“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”: behind Djokovic’s message, a nationalist slogan

He easily won in the first round on Monday, but that’s not what we’ll remember from Novak Djokovic’s entry into the Roland-Garros tournament. The 36-year-old Serbian player made an impression with his position on the conflict between his country and Kosovo since 2008 and Pristina’s declaration of independence.

As is traditional, the world No. 3 wrote a message on the court camera, then projected to the spectators: “Kosovo je srce Srbije. Stop nasilju! or “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia, stop the violence!” “. Words that were quick to react on the Kosovar side. Kosovo’s main newspaper, Time of dayeven speaks of the “provocateur Djokovic”, who “continued his political propaganda”.

“As the son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel a responsibility to support our people and all of Serbia”, justified Novak Djokovic in a press conference. “The purpose of his message was to tell the Serbs that he is thinking of them, and to indirectly attract attention”, analyzes Loïc Trégourès, specialist in the Balkans and head of education at the Institute for Advanced National Defense Studies ( IHEDN). “Nevertheless, the two sentences are contradictory,” he acknowledges.

A slogan that has its roots in the Serbian imagination

But this sentence is reminiscent of the slogan “Kosovo je Srbija”, “Kosovo is Serbia”, used by opponents of Kosovo’s independence since 2008. This nationalist sentence is regularly chanted in rallies or at sporting events.

“It refers to the place of Kosovo in the national narrative and the Serbian imagination. It works through a system of codes which mobilizes the Serbian imagination and which was greatly reactivated at the end of the 1980s by the seizure of power by Milosevic which began in Kosovo”, explains the author of the book “Le football dans le Yugoslav chaos ”(Ed. Non-place) in 2019. Already in 2008, the tennis player had proclaimed this slogan in a video on the sidelines of a rally against the independence of Kosovo.

“It is based on the founding myth of the battle of Kosovo” in which the Serbian nation draws its roots, he adds. Serbia now has recourse to “historical anteriority to justify political and exclusive sovereignty” over Kosovo: on the pretext that this battle and Orthodox churches are on the claimed territory, then it would rightfully belong to Serbia , according to his authorities.

For Loïc Trégourès, it is impossible not to draw a parallel between this slogan and Djokovic’s message: “In the eyes of the Serbs, it is obvious in terms of identity, even if a tiny minority has already set foot in Kosovo. This discrepancy between the immaterial and the concrete contributes to the inextricable nature of the problem. »

It should also be noted that every year, Serbia commemorates the “NATO aggression”, following the bombardments carried out in 1999. “There was no reflective return on what the Serbian forces did in the Kosovo despite the discovery of mass graves of bodies moved to Serbia from Kosovo,” insists the Balkan specialist. Novak Djokovic’s speech thus falls within a context where a large part of Serbia considers that Kosovo belongs to it and that this does not raise any question, despite the presence of nearly 2 million Albanians in this territory since years.

Adding fuel to the fire in a context of tensions

This on-camera sign at the end of Novak Djokovic’s first game in the tournament comes as clashes between Serbs and Kosovars have repeatedly erupted over the latter players. A fresco bearing the image of the tennis player was even ransacked last night in Orahovac, in the north of Kosovo, reports the local media KoSSev.

The situation is very tense in northern Kosovo, where many members of the majority Serb community in four towns in this region do not recognize the authority of Pristina and are loyal to Belgrade. The Serbs boycotted the April municipal elections in these localities, which resulted in the election of Albanian mayors with a turnout of less than 3.5%.

“This scenario of violence is not new, but on Monday, a level was crossed and Kfor, for the first time, intervened, that is to say, it fulfilled its mission, while ‘She had remained very discreet the previous times,’ notes Jean-Arnault Dérens, editor-in-chief of the Courier des Balkans and author of “The Balkans in 100 questions” (Éd. Tallandier).

Thirty members of the international force led by NATO in Kosovo (KFOR) were injured in clashes with Serb demonstrators demanding the departure of the Albanian mayors.


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