it can fool me but once

My mother, Janice Hilton Abbott, died on December 3, just four weeks before her 91st birthday.


I’ve been looking at photos, reading things she wrote, remembering.

Sunday morning, just four days ago, I sat next to the bed where she lay dying and wrote in my little notebook:

Mom sleeping. The sun slanting in through the blinds of the south window gives color to her forehead, cheeks, and hand. Mouth open, snoring just a bit. Just she and I and the slanting December sun. An hour of grace.

I had Alex Caldiero’s book Not Dreaming / Not Dreamed with me, a 1989/1990 work written while his mother was dying. I read it aloud to the woman who taught me to love works of literature because they teach us and deepen us as they surprise us. Thank you Alex. Love you Mom.


it can fool me but once

my grandmother used to say

death can fool me only once

then it’ll be my turn to laugh


The Rising of the Dead

When the body will be taken away,

then she will be missed.

The house will miss her first,

room by room.

Then the cat will begin

to look for her.

Then the mirror will

sense her absence.

Then the plants will

thirst the way children thirst for milk.

And they will wait —

They will all wait —


I was never so awake

as when I saw

my mother go

into her deepest sleep.



regular thru the

night   By late morning


Close to noon

a faint gurgling    She

lifted herself

opened eyes wide

then closed them

tight,    & with a

quick grimace

let go

last breath




I opened the window


No one


was any the wiser




A part of us is

forever    the friend

we each are

to no other


Yes, Mom, a part of us is forever the friend we each are to no other.


Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The Perils of Self-Righteousness

On Thanksgiving Day, a man whose anger is approaching rabidity posted a piece that claims that Peter Handke is a genocide denier or worse because he stayed for a night in a hotel outside of Višegrad used during the war for rapes. … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Peter Handke: The Višegrad Killings

Since he published his Summer Addendum to a Wintry Journey in 1996, critics have claimed that he denied the atrocities committed by Serbs as they ethnically cleansed Višegrad. I’ll cite a couple of paragraphs from the text that offer a reader a … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Makavejev Case or Trial in a Movie Theater, a film by Goran Radovanovic

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Dear Goran, I finally watched your film last night. And I loved it. A tape recorder as chief protagonist. A tape recorder as chief protagonist! What a brilliant choice. The purity required by ideology. Bureaucrats vs. artists. Voices from 1971. … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Handke as Nationalist: The Dictionary

This gallery contains 1 photo.

The last time I was in Belgrade with Zarko Radakovic and Peter Handke, Handke was carrying a dictionary published since the civil wars that looked like this: He had altered the title to make clear that the slavic language in … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Peter Handke a Serbian Nationalist?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Protests after the awarding of the Nobel Prize focus on claims that Handke is a Serbian nationalist. In 2014, after the awarding of the Ibsen Prize, protestors claimed he is a Serbian nationalist. [ Karl Ove Knausgaard responded to the … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Protesting the Protest against Peter Handke

Peter Handke und der Literatur-Nobelpreis Erklärung deutschsprachiger AutorInnen, LiteraturwissenschaftlerInnen, PublizistInnen, ÜbersetzerInnen u.a. Wien / Graz (OTS) – Die Kritik an Peter Handke hat längst den Boden vertretbarer Auseinandersetzungen unter den Füßen verloren, sie besteht fast nur noch aus Hass, Missgunst, … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Suhrkamp Verlag’s Detailed Response to the Nobel Prize Controversy


Peter Handke 

Clarifications, materials and further sources related to an ongoing debate


As of: 31 October 2019 

Preliminary Note 

The debate surrounding the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Peter Handke has, in the meantime, grown international. Below, some of the major topics publicly discussed in that debate have been collected and juxtaposed with texts and personal statements of Handke’s, as well as research on his publications. 

Peter Handke’s complete works in German have been published by Suhrkamp in 14 volumes in 2018 (Peter Handke Bibliothek, Berlin, 2018). The volume Aufsätze 2 comprises his works on the civil wars in Yugoslavia, and contains: Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land, Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien, Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise, Unter Tränen fragend, Rund um das Große Tribunal, Die Tablas von Daimiel, Die Kuckucke von Velika Hoča, Die Geschichte des Dragoljub Milanović. The majority of them have not been translated. 

The aim of this document is therefore to provide, wherever possible, some clarification based on original sources on some of the topics discussed, and to document, in English translation, original quotations from Handke’s texts, as appropriate. 

This document is a work in progress and will be continuously amended, as appropriate. 


  1. Peter Handke, Serbia, and the Yugoslav wars 

I.1 Some observers have written that Peter Handke denies or excuses genocide and war crimes 


  • “denial of Serb atrocities during the Balkans war“ [Flood 2019] 
  • “denies that a well-documented genocide was committed by Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia“ [Maass 2019a] 
  • “is an apologist for genocide“ [Vulliamy 2019] 
  • “literary art of genocide denial” [Maass 2019b] 


Peter Handke has neither denied nor excused genocide and war crimes in the Yugoslav wars. He has repeatedly emphasized this: 

I have never denied or lessened or made light of, let alone countenanced, a single one of the massacres in the wars in Yugoslavia that took place from 1991 to 1995. [Handke 2018g, 1013] 

In 2019 he repeated: 

Of course, the genocide has caused infinite suffering, which I have never denied. A suffering that cannot be extinguished by anything. I regret my remarks, should they have conveyed something else [Handke 2019]. 

Handke’s questioning does not apply to the crimes per se, but to the way in which they were reported. From this media-critical approach, he attempts to historically expand the media’s handling of acts and declarations of war from a Yugoslavian and Serbian perspective. (cf. I.2.). 

In Summer Postscript to a Winter’s Journey, Handke defends himself against the repeated criticism of relativizing war crimes through a comparison with other war crimes, as well as the accusation of deflecting blame by taking a Serbian perspective: 

But, once again, pay attention: just as a clarification of prehistories has nothing to do with anything being offset, it naturally has nothing to do with any kind of relativization or weakening either. There are no extenuating circumstances for revenge. [Handke 2018e, 166] 

Handke’s texts A Journey to the Rivers and Summer Postscript to a Winter’s Journey describe his concrete travel experiences. This is both a consequence of his media-critical approach as well as his poetological principles. Handke describes his writing principle in the foreword to the US edition as follows: I wrote about my journey through the country of Serbia exactly as I have always written my books, my literature: a slow, inquiring narration; every paragraph dealing with and narrating a problem, of representation, of form, of grammar – of aesthetic veracity; that has always been the case in what I have written, from the beginning to the final period. [Handke 1997, vii] 

I.1.1 Some observers have written that Peter Handke denies the genocide at Srebrenica 


  • “He once denied the Serbian massacre at Srebrenica” [BBC 2019] 
  • “contests the massacre at Srebrenica“ [Vulliamy 2019] 
  • “denied the Srebrenica genocide“ [Cain 2019] 
  • “denies that a well-documented genocide was committed by Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia“ [Maass 2019a] 
  • “Handke does not doubt that people were killed in Srebrenica, but he denies that a genocide has taken place there” [Selimović 2019] 
  • “his lies that what happened in Srebrenica was an act of revenge” [Selimović 2019] 


Peter Handke has not denied the genocide at Srebrenica. His early discussion of this war crime can be seen in the following quote from A Journey to the Rivers

A child’s sandal broke the surface at my feet. “You aren’t going to question the massacre at Srebrenica too, are you?” S. commented, in response, after my return. “No,” I said. “But I want to ask how such a massacre is to be explained, carried out, it seems1, under the eyes of the world, after more than three years of war […] and further, it is supposed2 to have been an organized, systematic, long-planned execution.” Why such a thousandfold slaughtering? What was the motivation? For what purpose? And why, instead of an investigation into the causes (“psychopaths” doesn’t suffice), again nothing but the sale of the naked, lascivious, market-driven facts and supposed facts? [Handke 1997, 73f.] 

The last sentence can be explained by Handke’s fundamental criticism of, in his view, the stereotypical reporting on the Yugoslavian wars (cf. I.2.). In the immediate aftermath of the genocide and at the beginning of its investigation, Handke attempts to understand the circumstances that led it. He is careful not to immediately confirm or believe everything the media has written about the situation. This is the context in which he first uses the adjective ‘presumed’: 

Commemoration on the anniversary of the presumed (at the moment, the middle of July 1996, still the just and legal epithet) genocide committed in S. [Handke 2018e, 165] 

In Handke’s texts on Yugoslavia, the term ‘presumed’ appears three times [ibid. and 161], all in the aforementioned context. But he was vehemently against any relativization of war crimes: 

And I repeat, enraged, full of rage for the Serbian criminals, commandants, planners I repeat: Srebrenica represents the worst crime against humanity that has been committed in Europe since the war. [Handke 2018f, 1017] 

Often it has been critizised, that, while Handke did condem what happended in Sebrenica, he did not use the term “genocide” when referring to the genocide of Sebrenica. 

