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Peter Handke Was a Wrong Choice by Nobel

Peter handke at Slobodan Milosevic funeral (Courtesy photo for education only)

Peter Handke photo by DW

Peter handke at Slobodan Milosevic funeral (Courtesy photo for education only)

Peter handke at Slobodan Milosevic funeral (Courtesy photo for education only)

By Susan Shapiro and Kenan TrebinčevićThe Swedish Academy just blew it big time. Again. After postponing last year’s award due to a #MeToo rape scandal, they promised to mend their male-oriented, Eurocentric ways. Awarding the Nobel in literature and more than $915,000 to the genocide-denying accused misogynist Peter Handke makes it the noxious prize. It dilutes the inspired choice of his eloquent co-winner, 57-year-old Polish dread-locked feminist novelist Olga Tokarczuk.

The sometimes pretentious, meandering Austrian novelist and playwright Handke, best known for co-writing Wim Wenders’ film “Wings of Desire,” was honored for “his influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Unfortunately, those experiences include his denial of the massacre of more than 100,000 humans during the 1993 Bosnian war, ordered by Handke’s comrade, Yugoslavian nationalist leader Slobodan Milošević. At his 2006 funeral, Hendke spoke sympathetically of the man known as “the Butcher of the Balkans.” Milošević died before being punished for his war crimes against humanity.

“It’s a preposterous and shameful decision,” said Vlora Çitaku, the U.S. Kosovan ambassador, for the academy to choose a “propagator of ethnic hatred and violence who glorified Milošević, a genocidal maniac.” A scholar from PEN Norway called a previous award of Handke’s the equivalent of giving the Immanuel Kant Prize to Joseph Goebbels. It’s an apt metaphor.

Handke’s father and stepfather were German soldiers; his mother, Maria Siutz Handke, was Slovenian. He grew up in Austria, bordering Slovenia (an Orthodox Christian country that spoke Serbian), which he visited often and set his 1975 autobiographical novel “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story.” That book’s narrator describes the pride the Nazi movement instilled in Maria, the disappointing German men she loved, and her suicide at 51.

You’d think someone born during World War II with two Nazis fathers might be sensitized to genocide.

But in French and German newspapers, Hendke claimed Bosnian Muslims staged their own massacres and falsely blamed them on the Serbs, which led author Salman Rushdie to call him a moron. In 1999, on Serbian television, Handke said he’d like to be “A Serbian Orthodox monk fighting for Kosovo,” inanely comparing the plight of Serbs to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, for which he later apologized.

And the twice-divorced Hendke never atoned for his own #MeToo scandal, which happened when his ex-girlfriend, actress Marie Colbin, accused him of beating her up in a 1999 Austrian magazine, reported Salon.

In his will, Alfred Nobel wished for award recipients who “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” The academy’s ignorance of Handke’s denial desecrates the memory of the Muslim survivors of the ethnic cleansing campaign perpetrated by Serbs.

Handke called for the Nobel literature prizes to be abolished in 2014, saying it was a false canonization of literature. His critics now agree. Noting the current rise of nationalism, PEN American Center’s president Jennifer Egan said, “we are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide.” The Mothers of Srebrenica, relatives of the 8,000 innocent Bosnian men and boys slaughtered by Serbs in 1995, called for the committee to revoke Handke’s prize.

We should all do the same.

Shapiro, a New School writing professor, and Kenan Trebinčević, a Bosnian Muslim war survivor, are coauthors of “The Bosnia List” and the memoir-in-progress “Losing Home.”

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