REGARDING ITS DECISION TO AWARD THE 2019 NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE TO AUSTRIAN AUTHOR PETER HANDKE
Dear Nobel Committee,
We write to express our dismay and genuine concern over your decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Austrian author Peter Handke, an open and unwavering supporter and defender of neo-fascist and genocidal projects in the Balkans during the 1990s.
We believe that on this occasion the Committee has grievously overlooked the fact that a work of art and its creator are always tied together and that applying purely aesthetic criteria to a work of literature cannot be separated from universal ethical and humanist criteria applicable both to the work of literature and to the biography of its author. In plain terms, this means that applying aesthetic literary criteria to judge a work of art is not sufficient for awarding the Nobel Prize, which is meant to contribute to the development of sciences and arts, and that ethical criteria are indispensable to making the right decision. It is not hard to see and understand that relying purely on aesthetic criteria cannot guarantee impartiality and that it is precisely ethical criteria that contribute to an objective decision. In that case, opinions such as this one: “Political views do not play an important role when it comes to those things.
Literature criteria should be above the politics” are nothing more than wilful ignorance, because in the case of Peter Handke, these are not political, but ethical views.
In the immediate aftermath of the war of aggression against Bosnia
and Herzegovina, in 1996, Handke published A Journey to the Rivers:
Justice for Serbia, placing himself squarely on the side of Slobodan
Milošević and his neo-fascist policies of aggression and war, ethnic
cleansing, war crimes, persecution, genocide and mass graves, even going
so far as to express doubt that a horrific massacre was committed in
Srebrenica and accusing the citisens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or more
precisely, Bosnian Muslims, of “attacking Serbs”, which amounts to
nothing less than blatant and monstrous support and glorification of war
crimes. With this, he was not, in fact, defending Serbs, but a criminal
fascist politics and was thereby dishonouring the antifascist tradition
of the Serb people from the Second World War.
In a television interview from 1999, Peter Handke had the anti-humanist audacity to compare the “fate of Serbia” with the “fate of Jews during the Holocaust” – though he later apologised for having misspoken. In 2006, he was one of the very few foreigners to attend the funeral of Slobodan Milošević, indicted for war crimes committed in the Balkans, where he even gave a speech. How? Like this: “The world, the so-called world, knows everything about
Yugoslavia, Serbia. The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Slobodan Milošević. The so-called world knows the truth… I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milošević.” This was in 2006, when the world, the “so-called world”, knew about Srebrenica and the multitude of crimes committed throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, when it was known that Slobodan Milošević was being tried in the Hague as a creator of neo-fascist projects in the Balkans.
Handke’s anti-humanist “politics” did irreparable damage to his
aesthetics and his defence of Greater Serbian aggression and,
specifically, the politics of Slobodan Milošević debased any literary
and humanist credibility he may have possessed.
Not to mention the tens of thousands of victims of such politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were enumerated at the myriad trials for war crimes conducted in The Hague. We believe the Nobel Committee is not unaware of these facts. Among other things, out of over one million citizens forced to flee Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of Milošević’s ethnic cleansing in our country, close to 100,000 of them live in Sweden today. We are proud of the fact that the Bosnian-Herzegovinian immigrant community was proclaimed the best integrated immigrant community in the Kingdom of Sweden.
We do not intend to use this letter of protest to convey the full extent of the crimes committed and treat you to their horrific statistics. However, we would like to draw your attention to the case of Prijedor in north-eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, a region known as Bosnian Krajina, where no battles were fought in the war, where only unarmed civilians were killed, taken to concentration camps, and subjected to the abhorrent practice of ethnic cleansing. According to the 1991 census, the Municipality of Prijedor had a population of 112,470 (6,300 or 5.6% Croats, 49,454 or 44% Muslims (Bosniaks), 47,745 or 42.5% Serbs and 8,971 or 7.9% others). Five years later, in 1997, according to evidence presented at the Hague Tribunal (during the trial of Slobodan Milošević), there were 393 Bosniaks left in
Prijedor, accounting for just under 1% of the population. On the 834 km2 of the Prijedor Municipality area, 462 graves have been exhumed, which means that there is on average one grave per every 1.8 km2
. If the surrounding territory of Bosnian Krajina is divided by the
1130 graves exhumed in the region, the dreadful tally comes out to one
grave per every 11.2 km2
. If the area is divided by the 4701 exhumed victims, then the remains of a victim can be found on every 2.7 km2 on average. Here, mathematics (statistics) is an ominous science. When the area of the city of Prijedor is divided by the total number of victims from the city exhumed to date, 1767, the result is staggering, because it means that there is a victim per every 0.472 km2 of the city. The number of graves and those buried in them is far from final. We would also like to note that international experts and institutions participated in the exhuming of mass graves in Bosnian Krajina.
