Serbia’s star tennis player Novak Djokovic stood behind his controversial comments that “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia,” which had prompted fierce criticism from the French sports minister.
“I would say it again, but I don’t need to because you have my quotes,” Djokovic told reporters at Roland-Garros after his second-round victory late Wednesday night at the French Open tennis tournament, according to French newswire AFP.
“I’m aware that a lot of people would disagree, but it is what it is,” the 22-time Grand Slam winner added. “It’s something that I stand for.”
Djokovic, one of the most successful athletes in tennis history and a superstar in his home country Serbia, sparked criticism Monday at the Paris tournament. “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” Djokovic wrote in Serbian on a TV camera screen after his first-round win.
Clashes between police and Kosovo Serb protesters in northern Kosovo have caused a resurgence of long-standing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo — which declared its independence in 2008 but is not recognized by Belgrade. Dozens were wounded in the recent skirmishes, including NATO soldiers.
In an interview with POLITICO, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed Serbia for the recent escalation, and warned it could escalate into a broader conflict — but that, he said, “depends” on Belgrade.
Djokovic’s original comment sparked a backlash from French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who said Wednesday his message was “clearly not appropriate.”
“We really shouldn’t go down that road, especially given the circumstances,” the minister said. “It cannot happen again.”
The Kosovo tennis federation said Djokovic’s comments were “deplorable” and contributed to the rising tensions, in a statement released Tuesday.
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