Kosovo declares Nobel laureate Peter Handke persona non grata

Literature prize winner condemned over support for Milošević regime

Kosovo has declared the Nobel literature laureate Peter Handke persona non grata in the country, as the row over the Austrian writer’s award continues to provoke anger and controversy.

Handke was awarded the prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on Tuesday. But the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, has faced a barrage of criticism for choosing the 77-year-old author.

Handke spoke at the funeral of the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević in 2006 and is accused of distorting history over his take on the events accompanying the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Kosovo’s foreign minister, Behgjet Pacolli, tweeted on Wednesday: “I have decided to declare Peter Handke as persona non grata in Kosovo because of the support he gave to Milošević and his genocidal policies … He and the Nobel prize showed disrespect to the victims of genocide.”

Handke’s award became an instant flashpoint when it was announced in October.

Last week Peter Englund, a member of the Swedish Academy, announced he would boycott the ceremony, adding: “To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part.”

The awards ceremony, in which Handke received his SEK9m (£743,000) prize money and medal, was boycotted by the official representatives of at least six countries, including Kosovo.

Christina Doctare, a Swedish doctor and laureate of the 1988 Nobel peace prize, said she would return her award in protest at the choice of Handke, having witnessed the war in Bosnia.

Handke chose to speak at Milošević’s funeral, after the former leader died while on trial in The Hague for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The author’s writings on the war have also been accused of minimising Serbian war crimes, though he remains popular in Serbia, where many believe he challenges the narrative that Serbs were the sole aggressors during the 1990s.

Protesters from the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide hold a picture of Handke in Srebrenica, during a protest outside the Swedish embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Protesters from the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide hold a picture of Handke in Srebrenica, during a protest outside the Swedish embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Instead of repentance or engagement with his critics, Handke has chosen to ignore and insult those who attempt to confront him with his past statements.

During a pre-ceremony press conference, the author was asked whether he now accepted the facts of the Srebrenica massacre, in which almost 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed. “I prefer toilet paper, an anonymous letter with toilet paper inside, to your empty and ignorant questions,” Handke told the journalist asking the question.

In an inaugural lecture a day later, he did not mention the controversy.

On Wednesday, the author was also formally barred from Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, where the regional government said Handke would “provoke the anger and humiliation” of war victims if he visited.

However, the author has said he plans to visit the Serb-administered part of Bosnia in the spring. He has been a frequent visitor to one of the Serb-administered enclaves that dot Kosovo’s territory, which he will now be barred from visiting.

“Handke’s victory symbolises the fact that the memories of the 1990s are fading and history has been blurred into a kind of ‘everybody is guilty in this Balkan tribal fighting’ take,” said Agon Maliqi, a political analyst in Pristina.

A number of survivors groups wrote letters of protest to the Nobel committee after the announcement of Handke’s win. Responding to Murat Tahirović, the president of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, the chairman of the Nobel Committee, Anders Olsson, expressed “concern and deep sadness” for the sentiments expressed about the prize but stood behind the academy’s decision.

“It is obvious that we understand Peter Handke’s literary work in very different ways,” Olsson wrote.


Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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