Outside his rustic home in Veliko Krcmare, in the heart of Serbia, a villager stops chopping wood to say he’s convinced of the innocence of his uncle, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The statement, made by way of a greeting, came from Dragan Blagojevic, the nephew of the US politician suspected of trying to sell US president-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.
“He earns such a good living, why would he steal money? His wife has a real estate company,” he said, insisting the allegations against the governor were “just dirty politics.”
“I believe that Barack wants to replace Rod with one of his close associates,” said the modestly dressed man who spends his retirement days in his native village.
The Blagojevic home in Veliko Krcmare, 130km south of Belgrade, is located on the side of a hill in a setting typical for Serbia’s central Sumadija region.
White with a green door, the house is close to the birthplace of the Illinois governor’s father, Radisav.
“The old house where Radisav was born, where his three brothers and his sister were born, exits no longer. It pre-dated the Second World War,” Dragan said.
In its place is an old garden, a fallow field on the slope of a hill that legally belongs to Rod Blagojevich and from which stretches a panorama of hills and valleys.
As the situation for his uncle worsened this week with a Illinois House of Representatives committee launching hearings into the possibility of impeaching Blagojevich, Dragan lamented about his unlikely return.
Dragan, who by his own admission is “at the end of my seventh decade,” explains how Rod Blagojevich is his uncle in spite of being more than 20 years his junior.
“His father Radisav got married very late. He was a prisoner of war during World War II and, as an officer of the king, did not return to communist Yugoslavia, was exiled in the United States and started a family there,” he said.
“My grandfather, who was the brother of Radisav, and my father got married very young and this explains the unusual difference [in age between me and the 52-year-old governor],” Dragan said.
“We haven’t had much contact with Rod in the past 10 years since he entered politics,” Dragan said.
“Even when he came to Belgrade to retrieve Americans taken prisoner, he did not contact us,” he said, in reference to a visit the US politician made to the Serbian capital in 1999 along with Reverend Jesse Jackson.
The US delegation had come to negotiate the release of three US soldiers.