Austrian writer Peter Handke, who denied the 1995 Bosnia genocide, also visited former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic Milosevic in prison and tried to testify in his favour.

Bosnian women whose male family members died in the Srebrenica massacre hold placards as they protest outside the Swedish embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 5, 2019.
Bosnian women whose male family members died in the Srebrenica massacre hold placards as they protest outside the Swedish embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 5, 2019. (AP)

Kosovo and Albania say they will boycott the Nobel Literature Prize ceremony on Tuesday to protest the award being given to Austrian writer Peter Handke, an admirer of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is accused of denying the Bosnian genocide.

Kosovo’s outgoing foreign minister, Behgjet Pacolli, has instructed the ambassador in Sweden "to boycott the ceremony", adding that "a writer who supported Milosevic and his genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo does not deserve the Nobel Prize".

In solidarity with Kosovo Albanians, Albania’s ambassador to Sweden won't attend Tuesday’s Nobel ceremony, the Foreign Ministry said Monday. The country is boycotting the ceremony because of Handke's support for "Slobodan Milosevic, the ‘butcher of the Balkans', who led so many mass atrocities during the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia".

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Handke.

“Awarding Nobel Prize in Literature to a racist individual will not mean anything other than rewarding human rights violations," Erdogan said in a message marking Human Rights Day.

Handke is known to be a great admirer of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while facing trial in The Hague for war crimes and genocide.

"Stand up if you support the Serbs," Handke wrote during the 1998 to 1999 Kosovo War.

He claimed that the Muslim Bosniaks in Sarajevo had killed themselves, adding that he never believed that the Serbs had committed genocide in Srebrenica.

Handke also visited Milosevic in prison and tried to testify in his favour.

"I am here for Yugoslavia, for Serbia, for Slobodan Milosevic," Handke said in a 2006 eulogy for Milosevic.

In winning the prize, Handke will also receive $952,000 (9 million Swedish kronor), as well as a medal and a diploma.

Academy under a shadow 

The choice of Handke came as the Academy struggles to recover from a rape scandal that resulted in the 2018 prize being postponed and awarded this year to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.

But its pick of Handke has done little to improve its predicament: one Nobel committee member resigned over the choice, one Academy member and representatives of the embassies of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and Turkey have said they will boycott Tuesday's ceremony, and at least two demonstrations are due to unfold as he receives his prize.

Handke has also not been invited to a traditional event for literature laureates with high school students in a Stockholm suburb, where many students are of foreign background. Tokarczuk will however attend.

At the Nobel banquet, Handke is the laureate seated furthest from the king and queen at the head table, while Tokarczuk will be seated between the king and Prince Daniel, the husband of Crown Princess Victoria.

Neither the Nobel Foundation nor the palace have commented on seating arrangements.

Protests divide academy 

Hundreds of people are expected to attend an anti-Handke protest at the Norrmalmstorg square in central Stockholm, while a second demonstration is planned outside the Stockholm Concert Hall where the prize ceremony will take place.

"He's allowed to write what he wants. The problem is that he is being honoured for his writings," said the organiser of one of the protests, Teufika Sabanovic.

"He defends war criminals, he qualifies genocide, he qualifies genocide deniers. Where is the limit for what is acceptable?" she said.

Born in Srebrenica in 1990, she lost her father and 70 percent of her relatives in the hamlet when some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has recognised as a genocide.

In Stockholm on Friday at a press conference, Handke dodged questions on the Balkan wars, telling reporters: "I like literature, not opinions."

But in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit in late November, Handke defended his writings.

"Not one word I have written about Yugoslavia can be denounced, not a single one. It's literature," he said.

Back then, "reporting about Serbia was monotone and one-sided", Handke told Die Zeit.

He said he "of course" had to be at Milosevic's 2006 funeral.

"He voted against dissolving Yugoslavia in one of the last ballots. His funeral was Yugoslavia's funeral too," Handke said. "Have people forgotten that this state was founded in opposition to Hitler's Reich?"

At the same time, Handke said he "not once bowed down before him, not internally, not externally".

Anders Olsson reacts

The head of the Swedish Academy's Nobel committee, Anders Olsson, has insisted Handke is "not a political writer".

Olsson responded to a letter from survivors of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina: "It is obvious that we understand Peter Handke's literary work in very different ways".

But another committee member, Peter Englund, disagreed.

Englund headed the Swedish Academy between 2009 and 2015 and reported on the 1990s conflicts in the Balkans for Swedish newspapers.

"I will not participate in Nobel Week this year ... celebrating Peter Handke's Nobel Prize would be pure hypocrisy on my part," Englund told the daily Dagens Nyheter.

Ironically, in 2014, Handke called for the Nobel Literature Prize to be abolished, saying it conferred a "false canonisation" on the laureate.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies