Prime Minister Edi Rama has waded into the controversy surrounding the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Peter Handke. In an op-ed for Politico, Rama concludes rather easily that by giving Handke the prize, the Swedish Academy “succeeded in diminishing the value of the prize and wading into yet another scandal that will tarnish its reputation for decades to come.” It’s such grandiloquent statements that we have come to expect from our budding autocrat.
What is more interesting, however, are the arguments that Rama brings to bear, in particular with regard to the relation between art and politics:
Defenders of the Swedish Academy’s decision have claimed Handke’s views should be kept separate from his unique artistic ability and contributions to literature. Some have also argued the Austrian writer’s intention was always to provoke, and that his unconventional political beliefs should be seen as part of a broader attempt to spark debate and free political thought from excessive constraints.
Separating Handke’s literary work from his politics would be a great mistake. Given its approval of Milošević’s regime and its casual dismissal of victims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and torture, Handke’s work is deeply political.
This is an interesting statement, in that Prime Minister Rama and his art-world enablers such as Hans Ulrich Obrist have been trying to do precisely that: separate his art work from his actual politics and policies. Illustrative of these attempts was his confrontation in 2016 with Albanian curator Eriola Pira, who publicly questioned him during a talk at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York.
In her intervention, Pira addressed the systematic destruction of public institutions in Albania, the prosecution of student activists, and the use of art as a tool of political propaganda. If Prime Minister Rama had been genuine about his criticism of Handke’s defenders, he would have engaged in an open discussion about the relation between his artistic work and his politics. Instead, he angrily refused to engage with Pira, and even appeared to implicitly threaten her by saying “nothing will happen” to her.
If the aim of Rama’s article in Politico is not to actually argue for an open discussion of the relations between art and politics – both in Handke’s case and, by extension, his own – what then could be his motivation?
One cannot avoid the impression that by jumping on the Handke-condemnation bandwagon, Rama tries to detract from his own engagement with the remainders of the Milošević regime, namely its former Information Minister and current President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić.
On October 10, the day Handke’s win was announced, Rama flew on a “VIP” private charter funded by an anonymous donor to Belgrade to discuss a “Balkan mini-Schengen” with Serbian President Vučić and North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Notably absent were state representatives from Kosovo, Bosnia, and Montenegro, the former of which are all too familiar with Milošević’s genocidal crimes and Vučić’s attempts to silence any criticism of them, while using the national media to broadcast nationalist propaganda against Kosovars.
Understandably, the newly elected leaders of the Kosovo viewed Rama’s actions in Belgrade with suspicion. Kosovar LDK leader Vjosa Osmani called the Serbian–Albanian–North Macedonian get-together “unfortunate,” while LVV leader Albin Kurti declared that “officials in Tirana needs to see Serbia through Kosovar eyes.”
Not that Rama cares about any of this. For someone who publicly admits to know nothing of his own reforms or European conventions, that would certainly be too much to ask. He simply wanted to say something about the Nobel Prize because everyone was.