Peter Handke hits out at criticism of Nobel win

Writer says he will not talk to media again after repeated questions about his politics

The Austrian writer Peter Handke has for the first time addressed the controversy over his award of the Nobel prize for literature, saying he will “never again” talk to journalists after being confronted over his stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Speaking to Austrian media on Tuesday night after an informal meeting with municipal leaders in his home town of Griffen, southern Austria, Handke complained that journalists had bombarded him with questions about his political views without trying to engage with his writing.

“I’m standing at my garden gate and there are 50 journalists – and all of them just ask me questions like you do, and from not a single person who comes to me I hear they have read any of my works or know what I have written,” Handke told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.

“It’s only questions like how does the world react. Reactions to reactions to reactions. I am a writer, I come from Tolstoy, from Homer, from Cervantes. Leave me in peace and don’t ask me questions like that.”

According to ORF, the playwright and novelist said he would never talk to journalists again.

The exchange came after he was asked about criticism from Saša Stanišić, a Bosnian-German novelist who won the German Book prize on Monday night.

“I had the good fortune to escape what Peter Handke failed to describe in his texts”, Stanišić said in his acceptance speech. “I am able to stand here in front of your because of a reality that this person failed to accept.”

Other writers, including Salman Rushdie and Hari Kunzru, have criticised the Nobel committee for the award of this year’s prize to Handke. In an article in the New York Times, Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian-American novelist, called Handke “the Bob Dylan of genocide apologists”.

The Swedish Academy has been contacted repeatedly for a response to the criticism but has yet to respond.

Handke, whose best-known works include the novel The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, the play Offending the Audience and his screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, was for long one of the most celebrated Austrian writers of the postwar era, alongside Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek.

But during the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, Handke, who has Slovene roots on his maternal side, developed a strongly pro-Serbian stance, resulting in his 1996 book A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, in which he painted Serbia as the true victim of the conflict.

In 2006, he spoke at the funeral of the Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, declaring: “I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milošević.”


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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