Nobel Prize in Literature postponed after sexual misconduct scandal

This year's Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed in the wake of a ...

Posted: May 4, 2018 3:31 PM
Updated: May 4, 2018 3:31 PM

This year's Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed in the wake of a sexual and financial scandal that has engulfed the Swedish Academy, the cultural institution responsible for awarding the prestigious prize.

The academy, one of Sweden's most respected institutions, made the announcement Friday morning following a meeting of its remaining active members Thursday evening.

"We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the academy before the next laureate can be announced," Anders Olsson, the academy's permanent secretary, said in a statement. He said the academy was acting "out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation and the general public."

The decision does not affect the other Nobel prizes, which are awarded separately. This year's literature laureate will be announced in 2019, the academy said.

The crisis centers on a string of allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a leading cultural figure in Sweden and husband of Katarina Frostenson, who was an academy member until she stepped down in the wake of the scandal. They both run a separate cultural forum, which received funding from the academy.

Arnault, a French photographer who has attended many Swedish Academy events, faces multiple claims of sexual assault and harassment, first reported in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter late last year. It is also alleged that he touched Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria inappropriately at a Swedish Academy event in 2006. In a statement emailed to CNN earlier this week, Arnault's lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, said his client denied all the allegations.

The revelations caused deep rifts within the organization. Sara Danius, the academy's permanent secretary, and the first woman to hold the post, cut all ties with Arnault and commissioned an independent report from an outside law firm. She was later ousted from her position -- although she remained a member of the academy -- prompting complaints that she was being sacrificed for her desire to bring openness and accountability to the organization.

A number of academy members resigned in protest that Frostenson initially remained on the panel; others quit in protest at the treatment of Danius. The recriminations meant that by this week, there were only 10 active members of a body that ought to have 18.

The Nobel Foundation, which oversees all the Nobel prizes, acknowledged the crisis had tarnished the wider organization and welcomed the Swedish Academy's announcement. "The crisis in the Swedish Academy has adversely affected the Nobel Prize. Their decision underscores the seriousness of the situation and will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize. None of this impacts the awarding of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in other prize categories," it said in a statement.

It urged the academy to "put all its efforts into the task of restoring its credibility as a prize-awarding institution" and said members should realize that its reform efforts "must be characterized by greater openness towards the outside world."

The last time the literature prize was postponed was in 1943 at the height of World War II.

The investigation into the allegations against Arnault, carried out by a Swedish law firm for the Swedish Academy, found there had been "unacceptable behaviour by (Arnault) in the form of unwanted intimacy, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy."

The 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.

It also confirmed that the academy had broken its own rules relating to conflicts of interest by providing funding to the cultural forum run by Arnault and Frostenson.

In a statement in April, the Swedish Academy said it "deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges."

The scandal has exposed deep divisions within the academy's membership and severely damaged its reputation, both in Sweden -- a country often considered a model for gender equality and abroad.

Alexandra Pascalidou, a Swedish-Greek journalist and author of a book about the #MeToo movement in Sweden, told CNN earlier this week that the scandal had exposed the institution as "too stale and old-fashioned to be Sweden 2018."

She said the academy's members had "managed to turn one of Sweden's strongest and brightest brands into something dirty."

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 114 laureates by the Swedish Academy since 1901. Its inception followed the death of Alfred Nobel in 1896. The prize was postponed on seven previous occasions, six of which occurred during World War I and II. Recent winners include Doris Lessing, Kazuo Ishiguro and Bob Dylan.

Next year won't be the first time that two prizes have been awarded in a single year. American playwright Eugene O'Neill was awarded the 1936 prize a year later, in 1937, at the same time as that year's winner received his prize.

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