Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic has been accused of fueling tensions in Kosovo amid violent protests in the region after sharing a political message following his first-round victory at the French Open Monday.
After defeating Aleksandar Kovacevic, Djokovic wrote a message on a camera lens that said, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.”
Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves against Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States during their men’s singles first-round match at the 2023 French Open at Roland Garros May 29, 2023, in Paris. (Christian Liewig/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
The message was received by some as voicing support for the ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who clashed with police and NATO peacekeepers this week when demonstrations erupted after newly elected ethnic Albanian officials tried to enter municipal buildings in the northern region.
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“The comments made by Novak Djokovic at the end of his Roland Garros match against Aleksandar Kovacevic, his statements at the post-match press conference and his Instagram post are regrettable,” Kosovo Tennis Federation President Jeton Hadergjonaj said in a statement, via Reuters.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia writes in Serbian on a camera lens a political statement, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.” He was referring to tensions between Kosovo and Serbia after his first-round victory at the 2023 French Open May 29, 2023, in Paris. (Getty Images)
“Novak Djokovic was already the author of similar actions in the past. Despite a general message against violence, the statement ‘Kosovo is the heart of Serbia’ and further statements after the match, made by such a public figure, on the occasion of a worldwide event like the French Open, directly result in raising the level of tension between the two states, Serbia and Kosovo.”
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In a post-match press conference, Djokovic explained that his ties to Kosovo led him to make the statement. He also reiterated his stance against war.
“As a son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel the need to give my support to our people and to entire Serbia,” he told reporters, via Reuters. “My stance is clear: I am against wars, violence and any kind of conflict, as I’ve always stated publicly. I empathize with all people, but the situation with Kosovo is a precedent in international law.”
Novak Djokovic of Serbia during a men’s singles first-round match against Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States at Roland Garros May 29, 2023, in Paris. (Andy Cheung/Getty Images)
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The recent violence dates to the 1998 conflict in Kosovo. A former province of Serbia, Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is not recognized by Belgrade. Ethnic Albanians make up most of the population, but Kosovo has a restive Serb minority in the north of the country bordering Serbia.
At least 30 NATO peacekeepers were injured in recent clashes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.