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Austrian Writer Handke Avoids Mention Of Balkan Outrage In Nobel Lecture

Members of a genocide victims and witnesses association protest in front of the Swedish Embassy in Sarajevo against the Nobel award to writer Peter Handke.

Austrian writer Peter Handke delivered his Nobel Academy lecture but avoided mentioning the controversy surrounding his views that triggered outrage in the Balkans because of his stated admiration for the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Handke, winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, spoke on December 7 in Stockholm in a traditional academy lecture ahead of the award ceremonies scheduled for December 10.

The academy awarded the 77-year-old Handke the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 10 for what it called "an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."

Handke’s win was immediately met with outrage in many parts of the Balkans and elsewhere because of the Austrian’s role at Milosevic's 2006 funeral.

Handke delivered a eulogy in honor of the president, who died while being tried by a UN war-crimes tribunal in the Netherlands for genocide and other war crimes committed during the conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

On December 7, Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli said his country would boycott the awards ceremony "due to controversial Nobel Prize winner Peter Handke, a friend and supporter of Milosevic's policy."

Ethnic-Albanian majority Kosovo was a Yugoslav and then Serbian province until it broke away after the 1998-99 war.

Earlier this week, two Nobel committee members resigned over the selection, while historian and writer Peter Englund, a member of the academy, said he would boycott the ceremony.

A petition signed by about 60,000 people called on the Nobel committee to revoke Handke’s award, labeling him an “apologist for the ‘butcher of the Balkans.’”

Journalists were not allowed to attend the lectures, with one source telling AFP it was because of "security reasons," although they were streamed online. The award ceremony on December 10 will also be streamed in Stockholm.

Also speaking was Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, who was the 2018 literature laureate. Her prize was announced at the same as Handke’s win because the Academy had postponed naming a winner last year due to internal turmoil connected with a sex abuse scandal.

The December 10 ceremony will feature the winners of the various Nobel Prizes, which are each worth 9 million kronor ($908,000).

The most famous of the awards is the Peace Prize, which this year went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for his role in bringing about an end to two decades of fighting between his country and Eritrea.

With reporting by AFP, DW, and The Guardian

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