Bosnian war survivors protest Peter Handke's Nobel prize win

Protesters on Tuesday demonstrated against the Nobel Committee's decision to award Austrian writer Peter Handke its prize in literature, stating that awarding him 'equals awarding war crimes.' Handke has long been criticized for his defence of the Serbs during the 1990s wars that devastated the Balkans.

Protesters: 'awarding Handke equals awarding war crimes'

Representatives of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide hold a picture of the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature Peter Handke in Srebrenica during a protest in front of the Swedish embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Bosnian war survivors, including mothers who lost husbands and sons in the Srebrenica massacre, protested Tuesday in Sarajevo, urging the Nobel Committee to reverse its decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Austrian writer Peter Handke. 

Protesters gathered outside the Swedish embassy in downtown Sarajevo carrying banners with slogans comparing Handke with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. 

All three former Serb leaders were tried for genocide before a United Nations tribunal handling war crimes from Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Milosevic died in 2006 before the end of his trial, while Karadzic and Mladic were convicted and imprisoned for life.

Handke, 76, has long faced criticism for his vigorous defence of the Serbs during the 1990s wars that devastated the Balkans as Yugoslavia disintegrated. He even spoke at Milosevic's 2006 funeral, calling him "a rather tragic man." And despite UN court rulings to the contrary, Handke has persistently denied that genocide took place in Bosnia's 1995 Srebrenica massacre. 

Bosnian women whose male family members, including sons and husbands, perished in the Srebrenica massacre hold placards as they protest. Placards read: 'awarding Handke equals awarding war crimes' and 'award for Handke is award for Slobodan Milosevic'. (Almir Razic/Fena Agency/The Associated Press)

Bosnian Muslim women whose husbands and sons were slain at Srebrenica joined the protest, carrying Handke's photo with the words "awarding Handke equals awarding war crimes" written over it. 

Protester Murat Tahirovic urged the Nobel Committee to reverse its decision. 

"[Handke] supported war criminals, he does not deserve the [Nobel]," said Tahirovic, a member of a survivors' group for Bosnian Serb wartime torture camps.  

Austrian author Peter Handke at his house in Chaville near Paris on Oct 10th, the day he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Despite a UN court ruling to the contrary, Handke has persistently denied that genocide took place in Srebrenica. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

The protest was timed to coincide with an official three-day visit to Bosnia by Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, who were expected later Tuesday. 

Massacre officially deemed genocide

More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in days of slaughter after the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995. It is the only episode of Bosnia's war to be defined as genocide by two UN courts.

Serbs hastily disposed of the victims' bodies in several large pits, then dug them up again and scattered the remains over the nearly 100 smaller mass graves and hidden burial sites around the town.

Tens of thousands of massacre survivors gather outside Srebrenica on July 11 each year to commemorate the crime and bury the newly exhumed and identified remains of victims. The event is typically attended by international leaders.

Munira Subasic, who lost her husband and son in the massacre, said the mothers of Srebrenica victims group wrote a letter to the Swedish queen as "fellow mothers" to let her know of Handke's support for Serb war criminals during the 1990s Yugoslav wars.  They invited the Swedish queen to visit Srebrenica for commemorations next July on the 25th anniversary of the genocide.