Protests grow as Peter Handke receives Nobel medal in Sweden

The literature laureateship, due to be presented in Stockholm on Tuesday, faces boycotts and widespread protest

As Turkey joins Albania and Kosovo in boycotting Tuesdays Nobel prize ceremony for Peter Handke over his support for Slobodan Milosevics genocidal regime, war correspondents from Christiane Amanpour to Jeremy Bowen are protesting his win by sharing their harrowing stories from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Austrian writer, whose stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and attendance at Milosevics funeral have been widely criticised, is due to receive his Nobel medal in Stockholm, where a large protest demonstration is expected.

Bosnian Swedish writer Adnan Mahmutovic, who is organising the protests, said there had been a huge negative response to Handkes win in Sweden.

We hope that our voices tonight will help us start a dialogue about the consequences of continuous genocide denial that has been going on for decades. Genocide is not an event but a process whose last phase is denial. We cannot let our Nobel legacy legitimise it, he said.

A digital mural on the side of a Sarajevo shopping mall protests against the awarding of the laureateship to Handke on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week Peter Englund, a member of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, announced he would boycott the ceremony, saying: To celebrate Peter Handkes Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Handke on television, saying the Nobel has no value granting the Nobel literature prize on Human Rights Day to a figure who denies the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nothing less than rewarding human rights violations. Turkeys ambassador to Sweden, Hakki Emre Yunt, also announced he would not attend the ceremony.

Albanias acting foreign minister Gent Cakaj has instructed the countrys ambassador to Sweden to boycott the ceremony, as is Kosovo, with its ambassador to the US, Vlora itaku calling Handkes win a preposterous and shameful decision.

Journalists who covered the war in Bosnia, meanwhile, are protesting Handkes win by describing what they saw during the conflict using the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists.

I was there. We all know whos guilty, wrote Amanpour, the chief international anchor for CNN who covered the war as a young reporter.

My colleagues #BosniaWarJournalists are outraged so we are posting our work to remind the world of what happened there. Never forget, wrote foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni. In Sarajevo, Id go to the morgue to count dead: Children, women, soldiers, horrors of that unjust war laid out on a slab. What BosniaWarReporters like me saw was relentless attacks on civilians. Genocide. Please speak out against Handke getting Nobel.

The BBCs Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen wrote: I reported all the Yugo wars. Saw monstrous crimes. Later testified at war crimes trials, inc those of Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic & Mladic.

Former foreign correspondent Emma Daly said that she will never forget walking around the mass graves holding hundreds of men & boys who were blindfolded, shot & buried on farmland near Srebrenica. We know Milosevic was responsible.

The New York Timess Roger Cohen, sharing a link to his 1994 story about a Serbian concentration camp, wrote: shame on Nobel Committee and Swedish King for handing Nobel literature prize to Peter Handke, who calls the Bosnian genocide myth.

Journalist Peter Maass, who was told on Friday by Handke that his questions about the Srebrenica massacre were empty and ignorant, wrote on Twitter that the legacy of the Swedish royal family, who will award the Austrian author his medal, will be that they authenticated a genocide denier.

Handke has claimed that the Muslims staged their own massacres in Sarajevo and then blamed this on the Serbs, also casting doubt on the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. In an essay for the French newspaper Libration in 2006, he wrote: Lets stop comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Hitler and lets never again use the expression for the camps installed during the Yugoslav war concentration camps.

True, there were intolerable camps between 1992 and 1995 in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. But let us stop mechanically linking, in our heads, these camps to Bosnian Serbs there were also Croatian camps and Muslim camps, and the crimes committed there, and there, are and will be tried in The Hague, he wrote. And finally, lets stop linking the massacres (amongst which, in the plural, those in Srebrenica in July 1995 were by far the most abominable) to Serbian forces or paramilitaries. Let us also listen to the survivors of Muslim massacres in the many Serbian villages around Srebrenica.

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Chinas new diplomacy in Europe has a name: broken porcelain | David Bandurski

Beijing is sending an aggressive new message to Sweden and beyond, says Berlin-based academic David Bandurski

Two days after Swedens election in September, a bizarre statement appeared in English on the website of the Chinese embassy in Stockholm. A small handful of Swedish forces, media and individuals, it said, had made unwarranted claims of Chinese interference in the Swedish vote. These were groundless accusations, and a malicious attack and smear against China. The strangest thing of all: no one in Swedenhad the slightest inkling what the statement referred to.

