Dutch Literary Prize Ceremony Canceled Due to Winner’s Comments on Sentenced Former President | Books

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Five months ago, Astrid Roemer became the first author from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America, to win the prestigious Dutch-language literary prize Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, and was hailed by judges for her “unconventional works.” and poetic ”. . But last week, organizers announced that a ceremony for the poet and novelist, which the King of Belgium was scheduled to attend, would be called off, after she was criticized for her comments about former Suriname president Dési Bouterse. .

While Roemer will still receive the £ 40,000 prize, plans for King Philip to present him with the prize in October have been scrapped. Organizers said in a statement that “due to Ms. Roemer’s recent opinions and statements”, a ceremony was “not appropriate”.

According to De Volkskrant, Roemer described Bouterse, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019 after being convicted by a military court of murder for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 after a coup, as “of unforgettable courage”.

Bouterse is appealing the court ruling and Roemer refused to describe him as a murderer, telling Nieuwsuur: “I understand people don’t like it. But I tend to believe Dési Bouterse when he says: “I didn’t want the killings of civilians. I believe him. The author also said she did not think Bouterse should receive a prison sentence “after so many years, given his commitment to the decolonization of Suriname”.

Controversial former President of Suriname Desiré ‘Dési’ Delano Bouterse. Photograph: Ertugrul Kilic / AP

His comments drew criticism from some Surinamese. The chair of a committee set up to remember the victims of the 1982 murders said she was “shocked and stunned” by Roemer’s statement. Lawyer Gerard Spong wrote that: “Dutch taxpayers’ money should not be spent for any reason whatsoever on a person who propagates opinions contrary to the rule of law”, while the chair of the group of work on Caribbean literature Rita Dulci Rahman, whose brother and partner were among those killed in 1982, said she would not attend the ceremony.

Late last week, the organizers of the award took steps to distance themselves from Roemer’s views. “The prize rewards the body of work of a writer in the genres of poetry, prose and / or theater. The personal opinions of authors are not taken into account when evaluating their work, ”they said. “We find Ms. Roemer’s statements so inappropriate that it is not appropriate to continue with a festive awards ceremony.”

Roemer wrote on Facebook that the cancellation was a “load of my mind.” “There would be protests during the ceremony and I don’t want my guests to feel uncomfortable,” she told Nieuwsuur. “I was even called a member of the ONS [the Dutch Nazi movement] as I resist and write about racism for 50 years.

Off-White, Roemer’s debut album in English, is slated for release in 2022.

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