On Monday, Novak Djokovic wrote on camera: "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence."

A "militant", "very political" message that came at the time of an outbreak of violence in northern Kosovo pitting demonstrators from the Serb minority against the NATO force stationed there.

This violence left about thirty international soldiers wounded and fifty Serb protesters, who, with Belgrade's support, refuse to recognize the authority of the Pristina government over the former Serbian province. Since Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008, tensions have erupted regularly between Belgrade and Pristina.

'A pain' for Ukrainians

Asked on France 2 about the position of Djokovic, whose father was born in Kosovo, the minister, former director of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said that the director of the tournament Amélie Mauresmo "had been able to exchange with" Djokovic "and with his entourage", evoking the principle of "neutrality of the playing field".

Novak Djokovic during the Serbian Open in Belgrade on April 18, 2022 © Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP/Archives

Novak Djokovic is scheduled to play again on Wednesday evening against Hungary's Marton Fucsovics.

Invited to comment on the expression of political positions during this Grand Slam tournament, such as those of Ukrainian athletes since the Russian invasion of their country, the minister stressed that she did not put "the two subjects on the same level".

"When you carry messages that are in defense of human rights, messages that bring people together around universal values, an athlete is free to do so," she said. But, when it comes to a "militant, very political" message like that of the Serbian player, "it must not happen again".

On the other hand, "what happens to Ukrainians on the circuit is so painful, so difficult," she said.

On Sunday, Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk did not greet Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka after their match, earning her the whistles of the Roland-Garros crowd. She wanted to protest against the tennis authorities' response, which she considered too timid, to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and to denounce the fact that Sabalenka did not take a position on this invasion.

Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk loses to Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka, at Roland Garros on May 28, 2023 © Thomas SAMSON / AFP/Archives

"We can understand" the gesture of the young Ukrainian, "even if we would like there to always be fair play until the end of shaking hands, there is a pain that is there, which I respect," added the minister.

"Support for all Serbian people"

The next day, after his match against American Aleksandar Kovacevic 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/1), Novak Djokovic, armed with his marker, had written his message in Cyrillic on the camera of the Philippe-Chatrier court.

Novak Djokovic greets American Aleksandar Kovacevic, at Roland Garros on May 29, 2023 © Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP/Archives

The player, in search at Roland-Garros of his 23rd Grand Slam, which would be a historical record, justified himself in a press conference in front of Serbian journalists. "It's a sensitive subject," he acknowledged. I feel an additional responsibility as a public figure and as the son of a man born in Kosovo to support all the Serbian people. It is the least I can do. I'm not a politician and I don't intend to engage in a debate."

Many Serbs regard Kosovo as their national and religious cradle and a minority still lives there.

The Roland-Garros code of ethics prohibits political or religious positions. But the FFT published a rather cryptic statement, without addressing the question of a possible sanction: "The debates that cross the international news are sometimes invited on the sidelines of the tournament, it is understandable," simply said the federation.

© 2023 AFP