His terminology refers to the legal situation of the time. Already in 2006 Handke uses the expression “Sebrenica-Genocide” [Handke 2018b, 349f]. The UN would declare the massacre at Srebrenica a genocide in 2007. In a statement Handke made on October 25 2019, he explicitly stated that the massacre at Srebrenica was in fact a genocide (cf. I.1.). 

Also it was critized that Handke called the genocide of Sebrenica an act of revenge. Though Handke claimed that the Srebrenica genocide could be regarded as an act of revenge by the Bosnian Serbs, he never said this was an excuse and neither countenanced the massacre. Handke wrote about the Srebrenica genocide that it was an “unforgivable act of revenge” [Handke 2018e, 165], “terrible revenge and eternal shame for the Bosnian Serbs responsible” [Handke 2018f, 1018]. 

I.1.2 Some observers have written that Peter Handke denies the crimes in the city of Višegrad 


  • “The criticism of journalistic reporting turns into a doubting of the matter itself […] Handke’s narrator [in Summer Postscript to a Winter’s Journey] denies the fact that the massacre of Višegrad ever took place …” [Brokoff 2010] 


Peter Handke has not denied that crimes against humanity were committed in Višegrad. Nor does Handke’s narrator do so in his text. On the contrary, Handke refers explicitly to crimes having been committed in Višegrad, for example in the following passage: 

according to eyewitnesses many of the victims […] were pushed off the bridge over there, and all on the orders of a young Serbian militia leader [Handke 2018e, 137] 

In the criticized sentences of Summer Postscript to a Winter’s Journey, Handke objects to the journalists’ way of reporting of the war, looking, in his view, only for exactly that story they wished to find. He also critizeses the way journalists would employ a certain type of language to make their reportages more forceful: 

It is remarkable, however, how the testimonial-collectors flown in from across the oceans were without exception only and exclusively concerned with their story, their scoop, their loot, what they could sell […], but hardly ever with a context, with doing the work that might allow for the further explanation and clarification of a problem […] with the prehistory that is particularly characteristic of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, prehistory after prehistory – a portrayal of the problem which would go to the heart in a fundamentally different way than, for instance, the last miserable little literary paragraph […] where the journalist from Manhattan hired to go to Višegrad, behind the Bosnian mountains, has a witness—who managed to escape her city and was there the night her mother and sister were pushed off the bridge—say Tennessee- Williams-like: ‘The bridge. The bridge. The bridge …’ [ibid., 139] 

Peter Handke does not question the facts themselves. In the text, Handke indentifies the effects of ethnic cleansing several times and of Višegrad he writes: “this, in the meantime, purely Serbian place“ [ibid., 144]. Such description and observation of the effects of both the war and war crimes corresponds to his media-critical position (cf. I.2.). 

I.1.3 Some observers have written that Peter Handke denied the existence of concentration camps in the Yugoslav wars 


  • “he wrote that it is wrong to talk of ‘concentration camps’ in Bosnia“ [Maass 2019a] 
  • “denies the existence of concentration camps“ [Vulliamy 2019] 


Peter Handke has not denied the existence of camps in the Yugoslav wars. In A Journey to the Rivers, he writes about “Serbian-Bosnian internment camps” [Handke 1997, 17]. Furthermore, he leaves no doubt as to what took place there: 

It is true: between 1992 and 1995, in the territories of the Yugoslavian republics, above all in Bosnia, there were prison camps, and people in them were starved, tortured, and murdered. [Handke 2018f, 1018] 

This appeared before in similar form in the article he wrote for Libération in 2006, in which he clarified that there were, in his view, Serbian camps as well as Croatian and Muslim camps [Handke 2006c]. 

Handke, indeed, criticizes the use of a certain language, specifically the term ‘concentration camp’ for camps in the Yugoslav wars. Observing the media coverage, Handke was of the opinion that the media had specifically introduced a language and a terminology that refer to the Holocaust to emotionalize what was happening to the greatest degree possible [Struck 2013, 82]. He considered this language and terminology inadequate and opposed its use in any context other than the Holocaust: 

And let us never again use the word “concentration camp” to describe the camps built during the war of secession in Yugoslavia. [ibid., 1017] 

But should one then limit the word ‘apartheid’ to its place of origin, like many other words transferred to Yugoslavia (like ‘concentration camps’ etc.)? [Handke 2018b, 317f.]  

I.2 Some observers have written that Peter Handke exclusively supports the Serbian point-of-view while ignoring other positions 


  • “widely accused of being an apologist for […] Serbian nationalism” [Charles 2019] 
  • “used his public voice to […] offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide“ [Egan 2019] 
  • “a stance very similar to the views of the Milošević regime” [Illić 2016] 
  • “defends these war criminals and dissembles on their behalf“ [Maass 2019a] 
  • “writing about how the Serbs were misunderstood“ [Maass 2019a] 
  • “gives credence to mass murder and […] to lies“ [Vulliamy 2019] 


In his texts on the Yugoslav wars, Peter Handke criticizes what he considers stereotypical reporting and especially, as he sees it, the prescribed appointment of blame. In A Journey to the Rivers, Handke describes his irritation with the language and images employed by the western media (c.f.1.5.). 

Nothing against those—more than uncovering—discovering reporters on the scene (or better yet: involved in the scene and with the people there), praise for these other researchers in the field! But something against the packs of long-distance dispatchers who confuse their profession as writers with that of a judge or even with the role of a demagogue and, working year after year in the same word and picture ruts, are, from their foreign thrones, in their way just as terrible dogs of war as those on the battleground. [Handke 1997, 74] 

Handke explains that his decision to make the Serbian perspective the topic of his texts is a reaction to such coverage. Therfore he tries to focus on what he considers to be, in effect, hidden Serbian views and experiences. 

It was principally because of the war that I wanted to go to Serbia, into the country of the so-called aggressors. But I was also drawn simply to see the country that of all the countries of Yugoslavia was least known to me and, perhaps because of the news reports and opinions about it, had come to attract me most strongly (not least because of the alienating rumors). Nearly all the photographs and reports of the last four years came from one side of the fronts or borders. When they occasionally came from the other side they seemed to me increasingly to be simple mirrorings of the usual coordinated perspectives—distorted reflections in the very cells of our eyes and not eyewitness accounts. I felt the need to go behind the mirror; I felt the need to travel into the Serbia that became, with every article, every commentary, every analysis, less recognizable and more worthy of study, more worthy, simply, of being seen. And whoever is thinking now: Aha, pro-Serbian! or Aha, Yugophile!—the latter a Spiegel [the German news magazine; Spiegel=mirror] word—need read no further. [Handke, 1997, 2-3] 

Because the roles of attacker and attacked, of the pure victims and the naked scoundrels, were all too rapidly determined and set down for the so-called world public. [Handke 1997, 18] 

Handke does not deny other positions (cf. I.4.). In the following quote he classifies his own attempt at establishing a Serbian perspective within the international discourse self-critically: 

But isn’t it, finally, irresponsible […] to offer the small sufferings in Serbia […] while over the border a great suffering prevails, that of Sarajevo, of Tuzla, Srebrenica, of Bihać, compared to which the Serbian boo-boos are nothing? Yes, with each sentence I too have asked myself whether such a writing isn’t obscene, ought even to be tabooed, forbidden […] Didn’t the one who described the small deprivations (gaps between teeth) help to water down, to suppress, to conceal the great ones? [Handke 1997, 81f.] 

In the text A Journey to the Rivers. Justice for Serbia Handke explains his approach. In the context of a longer passage critizising media coverage on the wars in Yugoslavia, for example, from the Der Spiegel, Le Monde or Time (“What kind of journalism is it …” [Handke 1997, 75]), he writes: 

I feel compelled only to justice. Or perhaps even only to questioning?, to raising doubts. [Handke 1997, 76]  

I.3 Some observers have written that Peter Handke has claimed that ‘the Serbs’ suffered more in the 20th century than ‘the Jews’, or as much. 


  • How can Handke not see that his comment, since retracted, that the ‘Serbs were bigger victims than the Jews’, can only be true if it refers to the confines of his own psychology and biography?” [Kuras 2019] 
  • insisted […] that the Serbs were suffering like the Jews under the Nazis.” [Hemon 2019] 
  • compared the plight of the Serbs to the persecution of Jews” [Taylor 2019] 
  • “[…] likening the fate of the Serbs to that of the Jews under the Nazi regime.” [Traynor 1999] 


Peter Handke has said, “the genocide against the Jews is the fundamental shock of my entire life” [Müller 2007]. 

