The Swedish Academy’s decision to award Austrian writer Peter Handke the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature has invited sharp backlash from several writers and politicians.
The academy is being called out for honouring Handke, who publicly supported the Serbs during the 1990s Yugoslav war. An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Kosovo and almost 1 million were put to flight during a brutal war waged by forces under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1998-99, Reuters says. Handke was close to Milosevic and spoke at his funeral in 2006.
Handke has also denied that the 1995 genocide took place in Srebrenica. The Srebrenica massacre is the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.
Kosovo’s ambassador to Washington Vlora Citaku reacted angrily to the author’s win, tweeting “Have we become so numb to racism, so emotionally desensitized to violence, so comfortable with appeasement that we can overlook one’s subscription&service to the twisted agenda of a genocidal maniac?”
Citaku was among the many who slammed the Nobel committee’s pick.
“More than ever we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defence of human rights in the face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such a person,” author Hari Kunzru told The Guardian.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter:
The Muslim member of Bosnia’s joint presidency Sefik Dzaferovic labelled the decision to award Handke “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 said.
Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said the decision “brought immense pain to countless victims.”
PEN America rejects Nobel pick
In a rare statement, PEN America, an organisation that stands for free speech, criticised the Swedish Academy’s choice saying it was “dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide.”
“We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’ At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.” the statement added.
Just days before the announcement of the prize, Anders Olsson of the Swedish Academy, which decides on the prize winner, said the group had widened its perspective from an earlier more eurocentric and male-oriented one.
Meanwhile, Handke said he was surprised to be awarded the prize and called the decision “very courageous by the Swedish Academy,” Reuters reported.
“I feel a strange kind of freedom, I don’t know, a freedom, which is not the truth, as if I were innocent,” he said.
Handke had called for the Nobel Literature Prize to be abolished in 2014, saying it brought its winner “false canonisation“.
The prize comes with a cheque worth nine million kronor ($912,000).