Austrian Nobel winner Handke slams criticism

Vienna (AFP) –


Austrian Nobel literature prize winner Peter Handke has slammed criticism against him, saying journalists were more interested in the row about his support for the Serbs than in his works.

The Nobel awarded to him last week sparked a debate in the Balkans and beyond against honouring Handke, an admirer of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Organisers cancelled a planned press meeting with Handke in his native Carinthia state in Austria on Wednesday after he angrily replied to journalists who came to meet him late Tuesday.

The 76-year-old has lived on the outskirts of Paris for decades.

"No one who comes to me says that he has read any of my works, that he knows what I have written. It's just questions how the world reacts, reactions to reactions," he said, appealing to journalists to "leave him alone in peace".

"I'm a writer. I come from (Russian writer Leo) Tolstoy, I come from Homer, I come from (Spain's Miguel de) Cervantes," he said.

In the 1990s, Handke emerged as a vocal defender of the Serbs during the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia, even comparing them to Jews under the Nazis, a remark he later retracted.

His 1996 travelogue "A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia" caused a storm, and in 1999 he returned Germany's prestigious Buechner prize in protest at NATO's bombing of Belgrade.

Handke also attended the 2006 funeral of Milosevic -- who died while on trial for crimes against humanity, and who wanted Handke to testify in his defence.