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Austria's Handke receives Nobel Literature Prize amid protests, criticism

Colm Fulton


Stockholm, Sweden  /  Wed, December 11, 2019  /  03:06 pm
Austria's Handke receives Nobel Literature Prize amid protests, criticism

The 2019 literature Nobel laureate Peter Handke gives his speech during the Nobel banquet at Stockholm City Hall, in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10, 2019. (TT News Agency/via REUTERS/Anders Wiklund)

Demonstrators braved freezing temperatures on Tuesday to protest against the awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature to Austrian writer Peter Handke because of his support for the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Handke and the Nobel laureates in chemistry, medicine, physics and economics received their prizes from the Swedish king in a lavish ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall on Tuesday evening. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded separately earlier on Tuesday in Oslo to Ethiopia's prime minister.

The Swedish Academy's choice of Handke has been widely criticized because the Austrian novelist and playwright spoke at the funeral of Milosevic in 2006 after the Serbian leader died in detention in The Hague while facing trial for war crimes.

As dignitaries arrived in limousines, about a dozen protesters waved placards with slogans such as "No Nobel for Fake News", a reference to comments by Handke questioning the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

The protest was expected to swell later to several hundred.

"The problem with Handke is his refusal to admit genocide on the Bosnian population in the 1990s," said Adnan Mahmutović, one of the organizers of Tuesday's demonstration in Stockholm.

"As a serious, established writer who has a lot of clout in European literature Handke has been used in the narrative of genocide denial in the Balkans," said Mahmutovic, who fled to Sweden as a refugee from the war in Bosnia in 1993.

The ambassadors of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and Turkey said they would boycott Tuesday's ceremony.

Read also: Writer Handke steers clear of controversy in Nobel lecture


"Today is a shameful day... It shows that Europe has an amnesia of what happened to us in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia," Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli wrote on Twitter.

Earlier, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Swedish Academy of rewarding human rights violations by awarding the literature prize to Handke.

At the time of his death, Milosevic had been on trial over atrocities and ethnic cleansing committed by Serb forces during the wars that tore apart the old Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Last Friday Handke dismissed questions about his support for Milosevic. Handke is the author of books such as The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and Slow Homecoming. He also co-wrote the script of the critically acclaimed 1987 film Wings of Desire.

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