Two concentration camps were set up in the vicinity of Prijedor in 1992: Omarska and Keraterm. Today, many of the concentration camp survivors from this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Bosnian Krajina, live in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Therefore, everything that Handke did not want to see with his own eyes, he could
read in published materials provided by the Hague Tribunal and international experts.
Dear members of the Nobel Committee,
We assume you were unaware that in 1992, in Sarajevo, the writer Jakov Jurišić, who was president of the Association of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time, was brutally murdered in his home in Grbavica, the part of Sarajevo occupied by Handke’s friends, i.e. Milošević’s Serbs. He was killed for the sole reason that he was not a Serb but a Croat and because he supported human relations among people. No one has been held responsible for his death.
Will Peter Handke, perhaps, claim responsibility for the murder of the president of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Writers Association?
Many other Bosnian writers were killed or tortured in Serb
concentration camps. We are well aware that many works of art were
created by persons who could not boast of high ethical values and that
they are still part of humanity’s cultural heritage.
However, from an ethical standpoint, it is highly problematic, controversial, offensive, dangerous in our times to award such writers, those enamoured of crimes and criminals, prizes such as the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is assumed to rightfully belong to those literary authors and works that should serve as examples to future generations.
By giving Peter Handke the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel Committee has trodden into a horrific and dangerous anti-humanist minefield. For, not even ten days after the news of the Prize was announced, the perpetuators of criminal politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina are submitting requests for a location to install the bust of Peter Handke in the centre of Srebrenica, the site of genocide committed by Milošević and other friends of Handke, as confirmed in international judgements. In media statements, they “explained” how “the Nobel Prize awarded to Handke is proof that the world’s free intellectuals have mustered the courage to award an artist for his work and perseverance in fighting for the truth with which he refuted the Hague judgements and negated that genocide took place in Srebrenica.”
Not only was Handke in Srebrenica in 1996, less than a year after the horrific massacre in this city, he was making a production of being photographed in the streets of Srebrenica, as he had made similar productions of being photographed in many other places in Bosnia and Herzegovina where unspeakable war crimes had been committed.
Dear members of the Nobel Committee,
By awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to a supporter and defender of neo-fascist war crimes and a denier of the genocide committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Austrian writer Peter Handke, you have marred the dignity of the Nobel Prize in Literature and degraded literature as an art form. Is the Academy prepared to share in the responsibility if in the future its horrifying, anti-literary, anti-civilisational decision on this year’s Nobel Prize in
Literature is used as justification for something that it did not care to consider when it was
awarding the Prize?
We are, of course, fully aware that our Open Letter will not change your mind about awarding the Nobel Prize, that the decision will not be withdrawn. We wondered if there was any point in writing this kind of letter. Rationally speaking, there isn’t, but we find meaning in our hope that in the future, in addition to literary aesthetic parameters, the Nobel Committee will also take into account literary ethical and universal freedom-loving values when deciding on the recipients of this most renowned international literary award.
It is our great hope, informed by our respect for, among many other great world writers, the literary opus of the only Bosnian-Herzegovinian recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Ivo Andrić, that the global dignity of the Nobel Prize in Literature will be preserved in the interests of the broadest freedoms in literary creation and the actual freedoms of future generations of writers and readers across our blighted planet Earth.
We kindly ask for your understanding in good faith and send you our warmest regards from the Association of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
President of the Association of Writers of BiH:
President of the Assembly of the Association of Writers of BiH: