Even if he’s a Serb…

23 May

…is the subtext of this article from AP and Canadian Press about Djokovic donating his full check from the Rome Masters to relief aid for Serbia and Bosnia  A nice guy, even though…

Nolegb148-512-2013-162604-high-jpg(AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia — click)

Novak Djokovic unites old enemies for flood relief effort

Serbian brings together former Balkan wartime foes

After winning the Masters tournament in Rome on May 18, tennis player Novak Djokovic donated all the prize money, about $500,000 US, to the flood victims in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Novak Djokovic has served many match-winning aces on the tennis court, but now he has fired a major one in the flood-hit Balkans.

The world’s No. 2 tennis player has achieved what no politician has managed since the bloody Balkan wars in the 1990s: to at least temporarily reunite former bitter wartime foes as they jointly struggle against the region’s worst flooding in more than a century.

Djokovic has sparked worldwide financial and media support for victims of the massive river water surge that has killed at least 45 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

The Serb has in the past triggered fury in the other former Yugoslav republics for what people considered nationalistic gestures, such as celebrating his victories with a three-finger victory sign that was used by Serb soldiers during their wartime campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia.

‘My heart is breaking when I see that so many people were evacuated and endangered in Bosnia. … Help will come from the world.’– Tweet from Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic

What has set Djokovic’s flood salvage campaign apart is that he didn’t just seek international support for Serbia. He also did it for Bosnia and Croatia which were at war with Serbia. All three states are still harbouring a deep mutual hatred and distrust, 20 years after the wars ended and the former Yugoslavia split up into seven different countries.

“My heart is breaking when I see that so many people were evacuated and endangered in Bosnia! More than 950,000!!! Hold on brothers … help will come from the world,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter. “I also see that the east of Croatia is hit by floods … I sincerely hope that it will not hit you like Serbia and Bosnia. Keep safe.”

“Long live the people of former Yugoslavia. Let God be with you,” he wrote, adding a map of the former Yugoslavia with the flags of now different countries.

The floods have triggered unprecedented regional solidarity in the Balkans, with the former Yugoslav countries sending rescue teams and humanitarian aid to each other over their borders.

$500,000 US donation

After beating top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the final of the Masters tournament in Rome on Sunday, Djokovic donated all the prize money — about $500,000 — to the flood victims. His charity foundation collected another $600,000.

“There have not been floods like this in the existence of our people,” Djokovic said. “It is a total catastrophe of biblical proportions. I don’t really know how to describe it.”

Djokovic’s gestures triggered mostly positive public support in both Croatia and Bosnia.

“I’m not Djokovic’s supporter or like tennis,” said Davor Buric, a university student in Zagreb, Croatian capital. “It is nice that he mentioned not only Serbia, but also Croatia and Bosnia. Djokovic has nothing to do with the war, and I have never heard him saying anything against other nationalities.”

In Bosnia, national football team coach Safet Susic said Djokovic had won “the support of the whole of Bosnia” with his campaign, and promised to support him in the upcoming Grand Slam tournaments — the French Open and Wimbledon. Djokovic replied by saying he will support Bosnia at the World Cup in Brazil.

Such sentiments in Bosnia and Croatia have prompted some commentators to nickname him “Marshal Djokovic” after Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the post World War II Yugoslav communist leader who managed to keep Yugoslavia united with iron fist. With his death in 1980, the country started unraveling along ethnic lines.

“This water … has destroyed what we have been building for the past 20 years,” wrote prominent Croatian columnist and writer Vedrana Rudan in an ironic commentary on her web page.

“Djokovic has sketched the map of Yugoslavia, he greets both our and his people … the slaughter has separated us, the drowning has reunited us.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014


This is the three-finger gesture they’re talking about, along with a temporary tattoo Djokovic got at some point of the Serbian national crest (with “Born in Serbia and ‘something’ in Monaco” added), and generally looking a little bit like a Belgrade club bouncer:


But it’s not a nationalist victory gesture “used by Serb soldiers during their wartime campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia.”  Those are the three fingers Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross with and, according to my sources (granted, all Serbian), did not become a Serbian symbol or gesture of any kind until WWII, when members of the Nazi-collaborationist Ustaša regime of Croatia and those Bosnian Muslims who worked with them (for reasons I’ve never understood) made a habit of cutting those fingers off both corpses and the living.  It then became a symbol of resistance.  The Ustaša’s plan for the Serbs that fell under their control during the war was the “thirds” plan: kill one third, expel one third, convert the last third to Catholicism (good luck with that last one…)  See my post on genocide from last November.  Also yesterday’s After the Flood, Unity and Compasion…yeah.

You wanna casually throw some history around in lazy, half-informed North American style, at least look back a little further than twenty years.

Marin Čilić is never ‘the tennis player from the country that created one of the ugliest, most homicidal Fascist regimes of twentieth-century Europe,’ is he?  Or ‘from the country that committed as many if not more atrocities in Bosnia during the wars of the nineties, and ethnically cleansed larger parts of the areas under its control of both Muslims and Serbs, and more thoroughly as well’ is he?  Or that ‘still holds on to a huge part of occupied Bosnia where Muslims suffer worse than they do in the Serb-held parts,’ is he?  Or, ‘that blew up the famous Ottoman bridge of Mostar?’ is he?   Nor should he be…considered anything other than an exceptional tennis player and a great athlete.


Marin Čilić (click)

Yet Nole is constantly having to prove he’s not the “ugly Serb.”  Why can’t this just be the story of a deeply Christian kid, which is essentially what Novak is — and very genuinely so — who wants to help his neighbors?  Why is he held responsible for “fixing” damage he didn’t do?  And his people still responsible for a war they didn’t start?

He’s certainly far more  above all of it than I am, and God bless him.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


 The Bridge of Mostar, now rebuilt (click)mostar


(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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