Winners of 2018 & 2019 Nobel Literature prize: Olga Tokarczuk, Peter Handke

Nobel Literature

Austrian Handke and Pole Tokarczuk win Nobel prizes for literature

The decision to award this year's Nobel Prize for literature to Austrian author Peter Handke, alongside Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk, has sparked angry reactions because of Handke's past support for Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

Left in tatters by the debacle, the Academy, tasked with selecting the Nobel Literature laureate, postponed the 2018 prize until this year - the first delay in 70 years. "An apologist of war crimes gets a Nobel prize while the country fully participated in the character assassination of the true hero of our times, Julian Assange", said left-wing Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. The 57-year-old is a trained psychologist.

The Austrian playwright, novelist and poet was awarded the 2019 prize on Thursday. He added self-consciously: 'It is not a political prize, it is a literary prize'. "These are good people".

Tokarczuk was honored by the Swedish Academy on Thursday for what it said was "a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life".

"Peter Handke's debut novel Die Hornissen was published in 1966".

His 1970 novel "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick", the story of a former sportsman, was filmed by Wim Wenders. The Swedish Academy calls the novel "an excellent example of new Polish literature after 1989'". He was a supporter of the Serbian government under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic.

The reaction was similar in Kosovo, which was devastated by the 1998-1999 war between Serb forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerillas. In an interview with Serbia's state TV earlier this year Handke said those behind the bombing "don't belong to Europe and the planet Earth". Salman Rushdie once crowned him "International Moron of the Year" and an "apologist for [a] genocidal regime".

Handke has previously won the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006 and the International Ibsen Award in 2014.

Tokarcuzk has been attacked by Polish conservatives - and received death threats - for criticizing aspects of the country's past, including its episodes of anti-Semitism. In a letter reported in a 1999 article by Salon, she wrote: 'I still hear my head being pounded on the stone floor...and also the fist in my face'. Translated into numerous languages including English, it anchored her global reputation as a literary spearhead of her generation in Poland.

Considered one of her generation's most successful writers, Tokarczuk has also received - along with a host of other literary awards - the renowned Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Crost) past year.

Speaking on Polish television, Poland's culture minister, Piotr Glinski, said the award to Tokarczuk was a success for Polish culture.

Ironically, in 2014 Handke called for the Nobel Literature Prize to be abolished, saying it brought its victor "false canonization".

Each author will receive a $918,000 cash award.

The 2018 and 2019 literature awards were chosen by the Swedish Academy's Nobel Committee, a new body made up of four academy members and five "external specialists".

In October last year, Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of Academy member Katarina Frostenson, was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of rape.

Now revamped with new members and statutes, it is widely expected to pick writers who will not spark further controversy, and at least one is nearly certain to be a woman, literary critics interviewed by AFP predicted.

Sara Danius, centre, was one of seven members to quit the Swedish Academy.

Swedish scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel, in his 1895 last will and testament, tasked the institution with awarding the Nobel Literature Prize every year.

The sixth award, the peace prize, is handed out in Oslo, Norway, on the same day.

"From having been associated with literature of the highest order, the Nobel Prize is for many now associated with #MeToo. and a dysfunctional organisation", Swedish literary critic Madelaine Levy told AFP.

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