The Kosova Tennis Federation has accused Novak Djokovic of contributing to the rising tensions between Serbia and Kosovo following his statements at the French Open on Monday.
After Djokovic’s straight-sets win against Alexander Kovacevic, the 22-time Grand Slam title winner used the customary act of signing the camera lens to write the message: “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop violence” in Serbian. Djokovic then reposted a photo of his message on his Instagram story.
The 36-year-old was addressing the recent violent clashes in Kosovo following the local elections in April. Later on Monday, he spoke at length about the issue in his Serbian press conference, stating: “This is the least I could have done. I feel the responsibility as a public figure – doesn’t matter in which field – to give support.
“I am not a politician and I don’t have the intention to get into political debate. That topic is very sensitive. As a Serb, everything that’s happening in Kosovo hurts me a lot.”
Despite his protestations, however, in a statement to the Guardian, the Kosova Tennis Federation (KFA) referred to Djokovic’s comments as “deeply regrettable”. “Kosova” is the Albanian spelling of Kosovo, which is how the country is known internationally.
“Notwithstanding a general message against the violence, the statement “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” and the further post-match statements, made by such a public figure, in occasion of a worldwide event like the French Open, directly result in raising the level of tension between the two countries, Serbia and Kosova,” the federation wrote.
“Tennis Federation of Kosova continues to strongly recommend athletes and sports-men to work for the peace and refrain from abusing of their position in sport for political purposes.”
On Monday night, the federation had stated on its Facebook page that it would contact the French Tennis Federation (FFT) and Association of Tennis Professionals to seek punishment for Djokovic. However, there is nothing in the Grand Slam rulebook prohibiting players from making political statements and it is unlikely that Djokovic will face any punishments. The FFT said it would not be taking a stance or making a statement on the situation.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Serbia still considers Kosovo as part of its country. Ethnic Serbs make up a clear majority in the northern provinces of Kosovo. In April, Kosovo Serbs boycotted the local elections, with Albanian politicians taking control of the councils despite a turnout of just 3.47 per cent in the northern province. There have subsequently been a number of clashes in Zvecan and other northern municipalities.
Nato peacekeeping forces said 30 of their troops had been injured, some seriously, including fractures and burns. The Serbia president, Aleksander Vucic, has said 50 Serb protesters have undergone hospital treatment. Vucic, who put his army on combat alert, was due to meet ambassadors of the United Kingdom, the US, China and Russia on Tuesday.
Djokovic’s father was born in Kosovo and he has discussed the subject on a number of occasions. In 2008 Djokovic addressed a large Serbia rally in a video message shortly after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, stating “Kosovo is Serbia”. This month Djokovic told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview that he believes Kosovo “is the heart, it is the centre of our culture, our identity, our tradition, our religion” and that he wants to baptise his children there.
In March, Djokovic applauded a crowd at a basketball game between Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) and Valencia as the crowd loudly chanted “Kosovo, Serbia”, prompting the KTF to criticise Djokovic’s behaviour as “nationalist and chauvinist”.
“Kosovo is an independent country recognised by the ITF, Tennis Europe and the international community. But he continuously attacks us every time he can do it. In a basketball match in Belgrade one month ago, all the people in the stadium were chanting ‘Kosovo is Serbia’. He was not shouting but he was doing the signs with his hand supporting that. That one was not very public, I reacted as well, but this one was a big one.” Jeton Hadergjonaj, the KFA president, told the Press Association news agency.
However, after his five-set loss on Tuesday, Serbian 31st seed Miomir Kecmanovic said that he believes Djokovic has a right to speak about the events in Kosovo: “I mean, he’s a national hero, regardless, in Serbia. But I don’t think what he wrote was something that sensational. There’s no need to violence in this day and age. Especially when it’s happening on home soil. Him, being such a big figure, he had the right to react, and I think a lot of people in this position do.” – Guardian