Thursday, 22 September 2011

Handke Doesn't Get Prize (Again)

There are dangers inherent in getting companies to sponsor literary awards, just as there are in state-sponsored literature promotion. This time it's a firm that makes book-binding machines, which sponsors the Candide Prize.

A brief look at the prize's history shows it's been a tad turbulent. It started off as a writers' residency but then the town of Minden withdrew its funding. Then a local organisation was funded to award a plain old prize of €7500 from donations. In 2007 they got government funding, according to a rather gappy Wikipedia article at least, and doubled the prize money. And then in 2008 it was turned into a Franco-German award with French ministry funding and went to two different writers, but only for two years until 2010, when only one person got it and they switched to the sponsor. Their website kind of gives up the ghost after that announcement.

So this year they chose one winner again, at least as far as I can establish, and that was Peter Handke. And the prize money was to come from the book-binding machine makers. But no! It's not good for their image to be associated with Austrian writer Handke, because he's made a number of rather dodgy comments about Yugoslavia. They're particularly concerned, says the chairman of the jury Gerd Voswinkel on Deutschlandradio, about losing customers in the USA. No, don't laugh. All book-binders in the USA are perfectly up-to-date on Austrian writers' political positions and would, of course, cancel their orders if they found out about the whole thing. So the sponsor's not paying.

Of course it's not the first time. The mayor of Düsseldorf refused to award Handke the Heinrich-Heine Prize back in 2006, for the same reasons. Since then his biographer Malte Herwig has revealed that Handke actually visited the former commander of the Bosnian Serb armed forces Karadžić in Bosnia in 1996, shortly before the latter disappeared and spent twelve years disguised as a mystic, was then arrested and transferred to The Hague, where he is currently on trial for war crimes including the Srebrenica massacre. The two of them swapped books and Handke asked about the whereabouts of a number of Bosnian Muslims missing since said massacre. Karadžić said he would enquire but seems to have had other things on his mind; Handke never heard back from him. Which doesn't make giving the man money any easier, I can imagine. That and the old "holding speech at Milošević's funeral" incident.

It's a tricky one and I don't have any answers either. But in this case the contract stipulated that the award jury has a free hand to choose the prizewinner, and so Handke gets to keep the certificate but won't bag any cash. Voswinkel says they're now looking for a wealthy patron to keep the award afloat in future.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Lots of journalists visited Karadjic in 1996 - I saw many interviews on TV - and Handke is a journalist as well as a novelist, so I don't see what the problem is unless Herwig's details provide some more detail of note.

Also, while Karadjic is appears responsible for acts of war that are criminal, I think I'm right in saying he has yet to be convicted and "the war criminal" is unduly assumptive. Would you refer to Ian McEwan having dinner with Bush & Blair as "visiting war criminals"?

Of course the comparison is outrageous, as Karadjic's actions led to far fewer deaths (whether one believes B&B's action criminal or not).

kjd said...

I've amended the detail but would never write about Ian McEwan in the first place.

Nor am I in the business of comparing the number of deaths for which individuals are allegedly responsible.

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Sorry, I'm arguing with the fools who fund and judge book prizes (myself included) rather than you.

My point was that if Ian McEwan was awarded a prize, nobody would even mention him having dinner with B&B (which he did do by the way). And it wouldn't matter if literature itself were the issue in the giving of prizes.

And it's not me who compares the number of deaths, it's the subject itself.

Anonymous said...



Su t:

Man sollte sich bei Herrn Büntemeyer bedanken,
und da dieser Hinterwaeldler wohl gefeuert werden wird, ihm 10% des extra Verkaufs des von seinem Eklat

Eingebrachten gönnen! Ich erinnere mich seiner Bindemaschinen in Bulgarien, da kriegte
eine alter Frau dann Arbeit um dem schlecht gebundenen Fahnenstoss noch einen Klabs zu geben auf dem Weg zur Verklappung!
Das Geld braucht Handke wohl kaum, aber "Candide" mit der wuerd ich auch gern mal eine
nacht verbringen und im milden Minden! Handke vergibt die meisten Preisgelder an andere die es nötiger haben.

