The fire that has devastated Notre-Dame is “God’s punishment” two Serbian tabloids said Monday, linking it to tweet saying a Kosovo flag was displayed in the Paris cathedral for World War I centennial commemorations last year.
“God’s punishment caught them,” read headlines of Alo and Informer tabloids online editions late Monday.
However, the two outlets, both close to Serbia’s rulers, withdrew the articles later.
Alo called the blaze was punishment for “spitting on Serb victims” in the 1990s war in Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia were ethnic Albanians, with US and NATO backing, won self-rule in 1999.
Serbia has rejected Kosovo’s 2008 claim to independence and is sensitive to any international recognition of Kosovo as a standalone state.
A tweet attributed to Serbia’s ambassador to Paris posted last November said that Kosovo’s flag was among those of other countries decorating the inside of Notre-Dame Cathedral for a ceremony marking the centenary of the end of World War I.
Although there was no confirmation of that from the cathedral or French authorities, the assertion — picked up by Serbian media — further strained French-Serbian relations already taut because of the presence of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci at the commemorations near to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Serbia is currently marking the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing campaign that forced its troops out of Kosovo in 1999, a period that evokes national trauma and humiliation.
Vucic, however, joined other world leaders in expressing solidarity with France over the Notre-Dame fire, saying on Twitter that “all Serbian citizens are sad” and are with their “French friends” and that his country was prepared to help with the cathedral’s reconstruction.