Nobel literature prize for Slobodan Milosevic 'apologist' sparks scandal

Alec Luhn
Austrian author Peter Handke has for years defended Serbian president and accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic - REX
Austrian author Peter Handke has for years defended Serbian president and accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic - REX

The Nobel committee has once again sparked controversy by choosing Austrian author Peter Handke, who has been accused of being an apologist for Slobodan Milosevic, for the 2019 literature prize. 

Born to a German-Slovenian family near Austria's then-border with Yugoslavia, Mr Handke has argued that anyone in Milosevic's position “would have acted the same way” to protect his country's territory and people. He has reportedly disputed the massacres of Muslims by Serbian forces.

The Serbian president was indicted in 1999 for war crimes during the Kosovo war, including the deportation and genocide of thousands of ethnic Albanians, but died before a ruling was reached.     “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 Milosevic,” Mr Handke told a crowd of Serbian nationalists at Milosevic's funeral in 2006. 

Kosovo's ambassador to the United States called Mr Handke's Nobel prize a “preposterous and shameful decision”. 

Several authors have criticised the selection, while Serbian media and Austria's president lauded it. 

“This is Sweden today. An apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange,” said left-wing Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. 

The Nobel committee said in its announcement that Mr Handke has “at times caused controversy” but was not politically outspoken in his writing, which “with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”. 

It is the second year of scandal for the committee, which delayed the 2018 literature prize amid a controversy over its handling of rape allegations against the French husband of a Swedish academy member. It has also been accused of focusing on European and male writers. 

Olga Tokarczuk, who has been targeted by Polish nationalists over her support for migration, was awarded the 2018 prize on Thursday. 

Mr Handke, who once turned down a German literary award under pressure, has previously said he would never be given the Nobel prize due to his defence of Milosevic and even called for it to be abolished.