Novak Djokovic is now famous for refusing the vaccine — but in his native Serbia, he’s a national idol, not an anti-vaxxer

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Lately, that is hardly hyperbole in the small Balkan nation of seven million individuals, the place Djokovic is revered in contrast to virtually anybody, save for Jesus Christ himself — although Srdjan hasn’t been shy to match him to the son of God.

For a lot of his followers, any assault on “Nole,” as he is identified, is an assault on the entire nation.

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Australia’s choice to detain after which deport the sportsman on the eve of the Australian Open — robbing him of the likelihood to defend his title — was greeted with fury right here.

“They trample Novak, and so they trample Serbia and the Serbian people,” Srdjan Djokovic stated whereas his son was in immigration detention, accusing Australian authorities of holding his son captive.

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“They wanted to … bring him to his knees, and not only him, but also our country, our beautiful Serbia. We are Serbs: proud European, civilized people. We never attacked anyone, we just defended ourselves.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic referred to as the world No. 1’s therapy “a literal witch hunt,” whereas Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, and the nation’s Olympic Committee, branded Australia’s actions “scandalous.”

Djokovic has spoken out against compulsory innoculations.

An idol at house

Djokovic arrived again in Belgrade on Monday after shedding a courtroom problem in opposition to the Australian authorities’s choice to cancel his visa on public well being and order grounds. At situation? His stance on Covid-19 vaccinations, which authorities feared might incite the nation’s anti-vaxxers.

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The tennis star, who has twice examined optimistic for Covid-19, has spoken out in opposition to obligatory inoculations, telling reporters finally April’s Serbia Open: “I’ve always believed in freedom of choice,” in line with Reuters.

At the time, he refused to say whether or not or not he deliberate to get vaccinated: “It’s an intimate decision … I don’t want to be labeled as someone who is against or who is for vaccines. I’m not going to answer the question.”

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But many in Serbia — together with PM Brnabic — bristle at any try to color Djokovic as an anti-vaxxer.

“I do not see Novak as an anti-vaxxer,” she advised CNN this week. “He helps the vaccination of these individuals who need to be vaccinated.

“He’s an idol and a lot of people look up to him,” certainly one of Djokovic’s closest associates, former tennis professional Viktor Troicki, advised CNN. “But it’s his personal stance … Whatever he decides is best for him, it’s his decision.”

Dijana Djokovic (left) and Srdjan Djokovic (right) are Novak's mother and father.

A query of selection

PM Brnabic finds herself in the odd place of selling vaccines in her nation — the place lower than 60% of the grownup inhabitants has been inoculated — whereas additionally defending Djokovic’s choice not to get vaccinated.

She says she would not know why he’s hesitant, but insists he is beneath no obligation to elucidate. “It’s his own personal decision. You will have to ask Novak. I know that vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic.”

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In Serbia, the entire episode has been broadly dismissed as a calculated political transfer, regardless of Brnabic telling CNN she acquired “reassurances that politics would not be involved” from Australian officers. The Australian Foreign Ministry did not reply when requested about her cost.

Here, Djokovic’s stance on the vaccine is not outstanding in any respect — it is shared by many individuals CNN met in Belgrade over the previous week.

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“He was judged … because he thought something, he didn’t even say it,” stated one younger fan ready to welcome Djokovic at the airport.

And even those that consider strongly in vaccination defend the proper of others to refuse the jab.

“Do we not live in [a] democracy?” stated Brnabic. “In the toughest of times, you need to defend personal choices, not necessarily agreeing with those choices.”

“I would never want to be the prime minister of a country whose police are brutally beating people up in the streets because they’re protesting against vaccination,” she added.

Some say Djokovic has raised Serbia's national profile thanks to his talents.

Representing Serbia on the world stage

Djokovic’s picture could have taken a hit amongst followers overseas following the visa battle, but at house, the episode has sparked a surge in Serbian patriotism.

While Djokovic was being held in immigration detention at the Park Hotel in Melbourne, dozens of followers — a lot of them from Serbian cultural teams — demonstrated in the avenue exterior, waving flags, singing and holding up posters.

Novak Djokovic's fans are fighting to get him out of his hotel. Inside, refugees wonder if they'll ever leave

At house, a protest in help of the world No. 1 was held exterior the National Assembly, and the night time earlier than he returned to Serbia, a constructing in Belgrade was illuminated with the phrases: “Nole, you are the pride of Serbia.”

Former Serbian diplomat Vladeta Jankovic, who has met Djokovic on a number of events, calls him “the best thing to happen to Serbia this century.” But talking about the surge in patriotic help for the star, says: “Let’s not confuse it with nationalism, please.”

Jankovic says Serbia’s picture overseas was badly broken — particularly in the eyes of the West — following the warfare in the Nineteen Nineties. “It was almost embarrassing to be a Serb, when in England or the USA in those days,” he advised CNN.

Then alongside got here Djokovic, a humble, church-going, multilingual tennis prodigy who helped restore and lift the nation’s profile.

“Novak Djokovic is a global phenomenon, and if he decided to take a vaccine, it would probably increase numbers all over the world,” stated Jankovic.

And he says Djokovic’s reputation at house is as strong as ever, even after his unceremonious exit from Melbourne.

“I don’t think it has changed anything. His right of choice is beyond doubt. I think what was wrong is that he came to Australia and trusted this invitation … and it all ended very unfortunately for him.”

The entire ordeal is removed from being nearly a tennis participant, as President Vucic made clear to Australia, but “an entire nation that is free and proud,” he stated. “He will remain the best tennis player of all time and will always be in our hearts.”

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