Subscribe for 99¢

The Nobel Prize for literature often stirs up controversy. Remember when songwriter Bob Dylan won in 2016? Two years later, there was no winner announced after a major scandal involving sexual assault accusations against the husband of a member of the Swedish Academy.

This year, the academy has announced a winner for 2018 and 2019. 

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, a critic of her country's right wing, is the winner for 2018.

But many are outraged by the announcement of Peter Handke, an Austrian who eulogized former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, an accused war criminal who died in jail in 2006.

The Associated Press says that "despite a U.N. court ruling to the contrary, Handke has denied that genocide took place in the Bosnian village of Srebrenica, where about 8,000 Muslims were massacred by Serb soldiers in 1995."

This alone should horrify the thousands of Bosnians who were relocated to St. Louis during the 1990s.

Since the announcement of the award today, AP reports that Handke told Serbia's state TV that "he felt their 'happiness because of the big award that I have received.'"

AP also says, "Serbia's Culture Minister Vladan Vukosavljevic said Handke should have received the Nobel Prize a long time ago, suggesting he didn't get it because he supported Serbs during their fighting against Muslims and Croats as Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s."

Meanwhile, PEN America released this statement today:  

"PEN America does not generally comment on other institutions’ literary awards. We recognize that these decisions are subjective and that the criteria are not uniform. However, today’s announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Peter Handke must be an exception. 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, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. PEN America has been committed since the passage our 1948 PEN Charter to fighting against mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts. Our Charter further commits us to work to "dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality." We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his “linguistic ingenuity.” At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature's choice."

The Nobel judges have cited Handke's "influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” 

In addition to his support for Milosevic, Handke is also controversial because he actually called in 2014 for the Nobel Literature prize to be abolished.

The Washington Post recounts the Austrian author's essay defending Serbs in 1996: 

"In 1996, Handke wrote an essay about a trip to Serbia for the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung that questioned the media’s portrayal of Serbs as the aggressor in the conflicts sparked after the collapse of the Yugoslavian state.

“'In an effort to bring the war to their customers, international magazines from Time to the Nouvel Observateur relentlessly portray the Serbs as evil and the Muslims as the usual good guy,' Handke wrote.

"The article was published a year after a massacre in the town of Bosnian Srebrenica after Serbian forces overran a Muslim-held enclave and killed thousands of men and boys."