The Swedish Academy is under fire for how it dealt with alleged sexual misconduct by French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to an ex-member of the institution.

Nobel Prize for Literature postponed amidst sexual assault scandalA bust of Alfred Nobel by Pi Frisk; Image courtesy: Nobelprize.org
news Sexual Assault Friday, May 04, 2018 - 16:18

The Swedish Academy has officially announced that it will postpone this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature to 2019. The decision was made in light of a sexual assault and financial scandal that is currently gripping the Academy.

The Nobel Academy officially supported this decision in a press release issued on Friday.

“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 stated.

The Swedish Academy is under fire for how it dealt with alleged sexual misconduct by French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to a former member of the centuries-old institution, the BBC reported on Thursday.

The Academy was scheduled to decide whether this year's prize will go ahead, with some members reportedly concerned it was in no state to make such an award.

Inspired by the #MeToo campaign, 18 women made allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Arnault in November. Several of the alleged incidents reportedly happened in properties belonging to the Academy. Arnault has denied all the allegations.

The organisation then voted against removing his wife, the poet and writer Katarina Frostenson, from its 18-person committee.

The following day, the Academy's Permanent Secretary Sara Danius stated that the institution had cut all ties with Arnault following the reported allegations and additional claims that some Academy staff and members' relatives had experienced “unwanted intimacy” at his hands.

Till now, six members of the Swedish Academy have stepped down, including Danius.

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.

An independent investigation by a Swedish law firm 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 some members were made aware that the photographer's name had been connected with misconduct.

In its statement, the organization 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, the Academy's Permanent Secretary from 1999 to 2009 and currently a member of the Nobel Committee for Literature, had also cast doubt on the claim that its members were largely unaware of Arnault's alleged misconduct.

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.

“In principle, the Nobel Prize shall be awarded every year, but decisions on Nobel Prizes have been postponed on a number of occasions during the history of the prizes. One of the circumstances that may justify an exception is when a situation in a prize-awarding institution arises that is so serious that a prize decision will not be perceived as credible,” the Nobel Foundation stated.

The last time the Literature prize was postponed was in 1943, during the height of World War II when the Nazis ruled much of the European continent. Incidentally, German dictator Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939, but the nomination was later cancelled. No prize was awarded that year. The Prize for Physiology and Medicine was also cancelled in 1926 and 1921.

With IANS inputs

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