Handke takes Nobel Literature Prize amid protest

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Jonas Ekstromer

Austrian author Peter Handke, left, receives the 2019 Nobel Prize from King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, during the Nobel Prize award ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall, in Stockholm, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency via AP)

STOCKHOLM – Author Peter Handke received his Nobel Literature Prize on Tuesday amid criticism of him in Sweden and abroad as an apologist for Serb war crimes in the 1990s.

Handke accepted the 9 million-kronor ($948,000) award from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a ceremony in Stockholm with the winners of other Nobels except for the peace prize, which was presented in Oslo.

The Austrian novelist and screenplay writer was given the award for “influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” according to the prize citation.

Handke has been a staunch supporter of the Serbs and has disputed that the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica was genocide.

Representatives of seven countries boycotted the awards ceremony in protest, as did a member of the Swedish Academy that chooses the literature prize winner. A member of the committee that nominates candidates for the prize resigned his post.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, North Macedonia, Turkey and Afghanistan boycotted the ceremony and some of those countries’ leaders denounced the prize.

“To give the Nobel Literature Prize to a racist personality can have no other meaning than to reward human rights violations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said that "justice will prevail, not lies, denial and fake Nobel prizes.”

In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, a war victims’ association erected a large electronic display portraying Handke as a villain standing next to skulls.

"As a citizen of Sarajevo, I am horrified with this. He is genocide denier. He claims genocide did not happen in Bosnia. We will never forget this," said Sarajevo resident Senka Tinjak.

More than 100 protesters later demonstrated against the award in a Stockholm square.

Many journalists who covered the Bosnian war took to Twitter to denounce Handke receiving the award.

One of them, Peter Maas, told The Associated Press in Stockholm that “the ideas that Peter Handke has are extremist ideas, they are held by a discarded minority of people ... The Swedish Academy, the Nobel Prize Foundation, and today the royal family of Sweden — they are the ones now throwing their weight behind these extremist ideas.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic congratulated Handke on his award, saying that “we consider you one of us and a true friend of Serbia.”

Handke made no mention of the issue at the later Nobel banquet in Stockholm's ornate city hall, giving only brief allegorical comments that concluded “strawberry fields forever, wild strawberries forever.”

The awards ceremony included giving the 2018 literature prize to Olga Tokarczuk of Poland. The prize was announced this year after being postponed by the Swedish Academy, which was wracked by turmoil due to a sex scandal.

At the banquet, Tokarczuk referred to the popular movie “The Prize,” in which a man wins the literature Nobel for works his wife wrote. “No, no, please don't worry — I solemnly declare that I wrote all my books myself,” she said to laughter.

She also invoked the first female literature laureate, Selma Lagerlof of Sweden, who won the prize 110 years ago: “I bow low to her across time and to all the other women, all the female creators who boldly exceeded the limiting roles of society imposed on them and had the courage to tell their story to the world loud and clear.”

This year's ceremony also marked the oldest Nobel laureate ever — 97-year-old American John Goodenough, who shared the chemistry prize with M. Stanley Whittingham of State University of New York at Binghamton and Japan's Akira Yoshino for developing lithium-ion batteries.

The physics prize went to Canadian-born James Peebles for theoretical discoveries in cosmology, and Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for finding a planet outside our solar system that orbits a sun-like star.

Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Briton Peter Ratcliffe won the medicine prize for discovering details of how the body's cells sense and react to low oxygen levels. Ratcliffe joked to the banquet about how he and his co-winners had to endure many interviews, including superficial questions about their favorite food and favorite Beatles song. “Now we know much more about ourselves, the answers to all those questions,” he said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Abhijit Bannerjee and Esther Duflo, who are married, and Harvard's Michael Kremer won the economic prize for research into what works and what doesn't in the fight to reduce global poverty.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the peace prize for his sweeping domestic reforms and accepting a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea that ended a 20-year border conflict.


Associated Press writer David Keyton reported in Stockholm and AP writer Jim Heintz reported from Moscow. AP writers Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia; and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.