades old.
The upper floor is completely lined with protective wooden planks. Signs of fire are visible everywhere. Only charred wooden skeletons remain of his two armchairs. On the floor beside them are the burned remnants of books and cloth whose origin is hard to discern. The windowpanes, destroyed by fire, have not been replaced and Nekic has put plastic and cardboard over them. He shows us holes in the wall left by bullets, and does not want to talk much about the day when Albanian extremists fired at his home.
Nekic says he does not have any problems with ethnic Albanians in general because he has good friends among them. His problems, he says, are with a specific group of extremists whose fierce attacks he cannot explain.
"I've lived in Prizren since my birth and I was always on good terms with all other people, regardless of their ethnic origin. I have Albanian friends and acquaintances, and friendly relations with some of them go back to our parents. I was never active in politics, or a member of any party, or held any public office. My hands and my heart are clean. I have survived, with God's help, and thanks to the solidarity of good people and my old heart that is still beating," said Nekic.
Despite his age and the circumstances of his life, Nekic looks very energetic. A very methodical fellow, he has two copies of every statement he has made to the press. Nekic has been keeping a diary since the arrival of NATO troops. He has planted some flowers in three concrete blocks in front of his house. He is always clean-shaven, and when making a telephone call, he is brief and prepared in advance. "I don't have money to pay telephone bills, and the telephone, with the radio, is my only link with the outside world."
Nekic lives on a teacher's pension and welfare amounting to $30 per month. KFOR soldiers rarely visit him. He says his most difficult experience was when an International Red Cross representative from Switzerland, assisted by a local Serbian Orthodox priest, tried to convince him to leave his home.
When asked how he can possibly endure this way of life, he proudly replied: "I come from a very respectable family. Four Nekics have left a great mark here in Prizren and I don't want this to be forgotten. When my relative, Dragica Nekic, was about to be hanged by German fascists during World War II in downtown Prizren, she bravely said she was not afraid. My other relative, on my mother's side, Branislav 'Ban' Bozovic, fought with the partisans in World War II, as a member of a miners' company in Stari Trg and of the First Proletarian Shock Brigade. He was an officer when the war was over, and later a writer and a screenplay author," Nekic fondly recalled.
Nekic is the only Serb in Prizren living under house arrest. In 1999, several thousand Serbs left the town, and now only a few dozen are left. They are able to move through the town freely. German KFOR soldiers no longer guard the Christian Orthodox Seminary. Dragica Petrovic, who visits Nekic and brings him food, claims that she and her neighbor, Vera Jeftic, move about freely and have no problems with ethnic Albanians.
"Some individuals bothered us initially, but it has long passed. Many Albanians and others offer us help. I used to work in the medical facility here and my former colleagues always help me if I need it. Recently I fell and broke my arm. They fixed it, and are still assisting me because I am not well yet," said Petrovic, who lives in the Prizren suburb of Potkaljaja with nine other Serbs. "Maybe Nekic wouldn't have any problems now either, but he is not convinced. When I have free time I call on him, bring him some medicine, food, and other things. I phone first to tell him to open the door at a specific time, because otherwise he would not let anyone in," said Petrovic. She either doesn't know or doesn't want to know why extremists have targeted Nekic.
Many young people sit in a cafe near Nekic's house. Some of them agree to talk about his fate. "There is no room here for those Serbs who have Albanian blood on their hands. Although three of my relatives died in the war, I have nothing against other Serbs living freely among us. However, they have to be aware that this is a new reality, that we are the majority, and that this has to be respected. I often walk down this street and have never seen this man disturbed by anybody," said Luan Gashi.
Three of his friends agreed with him, but refused to give their names, explaining that "one never knows what could happen."
"Serbs did us a great deal of harm. This can never be forgotten. It's enough. There is no room for them here," Alban Berisha, sitting at the neighboring table, said.
Municipal assembly spokesman Fatmir Pireci says that the Albanians' plan is to build a civil society and a climate of security for all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. "Every day I see a number of Serbs moving around Prizren freely. This is a period of transition, and even the municipality's president is escorted by UNMIK [United Nations Mission in Kosovo] police around the clock," responded Pireci when asked about Nekic.
Grim Williams, Prizren's deputy civilian administrator, says there are many in Kosovo who would like to hinder positive change, and that this is why Nekic is being disturbed.
"I would like to see a delegation from the medical high school initiate reconciliation with this old man, because his house is right across the street. I ask people from Prizren if they would like their grandfather or great-grandfather to have the same problems Nekic has. I believe that every normal person would respond with 'No,' and Prizrenians are quite normal people," said Williams. International police have yet to arrest anybody attacking Nekic's house. No Albanian is willing to say anything, and therefore, there are no witnesses.
It is equally hard to come by any direct information on why Nekic has been exposed to such pressure. One Albanian, who did not wish to be named, was the only person who said that the old man's property is in one of the best locations in town and worth a fortune.
Recently a man began building a huge edifice right next to Nekic's house. On the other side are other beautiful and modern office buildings. Nekic's house and garden stick out like a sore thumb. "Medical school students consider throwing stones at Nekic's home a daily ritual. Before you had his phone disconnected, some of you called him at all hours, threatening him and asking him to leave. What did this citizen of Prizren do to deserve such treatment from you? How many other non-Albanians are you forcing to live under this kind of pressure? Do you really want to live in a Prizren and a Kosovo where such hatred and persecution of others who are not like you is the norm?" asked Nowicki in an open letter to citizens of Prizren. Calling on Albanians to stop attacking Nekic's home, the Kosovo ombudsman urged them to return to their tradition "of dignity, pride, and culture."
Haris Velijevic is BETA correspondent in Prizren.