Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic left a political message in the lens of a television camera at the French Open on Monday in response to violent clashes in Kosovo.
Following his first-round victory against American Aleksandar Kovacevic, Djokovic wrote: “Kosovo is the [heart] from Serbia. Stop Violence” in Serbian on a camera lens, using a heart symbol.
The message was shown on the big screen at the Philippe Chatrier court.
Tensions have risen in the past week in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. There were clashes with protesters on Monday after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo, a Serb-majority area of Kosovo, after the April elections that the Kosovo Serbs had boycotted. .
At least 34 soldiers from the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo were injured during the clashes.
Djokovic explained his message in Serbian at a press conference, saying: “This is the least I could have done. I feel a responsibility as a public figure – no matter in what field – to provide support.
“Especially as the son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel the need to give my support to our people and all of Serbia. I do not know, and I think many others do not know, what the future holds for Kosovo and for the Serbian people, but it is necessary to show support and unity in these types of situations. I do not know what will happen”.
Djokovic's reference to “the entirety of Serbia” reflects the policy of the Serbian government, which still considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory and has not recognized the country's independence.
NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) said recent developments in Kosovo had led it to increase its presence in the northern part of the country on Monday.
According to the Italian Ministry of Defense, some KFOR soldiers were injured when protesters threw “Molotov cocktails with nails, firecrackers and stones.”
Reuters reported that Djokovic said he had not been approached by French Open organizers about the message he wrote on the camera lens, a photo he also shared on Instagram. CNN has contacted the French Tennis Federation for comment.
“My position is clear: I am against wars, violence and any type of conflict, as I have always stated publicly. “I sympathize with everyone, but the situation in Kosovo sets a precedent in international law,” the 36-year-old added.
As a child growing up in Belgrade, Djokovic lived through NATO's 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, which aimed to end atrocities committed by then-Yugoslavia's president Slobodan Milošević's troops against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. .
Djokovic is aiming to win his 23rd Grand Slam title at the French Open, which would move him away from Rafael Nadal at the top of the men's all-time list.