As an expert on Chinas official discourse who also studies its influence in Europe, I too struggled to make sense of this storm in a teapot until a few days later, when a new tempest whirled into view. This time, Sweden noticed. The source of the fresh controversy was an online video that purported to show the brutal treatment of three Chinese tourists at a hotel in Stockholm. As I read the angry comments from Chinas foreign ministry, it suddenly all made perfect sense. The expressions of outrage were part of a concerted diplomatic strategy of hyperbole and distraction.

In the video, the tourists identified as Mr Zeng and his two elderly parents are carried from the hotel by police officers, and deposited on the pavement outside as the son screams in English: This is killing! This is killing! The mother sits on the pavement and wails: Save me! According to a local newspaper, Aftonbladet, the tourists had arrived at the hotel the night before their scheduled booking and asked to remain in the lobby through the night. They disregarded repeated requests to leave, remaining instead on the lobby sofas. One eyewitness said the police remained calm as the Chinese family grew agitated. The son, this source said, acted particularly oddly, throwing himself flat on the ground. Quoted by local media, a Swedish prosecutor later said: We made the assessment that no crime on the part of the police had been committed.

The Chinese embassy, in a statement on 15 September, insisted that the tourists had been brutally abused by the Swedish police, which had severely endangered the life and violated the basic human rights of Chinese citizens.

Many Chinese people who viewed the video clips on domestic social media platforms were furious about what they saw as mistreatment. But others saw something different: a familiar pattern of using over-dramatisation as a means of recourse for real or imagined injustice. Called porcelain bumping, or pengci, this pattern became a focus of attention as the hubbub over the Stockholm incident continued in China. Pengci refers to the practice of manufacturing drama to obtain a desired outcome. According to one explanation, the term was coined to describe a technique used by fraudsters who would wait with delicate porcelain vessels outside busy markets and demand payment when these shattered, ostensibly due to the carelessness of others. Now, pengci often refers to the act of throwing oneself into oncoming traffic in order to claim compensation a practice so common in China that related compilations of clips online are now nearly as ubiquitous as cat videos.

Still, the Chinese embassy in Sweden continued to depict the incident as a grave case of human rights abuse. The foreign ministrys position was parroted by state-run media. One article shared by a social media account of the Peoples Daily alleged that talk of porcelain bumping, and other attempts to minimise the Stockholm incident, had been cooked up overseas by Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that the Chinese government has labelled an enemy.

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At this point official Chinese outrage had moved on to a skit aired on 21 September on a satirical show by the Swedish national broadcaster, SVT, that made light of the incident. A statement from the Chinese embassy said the skit had breached the basic moral bottom line of humankind. Moreover, it had seriously infringed on Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity by projecting a map behind the host that did not show Taiwan and Tibet as an integral part of China.

This came at an already tense time in the bilateral relationship. The Dalai Lama had visited Sweden just days before the video of the tourists appeared. Another sore point was Chinas continued imprisonment of a Hong Kong-based bookseller, Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen. Oscar Almn, a researcher at Uppsala University, told Radio Sweden: The Chinese embassy is now actively trying to deliver a message to the Swedish media and the public.

That message is a solemn promise to government and society in Europe and beyond: wherever you seek to criticise our policies or forestall our ambitions, we will topple your agenda. We will shatter the porcelain of diplomatic composure and fan the anger of our population with debased facts until every issue you raise is about just one issue Chinas national dignity.

Earlier this month broken porcelain diplomacy moved on to the British Conservative partys annual conference in Birmingham, as a journalist from state-owned China Central Television shouted down a panellist at an event on Hong Kong organised by the partys human rights committee, which was attended by prominent members of the pro-democracy community in Hong Kong. As the woman was confronted and asked to leave, she apparently slapped a student volunteer. She shouted, How democratic [is the] UK! as she was being escorted out.

The Chinese embassy in London demanded an apology. And while it made a fuss about the reporters rights, it also pointed out, in a statement, that any plot or action conspiring to divide China is contrary to the current of history. Discussion of Hong Kongs future, in other words, was to be avoided.

The pattern is clear. When it comes to foreign criticism of the Chinese government, or to the strategic issues it cares about, were all tiptoeing through a china shop now. The danger is that such histrionics could make European governments, universities, scholars and journalists, to remain silent, retreat from issues likely to prompt an outburst. Europe must send a message that it welcomes free, open and calm discussion of all issues, and that it will not suspend its values or the rights of its citizens to appease Chinas official bouts of anger. If we refuse to indulge such tactics, Chinas government will eventually come to understand what many of its citizens already know that you dont win hearts or minds through intimidation.

