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The Nobel Prize for Literature: The Controversy 2019 and 2018



The Swedish Academy announced the winners of the Nobel Prizes for Literature 2018 and 2019 on Thursday, a list that is already making some controversy.

The 2018 award was delayed for a year after a scandal for sexual abuse confused the Swedish Academy. But the award has now gone to the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, who won the Man Booker International Award last year for his novel Flights . (She also won Poland's prestigious Nike award.) Tokarczuk was not a favorite to win the award, but she is a welcome choice: She has long been one of the greatest writers in Poland's often overlooked literary scene.

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9 award, meanwhile, comes to Austrian author Peter Handke, and that choice proves to be much more divisive. Handke is the world's most prominent apologist for the Serbian dictator and alleged war criminal Slobodan Milošević, who was accused in 2001 of the Bosnian genocide. (Milošević died in prison in 2006 during his trial before a verdict was taken.) Handke removed Milošević at his funeral, and during the war he repeatedly spoke in favor of Miloševic's regime, claiming that the dictator was wrongly led by Western media and that – most infamous – the massacres of Bosnian Muslim men and boys of Serbian troops staged by Muslims themselves.

For many observers, the Swedish Academy's decision to praise such a notorious figure, just days after he announced his intention to move from a "male-oriented" and "Eurocentric" perspective, is puzzling. It seems incredibly strange, writes The Guardian. This week called it "astonishingly controversial."

The free speech organization PEN America issued a statement that formally condemned the Nobel Committee's decision. “PEN America does not generally comment on other institutions' literary awards. We realize that these decisions are subjective and that the criteria are not uniform. Today's announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Peter Handke, however, must be an exception, says PEN America & # 39; s President and Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan. "We reject the decision as an author who has greatly questioned thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his" linguistic ingenuity. “In a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership and widespread disinformation all over the world, literary society deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee for Literature Selection. "

" Have we become so stunned for racism, so emotionally sensitive to violence, so comfortable with contentment that we can disregard one's subscription and service on the twisted agenda of a genocide maniac? ” tweeted Vlora Citaku Kosovo's ambassador to the United States.

"As a passionate believer in the eternal beauty and power of literature to enrich human experience and as a victim of ethnic cleansing and genocide, I am frightened by the decision to award the Nobel Prize in literature to a genocide denier. What a nasty and shameful act we are witnessing in 2019! " tweeted the Acting Foreign Minister of Albania Ghent Cakaj .

Handke, whose best-known work includes the piece Offending the Audience is no stranger to this type of controversy. In 2006, he was nominated for the city of Düsseldorf, Germany's Heinrich Heine Prize, which was given to writers promoting human solidarity. But after the riot of onlookers – including members of the Düsseldorf city attorney who were responsible for administering the cash dividend of the prize and who threatened to veto Handke's profit – Handke rejected the award before it had to be withdrawn.

And in 2014 the Handke International Ibsen Award was awarded, the world's most prestigious theater award. The announcement was greeted by protests from human rights organizations, where PEN International's Norwegian chapter formally condemned the election. (Handke accepted the award but declined the $ 400,000 cash award, citing his "unfriendly reception.")

Handke is reportedly not a fan of the Nobel Prize as an institution either. He declared in 2014 that it "should be abolished" because it "promotes the false canonization of literature."

The policy of Handke's profit stands out in particularly stark contrast when he is placed next to Tokarczuk, an outspoken progressive in increasingly reactionary Poland. After Tokarczuk mentioned Poland's dark history of colonialism in a 2014 TV interview, high-ranking nationalists calculated her a "targowic zanin" – an old word for traitors – and her publisher had to hire bodyguards to protect her.

In a statement, the Swedish Academy says that Tokarczuk's gain comes in recognition of "a narrative imagination which, with an encyclopedic passion, represents the crossing of boundaries as a way of life", and Handkes "for an influential work that, with linguistic ingenuity, has explored the periphery and human experience. . "


Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from PEN America.


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