Heinrich Heine Award 2006: The unfair decline of Peter Handke
Controversy concerning Peter Handke in 2006
The jury that decided the prize consisted of 5 members of the city government, 1 representative of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the rector of the Heinrich Heine University, and 5 other members (critics and literary experts). The 5 members from the city government have 1 vote each, the others 2 votes each.
On May 20, 2006, the jury voted 12:5 to award the prize to Peter Handke (the state representative was not present). The major congratulated Handke, and Handke accepted the award.
According to press reports, a majority of the city council of Duesseldorf did not want to award the prize to Handke, arguing that his (perceived) support of Slobodan Milošević's oppresive regime was in blatant conflict with the spirit of the prize. According to the statutes of the Heine prize, "the city council awards the prize based on the decision of the jury". On 2 June 2006, jury members Siegrid Löffler and Jean-Pierre Lefèbvre decleared to leave the jury in protest.
A huge battle over Peter Handke started to rage (more here, here and here).
Peter Handke finally refused the Heinrich Heine award 2006 and a farce came to an end.
In an article entitled by the paper "Je refuse!", the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published the brief correspondence between Peter Handke and Düsseldorf Mayor Joachim Erwin on the subject of the Heinrich Heine Prize. Handke writes: "I am writing to you today with the express intention of saving you (and the world) the bother of a meeting of the Dusseldorf City Council (if that's what it's called) to declare the decision to give me the prize null and void. I'm also doing this to save myself the bother, or rather the ghost of myself which is currently haunting the public, and even more importantly to save my work, or should I say stuff, from being exposed again and again to this kind of ridicule from one party politician or another."
In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Thomas Steinfeld took a bitter look at the Heinrich Heine Prize affair, with especially harsh words far the city's politicians: "The last idea the city council had before Peter Handke officially refused the prize was that Heinrich Heine University should organise a symposium at which his work could be discussed, and where Handke himself could answer for his words and actions. The whole thing would have constituted a tribunal arraigning the poet, to his own detriment. There is something consternating about the idea. Can the Düsseldorf aldermen really have learned nothing from the conflict of the last ten days, do they really not see what an injustice they have done?"
One of the most important authors of the German-speaking region was damaged irreversible.
Some of the politicians admitted, that they have never read a single book of Peter Handke! How can they presume to judge about works they do not know?
What an attack on the freedom of arts. The jury, which awarded Handke the price, possessed sufficient artistic, aesthetic and political-moral authority and did not require the correction by political instances.
But: Harm set, harm get. Time will tell.