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Swedish Academy gets global criticism over Handke award

2019 winner of Nobel Prize in Literature Handke known for his admire for former Serb leader, denial of Bosnian genocide

Sena Guler   | 10.12.2019
Swedish Academy gets global criticism over Handke award


Swedish Academy’s pick for Nobel Prize in Literature 2019 has received a pouring backlash worldwide over the winner’s denial of the 1995 Bosnian genocide.

The Austrian playwright, novelist and poet Peter Handke, 77, was awarded the 2019 prize in early October "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience," according to the statement by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm.

However, the decision has been getting a great deal of criticism as Handke is known to be a great admirer of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 at the international tribunal in The Hague on trial for war crimes and genocide.

Handke also voiced his support in an article for the Serbs during the war in Kosovo. He claimed that the Muslim Bosniaks in Sarajevo killed themselves and put the blame on the Serbs, and added that he never believed the Serbs committed genocide in Srebrenica.

The Nobel laureate also visited former Serbian leader Milosevic in prison and made attempts to testify in his favor.
"I am here for Yugoslavia, for Serbia, for Slobodan Milosevic," Handke said, attending Milosevic's funeral in 2006.

The decision was first protested by the relatives of the genocide victims, the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves organization, who called on the academy to revoke their decision.

Mothers, who lost their children and spouses in the genocide, said that what happened in Srebrenica is known by everyone and the criminals of it received their punishments by the international courts.

They also said it was “shameful” to award someone who denies a genocide.

In late October, associations of war victims and relatives operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina jointly stood up against Handke’s prize.
The associations' representatives in the capital Sarajevo sent a letter of condemnation to the Swedish Academy which oversees the prestigious award.

Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefik Dzaferovic also called the decision "scandalous and shameful" during a speech at an event held in Turkey’s Istanbul.
Meanwhile, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also said on Twitter: "Never thought [I] would feel to vomit because of a Nobel Prize."

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was among those who condemned the decision on Twitter: “I remember in 1990s Václav Havel, Susan Sontag and many others knew that evil in Europe must be stopped. That genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo had a perpetrator. Handke chose to support and defend perpetrators. The decision of the Nobel Prize brought immense pain to countless victims.”

Resignation in Nobel committee

Last week, Gun-Britt Sundstrom, now a former Nobel Literature Prize committee member, announced her resignation over the controversial decision to award Handke.

Sundstrom said in a statement published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that the committee interpreted their choice of Handke as if literature stood above politics and that she did not share that “ideology”.

The former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy and current member, Peter Englund, also announced last week that he would boycott this year’s ceremonies over the election of Handke as 2019 literature laureate.

Also speaking to Dagens Nyheter, Englund said: “to celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part.”
Englund’s announcement came a day before Handke gave laureate’s lecture on Saturday and the ceremony on Dec. 10 when he will also receive 9 million Swedish kronor ($944,000) as well as a medal and diploma.

During Saturday’s speech, Handke reiterated his denial of the genocide and answered a journalist’s question on the issue by saying: “I prefer toilet paper, an anonymous letter with toilet paper inside, to your empty and ignorant questions.”

In an interview with Sweden’s state television SVT, Handke also refused to use the term genocide for what happened in Srebrenica and called it a “brother murder”.

Turkey blasts Academy’s decision

Turkey was also among those who slammed and boycott the decision.

"We strongly disapprove of the awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Peter Handke, who is a denier of the Bosnian genocide and a staunch supporter of [Slobodan] Milosevic, who was the perpetrator of the Bosnian genocide and the murderer of our Bosnian brothers," Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said on Twitter.

The ministry urged the reversal of “this historical mistake which will deeply hurt anyone with a conscience and will once again bring the Nobel Prize under scrutiny and criticism as being controversial.”

Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also urged the Academy to revoke the “shameless decision”.

Kalin warned that the decision would encourage new genocides.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Ambassador to Sweden Hakki Emre Yunt said he would not attend the ceremony despite invitation due to Handke’s admiration for former Serbian leader Milosevic.

Separately, Albanian Embassy in Stockholm announced that its ambassador would not attend the ceremony slated for Dec. 10, citing the same reason.

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli also announced on social media that he would boycott the prize ceremony.

Croatia joined the award ceremony boycott in protest against the award being given to Handke, the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry said on Twitter.

International journalists and academicians who gathered in Stockholm called on the Nobel prize committee to change their minds about awarding Handke.

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