However, in an interview with Serbian television on 18 February 1999, in French, Handke said: 

What the Serbs have been going through for five, even more, eight years, no people in Europe has gone through in this century. There are no categories for that. Regarding the Jews, there are categories [. . .]. But with the Serbs, that’s a tragedy for no reason. This is a scandal. [Handke 1999] 

He corrected this statement shortly thereafter in a letter to the German magazine Focus that was published on 15 March 1999 and wrote [Handke, 1999]: 

In my conversation in French with Yugoslavian television in Rambouillet, I once got muddled. When I said that there were categories on the subject of “Jews”, that one could talk about them, I wanted to say just the opposite: it was not for the first time in my life that it happened to me that something that had been written down in my head at the moment that it orally came out wrong. (But you don’t have to go to a psychologist for that.) 

What has been written in me for a long time was the following: There are no categories on the subject of the (annihilation of the) Jews. The Jews are out of category. There is nothing to say about it (it is absolutely clear). But the people who suffered the most in this century (after the Jews) in Europe (through the Germans, the Austrians, the Catholic Ustaša Croatians) are, for me, the Serbs. And what has been done to the Serbian people and what is being done now is beyond my understanding. Ita est. 

He later repeated that correction several times [e.g., Handke, 2018g, 1013f; Handke 2018f, 1020]. 

I.4 Some observers have written that Peter Handke never doubted his positions or distanced himself from them 


  • “views he had sustained over the years“ [Illić 2016] 
  • “many years of Handke writing about how the Serbs were misunderstood“ [Maass 2019a] 


In the German media, but internationally as well, Handke’s statements have been repeatedly, intensively, and controversially discussed since 1996. Whole books and essays have been published just on documenting the controversies alone [see Deichmann 2017; Zülch 1996; Gritsch 2019]. 

Over the years, Handke has repeatedly tried to explain and revise earlier statements of his against accusations such as those to be found once again in the current debate. For example, in the articles “What I Did Not Say” and “Attempt at an Answer” in 2006 [Handke 2018f; Handke 2018g], starting with his corrections in Focus in 1999 [Handke, 1999; cf. I.3.]. 

In many of his texts, passages that are attributed to him as statements are, indeed, meant to be questions. For he does not trust the media (cf. I.2.), he feels it is important to be allowed to question what is being reported: 

…which shows, nonetheless, how such broadcast reports and pictures transform and misinform themselves in the receptor. [Handke 2018c, 14]. 

I feel compelled only to justice. Or perhaps even only to questioning?, to raising doubts. [Handke 1997, 76] 

I.5 Some observers have written that Peter Handke mocked the victims of war crimes or did not take their suffering seriously 


  • “Handke makes fun of the victims, he mocks them.“ [Brokoff 2019] 
  • “As for Mr. Handke, when a journalist asked him if he was concerned about the suffering in Bosnia, he retorted, ‘Stick your corpses up your ass!’” [Hemon 2019; the quote has since been corrected] 
  • “When critics pointed out that the victims’ corpses provided evidence of Serb atrocities, the writer replied: ‘You can stick your corpses up your arse.’” [Irish Times 2019] 


Handke never said “You can stick your corpses up your ass.” The German magazine Der Spiegel carefully traces the origin of this false quotation [Bayer et al. 2019]. 

During a reading tour for A Journey to the Rivers at Vienna’s Akademietheater on 18 March 1996 he was asked by the Austrian journalist Karl Wendl why he had travelled to Serbia and not to Bosnia. Karl Wendl proceeded to say that those journalists who had travelled to Bosnia, and Sarajevo in particular, were manifestly more concerned than Handke. To which Handke responded: “Stick your [concerns] up your ass.”3 It is important to know, however, that Handke never hesitated to provoke, starting with his early play “Publikumsbeschimpfung”4

However, this should not suggest that Handke has mocked victims. In fact, quite the opposite is true [Handke, 2019]. Those texts of Handke’s referred to in the discussion as making fun of the victims or playing down their suffering [e.g. Brokoff 2019] only criticize what Handke regards as the media’s inadequate use of language and images in order to make the suffering visible to readers. Handke is arguing that most methods of “showing” suffering through text and image in the end fail to do so, and are, in reality, simply exploited for political or other purposes. 

“Massacres”, “concentration camps”, “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”, “mass rape”, “Soldateska”, “butchers”, “pro-Serbian”, and all the close-ups of “hands on barbed wire” (without barbs too), “tears on eyelashes”, “old people with breaking eyes”. Do the pictures from Bosnia at that time resemble those from the Macedonian, Albanian, or Montenegrin borders? No, the picture settings, the picture angles, the picture schemata all resemble one another. What are these truths that consist mainly of close-ups and hard-hitting words? [Handke, 2018h, 183] 

For Handke, the media’s employment of techniques to illustrate individual suffering only on one side of the war is unbalanced and biased: 

But didn’t the odd observer, even before the pictures of the refugee trek out of the Krajina, notice how the Serbian victims, almost invisible up to that point, as a rule appeared radically different in picture, sound, and print than the hecatombs of the others? Yes, in the photos, etc., of the couple of exceptionally news worthy Serbs, they seemed to me in fact to be “vanishing” and thus stood in the most conspicuous contrast to their comrades in grief and sorrow from the other remaining peoples of the war. The latter, it was not uncommon to see, didn’t exactly “pose”, but they clearly had been shifted into a pose as a result of the visual or reported perspective: doubtlessly really suffering, they were shown in a pose of suffering. And during the years of war reporting, while continuously and really suffering, and no doubt more and more, they compliantly and visibly adopted the requested martyr faces and postures for the lenses and microphones of the international photographers and reporters, as instructed, directed, signalled (“Hey, partner!”). Who can tell me I am mistaken or even malicious when, looking at the picture of the unrestrainedly crying face of a woman in close-up behind the bars of a prison camp, I see also the obedient following of directions given by the photographer of the international press agency outside the camp fence; and even in the way the woman clings to the wire I see something suggested by the picture merchant? Yes, it may be that I am mistaken, the parasite is in my eye (the child, large in one photo, screaming in the arms of a woman, its mother?, and in the subsequent photo far away in a group, very peaceful in the arms of an other woman, its real mother?), but why haven’t I ever seen such meticulously framed, cleverly devised, and seemingly set-up photographs—at least not here, in the “West”—of a Serbian war victim? Why were Serbs hardly ever shown in close-ups, and hardly ever alone, but almost always only as groups, and almost always only in the middle distance or background, just vanishing, and also, as opposed to their Croatian or Muslim cosufferers, hardly ever with their gaze directly and passionately into the camera, but rather in profile or gazing at the ground as if conscious of their guilt? Like a foreign tribe? Or as if too proud to pose? Or as if too sad for that? [Handke 1997, 20-21] 

I.6. Some observers have written that Peter Handke ‘worshipped’ Slobodan Milošević and have criticized him for attending his funeral 


  • “has taken a stand for Serbia and the country’s leader Slobodan Milošević in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s” [Elam 2019] 
  • “And probably it would be hard to see the cheek-kissing with the president behind a genocide as a brilliant tribute to the equal value of all people.” [Fjellström 2019] 
  • “it is hard to grasp what could cause him to worship a monster like Mr. Milošević.” [Hemon 2019] 
  • “Mr. Milošević called for him to be a witness at his trial in The Hague, which Mr. Handke politely declined, though he visited his trial more than once.” [Hemon 2019] 
  • “The same person who was ready to make a statement on behalf of the war criminal Milošević as a witness for the defence before the International Court of Justice in Den Haag.” [Marinić 2019] 
  • “held a moving tribute at the funeral.” [Jensen 2019] 


Peter Handke visited Milošević once during his incarceration in The Hague and was present at the trial. No other meeting is documented. He was then present at his funeral. 

Handke describes his visit to Milošević in prison as follows: 

Likewise I was not curious about the unknown ‘friend’ (Milošević) and did not want to know anything about him, at least not anything that might have had to do with the trial. I felt a little uncomfortable thinking that his legal advisor had merely persuaded the accused to meet me.[Handke 2018b, 338] 

Once he was there, Milošević filled Handke’s three-hour visit with a monologue [Struck 2013, 239]: 

Only: who did SlobodanMilošević want to convince with his remarks? Why all the effort? […] And now I ask myself, did Slobodan Milošević present his positions and words to me in such a detailed and fiery way because he would not be able to do so later in court? [Handke 2018b, 363f] 

Handke criticizes the media’s prejudgement of Milošević before the gathering of evidence by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had been completed. For Handke, the presumption of innocence, even in Milošević’s case, can only be overturned by a judicial decision. Handke formulates his doubts carefully, enquiringly, while also considering the possibility that he might be wrong: 

Old-fashioned observer whose gaze is almost automatically focused on the one charged, on the accused, the guilty, and now, in the case of Slobodan Milošević, on the peculiarity of a defendant who, although the trial against him is supposed to last more than a year and a half, has already been convicted in advance. (But maybe I’m wrong?) [Handke 2018d, 278] 

But Handke has also clarified: 

Nowhere in my writings can I be found to have described Slobodan Milošević as “a victim” or “the victim.” [Handke 2018g, S. 1013] 

Peter Handke comes to the conclusion that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the trial against Milošević are a given and unavoidable: 

Thanks to the reports of the preceding trials there [at the ICT] against (sic) “lesser” defendants as well as, and much more strongly, my direct participation in them as a spectator, even though I was sceptical about the court at Churchillplein, the building alone, its location and, in particular, its multifariously ordered, thoroughly hierarchical scenery, appeared to me as something, if not necessarily legitimate, given, unavoidable. [Handke 2018b, 336f.] 

