Novak Djokovic has risked stoking political tensions in his home region with a political message on Kosovo – after peacekeepers were injured when ethnic Serbs clashed with police over the weekend. end.
After his victory against Aleksandr Kovacevic in the first round of Roland-Garros, Djokovic who is Serbian, wrote on the camera lens: “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.
His comments came as the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeeping force claimed that 25 of its soldiers had been injured in clashes with ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. .
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 – but the two countries have been enemies for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize its sovereignty.
Violence erupted in the north of the country over the weekend after the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in predominantly Serb areas.
The clashes were the latest incident as tensions soared over the past week, with Serbia putting the country’s military on high alert and sending more troops to the border with Kosovo.
Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have stepped up efforts to help resolve the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, fearing renewed instability in Europe as the Russian war rages in Ukraine.
The EU has made it clear that Serbia and Kosovo need to normalize their relations to advance their intentions to join the bloc.
On Monday, Kosovar police and NATO-led KFOR were seen protecting municipal buildings in Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Mitrovica – which are four townships in the northern region that held snap elections last month .
Djokovic, whose father was born in Kosovo, told Serbian journalists: “I am not a politician nor do I intend to enter into debates.
“As a Serb, it pains me what is happening in Kosovo. Our people have been expelled from the municipalities. It is the least I can do. As a public figure, I feel obliged to show my support for our people and to all of Serbia.”
He added: “I hear there’s been a lot of criticism on social media. I don’t know if anyone is going to punish me or something, but I would do it again. I’m against wars and conflicts of all kinds.
“Kosovo is our heart, our fortress, the center of the most important events, the biggest battle fought there, the most monasteries. There are many reasons why I wrote this.”
In November, the Serbia football team were fined by FIFA at the World Cup after a flag showing Kosovo as part of the country was displayed in their dressing room.
Djokovic, 36, made his comments after his 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-1) win over Kovacevic.
He will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in the second round in Paris on Wednesday.