No Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018 – Swedish Academy in Crisis after #metoo

The decision to postpone the prize was taken after months of deep crisis within the Swedish Academy, founded in 1786 by King Gustaf III. The independent institution´s eighteen permanent members each year awards one of the Nobel Prizes, the one in Literature. However, several members left the Academy in 2017-2018 in protest to what seems to be one of the worst scandals in the institution’s history.

As a Swede, and as a person who loves culture, I was sad to read about the links between the Academy, the club “Forum”, and a person associated to the Academy, who has been accused of sexual harassment and rape. Eighteen women accused in daily Dagens Nyheter in November 2017 (21.11) the artistic director of Forum (the so-called “Cultural Profile”) of sexual harassment over many years. Some of these women used to work at Forum, and the work was – as it seems – underpaid, as well as undeclared (which is a crime in Sweden).

The accused man is married to a female writer and member of the Academy, and the couple have been the owners of Forum, a legendary scene for literary readings and other cultural events.

Forum was financed partly from funds from the Swedish Academy. It has been said that members of the Academy called Forum “their living room” (Dagens Nyheter 22.11). 

The Swedish Academy told the press in November that they had decided to cut all ties with the accused. The Academy also started an independent investigation about “the Profile”, Forum and the links between the two.

During the following months, new data about the man revealed by the lawyers made life even more difficult for members of the Academy. It seems as if the man had been leaking information about Nobel Prize Winners before they were awarded, at least on seven different occasions. Several members of the Academy were also apparently not aware of the fact that the woman married to the Profile was also a co-owner of the Club. As a result, she had been funding her own club – and is accused of corruption.

The investigating lawyers recommended The Academy make a police report – something that the members of the Academy, in a questioned referendum, voted not to do. At the same occasion, the Academy decided not to expel the author married to “the Profile”. 

As media coverage of the story intensified, several members of the Academy chose to leave their posts, saying that they could not contribute to the work under these circumstances.

Finally, during a dramatic week, the Secretary General Sara Danius was forced to leave her post. In addition, the female writer (married to “the Profile”) also left – meaning that she no longer attends meetings and thus does not contribute to the daily work of the Academy.

Danius, who had been in favor of expelling the female writer married to “the Profile” and of reporting the Forum to the Police, was heavily criticized in the media by one of the members who chose not to leave, writer Horace Engdahl. Engdahl was criticized for having accused the Profile of not being “a role model for young men.”

Many Swedish women were outraged over the Academy´s decision to force Danius to leave, and in a public protest march, several of those women (and some men) walked to the office of the famous institution in Stockholm’s Old Town, wearing the favorite outfit of Danius: a tied blouse.

Others supported the remaining 11 members of the Academy. Swedes were divided, as were journalists, politicians, writers and debaters. Some say that the work of the Academy is more important than #metoo, and that the reputation of Sweden is at stake, claiming that the Academy should do nothing and just continue working. Others say that, even if the ongoing processes will show that there have been no crimes committed, the ethics and the morals of the Academy can be questioned, and the remaining members should leave their posts. 

The story about the Swedish Academy has raised international attention and some comments in the press have been harsh. “A closer look at the swamp of scandal in Stockholm raises doubts as to whether it can ever be rehabilitated,” said Georg Diez in der Spiegel. He called the story “a moral morass.” 

The Academy is now under police investigation through the intervention of people on the outside who have reported possible crimes related to corruption, undeclared work and sexual harassment/assault. The Swedish majority say in a poll that they have less confidence in the Academy than they did before #metoo (fourty-one percent, Yougov). In a press release, the Academy itself says: “Confidence in the Academy has been undermined, the number of active members is diminished, and there has been an unplanned change in the post of Permanent Secretary.” (April 24, 2018). 

During the fall of 2018, new members have been elected in order to reestablish public confidence. 

The Cultural Profile himself has denied all accusations.

In October 2018, the Cultural Profile was convicted for one rape by a criminal court in Stockholm and was sentenced to two years in prison. He appealed against the decision. .

On May 4 this year, when the 11 persons left in the Academy declared that they will not award a Nobel Prize of Literature, cultural editor Björn Wiman of Dagens Nyheter, commented: “By this, the 18 women have entered history.”

One year ago, in December 2017, I wrote in an article that The Academy “need to answer some questions”. It is clear now that they still do.