Handke also does not consider Milošević innocent

Yes, my ‘inner conviction’ even goes so far that I see Slobodan Milošević not only before the wrong court, but also – not at all as ‘innocent’ (that, as I said, has nothing to do with me), but as ‘not guilty in the sense of accusation’, and just as much in the sense of the organization, of the trial, of its birth as well as the way it is being handled by the judges. [Handke 2018b, 356] 

Handke stresses the need for a different journalistic approach to reporting about people like Milošević. 

For if he [Milošević] is a form of evil (and a previously unknown one), that is something for a journalist to investigate, not attack and denounce. [Handke 2018c, 105] 

Peter Handke was first named as one of more than sixteen hundred witnesses of the defense in the trial against Milošević. He decided not to testify at the trial against Milošević: 

In the meantime, one thing is certain: I will not be a witness in this trial against Slobodan Milošević. I do not care to be. I do not want to be. I cannot be. [Handke 2018b, 331] 

Milošević’s funeral 

Later, in 2006, Peter Handke attended Milošević’s funeral. In his speech he said the following: 

As a writer, I would have liked not to be alone here in Požarevac, but at the side of another writer, Harold Pinter, for example. He would have used strong words. I am using weak ones. But the weak shall be right here today. It is not only a day for strong words, but for weak ones as well. [From here on, I spoke Serbo-Croation – composed on my own! –, translated back afterwards:] The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Yugoslavia, Serbia. The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Slobodan Milošević. The so-called world knows the truth. Which is why the so-called world is absent today, and not only today, and not only here. The so-called world is not the world. I know that I don’t know. I do not know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. I ask. That is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milošević. [Handke 2006a] 

The claim made in the Nouvel Observateur that Handke waved a Serbian flag at Milošević’s funeral and laid roses on Milošević’s grave is unfounded. [Struck 2013, 248]. Handke successfully sued these and other allegations made against him in the French newspaper [Herwig 2010: 250]. 

Handke himself began to have doubts at the funeral, for he by no means wanted to be associated with the nationalistic or rage-filled rhetoric of certain speakers

Listening to one or the other of the previous speakers in Požarevac, however, my impulse was: no, not after the dashing general there, the politician screaming for revenge there, both of whom wanted to fire up the crowd, which, with the exception of a few isolated fellow screamers, did not allow itself to be collectively swept away to any hate-filled or angry response […]. [Handke 2006b] 

Milošević had been the last president of the now defunct state. In an interview in 2007, Handke replies to the journalist’s statement, “You wanted to say goodbye to the country of which he [Milošević] had been the last president,” with a short: “That’s it.” [Müller 2007]. 

For Peter Handke, Yugoslavia was a special state supported by various language communities. Handke admired “their rather informal, for many even enthusiastic, coming together in 1918 with the end of the Habsburg Monarchy, for the first time ever in their own separate kingdom where the individual countries no longer needed to be shadowy colonies, their individual languages the whisperings of slaves” [Handke 2018a, 13]. He was particularly impressed by the participation of a large part of the Yugoslav population in resisting Nazi occupation during WWII, by people from very different worldviews joining together in the fight against fascism [see ibid.]. With its anti-nationalistic and anti- fascist history, Yugoslavia had been important to Peter Handke 

Handke gave another reason for attending the funeral. He criticized the language of the media, which in his opinion had not adhered to the presumption of innocence. 

It was language that took me there, the language of a so-called world that knew the truth about this “butcher,” this “dictator” guilty “beyond all doubt,” who was even to be blamed for his death, because he had “sidestepped a guilty verdict, the certainty of a life sentence”––why then, I asked, was there still need for a court to declare him guilty? Language of this kind was what impelled me to my mini-speech in Požarevac––language of this kind; not loyalty to Slobodan Milošević, but loyalty to that other language that embodies neither journalism nor prevailing ideas. [Handke 2018f, 1020f.] 

  1. Peter Handke’s relationship to nationalism and fascism 

II.1 Some observers have written that Peter Handke feels a kinship with nationalism and fascism 


  • “With Peter Handke, Europe’s right-wing forces have long had a stiff-backed advocate.” [Jensen 2019] 
  • “a man who has openly supported ultranationalists and fascists in the Balkans” [Edin Kadribegovic, speaker of the union of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Norway, cited in Bach 2019] 


Peter Handke has always vehemently renounced nationalism and fascism: 

Handke is reluctant to enter into contemporary debates, but when asked by a journalist about the nationalist wave in Europe, he replies: “I distinguish between nationalism and patriotism. My country is Austria. When someone insults my mother, my brothers, my country without knowing them, I become a patriot. But I am absolutely anti-nationalist.” [Bassets 2019]

Already in an earlier interview Handke had said: “There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. The patriot only reacts when their country is attacked,” [Müller 2007]. Handke goes even further in his work: 

But I never became a “Slovene”, not even though I can read the language halfway in the meantime, a “half”; if today I see myself in something like a people, then it is that nobody6 – which can at times be salutary, at times hopeless (at those moments when I myself can no longer imagine the common bonds connecting that great nobody straying across the globe). [Handke 2018a, 10] 

In his texts on Yugoslavia in particular Handke makes his opposition to German nationalism and fascism explicitly clear. German journalist Lothar Müller has called attention to this fact, writing: “The echo chamber of the debate on Handke’s Yugoslavia texts included not only the wars of that time, but the massacres of the Second World War as well” [Müller 2019]. 

In A Journey to the Rivers, Handke mentions Kragujevac and Kraljevo, places where, during Nazi occupation, the Germans massacred thousands [see Müller 2019 and Handke 2018c, 73]: 

And, in contrast, how conscious was the German (and Austrian) people of what it did and caused to be done repeatedly in the Balkans during the Second World War? Was it simply “known,” or also really present, in the common memory, as was what happened with the Jews, or even only half so present, as it still is, from generation to generation, for the affected Yugoslavs […] [Handke 1997, 78-79] 

5 In the original Spanish: “Handke es reacio a entrar en debates contemporáneos, pero cuando un periodista le pregunta sobre la ola nacionalista en Europa, responde: ‘Yo distingo entre nacionalismo y patriotismo. Mi país es Austria. Cuando alguien insulta a mi madre, a mis hermanos, a mi país sin conocerlos, me vuelvo patriota. Pero soy absolutamente antinacionalista’.” 6 German: “wenn ich mich heutzutage in so etwas wie einem Volk sehe, dann in jenem der Niemande“. This could also be translated as “if today I see myself in something like a people, then it ist he people of nobodies“. 

This is precisely why he is wary of the new nationalism in the former Yugoslavia and, above all, the role of Germany there. He even wonders whether Germany of all countries should become involved in these conflicts, in what would be its first military mission since WWII and one without a UN mandate. Lothar Struck adds: For a person like Peter Handke, who despises German National Socialism and its implications, it would be a historical atrocity for Germany of all countries, which occupied Yugoslavia during the Second World War and agreed to a pact with the Croatian fascists (and granted them a state of their own), to diplomatically destroy this state of Yugoslavia now” [Struck 2013, 33]. Handke reminds us that those crimes committed by the Germans during WWII can by no means be allowed to be forgotten: After the war, Jean-Paul Sartre visited Kragujevac. It’s an industrial city, with maybe 200,000 inhabitants. During the war there high-school students and their teachers were taken hostage by the Germans and murdered. Sartre could sense that the entire country was enveloped in pain; all of Serbia is painful. That pain comes from the Germans, and that must burn into the Germans’ hearts. [Handke 1996]  

II.2 Some observers have written that Peter Handke’s texts incite hatred 


  • “Handke’s political leaflets are not literature – they are calls for hatred that reinforce prejudice.” [Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, cited in Andersson 2019] 


Not one of Peter Handke’s texts incites hatred, on the contrary. Speaking about A Journey to the Rivers he has said: 

