On Monday at the French Open, Novak Djokovic, a prominent tennis player from Serbia, left a political statement on a television camera lens in reaction to the turbulent confrontations occurring in Kosovo.
After winning his first match against Aleksandar Kovacevic from the United States, Djokovic expressed in Serbian, through a heart symbol, that Kosovo is an important part of Serbia and called for an end to violence.
The announcement appeared on the large screen of Court Philippe Chatrier.
In the last week, tensions have been escalating in Kosovo, a country that declared independence from Serbia in 2008. On Monday, there were confrontations with demonstrators as ethnically Albanian mayors were sworn in to govern northern Kosovo, a region with a majority of Kosovo Serb residents. These elections were held in April but boycotted by Kosovo Serbs.
At least 34 members of NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo sustained injuries in the confrontations.
During a press conference, Djokovic further explained his statement in Serbian, stating that he felt a sense of responsibility as a public figure to provide support, regardless of the field.
“As the son of a Kosovo-born man, I strongly feel the urge to show my support for our people and for all of Serbia. The future may be uncertain for Kosovo and the Serbian community, but it is crucial to stand in solidarity and demonstrate unity during challenging times. The outcome is unknown.”
Djokovic’s reference to the “entirety of Serbia” reflects the policy of the Serbian government, which still considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its territory and has not recognized the country’s independence.
KFOR, the Kosovo Force of NATO, has announced an increase in their presence in the northern region of Kosovo on Monday due to recent events in the area.
The Italian defense ministry reports that several KFOR soldiers sustained injuries after being targeted by protesters with Molotov cocktails containing nails, firecrackers, and stones.
According to Reuters, Djokovic stated that the French Open organizers did not reach out to him regarding the message he wrote on the camera lens. He also shared a photo of the message on his Instagram. CNN has reached out to the French Tennis Federation for a response.
“I firmly oppose warfare, aggression, and any form of discord, as I have consistently expressed openly. While I sympathize with all individuals, the Kosovo situation sets a precedent in the realm of international law,” the 36-year-old clarified.
While growing up in Belgrade, Djokovic experienced the 78-day bombing campaign by NATO in 1999. The campaign was aimed at stopping the atrocities that were being carried out by Yugoslavian troops under President Slobodan Milošević against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Novak Djokovic hopes to secure his 23rd grand slam championship at the French Open, putting him ahead of Rafael Nadal as the greatest male player of all time.
Jessie Gretener, Sugam Pokharel, Tara John, and Sharon Braithwaite from CNN contributed to the reporting.