Culture

Peter Handke controversy: Several countries to boycott Nobel Prize ceremony over literature winner


Several countries are boycotting the Nobel ceremony to protest the Academy’s choice to award the literature prize to Peter Handke.

The Austrian author has been criticised for his stance on the wars in former Yugoslavia and on late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The academy’s decision to award him the prize has been met with a backlash.

Handke, now 77, spoke at the funeral of the former Serbian president in 2006 after he died in detention during his trial at the UN war crimes tribunal.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Nobel academy on Tuesday of rewarding human rights violations by awarding the prize for literature to Handke.

Turkey has now said it is joining Albania and Kosovo in boycotting the Nobel ceremony in protest.

“Giving the Nobel Literature Prize to a racist, who denies the genocide in Bosnia and defends war criminals, on 10 December, Human Rights Day, will have no meaning other than the rewarding of human rights violations,” Erdogan said.

Milosevic was charged with war crimes in connection with atrocities and ethnic cleansing committed by Serb forces in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo during the 1990s wars triggered by the disintegration of federal Yugoslavia.

In a news conference last week ahead of the prize award ceremony, Handke bristled at questions about his writings on the wars in former Yugoslavia.

He concluded the testy meeting by saying that after the prize was announced, he had received a letter filled with toilet paper “and I tell you … I prefer toilet paper, the anonymous letter with toilet paper, to your empty and ignorant questions”.

This Tuesday, he will formally be handed the 9m crown ($935,000/£300,000) award and later attend the traditional Nobel banquet.

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.

The Academy has defended its decision to award Handke the prize, saying he had clearly condemned the Srebrenica massacre, though it accepted he had made “provocative, unsuitable and unclear comments in political questions”.

However, one of the Academy’s 18 members said on Friday he would boycott this year’s celebrations in protest.

“To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part,” Peter Englund, who headed the Academy until 2015, told daily Dagens Nyheter.

Additional reporting by agencies


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