Austrian author Peter Handke poses for a photo in his garden at his house in Chaville near Paris. Handke was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in literature. Picture: Francois More/AP

London - An Austrian playwright who defended Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic was controversially awarded the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday.

Peter Handke, a 76-year-old little known in the English-speaking world, has also been labelled a genocide denier over his views on the massacre of Muslims during the war in Bosnia. In a shock move, he was handed the £747,000 prize money by the Swedish Academy in a snub to favourites including Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood.

Handke, who has Slovenian heritage, was lambasted for speaking at the funeral of ‘Butcher of the Balkans’ Milosevic in Belgrade in 2006.

He has claimed Muslims had staged their own massacres in the besieged Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

And he compared Serbia’s fate to that of Jews during the Holocaust, although he later apologised for a ‘slip of the tongue’.

Handke, whose works include The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, also called for the Nobel to be abolished in 2014, saying it was a ‘false canonisation’ of literature. Opponents have called him ‘an ideological monster’. Salman Rushdie once crowned Handke ‘International Moron of the Year’ and an ‘apologist for [a] genocidal regime’.

Vlora Citaku, Kosovo ambassador to the US, tweeted that ‘in a world full of brilliant writers, the Nobel committee chooses to reward a propagator of ethnic hatred & violence. Something has gone terribly wrong!’

Critics had hoped the Academy would recognise the #metoo movement over its own sex harassment scandal.

Academy member Anders Olsson said: ‘It is not a political prize, it is a literary prize.’

Daily Mail