Serbia honours outspoken Nobel laureate Handke

Belgrade (AFP) –


Serbia on Sunday awarded one of its highest honours to Nobel Laureate Peter Handke whose outspoken support for the Serbs during the 1990s Yugoslav wars saw him accused of being an apologist for Serb atrocities.

Considered one of the most original German-language writers alive, the Swedish Academy's pick for the 2019 literature prize reopened old wounds in the Balkans

At one point Austrian Handke even compared the Serbs to the Jews under the Nazis, a remark he later retracted.

A lifelong provocateur, Handke argued that Serbs were unfairly portrayed by the Western press as the only aggressors in the conflicts.

He even spoke at the 2006 funeral of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died while on trial for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Swedish Academy had defended their choice as made solely on literary merit without political considerations.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic awarded Handke the Order of Karadjordje's Star, first division, for his "exceptional merits in representing Serbia... in public and cultural activities and personal persistence in uncompromising responsibility towards the truth".

The decision to decorate Handke, 78, was made last year, but the ceremony was only held on Sunday.

"The Serbian people are happy to have Handke among their friends. Our people never needed better ones," Vucic was quoted as saying by the N1 regional broadcaster.

Every one of Handke's word is "thundering", he said.

Handke's Nobel Prize in 2019 sparked outrage notably in Bosnia and Kosovo, both devastated by the 1990s wars, while Pristina declared him 'persona non grata'.

Some defended the writer, including Nobel-winning compatriot Elfriede Jelinek.

But many others, from Susan Sontag to Salman Rushdie, lined up to lambast him.