The Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the most prestigious awards that any author or creator can win. As an annual award beginning in 1901, award winners have included the likes of Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison and Seamus Heaney. However, this year’s award winner has invited controversy after being accused of supporting the genocidal regime of Serbian President Milosevic during the 1990s.
Austrian writer Peter Handke is the recipient of this year’s Nobel Literature Prize, rewarded for his exploration of “the periphery and the specificality of human experience” expressed in his novels and plays.
Handke has come under such heavy criticism for his controversial stance on the wars that killed 100,000 people in former Yugoslavia. He not only denies the existence of massacres like Srebrenica in 1995, in which 8000 men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces, but also suggests that Bosnian Muslims staged their massacres. In 2005, Handke caused outrage by suggesting that Milosevic and the Srebrenica massacre should not be compared to the Holocaust.
Such a response from diplomats and leaders of countries across the world must be taken seriously
Criticism from international journalists who reported on the horrors of the Bosnian war has flooded social media, with many using #BosniaWarJournalists to share their stories and express their anger at the decision of the prize-givers. Bosnian-Swedish writer Mahumutoic has organised the protests and directed the negative response against the award-recipient.
For Handke to deny such a tragic event in human history is outrageous. Foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni argues for the “relentless attacks on civilians” and “genocide” of the Yugoslav wars and Chief international anchor for CNN Amanpour who covered the war says “I was there. We all know who’s guilty”.
International leaders have also boycotted the event in response. While countries like Albania and Kosovo have refused to attend the Nobel Prize giving ceremony, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed the awarding of the prize to Handke, saying that it is “nothing less than rewarding human rights violations”. Such a response from diplomats and leaders of countries across the world must be taken seriously.
With the scars of the Bosnian war still very much healing and it being so fresh in world memory, those who challenge the existence of such a genocide are only contributing to an ongoing narrative of genocide denial
Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, said that he would boycott the ceremony, as it would be “hypocrisy” if he attended. With such international outrage and concern from those involved in the prize-giving, it only makes sense to present the prize to someone less controversial.
With the scars of the Bosnian war still very much healing and it being so fresh in world memory, those who challenge the existence of such a genocide are only contributing to an ongoing narrative of genocide denial. Just as individuals like David Irving will never be rewarded for their work, the same must apply for authors with controversial opinions on the Yugoslavian genocide. It is impossible to separate an author’s devastating and harmful comments from his work.