It is a sentiment that was widely shared in the Western Balkans, a region that is still reeling from a decade of wars. We still do not have a clear accounting of all the victims of Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian dictator whose policies Handke publicly encouraged and endorsed.
In our part of the world, some 150,000 people, primarily Bosnian and Kosovo Albanian civilians, had their lives cut short in a senseless war that brought memories of the Holocaust and the Dark Ages back to Europe.
To this day, there are families that still hold on to a piece of cloth, a muddied wristwatch or a blurred photograph in search of their loved ones. Two decades after the war, there are mothers and fathers, wives, sisters, sons and daughters who spend each and every night hoping for a knock on the door that will bring them news of their vanished husband or their abducted son. Countless hours are still spent by too many families in the hallways of forensic clinics, waiting for a DNA match so that they can at least have an actual grave to mourn.
There are entire generations that were never able to achieve their full potential because they were expelled from their jobs and driven out of their homes in an ethnic-cleansing campaign led by Milosevic. Justice was never delivered to them, for there is no justice that can ever remedy such loss. But for Handke, none of this mattered.
"I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic,” he said in his eulogy at Milosevic’s funeral. He did so after first expressing his opposition to the NATO air campaign on Serbian forces aimed at stopping the brutal war in Kosovo. In an interview, Handke claimed that the alliance was not preventing a new Auschwitz, but rather creating a new one.
This is why we, the victims of cruel nationalist aggression, find ourselves dumbfounded by the decision of the Nobel Prize jury, a highly respected institution that we would have expected to uphold and protect the very ideals that compelled the Western world to stand up to the evils of war, to make such a distinguished award to one who masterminded death and destruction.
This protest is not about the western Balkans and the experiences of the generations who have lived through hell because of Milosevic and his enablers. It is not about attacking the freedom of speech or freedom of association, which we also have fought long and hard to enjoy. This protest is not about a man who merely had fringe political opinions, ideological beliefs or qualms about what is morally just.
It is a protest against rewarding a writer who amplified support for a war criminal and endorsed his premeditated plan to exterminate the ethnic and the political other.
The implications of this decision bode ill for all humanity, for they embolden other leaders and writers with such gruesome motivations and tendencies.
Handke was not on the right side of history in Kosovo or the Balkans; he was not on the side of noble ideals; instead, he found shelter on the dark side of the tragic events in the Balkans.
The will of Alfred Nobel specified that the prize should go to authors who have “produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” It is hard to see how the Nobel Committee’s decision to give the award to Handke conforms in any way to this standard.
Nobel, through his legacy, all but erased criticism that he was a Merchant of Death because of his invention of dynamite. Now, however, the Nobel Committee has sadly — and indelibly — attached itself to Peter Handke, a celebrator of Slobodan Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans.