Three quit in protest as #MeToo scandal rocks Nobel literature academy

The statue of Alfred Nobel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. — AFP pic
The statue of Alfred Nobel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. — AFP pic

STOCKHOLM, April 7 — Three prominent members of the Swedish Academy resigned yesterday in protest at close ties between the institution, which awards the Nobel Literature Prize, and a high-profile man accused of sexual assault.

The Academy has been reeling since it was revealed as part of the #MeToo campaign in November that several members, as well as members’ wives and daughters, had allegedly been assaulted by the well-known figure at the centre of the scandal.

Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper broke the news, publishing the testimony of 18 women claiming to have been assaulted or raped by one of the most influential figures in Stockholm’s cultural scene.

The Academy has since cut all ties with the man, who has not been publicly identified.

But his identity is generally known by the public as he is a high-profile person in cultural circles.

The alleged sexual assaults occurred between 1996 and 2017, according to Dagens Nyheter.

One of the resigning members Peter Englund said the scandal had deeply divided the Swedish literary world.

“Over time, a crack that appeared has continued to grow,” he said in a letter to the Aftonbladet newspaper, adding that the Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius had been subject to “unjustified” criticism.

The fallout continued Friday as King Carl XVI Gustaf was informed of developments as the director general of the Nobel Foundation Lars Heikensten expressed concern over a “serious and difficult situation”.

‘Tower of Babel is crumbling’

Along with Englund, members Klas Ostergren and Kjell Espmark decided to step down after the group’s normal meeting on Thursday at a Stockholm restaurant.

“It is with great sadness that after 36 years working at the Academy, including 17 as chairman of the Nobel Committee, I feel forced to make this decision,” Espmark said in a letter to the media.

“When prominent academy members put friendship ahead of responsibility and integrity, I can no longer participate in its work”.

Ostergren condemned “a betrayal of the founder and his great protector”, referring to the Academy’s founder, Swedish King Gustav III, and inventor Alfred Nobel, who left some of his fortune to the institution.

The three men are lifetime members and cannot technically resign, but there is nothing forcing them to attend meetings.

Of the academy’s 18 members, five are no longer active after two women, Kerstin Ekman and Lotta Lotass, went on leave for several years.

Bjorn Wiman, the culture editor of Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said the resignations are “a disaster” for an academy “in ruins”.

His counterpart at the Aftonbladet newspaper, Asa Linderborg, said “the tower of Babel is crumbling”.

The allegations against the man were first revealed as part of the #MeToo campaign exposing sexual misconduct, which began in Hollywood and went on to shake artistic, media and political circles in Sweden, one of the most gender equal countries in the world.

In March, Stockholm’s public prosecutor’s office announced that part of the investigation, into claims of alleged rapes and assaults between 2013 and 2015, had been called off as the statute of limitation had passed or due to lack of evidence. — AFP

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