Protests grow as Peter Handke receives Nobel medal in Sweden

The literature laureateship, presented to Handke and 2018 laureate Olga Tokarczuk on Tuesday afternoon, faces boycotts and widespread protest

As Turkey joins Albania and Kosovo in boycotting Tuesday’s Nobel prize ceremony for Peter Handke over his support for Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal regime, war correspondents from Christiane Amanpour to Jeremy Bowen are protesting his win by sharing their harrowing stories from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Austrian writer, whose stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and attendance at Milosevic’s funeral have been widely criticised, is due to receive his Nobel medal in Stockholm, where a large protest demonstration is expected.

Bosnian Swedish writer Adnan Mahmutovic, who is organising the protests, said there had been a huge negative response to Handke’s win in Sweden.

“We hope that our voices tonight will help us start a dialogue about the consequences of continuous genocide denial that has been going on for decades. Genocide is not an event but a process whose last phase is denial. We cannot let our Nobel legacy legitimise it,” he said.

A digital mural on the side of a Sarajevo shopping mall protests against the awarding of the laureateship to Handke on Tuesday.
A digital mural on the side of a Sarajevo shopping mall protests against the awarding of the laureateship to Handke on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week Peter Englund, a member of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, announced he would boycott the ceremony, saying: “To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part”. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Handke on television, saying “the Nobel has no value … granting the Nobel literature prize on Human Rights Day to a figure who denies the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nothing less than rewarding human rights violations.” Turkey’s ambassador to Sweden, Hakki Emre Yunt, also announced he would not attend the ceremony.

Albania’s acting foreign minister Gent Cakaj has instructed the country’s ambassador to Sweden to boycott the ceremony, as is Kosovo, with its ambassador to the US, Vlora Çitaku calling Handke’s win “a preposterous and shameful decision”.

Journalists who covered the war in Bosnia, meanwhile, are protesting Handke’s win by describing what they saw during the conflict using the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists.

“I was there. We all know who’s guilty,” wrote Amanpour, the chief international anchor for CNN who covered the war as a young reporter.

“My colleagues #BosniaWarJournalists are outraged so we are posting our work to remind the world of what happened there. Never forget,” wrote foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni. “In Sarajevo, I’d go to the morgue to count dead: Children, women, soldiers, horrors of that unjust war laid out on a slab. What BosniaWarReporters like me saw was relentless attacks on civilians. Genocide. Please speak out against Handke getting Nobel.”

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen wrote: “I reported all the Yugo wars. Saw monstrous crimes. Later testified at war crimes trials, inc those of Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic & Mladic.”

Former foreign correspondent Emma Daly said that she “will never forget walking around the mass graves holding hundreds of men & boys who were blindfolded, shot & buried on farmland near Srebrenica. We know Milosevic was responsible.”

The New York Times’s Roger Cohen, sharing a link to his 1994 story about a Serbian concentration camp, wrote: “shame on Nobel Committee and Swedish King for handing Nobel literature prize to Peter Handke, who calls the Bosnian genocide myth”.

Journalist Peter Maass, who was told on Friday by Handke that his questions about the Srebrenica massacre were “empty and ignorant”, wrote on Twitter that the legacy of the Swedish royal family, who will award the Austrian author his medal, will be that “they authenticated a genocide denier”.

Handke has claimed that the Muslims staged their own massacres in Sarajevo and then blamed this on the Serbs, also casting doubt on the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. In an essay for the French newspaper Libération in 2006, he wrote: “Let’s stop comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Hitler … and let’s never again use the expression for the camps installed during the Yugoslav war ‘concentration camps’.

“True, there were intolerable camps between 1992 and 1995 in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. But let us stop mechanically linking, in our heads, these camps to Bosnian Serbs – there were also Croatian camps and Muslim camps, and the crimes committed there, and there, are and will be tried in The Hague,” he wrote. “And finally, let’s stop linking the massacres (amongst which, in the plural, those in Srebrenica in July 1995 were by far the most abominable) to Serbian forces or paramilitaries. Let us also listen to the survivors of Muslim massacres in the many Serbian villages around Srebrenica.”

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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