David Bandurski is the Berlin-based co-director of the University of Hong Kongs China Media project

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Swedish student’s plane protest stops man’s deportation ‘to hell’

Elin Ersson refused to sit down on Gothenburg flight until man being sent to Afghanistan was removed

A lone student activist on board a plane at Gothenburg airport has prevented the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker from Sweden by refusing to sit down until the man was removed from the flight.

Her successful protest, footage of which spread rapidly across the internet, shines a spotlight on domestic opposition to Swedens tough asylum regime, at a time when immigration and asylum are topping the agenda of a general election campaign in which the far right is polling strongly.

I hope that people start questioning how their country treats refugees, Elin Ersson, 21, told the Guardian in an interview. We need to start seeing the people whose lives our immigration [policies] are destroying.

The social work student at Gothenburg University bought a ticket for the flight from Gothenburg to Turkey on Monday morning, after she and other asylum activists found out that a young Afghan was due to be deported on it. In fact he was not on the plane but activists discovered another Afghan man in his 50s was onboard for deportation.

As she entered the plane, Ersson started to livestream her protest in English. The video received more than 4m hits on Tuesday.

Facing both sympathy and hostility from passengers, the footage shows Ersson struggling to keep her composure. I dont want a mans life to be taken away just because you dont want to miss your flight, she says. I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.

Repeatedly told by a steward to stop filming, Ersson says: I am doing what I can to save a persons life. As long as a person is standing up the pilot cannot take off. All I want to do is stop the deportation and then I will comply with the rules here. This is all perfectly legal and I have not committed a crime.

When an angry passenger, who appears to be English, tries to seize her phone, she tells him: What is more important, a life, or your time? I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan. I am trying to change my countrys rules, I dont like them. It is not right to send people to hell.

After a tense standoff, during which the airport authorities declined to use force to eject Ersson, passengers broke into applause when the asylum seeker was taken off the plane.

Ersson told the Guardian she had been volunteering with refugee groups for about a year.

People [in Afghanistan] are not sure of any safety, she said. They dont know if theyre going to live another day. As Ive been working and meeting people from Afghanistan and heard their stories, Ive been more and more in the belief that no one should be deported to Afghanistan because its not a safe place. The way that we are treating refugees right now, I think that we can do better, especially in a rich country like Sweden.

As the country heads towards a general election in September, Swedens centre-left coalition government is keen to keep up expulsions of asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down. If you get rejected, you have to go home otherwise we will not have a proper migration system, the prime minister, Stefan Lfven, said last year after an Uzbek asylum seeker whose claim had been rejected drove a truck into shoppers in Stockholm, killing five people.

After Taliban violence increased in January, the country briefly halted deportations to Afghanistan. But the Swedish migration board stands by its assessment that the country is a safe destination for asylum seekers whose claims have been turned down.

In its most recent assessment, the migration board said Taliban attacks had been aimed mainly at the military or foreigners, and violence against Afghan civilians was rare. As for a bomb in an ambulance in January that killed at least 95 and injured many more in Kabul, the board said it was unclear whether the purpose was really to attack civilians.

Tens of thousands of deportation cases are expected to be handed over to the police as the country continues to process a backlog of asylum applications, after 163,000 people claimed asylum in Sweden in 2015. Last year, the border police deported 12,500 people, while the rate of expulsions so far this year is slightly higher.

Normally deportations go peacefully, according to a spokesperson for the police in Swedens west region. But occasionally the process is disrupted by demonstrators such as Ersson or by asylum seekers themselves.

You do it once or twice, and if it doesnt work we rent a private plane to send them back to Afghanistan, or wherever, the spokesperson said.

Erssons protest was a civil and not a criminal case, he said. Should the airline and passengers decide to prosecute, Ersson could face a substantial fine.

When the refugee crisis began to escalate 2015, Sweden made it much harder for refugees to get into the country and asylum applications fell sharply. In 2016 almost 29,000 people claimed asylum, followed by just under 26,000 last year. So far this year, asylum applications are running at about 1,500 a month.

The fates of the young man due to be deported on Monday, and the man who was on the plane, are unknown. A spokesperson for the Swedish Prison and Probation Service confirmed that the young man would be deported again, once transport was found. The Swedish border police in Kalmar, responsible for the attempted deportation, did not return calls from the Guardian.

Ersson believes the young man was taken to Stockholm and put on a flight there already.

This is how deportations in Sweden work. The people involved know nothing and they are not allowed to reach out to their lawyers or family, she said. My ultimate goal is to end deportations to Afghanistan.

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