The international community’s outrage continues to smolder over the Swedish Academy’s decision to give the Nobel Prize in Literature to Peter Handke, a known genocide-denier and admirer one of the main actors accused of war crimes in the Bosnian War, Slobodan Milošević.
The academy has received harsh criticism, with many arguing that the decision to award the prize to Handke was proof of the Nobel Committee’s corruption and hypocrisy.
Tuesday night witnessed an event defined as “shameful” by many for praising an author who openly defended the bloodshed in Serbia against the Bosnians during the 1990s, on World Human Rights Day.
As expected, the international community reacted to the decision and the ceremony held by the Swedish Academy. Seven countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, North Macedonia, Turkey and Afghanistan – also boycotted the event, as hundreds of people staged a protest outside the event venue carrying banners reading: "Apologize to the victims of Srebrenica."
A member of the committee also resigned from his post as a form of protest. Last week, the academy’s former spokesperson Peter Englund said that he would not attend the event since it would be "hypocritical."
"Hate speech can be expected from someone who denies the genocide, but hatred from the award-giving side is extremely destructive," said Bosnian Croat President Zeljko Komsic on Tuesday regarding the academy’s decision, underlining that with this move, the Srebrenica genocide was what was awarded. He added that they will continue to fight for justice. "It is an act of hatred against the relatives of the victims," said Komsic.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch troops tasked with acting as international peacekeepers.
Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces trying to wrest the territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form their own state. The U.N. Security Council had declared Srebrenica a "safe area" in the spring of 1993; however, Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, overran the U.N. zone.
The Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing about 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone. Some 15,000 people from Srebrenica fled into the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted them down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.
“This is like awarding a sharpshooter for how sharp their shooting was,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, a Bosnian politician and son of Alija Izetbegovic.According to Izetbegovic, despite the efforts of praising Handke, there is no way of justifying his shameful stance.“This is a shameful situation for both the givers of this Nobel prize and the civilized world,” he said, reminding that Handke was completely aware of what had happened in Bosnia during that time and consciously took the decision to side with the murderers instead of the victims.“I believe he is one of the vampire intellectuals,” the Bosnian politician added.He further expressed that either the prize should be taken back or it will lose its meaning for the audience.
Outrage by journalists
One of the major protests against the decision came from the Swedish journalist Christina Doctare, who returned her 1988 Nobel Peace Prize to the Royal Swedish Academy on Tuesday.
Handke was accused of denying the 1995 Bosnian genocide by Doctare, who received the peace prize as a member of U.N. peacekeeping forces. Doctare also spoke during protests in the capital Stockholm against Handke's award. Doctare said she had witnessed the Bosnian massacre 27 years ago and was returning her prize due to the Nobel Committee's decision to award Handke.
"I was proud of the Swedish Academy, but all I feel now is shame and guilt," she said.
Journalists also reacted to the decision to award Handke, particularly those who witnessed the massacre in Bosnia first hand during their reporting of the crimes at the time. Many journalists tweeted with the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists to show their support for the Bosnian War victims.
“My colleagues #BosniaWarJournalists are outraged so we are posting our work to remind the world of what happened there. Never forget,” said foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni, with a plea to speak out against Handke receiving the prize.
“In Sarajevo, I’d go to the morgue to count dead: Children, women, soldiers, horrors of that unjust war laid out on a slab. What BosniaWarReporters like me saw was relentless attacks on civilians. Genocide. Please speak out against Handke getting Nobel,” Giovanni stated.
Roger Cohen from The New York Times shared his 1994 article covering a Serbian concentration camp and said “shame on Nobel Committee and Swedish King for handing Nobel literature prize to Peter Handke, who calls the Bosnian genocide myth.”
The chief international anchor for CNN Christiane Amanpour, who covered the war at that time also underlined that she was there and everyone knows “who’s guilty.”
“I reported all the Yugo wars. Saw monstrous crimes. Later testified at war crimes trials, inc those of Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic & Mladic,” expressed the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.
While former foreign correspondent Emma Daly stated that she will never forget “walking around the mass graves holding hundreds of men & boys who were blindfolded, shot & buried on farmland near Srebrenica. We know Milosevic was responsible.”
Ironically in 2014, Hanke had actually called for the Nobel Prize in Literature to be abolished, saying it conferred a "false canonization" on the laureate, only to find himself in the same position five years later.
‘Huge negative response’
Bosnian Swedish writer Adnan Mahmutovic, who organized the protests, said there had been a huge negative response to Handke’s win.
“We hope that our voices tonight will help us start a dialogue about the consequences of continuous genocide denial that has been going on for decades. Genocide is not an event but a process whose last phase is denial. We cannot let our Nobel legacy legitimize it,” he said.
However, despite the intensity of protests, some argue that with the current state of the academy, it is not likely to see any redemption since they have already crossed the line of shame at this point.
Professor Almir Basovic expressed his disappointment over the decision, saying that the academy and the literary world had lost their dignity to politics.
“I do not believe that either Handke or the Nobel committee will worry too much,” Basovic said, referring to the culminating protests. “The committee seems to acknowledge today’s literary world, meaning that literature is the slave of politics and ideology,” he further underlined.
Still, despite the indifference of the Nobel Committee on the case, protests continue at both an individual level and on a larger level with the main point shifting from a singular incident to a wider-scale of corruption in the Swedish Academy and Europe in general.
