The Swedish Academy, responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature, is currently being rocked by a sexual abuse and harassment scandal.
The allegations involve the husband of one of the Swedish Academy’s members.
In an unprecedented development, Sara Danius, the first woman to head the Academy, has stepped down. The reasons for her leaving are murky, but reports suggest she was forced out by an ‘old boys’ club’.
Several protests have been held recently, including a large one yesterday in which people gathered all across Sweden. Swedish women, including Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke, have posted images of themselves wearing high-necked blouses with bows, one of Danius’s signature fashion statements, to show their support. The blouses have reportedly sold out at shops across Stockholm. More protests are expected today and over the weekend.
The JRB presents exclusive images from yesterday’s protest (scroll down for more background on the scandal), taken by South African journalist Maureen Isaacson, who attended the protest on the steps of the Academy in Stockholm.
The Swedish Academy was created in 1786 and has awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901. Danius stepped into the role of permanent secretary in 2015, and has been praised for modernising what many believe to be an outmoded and patriarchal institution.
In statements published last November, eighteen women accused French-Swedish photographer and theatre director Jean-Claude Arnault of harassment and physical abuse. The allegations were first reported to the academy as early as 1996, according to reports in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Arnault denies all allegations against him.
The Swedish media also alleges that Arnault is behind the advance leaks of seven Nobel winners, including Bob Dylan in 2016 and Harold Pinter in 2005.
Arnault and his wife, the poet Katarina Frostenson, also run a private cultural club in Stockholm called Forum, which had received money from the academy.
Swedish state prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the incidents, but said in March some elements of the inquiry had been dropped because of a lack of evidence or that the statute of limitations had passed. The academy cut all ties with Arnault and subsidies to Forum after the allegations broke in November, and is supposedly conducting an internal investigation, but has not followed legal advice to file a formal report to the police.
On Friday, 6 April, three members quit in protest at a lack of integrity shown by the academy, including Peter Englund, Danius’s predecessor as permanent secretary, Klas Ostergren and Kjell Espmark. Author Sara Stridsberg has also threatened to step down. Meanwhile, two former permanent secretaries, Sture Allen and Horace Engdahl, are said to believe the reaction to the allegations is overblown, and have denounced Danius’s weak leadership.
Frostenson and Danius both stepped down following an emergency three-hour meeting in Stockholm on Thursday 12 April. Anders Olsson, a writer and professor of literature, stepped into Danius’s role.
Traditionally the eighteen members of the Swedish Academy are appointed for life and not permitted to resign, but Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf intervened, as the highest patron of the Swedish Academy, to amend the rules.
‘All traditions are not worth preserving,’ Danius told Swedish press agency TT. ‘Caring for a legacy must not mean an arrogance and distance to society at large.’