My text is word for word a text for peace. Those who can’t see that don’t know how to read. […] it is absolutely unnecessary for our intellectuals to go down there and join in hate. I certainly did not go there to join in hate. [Handke 1996] 

Furthermore, he differentiates between anger, rage, and hate: 

As a writer anger and rage are also tools of mine, but not hate. My articles on Serbia often had to do with the hate that I supposedly felt. Naturally, anger and rage play their part, but they are carried over into the game of language. [Handke 1996] 

In A Journey to the Rivers, Handke explains what contribution art can make against hatred and for peace: My work is of a different sort. To record the evil facts, that’s good. But something else is needed for a peace, something not less important than the facts. So now it’s time for the poetic? Yes, if it is understood as exactly the opposite of the nebulous. Or say, rather than “the poetic,” that which binds, that encompasses—the impulse to a common remembering, as the possibility for reconciliation of individuals, for the second, the common childhood. How, then? What I have written here was meant for various German-speaking readers, and just as much for various readers in Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, for experience tells me that that common recalling, that second, common childhood, will arise exactly through the detour of recording certain trivialities, at least far more lastingly than by hammering in the main facts. “At one place on the bridge there was, for years, a loose board.” “Yes, did you notice that too?” “At one place under the church choir the steps began to echo.” “Yes, did you notice that too?” Or simply to divert from the shared—shared by us all— captivity in the rhetoric of history and topicality into a much more productive present: “Look, now it is snowing. Look, children are playing there” (the art of diversion; art as the essential diversion). And thus I felt, there on the Drina, the need to dance a rock across the water toward the Bosnian shore (but then couldn’t find one). [Handke 1997, 82f.] 

III. Addendum: Peter Handke and his ex-partner Marie Colbin 


  • “And now, with Handke, an author is being honoured, one whose former partner, Marie Colbin, in an open letter in 1999 accused of having kicked and beaten her“ [Stokowski 2019] 


To provide a full account of the background of this story: In 1999, close to a decade after separating from Peter Handke, Marie Colbin wrote an open letter in which she accused him of having hit and kicked her.7 Handke admitted this to the biographer Malte Herwig and explained his actions: 

Then it comes to the story that’s common knowledge. In 1999, around a decade after their split, Marie Colbin wrote an open letter. In it, she accuses Peter Handke of having hit her: “I can still hear my head smack the stone floor. Once again I can feel his hiking boot in my stomach and his fist in my face. No ᅳ you are no man of peace!” These three sentences were quoted worldwide. They fit all too well into the image of Handke the grim defender of Serbia. […] Today she is angry that people reduced her article to the last three sentences. But she does not want to take it back either: “I verbally lashed out in rage.” […] Did he really beat her? I ask Handke about it when we meet again in Chaville. “’Beat’ is a stupid expression because it sounds self- righteous,” he responds. “It was self-defence. Furthermore, it wasn’t in the stomach, I gave her a kick in the ass. I think I gave her a good slap across the face. I just wanted to work, and that was impossible. At some point, I lost it. All the same, that wasn’t good. I didn’t like myself at all either. [Herwig 2010: 242]  

  1. Bibliography / Works Cited 

Andersson, Elisabet (2019), “ ‘Skandal‘ – kritikstormen mot Akademien väyer“, in Svenska Dagbladet, 15 October 2019, handke [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Bach, David (2019), “Peter Handke vil aldri kunne få Nobels litteraturpris“, in Aftenposten, 22 September 2014, nobels-litteraturpris [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Bassets, Marc (2019), “Peter Handke: ‚Ahora me siento libre‘“, in El País, 11 October 2019, [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Bayer, Felix/ Becker, Tobias/ Beyer, Susanne/ Doerry, Martin/ Kurbjuweit, Dirk/ Markwaldt, Nadine/ Thone, Eva/ Voigt, Claudia/ Weidermann, Volker/ Witterauf, Stefanie (2019): “Mann gegen Mann“, Der Spiegel, 43/2019. 

BBC (2019): “Critics hit out at Nobel Prize award“, in BBC News, 11 October 2019, [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Brokoff, Jürgen (2010): “Ich sehe was, was ihr nicht fasst. Peter Handke als serbischer Nationalist“, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 July 2010, ich-sehe-was-was-ihr-nicht-fasst-1597025.html [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Cain, Sian (2019), “‚A troubling choice‘: authors criticise Peter Handke’s controversial Nobel win“, in The Guardian, 11 October 2019, choice-authors-criticise-peter-handke-controversial-nobel-win [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Charles, Ron (2019): “Peter Handke and Olga Tokarczuk win Nobel Prizes in literature“, in The Washington Post, 10 October 2019, handke-and-olga-tokarczuk-win-nobel-prizes-in-literature/2019/10/10/9894dc2e-e9e3-11e9-9c6d- 436a0df4f31d_story.html [Accessed 29 October 2019]. 

Deichmann, Thomas (ed.) (2017): Noch einmal für Jugoslawien: Peter Handke. 3rd edition, Frankfurt a. M: Suhrkamp. 

Dellert, Matthias/Farran-Lee, Lydia (2019): “Kulturvärldens reaktions: “En vänsterradikal regimkritiker och en högerradikal dåre“, in SVT, 10 October 2019, [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Egan, Jennifer (2019), Statement: Deep Regret Over the Choice of Peter Handke for the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature, 10 October 2019, literature-2019/ [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Elam, Ingrid (2019), “Förgripliga åsikter är en sak, men man behöver inte ge dem pris!“, in SVT, 10 Octber 2019, man-behover-inte-ge-dem-pris [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Suhrkamp Verlag – Work in Progress 21 

Fjellström, Roger (2019), “Nobel hade knappast hyllat valet av Handke”, in Svenska Dagbladet, 21 October 2019, [Accessed 21 October 2019]. 

Flood, Alison, “Swedish Academy defends Peter Handke’s controversial Nobel win“, in The Guardian, 21 October 2019, peter-handkes-controversial-nobel-win [Accessed 21 October 2019]. 

Hemon, Aleksandar (2019), “The Bob Dylan of Genocide Apologists”, in New York Times, 15 October 2019, [Accessed 24 October 2019]. (The Swedish translation of Hemon’s article was published under the title “Dagen när jag slutade läsa Peter Handke” in Dagens Nyheter on 26 October 2019, [Accessed 31 October 2019]) 

Gritsch, Kurt (2009), Peter Handke und „Gerechtigkeit für Serbien“. Eine Rezeptionsgeschichte, Innsbruck: Studienverlag. 

Herwig, Malte (2010), Meister der Dämmerung. Peter Handke. Eine Biographie, München: DVA. 

Illić, Saša (2019), „Peter Handke. A Reception of a Literary Controversy“, in European Literary Network, 22 May 2016, controversy-by-sasa-ilic/ [Accessed 28 October 2019]. 

Jensen, Carsten (2019), “Peter Handke är en författare på förföljarnas sida“, in Dagens Nyheter, 11 October 2019, pa-forfoljarnas-sida/ [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Kuras, Peter (2019), “Why Trolling Can Win You a Nobel Prize for Literature”, in Foreign Policy, 21 October 2019, [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Maass, Peter (2019a), “Congratulations, Nobel Committee, You Just Gave the Literature Prize to a Genocide Apologist“, in The Intercept, 10 October2019, literature-prize-to-a-genocide-apologist/, [Accessed 28 October 2019]. 

Maass, Peter (2019b), “How the Nobel Prize Succumbed to the Literary Art of Genocide Denial”, in The Intercept, 26 October 2019, handke-genocide/ [Accessed 31 October 2019]. 

Marinic, Jagoda (2019), “Eine unzivilisierte Wahl“, in taz, 13 October 2019,!5629204/ [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Müller, André (2007), “‘Ich bin ein Idiot im griechischen Sinne‘. Interview mit Peter Handke, in Profil, 01 September 2007, [Accessed 29 October 2019]. 

Müller, Lothar (2019), “Gespenster. Der Kontroverse um Peter Handke fehlt die historische Tiefenschärfe“, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 242/2019. 

Peter Handke. Bin im Wald, kann sein, dass ich mich verspäte (2016) Directed by Corinna Belz [Film]): Berlin Zero One Film. 

Suhrkamp Verlag – Work in Progress 22 

Selimović, Jasenko (2019), “Jasenko Selimović: Kungen borde vägra dela ut Nobelpriset till Handke”, in Göteborgs Posten, 19 October 2019, kungen-borde-v%C3%A4gra-dela-ut-nobelpriset-till-handke-1.19311866 [Accessed 31 October 2019]. 

Stokowski, Margarete [2019], “Perfide Mülltrennung“, in Spiegel online, 15 October 2019, muelltrennung-a-1291617.html [Accessed 24 October 2019]. 

