Posted by Judith Vonberg | 3 May 2018 | 2,497 times
The institution that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature is mired in a sexual and financial scandal so deep that this year's prize may be postponed for the first time in more than seven decades.
In recent weeks, six members of the Swedish Academy – one of Sweden’s most highly respected cultural bodies – have stepped down, including the head of the institution, Sara Danius. The flurry of withdrawals is potentially catastrophic for the 230-year-old academy, whose members, elected by secret ballot, must be approved by the King and traditionally hold their positions for life.
With just 10 remaining active members, the group is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the fate of this year’s literature prize, even though historically, 12 members have been required for a quorum.
In 1943 – the last time the literature prize was postponed – it was the height of World War II and the Nazis ruled much of the European continent.
This time, the crisis centres on Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer and husband of poet Katarina Frostenson, one of the six academy members to step down. Arnault, a leading cultural figure in Sweden, is facing multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment, first reported in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter late last year. In an emailed statement to CNN, Arnault’s lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said his client denies all the allegations.
The academy is also under fire for contravening its own conflict of interest regulations by providing funding to the Kulturplats Forum, a cultural centre run by Arnault and Frostenson.
The scandal, reaching to the heart of a globally respected institution and rooted in a country hailed as a model for gender equality, has sent shockwaves around the world.
Last November, as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, 18 women came forward to accuse a man, later identified as Arnault, of a range of sexual misconduct between 1996 and 2017. Two of the 18, Gabriella Hakansson and Elise Karlsson, spoke on the record. CNN has not independently verified the women’s claims.
The following day, the academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius said that the institution had cut all ties with Arnault in light of the reported allegations and additional claims that some academy staff and members’ relatives had experienced “unwanted intimacy” at the hands of Arnault.
An independent investigation carried out by a Swedish law firm in the following months found that financial rules had been breached in the funding of Arnault’s cultural forum and revealed that “unacceptable behaviour by (Arnault) in the form of unwanted intimacy had indeed taken place, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy.”
But the team of lawyers also discovered that the academy had received a letter in 1996 outlining alleged sexual assault at Arnault’s cultural forum, indicating that November was not the first time that at least some members of the Academy were aware that the photographer’s name had been connected with misconduct. In its statement, the organisation said it “deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges.”
Ebba Witt-Brattstroem, the former wife of Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the academy from 1999 to 2009 and currently a member of the Nobel Committee for Literature, has also cast doubt on the claim that its members were largely unaware of Arnault’s alleged misconduct.
“Everyone knew and you were supposed to think nothing of it,” she told CNN. She was “not at all surprised” when she read about the allegations in November. “It was very well known all over in the cultural field. People knew that young women weren’t supposed to go close to him.” (CNN)
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