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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Francois Mori/AP/Press Association Images Austrian author Peter Handke at his house in Chaville near Paris yesterday.
Peter Handke

'Scandalous': Outrage after Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to Slobodan Milosevic defender

Peter Handke was a vocal defender of the Serbs during the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

THE DECISION TO award a Nobel Prize for literature prize to Austrian writer Peter Handke has sparked outrage in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo, where he is widely seen as an admirer of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

In the 1990s Handke emerged as a vocal defender of the Serbs during the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia, even comparing them to Jews under the Nazis, a remark he later retracted.

His 1996 travelogue ‘A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia’, caused much controversy, and in 1999 he returned Germany’s prestigious Buechner prize in protest at Nato’s bombing of Belgrade.

The decision to choose Handke as the 2019 winner came as a shock to some as the Swedish Academy, which oversees the prestigious award, has been mired in controversy and was expected to choose a less divisive writer.

The academy suspended the award process last year after it was engulfed in a sexual assault scandal, and yesterday also announced Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk as the 2018 winner

After news of Handke’s win broke, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter that he felt like vomiting. He described the decision as “disgraceful”, adding: “We can’t become so numb to racism and genocide.”

The Muslim member of Bosnia’s joint presidency Sefik Dzaferovic labelled the decision to award Handke the prize “scandalous and shameful”.

“It is shameful that the Nobel Prize committee easily neglected the fact that Handke was justifying and protecting Slobodan Milosevic and his executors (Bosnian Serb wartime leader) Radovan Karadzic and (his army chief) Ratko Mladic sentenced by a UN court … for the most severe war crimes including genocide,” he said in a statement.

By awarding Handke the Academy’s Nobel committee has “completely lost its moral compass”, Dzaferovic added.

‘Genocide denier’ 

Liberal Sarajevo politician Reuf Bajrovic said he could not understand that a jury thought Handke “is a great writer and that his support to Slobo (Milosevic) and genocide makes part of his work great”.

Emir Suljagic, a survivor of the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim males from Srebrenica by Serbs, echoed him.

“A Milosevic fan and notorious genocide-denier gets Nobel prize in literature … What a time to be alive,” Suljagic, a Sarajevo-based professor of international relations, tweeted.

The 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II, was deemed genocide by international justice.

Friend of Serbs 

The reaction was similar in Kosovo, which was devastated by the 1998-1999 war between Serb forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerillas.

“The decision of Nobel Prize brought immense pain to countless victims,” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said on Twitter.

“Milosevic’s supporter and denier of Serbian genocide receives the Nobel Literature Prize,” the main Koha Ditore newspaper said.

At the 2006 funeral of Milosevic — who died while on trial for crimes against humanity, and who wanted Handke to testify in his defence — the writer made a speech in front of thousands of mourners.

Some stood up for Handke, including Nobel-winning compatriot Elfriede Jelinek. But many others, from Susan Sontag to Salman Rushdie, lined up to lambast him.

Serbian newspapers hailed that the Nobel Prize was awarded to a “friend of Serbs” who has been a member of the country’s academy of sciences and arts since 2012.

© AFP 2019, with reporting by Órla Ryan 

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