Today, Orthodox Christmas is being celebrated in Serbia, which means that many will gather for a family lunch. That is an opportunity for many to have discussions about politics, covid, vaccination. However, the discussion on vaccination will gain a new dimension thanks to Novak Djokovic, who is the number one topic in Serbia, but also in the world.
Djokovic and Australia’s policies and politics
Even though, based on the "medical exemption" confirmed by two independent commissions, Djokovic could participate in the Australian Open without a valid vaccination, the Australian border police did not allow him to enter the country. The formal explanation is that the documentation he submitted does not meet the conditions for a "medical exemption" based on when unvaccinated persons can obtain a visa.
After several hours of "captivity" in the extradition detention of the Melbourne airport, a decision was made to deport Novak Djokovic from Australia. Border police did not want to grant him a visa, which, according to Reuters sources, was given to at least three other tennis players registered for the Australian Open with the same documentation on the "medical exemption". Australian Open director Craig Tyley said that 26 players asked for permission to play unvaccinated in the tournament, that requests were forwarded anonymously to independent commissions, and that only a few received approval.
Djokovic appealed to the Federal Court after his visa was denied. At the time of writing, he is in quarantine in a hotel room awaiting a hearing. If his appeal is not accepted, he will be deported from Australia.
In a country that has been under severe lockdown for nineteen months due to the pandemic, the Australian media previously protested after the decision of two independent commissions that the best tennis player in the world, although not vaccinated, can still participate in the Australian Open based on a "medical exemption".
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously stated that the criteria for entering Australia are the same for everyone and that Djokovic will "find himself on the first plane back home" if he does not provide proof that he cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. The Ministry of the Interior explained that the federal state of Victoria and the Australian Open can allow an unvaccinated player to participate in the tournament, but that the implementation of the rules on graces is controlled by the federal government and that there will be no "privileged" ones.
The Guardian states that Djokovic's trouble has become "the epicenter of the political tit-for-tat between the Morrison’s federal administration and Daniel Andrews’ state government in Victoria."
After Novak Djokovic wrote "Idemooo!" on social networks, announcing that he had received a "medical exemption" and packed his suitcases, the news of the deportation from Australia caused a real shock in Serbia.
A firestorm in Serbia
Serbian media and a part of the world public talk about a shameful harassment and humiliation of the best tennis player in the world, who has not yet declared whether he has been vaccinated or not.
The reactions of citizens on social networks are divided: some criticize him for not getting vaccinated and thus putting himself in the situation he is in, while others criticize the Australian authorities who are hostile to the best tennis player. There are also those who criticize both Djokovic, and the approach of the Australian authorities.
Serbian officials also reacted violently to Djokovic's treatment in Melbourne: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited Australian Ambassador to Serbia Daniel Emery for talks, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic spoke with Djokovic to give him support.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told Sky News that it was important to her that tennis player Novak Djokovic be transferred from a migrant hotel to a house he rented and where he could be isolated until the Australian authorities make a final decision on whether to enter the country.
On Thursday evening, the Serbian Patriarch, Porfirije, sent a message of support to the tennis player, telling him that millions of Orthodox Serbs were praying for him; Djokovic’s special relationship with the Church is well known in the country.
Numerous Serbian politicians also gave their support, and several citizens of Belgrade gathered in front of the Australian embassy, throwing tennis balls towards the compound.
“Crucified like Jesus”
Yesterday, the Djokovic family held a press conference in Belgrade, where they presented the details of Djokovic's situation, and his father Srdjan called on the citizens to gather in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade to support the Serbian tennis player.
The family of the best tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, believes that the decision to ban him from entering Australia is exclusively political.
Novak's brother, Djordje, said that Novak had been communicating with the Australian Tennis Federation all the previous months and "together they came to an exception with which Novak and other tennis players entered Australia, had the same document as several other tennis players who are already on the soil of that country, but Novak is the only one kept at the border and the only one who was denied entry. "
When he arrived at the airport, the border police stopped him, and then the harassment began, which can be called a serious diplomatic violation against the athlete who is also a diplomat of the Republic of Serbia. He was taken to an isolation room where he was interrogated by border police. He communicated with his family and team for the first 45 minutes, and then all contact was cut off, his phone was confiscated for three and a half hours, after which his phone was returned to another isolation room, which is also an airport detention, said Djordje Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic's father compared his son to Jesus Christ, saying that Jesus was crucified in the same way, but he endured and is alive among us.
Also, Djokovic’s uncle took part in the press conference, saying that the Australian government is chauvinistic, and that what they did is insolent.
"It is difficult for Novak now, we are proud to be from the Balkans, they could hardly wait for Novak not to come so that they could win the tournament, that's the only way they can," Novak's uncle said.
An icon to be used in future political battles
Novak's decision not to talk about his vaccination status has once again divided the public between those who defend his right not to be vaccinated or not to talk about it publicly and those who believe that his obligation as the best tennis player is to be a good example and invite citizens to get vaccinated. Also, Djokovic has become something of a cause celebre for some in the anti-vaxxer movement, who regard him as a political victim.
But there is more to the Djokovic case than just taking a stand along the pro-vaccination/anti-vaxxer divide. Many nationalists in Serbia will use this situation to confirm their thesis that Serbs are victims of global injustice and that this is another example where you are not allowed to do something just because you are a Serb.
In the coming days, it remains to be seen whether Djokovic will manage to enter Australia and, if that happens, what consequences it will have on the political situation in that country. It also remains to be seen whether this story would have an impact in this year’s elections in Serbia. Djokovic certainly is the type of icon many politicians would be eager to embrace and use for their cause.