“Giving a Nobel Prize to Handke is a clear signifier of the fact that fascism is returning,” said the Association of Genocide Victims and Witnesses. The association referred to the illustration that was projected on the exterior of a mall building in Sarajevo on Tuesday that read “shame on you,” stating that the message was for everyone who supported the decision of the Swedish Academy.
According to the head of Canada’s Institute for Genocide Research Emir Ramic, due to this award ceremony, Dec. 10 has turned into one of the darkest days in history.
“Today, we are supposed to remember that it is a crime to praise those who commit genocide, to award those who deny genocide and hate crimes. The Swedish Academy, by rewarding Peter Handke who denies genocide, is paving the way for new genocides and crimes,” Ramic underlined.
The Party of Democratic Action (SDA) also released a similar statement, saying that “the thing that places the Nobel Committee next to those who deny genocide is the collapse of civilization and morality.”
Known for being a friend of Milosevic, Handke is not only famous for his literary work but also for his work spreading hate against Bosnians and defending the massacres of Bosnians during the Bosnian War. Handke not only admires Milosevic, who he visited in prison and was willing to testify in favor of, but also, evidently, called on the public to "rise" for the Serbians during the war through his writing. He even claimed that Muslim Bosnians were killing themselves and blaming the Serbians for the crime. He also stated that he "does not believe" that the Serbians committed genocide in Srebrenica.
Turkey denounces Nobel
This deeper examination of the Nobel Committee’s decision, revealing the possible causes and consequences of such actions, like the rise of fascism and the paving of ways for further genocidal activities, was also a topic in Turkey, where the move was condemned by the government and the people.
“To give the Nobel Prize in Literature to a racist personality can have no other meaning than to reward human rights violations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The president also spoke on the issue during an event organized for World Human Rights Day. According to Erdoğan, such a decision is not a first by the Nobel Committee and will not be the last.
"Nobel has exhausted itself. Nobel has caused its own end. It is in a position right now that is completely political, completely ideological," the president said, adding that in his opinion, the Nobel Prizes have no value at all.
"As Turkey, we will not participate in the ceremony. We also called all our friend countries to not participate as well because participating in such a thing would be acting jointly with the oppression. By giving a prize to such a cruel person, Nobel has become partners with him and his cruelty. There is no way that we would be okay with such a move," Erdoğan expressed.
"They have done similar things with previous awards as well, and they will continue to act in a similar way in the future," he added.
“The Nobel Prize has been given to an author who denies the Bosnian genocide. This prize that was given on World Human Rights Day cannot make (us) forget any genocide. Issues like that cannot be vindicated with prizes,” Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said Wednesday.
Bosnians appreciate Turkey’s stance
Turkey’s stance on the issue received appreciation from all, especially Bosnians, who interpreted the country’s move as a sign of brotherhood and of siding with justice.
“Turkey’s decision to not attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony shows once again how strong the country’s bonds are with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bosnians who are victims of genocide,” said the head of the Alija Institute, Admir Mulaosmanovic.
In Mulaosmanoviç’s opinion, the fact that Turkey shares the sorrows of the victims of the genocide and provides support needed by the victims in the face of such a scandalous decision shows how high the country’s moral standards are.
“I am really glad that Turkey stands on the true side, right next to truth and justice,” Rizvan Halilovic, the head of the Turkey-Bosnia Friendship Association said.
“Turkey, a leader among the Muslim countries, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is defending the rights of all the people who have been wronged as well as the interests of everyone whose rights and liberties have been taken away from them,” he underlined.
Referring to the move as a “shameful” one for Europe, Halilovic said that they are thankful to Turkey and all the other countries which are siding with Bosnia-Herzegovina against “this disgusting unfairness and crime that is being supported following a genocide.”
Nobel’s ‘shameful’ history
It is not the first time that the Nobel Committee decided to honor a controversial figure.
Awards given to the EU and to former U.S. President Barack Obama were among the controversial decisions taken by the committee in the past. In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for its determined fight for human rights and peace in Europe for 60 years. This decision was criticized because of the EU's role in arms sales.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama received the same prize in 2009, nine months after he started his duties in office. At the time, the decision also shocked Obama, who said, "I was not expecting such a decision."
Obama's policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan justified people's criticisms about the decision.
The committee has also become the main topic of discussion last year because of sexual abuse allegations. No Nobel Prize in Literature was given last year, following a scandal over sexual misconduct allegations that saw a string of board members resign from the board of the Swedish Academy that awards it.
The decision was made due to the "currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the academy," a statement read.
Twisting Erdoğan’s words
In this respect, Erdoğan said Tuesday that several Turkish figures who have links to terrorist groups have been awarded prizes in Western countries.
However, when Erdoğan suddenly switched from the Handke debate, many opposition figures claimed that the president was referring to renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.
Pamuk, an active supporter of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) reform agenda in the early 2000s, has taken a dissident stance over the last couple of years.
Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun dismissed the claims that Erdoğan referred to Pamuk as a "terrorist."
"Our president actually meant people that were nominated for Nobel Prizes or awarded by other international organizations despite their ideologically hostile stance against Turkey and known terrorist activities," Altun said.
He added that the president underlined the hypocrisy of European institutions in awarding racism and terrorism based on ideology.
Erdoğan said that the prize that was given to Handke was not the same prize given to crucial figures like Pamuk or Turkish scientist Aziz Sancar and it would be tricking people to claim otherwise. "Nobel can no longer can be regarded as an institute that gives prizes justly," the president said.