The Swedish Academy announced on Thursday the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, a list that is already causing some controversy.
2018 was postponed for a year after a sexual assault scandal hit the Swedish Academy. However, the award went to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk who won the Man Booker International Award last year for her novel Flights . (She also won the prestigious Polish Nike Award.) Tokarczuk was not a favorite for the award, but she is a welcome choice: she has long been considered one of the greatest writers in the often-overlooked Polish literary scene.
In the meantime, it's up to the Austrian author Peter Handke, and this decision is much more controversial. Handke is the world's most prominent excuse for the Serbian dictator and alleged war criminal Slobodan Milošević, who was indicted in 2001
For many observers, the decision by the Swedish Academy to confuse this notorious personality just days after announcing its intention to move away from a "male-oriented" and "Eurocentric" perspective is confusing. It "seems incredibly strange," writes the Guardian. The week called it "amazingly controversial".
PEN America issued a statement condemning the decision of the Nobel Committee. "PEN America generally does not comment on the literary prizes of other institutions. We recognize that these choices are subjective and that the criteria are not consistent. However, Peter Handke's announcement today of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature must be an exception, "said Jennifer Egan, President of PEN America and Pulitzer Prize winner. "We reject the decision that a writer who has thoroughly documented war crimes that have been questioned deserves to be celebrated for his 'linguistic ingenuity'. In a moment of increasing nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than that. We deeply regret the decision of the Nobel Committee on Literature. "
" Have we become so racist, emotionally insensitive to violence and so comfortable with appeasement that we can overlook the subscription and service to the twisted agenda of a genocidal madman? " Vlora Citaku tweeted the ambassador of Kosovo in the United States.
" As a passionate supporter of the eternal beauty and power of literature to enrich human experience and as a victim of ethnic cleansing and genocide, I am appalled by the decision to award the Nobel Prize for literature to a genocide denier. What a base and shameful act we experience in 2019! " tweeted the acting Foreign Minister of Albania, Gent Cakaj .
Handke, whose most famous work is the play Insult to the Public . is no stranger to this kind of controversy. In 2006, he was nominated for the Heinrich Heine Prize of the city of Dusseldorf, which is given to writers who are committed to solidarity in humanity. But after indignation of the audience – including the members of the Dusseldorf city council, who were responsible for the management of the cash prize and threatened with a veto against Handke's victory – Handke declined the price before he had to be revoked.
And in 2014 Handke was awarded the International Ibsen Award, the most prestigious theater award in the world. The announcement was greeted by protests from human rights organizations, with the Norwegian chapter of PEN International formally condemning the election. (Handke accepted the award, but declined the $ 400,000 cash prize citing his "unfriendly reception.")
Handke is also reportedly not a fan of the Nobel Prize as an institution. He declared in 2014 that it should be "abolished" because it "promotes the false canonization of literature".
The policy of Handke's victory is particularly rich in contrast to Tokarczuk, a decidedly progressive and increasingly reactionary Poland. After mentioning Poland's dark history of colonialism in a television interview in 2014, Tokarczuk called outraged right-wing nationalists a "targowiczanin" – an old tale for traitors – and their publisher had to hire bodyguards to protect them.
A statement by the Swedish Academy states that Tokarczuk's prize "is a narrative notion that, with encyclopedic passion, represents the crossing of boundaries as a way of life," and Handkes "for an influential work of linguistic ingenuity." Specificity of human experience.
Update: This article has been updated to include a statement by PEN America.