Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has sparked outrage after being photographed with the ex-commander of a paramilitary unit that took part in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.
The current Wimbledon champion, 34, was attending the wedding of Olympian judo star and close friend Nemanja Majdov in Bosnia over the weekend while spending time with his family in the country.
During the weekend, he was photographed at an unknown location having dinner with Milan Jolovic, the former commander of a paramilitary unit that took part in the Srebrenica genocide.
Jolovic, nicknamed ‘Legend’, used to command the ‘Drina Wolves’ paramilitary unit of the army of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The unit took part in the genocide against Bosniaks in the town of Srebrenica in Republika Srpska in July 1995.
According to local media, Jolovic is still celebrated by many Serbs for once saving the life of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, 79, who led the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) during the Yugoslav Wars.
A UN court found Mladic guilty of war crimes and genocide in Bosnia and he was sentenced to life in prison in 2017.
Netizen ‘Besplatnomudro1’ shared a photo of Djokovic and Jolovic together on Twitter with the message: “What a dream it must be to have your photo taken with the commander of the Drina Wolves.”
During the tennis star’s recent visit to Bosnia, Djokovic was filmed singing at a wedding with Milorad Dodik, 62, a Bosnian-Serb politician serving as the current Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to local media, Dodik is also a genocide denier who supports the secession of the Serb-run Republika Srpska from the rest of the country.
Bosnia is governed by a three-member body that must consist of one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat. Dodik is serving as the 7th Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the collective federal head of state.
Bosnian journalist Dragan Bursac wrote in the Sarajevo Times: “Djokovic could have been the greatest of all time, he could have represented the whole planet of sports and help out in a billion ways.
“Instead, he shares a decoration with war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, he sings in village weddings with the Dodik family and picnics with people who were in charge of organising [military] operations which led to the genocide.”
Local media shared Serbian radio and television footage showing several commanders of Serb formations, including Jolovic and Vinko Pandurevic of the Zvornik Brigade, during the coordination of attacks on people fleeing Srebrenica.
Aage Borchgrevink, human rights representative for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, shared the photo with the message: “This is not good. Ace tennis player Novak Djokovic apparently having tea with Milan Jolovic, former head of the Drina Wolves brigade which participated in the Srebrenica genocide.”
Milan Jolovic’s wife, Snezana Pajkic-Jolovic, 50, a former athlete from Serbia who won the gold medal for Yugoslavia in the women’s 1500 metres at the 1990 European Athletics Championships, told local media that there is a smear campaign being waged against her husband and Djokovic.
She added: “I can say that someone is intentionally abusing our friendship with Novak Djokovic. It’s a story from the sports world. Novak and I met last year in the pyramid in Visoko (Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun). That weekend he came to a friend’s wedding as it is normal for him to stop by for a drink, to see us, to talk to us.”
Political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic believes the tennis star will keep his sponsorship deals following the meeting, adding: “Bosnian Genocide denial and/or association with those involved in as much (including actual killings) gets you Nobel Prizes and keynote lectures not social ostracism.
“For those keeping count, 0 is also how many sponsors he lost for posing with a liquor brand named after WWII Nazi collaborator Draza Mihailovic. Or when he received an award from the Republika Srpska entity government, past luminaries of which include genocidaires Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic, etc.”
Djokovic has yet to publicly comment on the online backlash to his encounter with Jolovic.