Struck, Lothar (2013), „Der mit seinem Jugoslawien“. Peter Handke im Spannungsfeld zwischen Literatur, Medien und Politik, 3rd edition, Leipzig: Ille & Riemer. 

Taylor, Adam (2019), “Peter Handke won the Nobel for his ‘great artistry.’ Critics say he’s an apologist for genocide”, in The Washington Post, 10 October 2019, critics-say-hes-an-apologist-genocide/ [24 October 2019]. 

Traynor, Ian (2019), “Stand up if you support the Serbs”, in The Guardian, 21 April 1999, [24 October 2019]. 

Vulliamy, Ed (2019): “Peter Handke’s Nobel prize dishonours the victims of genocide“, in The Guardian, 12 October 2019, prize-that-dishonours-the-victims-of-genocide-peter-handke, [Accessed 21 October 2019]. 

Zülch, Tilman (ed.) (1996), Die Angst des Dichters vor der Wirklichkeit. 16 Antworten auf Peter Handkes Winterreise nach Serbien, Göttingen: Steidl Verlag. 

Handke Sources: 

Handke, Peter (1996): “‚Ich bin nicht hingegangen, um mitzuhassen‘. Interview mit Peter Handke“, in Die Zeit, 02 February 1996, [Accessed 29 October 2019] 

Handke, Peter (1997): A Journey to the Rivers. Justice for Serbia, translated by Scott Abbott. New York: Viking. 

Handke, Peter (1999), “Das gerade Gegenteil“, in Focus, 11/1999 (15 March 1999), [Accessed 29 October 2019]. 

Handke, Peter (2006a): “Milošević: Ein Begrägbnis.” Available online: [Accessed 24 October 2019]. The speech was first published in Focus (13/2006) abgedruckt. 

Handke, Peter (2006b): “Ich wollte Zeuge sein“, in Focus, 13/2006. 

Hanke, Peter (2006c), “Parlons donc de la Yougoslavie“, 10 May 2006 [Accessed 29 October 2019]. 

Handke, Peter (2018a), Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land. Eine Wirklichkeit, die vergangen ist: Erinnerungen an Slowenien, in Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 7-24. (first published in 1991). 

Handke, Peter (2018b), Die Tablas von Daimiel. Ein Umwegzeugenbericht zum Prozeß von Slobodan Milošević, in Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 329-390. (first published in 2006). 

Handke, Peter (2018c), Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien, in Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 27-112. (first published in 1996). 

Handke, Peter (2018d), Rund um das große Tribunal, in Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 269-326. (first published in 2003). 

Handke, Peter (2018e), Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise [Summer Postscript to a Winter’s Journey], in Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 115-172. (first published in 1996). 

Handke, Peter (2018f): “Versuch einer Antwort“ [“Attempt at an Answer“] in Peter Handke Bibliothek, Bd. 10: Aufsätze 1, Berlin, S. 1016-1021. (first published under the title „Am Ende ist fast nichts mehr zu verstehen. Die Debatte um den Heinrich-Heine-Preis“, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 01 June 2006). 

Handke, Peter (2018g): “Was ich nicht sagte. Eine Entgegnung auf die Kritik am Heinrich-Heine-Preis“ [“What I Did Not Say“], in Peter Handke Bibliothek, Bd. 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin Suhrkamp, pp. 1013- 1015. (first published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30 May 2006). 

Handke, Peter (2018h), Unter Tränen fragend. Nachträgliche Aufzeichnungen von zwei Jugoslawien- Durchquerungen im Krieg, März und April 1999. in: Peter Handke Bibliothek, volume 11: Aufsätze 2, Berlin: Suhrkamp, pp. 175-268. 

Handke, Peter (2019): “Handke über Srebrenica“, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27 October 2019, 1.4655747 [Accessed 29 October 2019]. 



Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Peter Handke’s “That beautiful ‘And so on'” — Part V



The Play of the Film of the War

1:30 a.m., 1 June 1998
I’m sitting in my room in the Hotel Višegrad, looking out onto the Drina and the Turkish bridge, still lit by floodlamps. The bridge’s eleven arches are reflected in the silky black river. A nightingale calls from across the river. I’ve never heard a nightingale; but it can be nothing else. Unmistakable. It calls again, and then again. It’s indescribably romantic. I’m alone in my room.

From the terrace below there is an occasional burst of laughter from Peter, Zlatko, Thomas, and Žarko, who are still talking with the two women from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the younger one from Spain, the older from France. We argued for hours about the role of organizations like theirs in Yugoslavia.

How long have you been in Yugoslavia? Peter asked the French woman.

For a year-and-a-half, she answered.

Do you speak Serbo-Croatian? Peter asked.

No, she answered. I’ve been too busy to learn. The first town I was in was under attack for nine months. I worked through an interpreter.

You are here to tell the people how to run their country and you don’t understand their language! Peter exclaimed. You can’t bother to learn their language?

Who are you? the woman asked. What are you doing here? What gives you the moral right to judge what I’m doing?

Go home, Peter said.

Fuck you, the woman said.

Go home.

Fuck you.

The night air had chilled, and the French woman was shivering. Peter took his coat from the back of his chair and draped it around her shoulders. There, he said, that will help.

Fuck you, she said, and pulled the coat around herself.

(From Radaković and Abbott, “Translation,” unpublished manuscript [published as Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, punctum books)


Voyage by Dugout or The Play of the Film of the War features a casting call by two filmmakers, an American (essentially John Ford) and a Spaniard (Luis Buñel, in effect), who want to make a film of the war in Yugoslavia approximately a decade after it has occurred. The directors discuss narrative strategy, listen to the war stories of a local historian, of an ex-journalist, of three “internationals,” and others, and finally decide not to make the film. The final conversation between the filmmakers turns to the need for good translators: “During mutual insanity and hatred,” the John Ford character argues, “one side often laughs deep within itself. But the laughter never breaks the surface. Let’s have translators, for both sides – maybe exactly the same laughter exists inside the other.” The Buñel character agrees that “such a translator would be the antithesis of the Inquisition,”, and then comments on the kind of (hi)story being constructed by the international “community”: “And this latter-day apocryphal horde, our patron, needs a single guilty person for this story and has itself taken the role of the hero.”

History, the telling of history, flawed and sensationalist accounts of this Yugoslavian history – one of the characters unfurls Mark Danner’s series of articles in the New York Review of Books (dissected in the play as simplistic and bombastic) – is the center around which Handke’s violent and sweet and troubling fantasy of a play circles.

June 9, 1999, the day of the play’s premiere, was also the day NATO representatives announced that their seventy-eight-day bombing of Yugoslavia would cease. Claus Peymann directed the play, his last production at the Burgtheater after thirteen high-profile years. In early March, in protest of ecclesiastical and government support for NATO intervention in the war, Handke had renounced his membership in the Catholic Church and had returned the ten thousand Marks awarded him in 1973 for Germany’s Büchner Prize. There had been rumors that Handke would withdraw his play in protest of the bombing and there were rumors that protestors would disturb the premiere. The play opened as scheduled, to a packed house, to a largely appreciative audience.

Most of Europe’s newspapers reviewed the play the next morning, including four in Berlin, three in Vienna, two each in Munich, Cologne, and Hamburg, and Paris’s Le Monde, which featured the review on its front page. The reviews, like recent criticism of Handke’s work, varied widely, but one German headline expressed a unanimous sentiment: “THERE WAS NO SCANDAL.”

Although Peter Handke can be blunt, as he was when he told an obtuse critic to shove his Betroffenheit / dismay up his ass in a nationally televised discussion after one of his readings of A Journey to the Rivers, the virulence of the attacks on him for his writing about Yugoslavia is still puzzling. Not until the war in Yugoslavia and Handke’s written pleas for a more complex, more self-ironic, more peaceful rhetoric did he become, in the European press, a “Serbenfreund,” a Serb lover, a pariah like the pariah people.

If one were to ask Handke if he is indeed a lover of Serbs, he would likely point out that the question is racist and then answer yes. The question that ought to be raised is whether Peter Handke is a nationalist – is he the kind of nationalist who would vilify Croats, Slovenians, Bosnians, or Kosovars, who would stir up hatred, welcome war, and condone genocide? Here, the record is clear. Peter Handke has spent a lifetime attacking the kinds of ideological absolutisms that produce nationalism, hate, and war.

It is a relief, Handke writes in Phantasien der Wiederholung, to be released from such domination: “We, after the world wars: the wonderful knowledge that we are not masters (‘You are the caretaker of a meager garden,’ Vergil).” Handke finds it morally liberating to be rid of words like “masters”; but beyond that he wants to construct new metaphors, fruitful ways of thinking – and thus, I suppose, the Vergil quotation that defines us as humble gardeners. Repeatedly Handke has attempted to unmask truth as what Nietzsche called a “mobile army of metaphors,” for awareness of truth as arbitrary construction undermines the rulers whose truth claims are enforced by violence: “The night of this century, during which I searched my face obsessively for the features of a despot or a conqueror, has ended for me.”

