Novak Djokovic courted controversy Monday when he wrote “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera at the French Open after clashes flared in northern Kosovo amid ethnic tensions.
The Belgrade-born tennis superstar wrote the message in Serbian after his opening round victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic on the showpiece Philippe Chatrier Court at Roland Garros.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country… There are many reasons why I wrote that on the camera,” 36-year-old Djokovic told Serb media at the tournament.
NATO-led peacekeepers on Monday dispersed Serb protesters who again clashed with police in northern Kosovo to demand the removal of recently elected Albanian mayors, as ethnic tensions flared in the Balkan nation.
Around 25 soldiers were injured during the clashes, along with over 50 demonstrators.
Kosovo’s Serbs had boycotted last month’s elections in the northern towns, which allowed ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a minuscule turnout of under 3.5 percent of voters.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government officially installed the mayors last week, defying calls to ease the tensions by the European Union and the United States, which have both championed the territory’s 2008 independence from Serbia.
“I am not a politician and I have no intention to engage in political debates, it is a very sensitive topic,” added Djokovic.
“Of course it hurts me very much as a Serb to see what is happening in Kosovo and the way our people have been practically expelled from the municipal offices, so the least I could do was this.
“As a public figure but also a son of a man who was born in Kosovo I feel additional responsibility to express my support to our people and Serbia as a whole.
“I have no remorse and would do it again as my stance is clear. I am against war, violence and conflict of any kind and I have always publicly shown that. Of course I have sympathy for all people but what is happening with Kosovo is a precedent in international law.”