This article appeared originally in Norwegian on the website of VG Nyheter on Sunday 21.9.14 as a part of the debate about the controversial decision to award the prestigious Ibsen Award to Peter Handke. Written by Norway´s honorary consul to Bosnia and Herzegovina; Ivar Amundsen.
Handke has declared himself as an unabashed supporter of the Serbian fascism that led to the wars in the Balkans after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 90s. He doted to the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian leader in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic. Both were predominantly responsible for the carnage in Bosnia that took over 100,000 lives and both were sent to Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Handke visited Milosevic in prison there and hailed him later in a speech at his funeral.
In 1996, Handke was asked if he was touched by at all by the Bosnian people’s suffering during the war. He replied: “As far as I am concerned, you can take and put that up your ass.” Statement came just months after the Serbian genocide of 8000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica. Two years later he said the Serbs had suffered more in the last eight years than Jews had done throughout the twentieth century. That made Peter Handke a hero among extreme Serb nationalists.
Giving the award to Handke has given rise to a massive criticism in Norway and internationally; especially in Bosnia where this is perceived as a Norwegian sanctioning of war crimes and an insult to the victims. It is a scandal for the government, for Norway, and it draws Henrik Ibsen’s name in the mud. Helsinki Committee organized last Wednesday a seminar on the issue in the House of Literature, but no one from the jury or culture ministry had the courage to show up.
Jury chairman, Per Boye Hansen, has sat quiet as a mouse and watched the criticism rise. Last Tuesday he came on the pitch. Surprisingly enough he didn´t fall to the temptation to separate Handke’s writing from his extreme statement which are in violation of international law. On the contrary, he made clear that Handke political views were taken into consideration and not disqualified him. Pure words for money!
Here Boye Hansen’s reasoning is actually correct – but the conclusion is wrong. All parts of Handke´s personality should of course fall into consideration – but that should also disqualify him.
The jury has demonstrated extremely poor judgment and morality and has been commended for its decision by an ill-advised minister of culture. The award to Handke should be taken back and the jury for The Ibsen Award deprived of their duties. If it is still being given to him in the National Theatre today at 17:00, those who choose to be present to experience the session will do so with a bland taste in their mouth.