Voyage by Dugout works on the same levels as the previous work, attacking “truth” as assumed by various accounts (including film, newspapers, histories, and the play itself) and creating the kinds of self-conscious myths or Märchen Handke feels we need to order our productively multivalent societies. The planned film will draw dialectically on John (Ford) O’Hara’s penchant for legends and stories and little historical lies and on Luis (Buñuel) Machado’s “bull-tickling craziness.”

At the end of the play, after the appearance of the dugout, a mobile, dialectical site for a multifarious Volk (“The Balkans! Other countries have a castle or a temple as a holy site. Our sacred site is the dugout”), O’Hara and Machado decide not to make their film. O’Hara refuses on the grounds that a tragic film makes no sense. Machado says he won’t make the film because his films have always been about society, and “society no longer exists . . . it’s a single commercial and moral horde . . . people have forgotten what it means to stand up for oneself while allowing the other a place to stand.”

Not allowing the other a place to stand is the mark of a violent nationalism. In Peter Handke’s play, however, even the most despicable characters, the aggressive mountain-bike riding Internationals, the shrill and certain European-Americans who have come to judge and punish Yugoslavia, are given succor by the Greek they have attacked so viciously – “To the Second International: Are you cold? You’re shivering! (He puts his coat around her shoulders.) Who is the child there in your locket?” (99) As he has since his earliest texts, Handke here stands up for the Serbs while allowing Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovar Albanians, and even the obnoxious Internationals a place to stand.

A final incident, extraneous to the play, will further illustrate Peter Handke’s unrelentingly dialectical thinking, a two-edged gesture none of his critics to date have been able or willing to reproduce. When Günter Grass, with whom Handke has repeatedly crossed pens, spoke out publicly in favor of NATO intervention in Yugoslavia (the same intervention that led to Handke’s leaving the Catholic Church and returning his literary prize), Serbs in Belgrade announced that that they would collect Grass’s books and send them back to the German Nobel- Prize winner. Handke urged them to forego this action, to keep reading Grass’s self-critical, dialectical literary works while opposing his political statement. The action of a nationalist?



6 June 1999, Vienna
In the city center, I stumble onto a Sunday-evening demonstration against NATO and for Yugoslavia. “NATO – fascistik, NATO – fascistik!” the crowd of maybe 2000 chants.

Back in my room, unable to sleep, I turn back to my translation of Peter’ s new play. I wish Žarko were here to compare notes. How did he translate “Fertigsatzpisse”? Pissing your finished, your modular sentences? Sentential piss?

At 10:30 I watch a report on Peter done for Austrian TV (ÖRF2). Peter’s crime, the reporter and his commentators agree, is that he is a “Serbenfreund,” a friend of the Serbs. Not good to be a friend of the enemy. Peter should have known better, it’s an old story: Jap lover, Kraut lover, Jew lover, Nigger lover, Serb lover.

I turn off the sentential piss and return to Peter’ s play.

9 June 1999, before midnight, Žarko’s birthday, Vienna

I ought to go to bed, but I’m still reeling from the events of the day. Several hours ago NATO and the Yugoslav Parliament came to some kind of agreement ending the bombing after 78 days.

And, I’m just back from the world premiere of Peter’s “The Play of the Film of the War,” directed by Claus Peymann. I’ve seldom been this moved, this challenged, by a work of art.

The really bad guys of the play, three “Internationals” who know all the answers, who dictate all the terms, who can think only in absolutes, appear on the stage as follows: “Three mountainbike riders, preceded by the sound of squealing brakes, burst through the swinging door, covered with mud clear up to their helmets. They race through the hall, between tables and chairs, perilously close to the people sitting there.” American and European moralists, functionaries with no hint of self-irony or humor, absolutists who run the world because of their economic power – these sorry excuses for human beings were depicted this evening as mountainbike riders.


“Žarko,” I said, “Don’ t you ever tell Peter I ride a mountainbike.”

“No, my friend,” he whispered, “I’d never do that.”

The play drew on several incidents from our trip, including when Peter put his coat around the shoulders of the OSCE woman in Višegrad. After the play, flushed with enthusiasm and insight, I told Peter how well he had integrated a real event into an imaginative play. “Brilliant to put her and her friends on mountainbikes!”

“Doktor Scott,” he chided, “Doktor Scott. Always on duty.”

(From Radaković and Abbott, “Translation,” unpublished manuscript [published as Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, punctum books)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Handke’s “That beautiful ‘And so on'” — Parts III and IV


A Summer’s Addendum to a Wintry Journey

29 May 1998, Višegrad, Republika Srpska

Was denkt in dir? Peter asks.

What? I ask, unable to hear him over the noise of Milka and her band. What is thinking in you?
Sorrow, I answer.
For two months in 1992 there was intense fighting here. Marauding

Muslims. Marauding Serbs. And now the town is devoid of Muslims. Since we crossed the border into the Republika Srpska, I have been imagining Muslims and Serbs lying in bed those 60 nights. Worrying, as they lay there, about possible futures. About a sudden end to possible futures.

Tonight we sit at a long linen-covered table in the dining room of a large resort hotel tucked back into the forested hills above the town. Guests of the Mayor of Višegrad.

Of the 20,000 inhabitants of Višegrad, he says, 2500 are refugees. Yes, there is high unemployment. The town’ s factories have shut down. There are, of course, no tourists. The hotel is a cavernous home to men convalescing from the war .

A young man limps into the dining room with two women, one his girlfriend perhaps, or sister, the other old enough to be his mother. They take a table. They talk some. They drink a bottle of wine. They don’t speak. The young man twirls his box of cigarettes between the table and his finger.

Milka, backed by an accordion, a keyboard, and drums (was there a drummer?), is a sultry lounge singer with a Serbian repertoire, traditional sad love songs sung in a middle-eastern quaver.

The town, the mayor explains, was 2/3 Muslim before the war. In 1992 the Muslims chased the Serbs out of the city. The Serbs retook the city through the grace of the Muslim Murad Šabanović, who captured the hydroelectric dam above the city and threatened to blow it up. The Muslim population fled the threat of flooding. The Yugoslav army arrived and dislodged the crazy terrorist. And the Serbs moved back in.

A small man with a dark beard pushes past a concerned waiter to crutch his way toward our table. He breaks into the conversation and with a sweaty palm shakes each of our hands. He pulls two photographs out of a coat pocket.

The waiter signals to Milka. She skips toward our table, cordless microphone in hand, armed with a vigorous Serbian song.

The small man holds out two worn photos. The first is a glossy celebrity shot of Radovan Karadžić. The second is a snapshot of a soldier. My brother, he says, killed in the war. My brother, killed in the war. My brother.

At pointblank range, Milka belts out “O Višegrad!” The convalescing soldier puts away his photos and retreats slowly on his crutches. Milka hits three quick high notes, kicks up a shapely heel, and dances away. (From Radaković and Abbott, “Translation,” unpublished manuscript [published later as Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, punctum books)


In A Summer’s Addendum, the third of this series of essays about Yugoslavia’s disintegration, or better said, in response to that tragic process, Handke revisits many of the people and places of his Journey to the Rivers, retelling, refiguring, revising his initial account: “that I began to reconsider my published sentences was rather a consequence of a comment by Olga.” He travels finally into the Republika Srpska, to Višegrad and Srebrenica, and ends his account with questions: “And this is supposed to be a contemporary story? Who will read it these days – a story without villains who are enemies of humanity, without a stereotypical enemy?”

As examples, then, from a story without such enemies, a story rather of images that are the antithesis of such stereotypes, Bilder for an age that has lost, or given up, or sold, or propagandized its images (see, of course, Handke’s recent novel Der Bildverlust), I shall analyze a cluster of observations in A Summer’ s Addendum from one of the most notorious sites of the civil war.

In the silver-mining city of Srebrenica, that mountain-valley site of atrocity and revenge, Handke, traveling with Bocokić, Radaković and a librarian from Bajina Bašta, finds stark scenes he, as narrator, populates with wishful and then self-negating hallucinations.

Earlier, in Višegrad, the narrator’s fantasy had been of a woman wearing a scarf and a man in a fez who were welcomed into the crowd at a real soccer match, characters whose head-coverings are reminiscent of the passersby in Skopje. Now, while describing a ruined mosque below a mostly intact orthodox church (“. . . and far below it the remains of the mosque, part of a cupola, still recognizable even though, like all the other parts of the building, it had collapsed, the last fragment of form in the otherwise totally formless debris all around”), the narrator thinks it is time for the late-afternoon call to prayer and then hears, from the wreckage, along with the sound of the mountain stream that once flowed here, just such a call. The thought, of course, that fantasized sound, cannot stand in the face of present reality: “No, and twice no, neither the call nor the stream – had it once flowed here? – still existed. . . . Nothing but the ravine-filling cracking of plastic tarpaulins.”

