'Ignoble And Shameful': Controversial Winners For Nobel Literature Prize

Austrian writer Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was named as the 2018 winner after a sexual assault scandal led to last year’s award being postponed.

The Swedish Academy which chooses the literature laureate said it had recognised Handke, 76, for a body of work including novels, essays and drama “that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Tokarczuk, 57, won for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” it said.

Both have courted controversy - Handke for his portrayal of Serbia as a victim during the Balkan wars and for attending its leader’s funeral, and Tokarczuk for touching on dark areas of Poland’s past that contrast with the version of history promoted by the country’s ruling nationalist party.

While Tokarczuk’s agent said the award should not be seen in the context of a parliamentary election Poland will hold on Sunday, the author called on Poles to “vote in a right way for democracy”.

“The prize goes to eastern Europe, which is unusual, incredible,” Tokarczuk told a press conference in the German town of Bielefeld.

“It shows that despite all those problems with democracy in my country we still have something to say to the world.”

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (left) and Austrian author and director Peter Handke (right). Photo: Reuters.

On winning a Polish literary award in 2015 for “The Book of Jacob”, which deals with Poland’s relations with its Jewish minority and neighbouring Ukraine, she outraged nationalists with her comments and received death threats.

Two prizes were awarded this year after last year’s award was postponed over the scandal that led to the husband of an Academy member being convicted of rape.

Since then, the organisation has appointed new members and reformed some of its more arcane rules after a rare intervention by its royal patron, the king of Sweden.

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Handke, a native of the Austrian province of Carinthia, which borders Slovenia, established himself as one of the most influential writers in Europe after World War Two, the Academy said. He also co-wrote the script of the critically-acclaimed 1987 film “Wings of Desire”.

The author of books such as “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” and “Slow Homecoming”, he attracted widespread criticism after he attended the funeral of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2006.

The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Mats Malm (left) and Anders Olsson, Pär Westberg, Rebecka Kärde, Mikael Blomqvist and Henrik Petersen presents Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 and 2019, in Stockholm, Sweden, 10 October 2019. Photo: AAP.

An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Kosovo and almost 1 million were put to flight during a brutal war waged by forces under Milosevic in 1998-99.

Kosovo’s ambassador to Washington reacted angrily to Handke’s win.

“Have we become so numb to racism, so emotionally desensitised to violence, so comfortable with appeasement that we can overlook one’s subscription&service to the twisted agenda of a genocidal maniac?,” Vlora Citaku wrote on Twitter.

“We must not support or normalise those who spew hatred. We can do better!#Nobel.”

Albania’s acting Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj called the award ignoble and shameful on Twitter.