In his latest, widely read online mailbag, Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim wrote, “Ask yourself: What's the worst thing you could say about Djokovic in 2011? He once used a controversial egg contraption? He faded in the fall? His parents stopped showing up wearing those super cool T-shirts? Just a standout year in every sense.”
I have something worse to say than the trivial examples Wertheim uses to build up his straw man. Djokovic is not a big-hearted patriot, but a dangerous nationalist whose actions are governed by his family's narrow personal interests. Here is my evidence:
In the interview he gave the German magazine, Spiegel Online, on Ocober 7, 2011, Djokovic said he did not regret the inflammatory remarks he made about Kosovo in a Belgrade meeting which resulted in an attack on German, Bosnian, Croatian , and American embassies (the latter of which the Serbian crowd tried to set on fire). His claim is that "we are seeking justice but cannot get it." Justice, according to Djokovic, means not recognizing Kosovo as an independent country but forcing its predominantly Albanian and Muslim population to continue to accept Serbian rule because Djokovic's father is from there. Also because there are Orthdox Christian monasteries in the northern part, which according to Djokovic makes Kosova "the birthplace of Serbian culture” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,790484-2,00.html).
First of all, although the majority of Albanian people, like the Bosnian people, converted to Islam under the five hundred year rule of the Ottoman Empire (unlike the Serbs and other Slavic nations which remained Orthodox Christian), the Albanian people together with the Greeks are the only two native people of the Balkans. The Slavic people did not immigrate into the Balkans until the seventh century A.D. When the Balkan nations declared their independence from the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the twentieth century, Kosova was given to Serbia by the European power players because of Serbia’s ethnic and religious ties with Russia. Any claim that Kosovar Albanians are remnants of the Ottoman occupation (as even one of my better educated Russian friends thought before he decided to do his research on the matter) is revisionist history. All one has to do is read any impartial history book. Here's one: http://www.amazon.com/Palgrave-Concise-Historical-Atlas-Balkans/dp/031223970X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Secondly, while Djokovic and the Spiegel reporter spend a lot of time commiserating over how "scared" twelve year old Djokovic was during the NATO bombing and the death of his tennis teacher's sister (who died when a wall crumbled at what must have been a relatively advanced age), they barely mention the reason for the NATO bombing. That reason has been chronicled in various international reports. Here is only one of many (with one of countless chilling pictures that prove it): http://projects.jou.ufl.edu/ktrammell/project2/ethnicity/balkans1.htm.
During the Serbian massacres in Kosovo, more than 1.5 million people were banished from their homes and forced to live in squalor like animals. I remember one (American) television report in particular about a woman who had lost her mental faculties after being forced to abandon her children and leave them in harm’s way. In another, a grown man could not speak and was embarrassed when he couldn’t stop from crying after recalling what he had witnessed in his village. Over 3, 000 people, men, women, and children, were killed in cold blood for being Albanian and Muslim. The Serbian government neither acknowledged nor stopped its active killings until the Serbian army was stopped by the NATO bombing of Belgrade (which did not target civilians although a few civilians became casualties). Djokovic was struggling to keep playing tennis. Albanian Kosovars were struggling to keep their families alilve. The Kosovo massacre was the culmination of years of ethnic and religious discrimination. This is why the Albanian Kosovars refuse to accept Serbian rule.
Even the bravest Serbian writers have not admitted to the atrocities committed by Serbs in Kosova and have focused instead on the atrocities committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/opinion/06Kandic.html To date, Serbia has not apologized or acknowledged the ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars.
It is true that some Kosovo Liberation Army units and generals tried to avenge the killings of Kosovar Albanians by killing innocent Serbian civilians. They should and have been brought to trial in Hague. It is also true that the Kosovo government has not acknowledged nor apologized for the atrocities committed on Serbian civilians by Kosovo Liberation Army forces. They should do both. However, Serbian war criminals overwhelmingly outnumber Albanian Kosovar criminals and the number of Albanian Kosovar victims is far, far greater than that of Serbian victims.
Djokovic is intentionally emphasizing only Serbian suffering while refusing to acknowledge Serbian crimes. Furthermore, he is using his super-star status to fan the flames of Serbian nationalism, the Serbian hatred of Kosovar Albanians and Serbia’s claims over a land that has historically been and is currently predominantly populated by Albanian Kosovars. And he’s doing it in the name of his religion, taking advantage of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. One chilling reminder of that sentiment came in July of this year in Norway, when the Christian fundamentalist Anders Breivik killed over seventy people related to the ruling party for being too tolerant of Muslims. In his five thousand page manifesto, Breivik specifically targeted Albanian Kosovars for being Muslim (http://m.theage.com.au/world/manifesto-reveals-killers-longheld-hatreds-20110725-1hw4j.html?page=1).
A patriot is someone who stands up for his or her country when it is wronged. A nationalist is someone who stands up for his or country when it wrongs others. One is noble, the other is vile.
Personally, although I am born and raised in Albania, I am not from Kosovo and , like most Albanians from Albania I know, I think of the two countries as separate people who have developed different cultures in the past one hundred years. I think that Northern Kosovo should be ceded to Serbia, not because Serbia has any historical or cultural claim to it, but because it is currently populated mostly by Serbs who as an ethnic minority may be discriminated against the same way Albanian Kosovars were discriminated against by the Serbian government. Moreover, my own father, Faik Shehi, was a political prisoner who was convicted for praising the regime of Tito, the Yugoslav communist leader. He spent some of his childhood in Kosovo before World War II and always insisting on defending the Serbians he met there who were kind to him. Unlike Djokovic, I have no personal investment in this matter.
Djokovic’s public persona is calculated to manipulate international opinion in favor of Serbian claims to the whole region of Kosovo and he has done a very good job at putting up a good, deceiving front. Serbian nationalists are having a field day with his dominance on the tennis courts. Unfortunately Kosovar Albanians have no internationally prominent public figure to give voice to their stories. Just as unfortunately, none of the many tennis writers who have spent a lot of pixels and ink writing about the Serbian players training difficulties has investigated Djokovic's political agenda and to what end he has used his power in Serbia. But his dominance won’t last forever, and even if it did, might does not make right. The majority of Kosovo is the rightful territory of Albanian Kosovars, even if they are Muslims. They survived ruthless Serbian oppression and persecution and they deserve to live and worship freely in their own land.