Und den Heine Preis der damals durchgefallen ist war doch nur von noeten da Handke das Geld brauchte um die Übersetzers seines großartigen Roman DEL GREDOS zu einem Kletterwochenende mit den Gemsböcken in den Bergen dort einzuladen, und die Siegried Löffler war ja sehr behilflich. Das führte dann zu dem Peymann Berliner Heine Preis die dann einer Gemeinde im Kosovo gestiftet wurde, viel Photographen dabei! Nur die kleinen Preise will Handke angeblich jetzt noch annehmen, das verändert sich aber auch von Woche zu Woche. Was kann man ihm eigentlich noch geben, und wer um sich mit seinem Namen zu schmücken? Endlich den hoch verdienten Nobel damit dieser Rummel endlich aufhört
aber Handke's verwundete Eitelkeit - nicht einmal ein Kuss von Gott würde ihn heilen noch befriedigen.


here is a link to a good summary of the story at DIE ZEIT I left my original comment in German since I posted it as such at DIE ZEIT and the FAZ. The printer comes out like a dreadful provincial! Handke, the great exhibitionist who loves nothing more than the appearance of his name and photo, could not be happier I imagine, he certainly does not need the money what with having received a total of one million Euro for his papers to the German and Austrian archives. Herwigs by and large lousy book, but for some interviews and doing good archival work mentions nothing special about the visit. Handke mistrusts representations in the media, as well he should. With his DIE KUCKUCKE VON VELICA HOCA he proved to be better than any of these on site visiting of debacles journalists of New Yorker New York Review of Books fame. I read the NY Times stories about Afghanistan, I even know some of the reporters - ah what is fit to print! No history for sure.


Stephen, I've also posted a bit about this at

with a link to your post. As to war criminals: once ethnicities start murdering each other - who is a war criminal? The DeHague court of course at least created a semblance of fairness by putting perpetrators and responsible leaders on trial, but not those that destablized the region, who committed economic warfare on all of Eastern Europe. One of the other commenters made the point that the big bad Wolf of Progarevic was just as bad, having been a banker in the west. Handke visited him,too, together with Pinter, and was on friendly terms with the family - but that is the Handke who has been having truck with those in power since early on in his career. His work was done under the aegis of M. and his family in Belgrad, and there is a photo of his shaking the hand of the most nationalist candidate during the last Serbian election for president. His defense of Serbia against being made the sole power responsible for the horrors, had driven him into a nationalist position that he would normally not occuppy, since his preference is for the federated existence of different tribes. As far as the west is concerned and it covered the disintegration into ethnically uniform entities. Allegely objecting to those nationalist excesses it then blamed the Serbs exlusively. Pretty much, you and I are in a very small minority. The "humanity hyenas" as Handke calls them win, oh all the mass of them. I wish of course that Mr. Handke were a saint, but that is not quite the case either.

David said...

KJD - I agree it's completely absurd that they didn't give Handke the prize because they were worried about the reaction in the US.

Very few Americans know about Handke, and most have completely forgotten what the fuss was about in Serbia.

Also, most English Departments at American colleges today venerate Pound (huge Mussolini supporter) and TS Eliot (notorious anti-Semite). We are capable of separating the art from the personal biography.


Well, I would not leave it up to English departments to buy bookbinding machines! However, if they did they would remember JL Marcus's hideous piece in the New York Review of Books and once pal Bob Silvers refused to run a critique just of the literary aspect of that attack, at the time I did not feel qualified to assess the whys and wherefores of Handkes political stance; nor Susan Sontag's saying "Handke is finished here." All those marvelous American humanity hyenas who stand by when this evil empire does is montrous work world wide. See

for a long critique of the Marcus piece, which no end of utterly lazy reviewers still refer to, or which aura provide them with the emanations that they then re-emit. The Handke reception in this country and the inability of reviewers, except impressionistically, to give an account of Handke's supreme artfulness is of a nature that might make one despair. What has happened to those who once knew to read, say Nabokov?