Group tied to Nobel literature prize still under global spotlight
— There won’t be a Nobel Prize in Literature this year but the Swedish Academy that awards the prestigious prize is still in the limelight.
Jean-Claude Arnault, a French citizen who is a major cultural figure in Sweden, is at the center of a sex abuse and financial crimes scandal that has tarnished the academy and forced it to take a year off in its deliberations.
The 72-year-old had faced two counts of rape for the same woman in 2011. He was found guilty of one rape but was acquitted of the other because the victim said she was asleep at the time and judges said her account wasn’t reliable. Arnault had denied the charges.
Arnault was sentenced to two years in prison after the prosecutor had urged the court to sentence him to three years in prison.
Yet no matter what the verdict for Arnault, the Swedish Academy itself has no guarantee that it will be allowed to keep awarding the literature prize.
Lars Heikensten, head of the Nobel Foundation, has warned that if the Swedish Academy does not resolve its tarnished image his agency could decide that another group would be a better host. He even suggested there could be no Nobel Literature Prize awarded in 2019 either — which is counter to the academy’s current plan to award both the 2018 and the 2019 literature Nobels next year.
He told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that it was the Swedish Academy — not the Nobel Foundation — that was going through a crisis.
“The ball essentially lies on the Swedish Academy’s court,” he said.
The allegations against Arnault, who ran a major cultural group in Sweden that was closely tied to the Swedish Academy, began in November 2017 when 18 women came forward in a Swedish newspaper with abuse accusations against him.
Arnault is married to a Swedish Academy member, poet Katarina Frostenson, who quit the body in April as tensions escalated.
That month the Swedish Academy said an internal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations found that “unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy” had taken place within the ranks of the prestigious institution.
But a fierce internal debate over how to face up to the academy’s flaws in responding to the misconduct divided its 18 members — who are appointed for life — into hostile camps. Several members either left or disassociated themselves from the secretive academy.
The first woman to lead the body, Sara Danius, also quit in April, leading observers to wonder why some of Sweden’s most accomplished women appeared to the taking the fall for a man’s alleged misconduct.
Many people in the Scandinavian nation, which is known for promoting gender equality, have expressed dismay over the scandal, which has led to accusations of patriarchal leanings among some academy members.
In May, the Swedish Academy postponed the 2018 prize with the intention of awarding it in 2019.
Jean-Claude Arnault arrives at court for the start of proceedings in Stockholm. Arnault is at the center of a scandal that has forced the literature prize to take a year off.