He maintains, without repeating it. Forty-eight hours after his controversial message – “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence» – written on Monday on the camera lens of the Philippe-Chatrier court, it is an understatement to say that the Serb was expected at a press conference, Wednesday, May 31, to explain his remarks and return to the controversy he himself has lit. As a good tightrope walker that he is, Djokovic this time played it as a fine wordsmith to get out of the trap of questions on this incandescent subject, while the French Minister of Sports Amélie Oudéa-Castéra had warned the player against any new position. “I could say it again, but I won’t. A lot of people don’t agree, but that’s what I think.”, said the world number 3 in particular. Not sure that this intervention, made at the end of his success in the second round against the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics (83rd) (7-6 (7/2), 6-0, 6-2), does not help to close this episode started Monday.
At the end of a smoothly completed first round against the American Aleksandar Kovacevic (6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/1)) the Serb had swapped his racket for a marker, writing in Cyrillic his unequivocal message. Political gesture of which he knew the repercussions, in a burning context. That of Kosovo, and specifically the province of Zveçan, the scene for several days of clashes between members of the international force supported by NATO (Kfor), the Kosovo security forces and Serb demonstrators who demand the departure local Albanian mayors. Serbia has never recognized the independence proclaimed in 2008 by its former province and clashes regularly break out between supporters of Belgrade and Pristina.
The player then justified himself at a press conference in front of Serbian journalists. “It’s a sensitive subject. I feel an additional responsibility as a public figure and as the son of a man born in Kosovo to support all the Serbian people. It’s the least I can do. I am not a politician and I have no intention of engaging in a debate.assured Novak Djokovic whose father Srdan – who had been talked about at the Australian Open 2023, filmed in the bays of Melbourne with spectators waving pro-Russian flags – is himself of Kosovan origin.
Non-consensual positions and acts
On Wednesday, the Kosovo Olympic Committee called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against the player, accusing him of“stir up” political tensions. The ITF has also confirmed that it has received a missive from the Kosovo Tennis Federation and says it has “forward to the authorities managing the Grand Slams”. The vice-president of the Kosovar federation, Jeton Hadergjonaj, indicated on France Inter to be “deeply touched by the words of Novak Djokovic. […] It’s not the first time Djokovic has done this. He continually provokes our country”. Then : “If Kosovo is the heart of Serbia as he writes, if I see him, I will invite him to play for Kosovo in the Davis Cup. Serbian players play for Kosovo.” However, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said on Wednesday that nothing in the rules of Grand Slam tournaments prohibits players from doing “political statements”.
Regarding Djokovic, this is not the first time he has spoken on Kosovo, and his position has been known for ages. Fifteen years earlier, a young “Djoko” on the rise, then 21, was already speaking on this incandescent subject, after his first Grand Slam victory in Melbourne: “Kosovo is Serbia”, proclaimed in a video the Serb, an unequivocal position. The Serb, 36, spoke out again more recently as tensions rose between the two sides. In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere Della Serra, he notably let it be known that he wished to go to Kosovo to baptize his children there. To which the Kosovar Minister of Sports replied with a clear answer: “No vaccine, no entry [dans le pays].»
In Serbia, if Djokovic on court is an icon whose aura goes beyond political factions, Djokovic off court, that of non-consensual positions or acts, divides his support, as was the case in early 2022 during the soap opera around its anti-Covid vaccination scheme in Australia. The character of Djokovic and his position vis-à-vis Kosovo is just as much a sensitive subject for Kosovars. During the night from Monday to Tuesday, a mural bearing the image of “Nole” was vandalized on a building in Orahovac, a small town in the south-west of the region, where several hundred Serbs live alongside Albanians, the majority . Djokovic was nevertheless able to count on the support of the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, invited to react on her case. The player asked a question: “We live in a free world, so why not give your opinion?”