The Nobel academy came under fire on Tuesday for their decision to award their prestigious prize for literature to Peter Handke, who has been a subject of criticism over his stance on the wars in former Yugoslavia and on late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Three countries are boycotting the ceremony, with Turkey joining Albania and Kosovo in abstaining from the event, according to a report by Reuters.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan released a statement explaining the country’s decision to join the boycott.
“Giving the Nobel Literature Prize to a racist, who denies the genocide in Bosnia and defends war criminals, on December 10, Human Rights Day, will have no meaning other than the rewarding of human rights violations,” the statement read in part.
Handke, a 77-year-old Austrian national, has spoken positively in the past of Milosevic, going so far as speaking at the former Serbian leader’s funeral in 2006. The Serbian leader died during his trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, where he faced war crime charges related to atrocities and ethnic cleansing committed by Serb forces in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo following the disintegration of federal Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
In a news conference on Friday, Handke responded to the criticisms in a manner that didn’t exactly assuage any of the concerns, referencing an envelope filled with toilet paper that had been mailed to him in the aftermath of the announcement.
“I tell you… I prefer toilet paper, the anonymous letter with toilet paper, to your empty and ignorant questions,” he said.
Today, Handke will be receiving the $935,000 award from the Nobel academy and attend the traditional Nobel banquet, as reported by The Independent. The Nobel academy defended their choice to give Handke an award, pointing out that the author had condemned the Srebrenica massacre in the past while admitting that he had also made “provocative, unsuitable and unclear comments in political questions.”
One member of the academy will also be joining in the boycott. Peter Englund, who led the Academy until 2015, made his objection clear on Friday.
“To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part,” Englund said.
Handke rose to fame as the author of such notable works as The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and Slow Homecoming, along with co-writing the script of the 1987 film Wings of Desire. His 1996 novel A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia created controversy for its portrayal of Serbia as a victim of the Yugoslav wars while criticizing Western media for its misrepresentation of events.