Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on May 9 presented one of the state’s highest honors to Peter Handke, an Austrian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019 who denies the genocide in Srebrenica.
The Order of Karadjordje’s Star of the First Degree was given to Handke in Belgrade because of his “uncompromising fight for the truth,” according to a statement by the moderator of the ceremony.
Vucic said that by presenting the award, Serbia “shows its gratitude to its academic and friend Handke.” Vucic also thanked him “for everything you do for our country, for our Serbia,” and apologized that some Serbs “have not always been able to show enough gratitude for everything you have done for us.”
The honor is for “special merits and successes in representing the state (Serbia) and its citizens,” according to the website of the Serbian Army. A decree on awarding the honor to the writer was passed in February 2020.
Handke, who was declared an honorary citizen of Belgrade in 2015, arrived in Belgrade from Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he received the highest awards two days earlier by representatives of the Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity of Bosnia. Film director Emir Kusturica also honored him with the literary Grand Prize Ivo Andric in the eastern city of Visegrad.
In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, however, Handke’s visit to the region was met with rejection and dismay. The local media referred to him as a “genocide denier.”
Handke is well known for his support of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s policies in the 1990s. He was criticized by the international community for his support for internationally isolated Serbia, visits with Milosevic in The Hague tribunal’s detention unit, and attendance at his funeral.
Many in the Balkans see Handke as an apologist for Serb war crimes during the conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Bosnia marked the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide last year. In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.
The massacre was labeled as genocide by international courts, but Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials refuse to accept that wording.
The 78-year-old Handke, considered one of the most original German-language writers alive, has argued that Serbs were unfairly portrayed by the Western press as the only aggressors in the conflict.
Handke was a controversial choice for the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Bosnia, Albania, Croatia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Turkey boycotted the Nobel Prize award ceremony that year. Protests also were held in Sweden on the day the awards were presented.
Numerous reporters who reported on wars in Bosnia and Kosovo raised their voices against Handke on social media at the time.