No pun intended, really. On one level, Serbian tennis player Novak Djoković certainly was prevented unwillingly from playing ball in the Australian Open. But on another, deeper and archetypal level, it was he as a sovereign individual who refused to “play ball” with the movers and shakers of this world. The savage treatment he got was punishment for the choice he deliberately made.
Moving beyond Australian visa technicalities that were thoroughly ventilated in court and ultimately adjudicated to Djoković’s detriment, the core moral issue has got to do not with bureaucratic paperwork but a matter of vastly greater significance. It is an individual’s exemplary defiance of an oppressive system which illegitimately claims unrestrained global reach. It is in that context that the Djoković affair has erupted and his behaviour makes sense.
All that was required of Djoković in order to be able to play tennis without hindrance in the Dominion of Australia was to sacrifice his principles, privacy, and freedom of choice in a very intimate matter, and to opportunistically set aside his convictions. As an archetypal Serb (though far from being in that regard truly representative of the critical mass of his contemporary fellow Serbs) Djoković, on the contrary, just shrugged his shoulders and pronounced a historic “No” which has literally reverberated around the world. But as we know from Edmund Burke, a nation is the fusion of past, present, and future generations. A nation is an entity larger and more inclusive than any single contemporary generation, no matter how heroic or spineless it might happen to be.
It is only in that larger, trans-generational framework, crossing time, space, and successive historical eras, that Novak Djoković’s conduct in the face of Australian chicanery can be properly understood. The essence of his reaction was a refusal to bend. Even as what for him must have been the juiciest of carrots – the possibility of winning another Grand Slam and thus reaching the absolute pinnacle of tennis glory – was not being waived, but literally shoved in his face, the only condition being that he publically comply and accept the jab which he reasonably distrusts, Djoković calmly stood his ground. Yes, he has dabbled in all sorts of awkward things and Serbian churchmen, archimandrite Nikodim Bogosavljevic and Bishop Maksim, have rightly pointed out that Djoković has hardly been an exemplary role model for Orthodox believers, notwithstanding his amply demonstrated respect and support for the Church. But when push came to shove, and Australia pettily deprived him of the opportunity to play his sport on its territory and expelled him under circumstances it foolishly assumed would humiliate him, instead of handing a crushing blow the down-under nastiness just awakened the primal Serb within him. Instead of retreating to a confidential location to sulk, Djoković was happy to fly to Belgrade, to mingle with his people, and the first thing he did was to attend liturgy in the historic Ružica church, after which he flew to his native Montenegro to pray at the renowned Ostrog monastery.
The Djoković saga has reverberated not just with the Serbian public, as should have been expected; it touched also numerous nerves, both defiant and servile, world-wide. Support for the Serbian tennis player has been pouring in from all directions, just as the equally passionate contempt and even hatred aimed at him by zombified Corona cultists, demonstrating once again the correctness of the old adage that misery loves company.
But if Serbian company is what they were hoping for, partisans of Covid misery have been left sorely disappointed. It is with Serbs in mind that Israel Shamir exclaimed in July 2020 that “the relentless advance of coronavirus terror has been broken … by recalcitrant Serbs. After two days of street battles with dozens of policemen hospitalised, the sturdy protesters won; the authorities surrendered and gave up their plans to lock Belgrade down.” That surrender has still not been reversed.
As Shamir must certainly have known, these acts of defiance, springing up when least expected and most annoying, Djoković’s “No” to Australia being just the latest example, are an inherent feature of Serbian culture and mentality. Countless examples could be cited but just three will suffice. In March 1941, when a cowardly government signed on to the Axis alliance, Serbs poured into the streets expressing an unequivocal mass preference for “being in the grave rather than a slave.” The following day, the army staged a coup leading to a confrontation with Nazi Germany which literally cost hundreds of thousands of Serbian lives. While the anti-Axis commotion in the wake of the coup was still on and before the Nazi invasion on April 6, 1941, a lone individual, retired municipal official from Paraćin by the name of Svetolik Dragačevac, sent off a scathing letter to Berlin, addressed to Adolph Hitler personally, to denounce his bloody tyranny.
The German translation of the letter, from Nazi files, follows:
Meticulous Germans archived the offending letter and did not forget Dragačevac after they occupied Yugoslavia. He was soon thereafter hunted down and sent to Mauthausen concentration camp, where he perished in 1942.
The same spirit of disobedience was again ignited in 1999, at the time of NATO aggression.
In today’s largely compliant world Novak Djoković stands out as an anomaly. But on his home turf, in Serbia, he is an easily recognisable symbol of his nation’s historic soul, although one wishes that many more Serbs today would actively emulate his example rather than merely cheering it.