What screams I'm from Serbia

Bosnian and Serbian war victims' representatives meet in Stockholm

So far it has been quiet in Stockholm. The only crowds in front of the Swedish Academy building were seen at the Christmas market next door in the past few days. But if the author Peter Handke receives the Nobel medal and the certificate from the Swedish king in a ceremony in the concert hall on Tuesday, that could change. Representatives of war victims on both sides will then hold rallies.

On the one hand there would be one against the decision for the author, organized by two Swedes of Bosnian origin. Teufika Šabanoviæ was born in Srebrenica in 1990, her father and two thirds of her family lost their lives in the genocide. Adnan Mahmutovic was born in the north of the country, where members of his family were deported to concentration camps during ethnic cleansing in 1992. At 17 he escaped and is now a literary scholar in Stockholm. Both do not want to be fixated on the emotional victim role, that distracts from the intellectual core of their protest, they say during the conversation on Sunday evening.

Demo as a differentiated debate

When Handke made the race for the Nobel Prize in early October, they didn't know each other, but were equally shocked. They had never organized a protest; but they began to invite scientists, authors and organizations who made interesting contributions to the discussions that broke out to Stockholm. Announced are, for example, survivors of the concentration camps and the "Mothers of Srebrenica". The rally (6 p.m.) is not intended to be a demo, but rather to trigger a differentiated debate.

Šabanoviæ and Mahmutovic do not protest against Handke's Yugoslavia texts that he can write whatever he wants, they say. What worries both, however, is that the price with its symbolic effect legitimizes crooked narratives and thus interferes with the still delicate situation in the Balkans.

"Many victims' bones are still in the ground that have never been collected and identified," says Šabanoviæ. The Nobel Prize makes the population feel that the world has turned its back on them again. The fact that Handke compared questions about Srebrenica with toilet paper at the press conference was degrading for the victims.

Price is fueling nationalism in the region

"I can understand why Handke wanted to initiate a dialogue back then," says Šabanoviæ. "In the meantime, however, there is evidence, witnesses and court judgments. I have many Serbian friends, and even they do not recognize themselves in Handke's descriptions because they are so romanticized. There is a genocide-based nationalism in the region, and this price for Handke only fires him, "she looks worriedly at her home. Literature is free, but it also bears responsibility. You have to consider what ideas can do. An open dialogue is finally needed in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, where the unprocessed past stands in the way of a prosperous future, adds Mahmutovic.

"We must not forget the dark history and the ideologies that led to it," said Šabanoviæ. Both heard the rumor that Serb nationalists were bringing paid protesters to Stockholm.

That brings us to another meeting that took place in Stockholm on Monday. Four Serbian women sit in a cultural office. They came to show Handke "a peaceful presence" on the day of the award ceremony with shoulder bags printed with his likeness.

"Own Truth"

What do you associate with Handke? Thirty years ago he was one of the few who came to the Balkans not because of a journalistic assignment but of his own volition, listened and followed the situation on site. "He wanted to find out his own truth." You want to return the favor now.

They reject the rumors that they are being paid by the Serbian state to perform. However, your trip will be financially supported by Serbia. The women saw the war. The problem is that Muslim Bosnians only ever see themselves as victims of the conflict. Srebrenica? Be a crime, but far from the Holocaust. They want nothing to do with more radical Protestants. The debate is complicated. (Michael Wurmitzer from Stockholm, December 9, 2019)