Later he will suggest a world map with Srebrenica as its center, but for now this narrator so often accused of ignoring the realities of a vicious war begins a new series of “ands,” beautiful only by virtue of the fact that they continue a narrative that could end, suddenly, in despair: “And thrust my hand deep into the stinging nettles near the church, into the just blossoming and thus most sharply stinging ones, and then again.” And then, quickly, a real, if spare, image of hope, conjoined to the self-destructive anger by another “and”: “And on one steep slope, up in the clear-cut, a couple of people hoeing in such narrow, often single-rowed beds, that even all together they didn’t add up to anything close to a garden. . . .”

Thinking back on Srebrenica three paragraphs before the story ends, the narrator takes a page from Patricia Nelson Limerick’s The Legacy of Conquest where she notes that “In thinking about American Indian history, it has become essential to follow the policy of cautious street crossers: Remember to look both ways.” What if, the narrator asks, we think of the Serbs and Muslims in Srebrenica as Indians and settlers, “but don’t the evil Indians in the westerns also appear up on the rocky cliffs, attacking and massacring the peaceful American wagon trains – and aren’t the Indians fighting for their freedom? And ‘very last question’: Will someone, sometime, soon, who?, also discover the Serbs of Bosnia as such Indians?” The Serbs/Indians did indeed massacre peaceful settlers (residents and refugees) in Srebrenica, and they also had been provoked. Can’t we look both ways? Peter Handke asks once again. Can’t our sentences be complicated by the conjunction “and”?


Questioning while Weeping

30 May 1998, Višegrad


Photo by Thomas Deichmann


We drive to a construction site on a hill overlooking the Drina and its Turkish bridge. Three stories high, typical orange-brick construction. A hundred people, perhaps, work at the site. A line of women and men unload a truck, passing orange tiles from hand to hand in a long chain. On the high roof men are interlocking the tiles in undulating rows. On the highest ridge are nailed a small evergreen tree, a ragged red, blue, and white Serbian flag, and an improvised rack from which hang three bottles of brandy and three new plastic-wrapped shirts.

These are refugees from Sarajevo, the Mayor says. They have formed an organization and with a government grant of land, tools, and materials are building 158 apartments here. He introduces us to the president of the refugee group, a thin man, maybe 70 years old, bright-eyed and erect, who speaks an eager English as he shows us around.

Mr. Handke, he says, you are a writer. And I too am a writer. I write children’s books. We are colleagues. You are big and I am small. But we are colleagues.

Peter introduces Žarko and me as his translators. The president has eyes only for Peter.

We meet the young architect. She and her husband, she says, have moved into an abandoned Muslim house. Through third parties they are trying to exchange their house in Sarajevo for the one in Višegrad.

TV cameras arrive and Peter joins the chain to pass a few roof tiles for Serbian television. Then it’s time for lunch. We share cold cuts and tomatoes and plum brandy at a long table.

This is the Austrian writer Peter Handke, the President announces. He has come to visit our building. We will now hear words of wisdom from this great man. Mr. Handke, would you please honor us with words to remember on this proud occasion?

Peter stands and raises his cup of brandy. He looks at the President. He looks at the refugees along both sides of the table. He turns back to the President. He speaks words to remember: Jebi ga. Fuck it. The surprised refugees raise a boisterous cheer. Peter grins and raises his cup again. (From Radaković and Abbott, “Translation,” unpublished manuscript [published as Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, punctum books)


The fourth of Peter Handke’s essays on the language of this war, Questioning while

Weeping (the first half published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 5/6 June 1999) continues the Quixotic attempt to present simple images in complex sentences from a country Handke believes has been deformed, misrepresented, and caricatured by the world press and by Western press agents.

Like the earlier books, Questioning while Weeping attempts to present images (“images still exist? The loss of images is not yet absolute?”) from a Yugoslavia besieged “not only with cluster bombs and rockets but above all with ‘context’ and ‘idea.'” The first trip, while bombs are falling, is a quick one from Hungary to Belgrade and back, while the second one, also during the NATO bombardment, takes the author, Zlatko Bocokić, and Thomas Deichmann through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia into Serbia, where they visit bombed factories and bridges and buildings, accompanied by a government spokesman.

The book’s title is drawn from an incident near the end of the second trip. An oncologist from a nearby hospital, a woman who has often traveled in the United States, joins the three travelers at their table and asks, with tears in her eyes, why her country is being bombed: “Are we really that guilty?” In a book about what Handke calls “verbal and iconic pornography,” about the loss of language (“’The first victim of war is truth’? No, it is language”), the oncologist’s calling into question and weeping, her critique and her sorrow, are gestures indicating her ability to experience conflicting impulses. But the real question for me, given the history of the reception of Peter Handke’s Yugoslavia work, given the author’s public persona, remains the question of a difficult dialectic upheld against a relentless political/cultural entropy. How will the author of the controversial Justice for Serbia, the famous writer greeted by Serbian television cameras when he arrives at the bombed Kragujevac auto assembly plant, the honored guest hosted by Yugoslavia’s minister of culture, preserve his beloved dialectic (“I am a dialectical writer”) in what now-predictable critics will call a piece of propaganda?

To loosen up his argument, Handke’s narrator employs the self-critical voice present, in one way or another, in each of his Yugoslavia texts. In Questioning while Weeping, a voice posts warnings after especially passionate passages: “Warning: Antirational Mysticism!”; “Warning: One-Sidedness!”; “Warning: Anti-American!”; “Warning: Paranoia!”; “Warning: Bellicosity and Anti-Civilization Affect!” The text thus parodies its critics and gently questions its own images.

Further, to avoid static images, the narrator presents double or triple, progressing or moving images. He describes sympathetically, for example, both the Croatian Catholic Bishop of Banja Luka, at risk now in a largely Serbian town, and a Serbian Partisan, aged and poor, whose World-War-II comrades suffered under Croatian Catholic oppression. The narration moves from image to image to image by employing the familiar “and”—an “and” that connects and continues and complicates, an “and” that appears in the title of Tolstoy’s War and Peace owned by the old Partisan, and also in the Holy Trinity the author evokes during a mass: “Yes, it is true, the personage of God acts as ‘Father,’ as ‘Son,’ and as ‘Spirit.’” Hearing NATO bombers overhead one night while staying in the mountains, the narrator laments the loss of such conjunction: “In another time, this moment would have been a deeply peaceful ‘and’ of trinity: the rush of mountain streams, and the nightingales, and high above the nightly jetliners with passengers underway from Frankfurt, perhaps. . . .” Now, however, the machines of war break the peaceful pattern.

Once invoked, the “and” initiates a cascade of sentences as the narrative struggles to find images adequate to the damage done by the NATO bombers to the destroyed automobile assembly plant in Kragujevac: “And again, in Kragujevac. . . . And remarkably. . . . And in the center. . . . And ‘the 124 badly injured workers’. . . .”

Carefully, self-reflexively, the narrator expresses concern about himself as a constructed image, as a political tool for the Serbs:

. . . unexpected flashbulbs, video cameras: suddenly we are, unsuspecting till that moment, a delegacija. But why not, zašto da ne? (one of the most common enduring Yugoslavian phrases, along with nema problema): don’t wince, even as a “delegation” observe as well as possible, remember, witness! . . .

Then, as he sees the damage to the factory, especially to its tools, the narrator returns to thoughts he had in the Slovenia essay about things and reality and being (evoking a Heideggarian “the things were ready-to-hand – gingen einem zur Hand”):

“Strange too how the destruction of the tools, the workbenches, the hammers, the pliers, the vices, the measuring devices, the nails and screws (even the smallest items flattened and twisted) affected me more than that of the massive machines. It was as if, with these tools – wasn’t “tool” once an indication of becoming human? – the violent powers from

above had destroyed labor, that is, all collaboration and being (existing) for the entire

region for a long time to come.”

As Handke fights for phenomenological accuracy in his prose, he finds a loss of collaboration and being at the heart of these destroyed things.

NATO’s bombs have destroyed the tools of humanity, and by implication, the verbal bombs Handke has cited from Le Monde and the New York Review of Books have flattened and twisted the language of peace, asserting with clenched fists rather than questioning while weeping. Once again, Peter Handke ventures here into the narrative landscape of war and peace, acutely aware of his precarious position as possible propagandist, as producer of images that will tend to war or peace. Questioning while Weeping is the kind of self-reflective assertion Adorno called “determinate negativity,” and as such, in my opinion, the sentences of the essay can be trusted.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment