I remember a time when Bob Dylan winning the Noble Prize for Literature was a controversial because “he doesn’t write books! Well, he wrote that one book, but he writes songs!” Oh, how times have changed.
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Peter Handke was born December 6, 1942. He’s an Austrian novelist, playwright, translator, film director and screewnwriter and a poet. He does a lot of writing, basically.
He’s jumped into the mainstream in the 1960s with the play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) and the novel Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). In 1971 he wrote about his mother’s life and suicide in the novel Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams). In collaboration with director Wim Wenders, he wrote screenplays such as Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire).
Beyond his literary works, he was a member of various author groups and even co-founded the publishing house Verlag der Autoren in Frankfurt and has revived numerous prizes, including from the 1973 Georg Büchner Prize to the 2018 Austrian Nestroy-Theaterpreis.
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The Yugoslav Wars happened in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 2001. Attempting to preserve the state, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) started crushing the secessionist governments. They were under the influence of one Slobodan Milošević, a Serbian nationalist who was willing to the “preserve the union” under the might of the ethnic serbs. Thus, the Slovenes, Croats, Kosovar Albanians, Bosniaks, and ethnic Macedonians were all kicked out of the army.
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In 1994, the United Nations reported that the Serbs, under Milošević, did not aim to restore Yugoslavia, but to create a “Greater Serbia” from parts of Croatia and Bosnia.
What would happen to the other ethnic groups living into Yugoslavia? They wanted to be apart of the their governments, but if the JNA wouldn’t allow that, what would happen to them?
As per the testimony of NATO general Wesley Clark on December 15 2003, this is what Slobodan Milošević reportedly told him on October 1998:
We know how to handle these murderers, these rapists, these criminals. We’ve done this before … in Drenica in 1946. We killed them. We killed them all. Of course we did not do it all at once. It took some time.
The genocide perpetrated by the Serbs became known as the “Bosnian genocide,” where they mercilessly slaughtered those of Muslim faith. The Bosnian genocide was the first European crime to be formally judged as genocidal in character since World War II, and many key individual participants were subsequently charged with war crimes.
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As for Milošević, he was charged in 1999 with war crimes, resigned in 2000, and was arrested in 2001 on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement. After a prolonged five year trial, Milošević died of a heart attack in 2006 in his prison cell.
WHAT DOES THIS GENOCIDE HAVE TO DO WITH HANDKE?
Well, Handke’s maternal grandfather was Serbian. Thus, he spoke openly about the Yugoslav Wars. As per The Irish Times, he “publicly suggested that Sarajevo’s Muslims had massacred themselves” and denied the genocide even took place.
In 1999, Salman Rushdie named him the runner-up for “International moron of the year” in the Guardian, for his “series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Miloševic”.
WHAT WE HAVE NOW
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So now Handke has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a prize worth just over €825,000 ($746,625.00).
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British-Indian novelist Hari Kunzru was the kindest critic to Handke, noting that he believed that Handke would have won the Nobel earlier, “had he not decided to act as a propagandist for the genocidal Miloševic regime.”
Later on, he also noted that:
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.
Others were not so kind.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote tweeted this:
The President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci tweeted:
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As per The Irish Times, Slavoj Zizek, Slovenian philosopher and longtime critic of Handke, described the writer as an apologist for war crimes:
“In 2014, Handke called for the Nobel to be abolished, saying it was a ‘false canonisation’ of literature. The fact that he got it now proves that he was right. This is Sweden today: an apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange. Our reaction should be: not the literature Nobel prize for Handke but the Nobel peace prize for Assange.”
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Slovenian author Miha Mazzini said:
Some artists sold their human souls for ideologies – Hamsun and Nazism – some for hate – Celine and his rabid antisemitism – some for money and power – Kusturica – but the one that offended me the most was Handke with his naivety for Miloševic regime. And it’s personal.
I will never forget the cold winter when Yugoslavia was falling apart and there was nothing on the shelves of the stores. We were a young family and my daughter was a toddler and it was bitterly cold. I’ve spent the whole day in the queue for the heating oil and in the evening, almost frozen, I started reading Handke’s essay about Yugoslavia. He wrote of how he envied me: while those Austrians and Germans, those westerners, had fallen for consumerism, we, Yugoslavs, had to queue and fight for everything. Oh, how close to the nature we were! How less materialistic and more spiritualised we were! Even at the time, I found him cruel and totally self-absorbed in his naivety.
Emir Suljagic, a survivor of the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica, summed the situation up with this:
A Milosevic fan and notorious genocide-denier gets Nobel prize in literature … What a time to be alive.
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