Nobel literature academy appoints new head amid sex assault scandal

Former permanent secretary Sara Danius (left) on the day of her resignation, leaving the academy with member Sara Stridsberg. She had failed to receive support for reforms in the wake of the scandal.
Former permanent secretary Sara Danius (above) on the day of her resignation, leaving the academy with member Sara Stridsberg. She had failed to receive support for reforms in the wake of the scandal.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM • The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Literature Prize, has appointed a new head after a crippling crisis triggered by allegations of sexual assault against the husband of one of its members.

Mr Anders Olsson, a 69-year-old writer and literature professor known for his calm demeanour and diplomatic skills, was appointed the academy's "temporary" permanent secretary on Friday, in a bid to unite the 11 remaining academy members amid the toxic controversy that has divided it into two camps.

Two members, including permanent secretary Sara Danius, resigned on Thursday in the aftermath of the scandal, which centres on allegations by 18 women that they had been subject to sexual harassment and assault by Mr Jean-Claude Arnault, the French husband of academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson.

Mr Arnault denies the allegations.

The two camps have been split on how to draw a line under the row, and on what measures to take after a report it commissioned revealed conflicts of interest and the fact that academy members leaked Nobel winners' names.

Seen as a bearer of high culture, the academy is traditionally known for its integrity and discretion, with the meetings and decisions made by its 18 members shrouded in secrecy.

But in recent weeks, the curtain has been lifted on a battle between two camps in the academy, with members dealing ugly blows via the media.

After the 18 women spoke out in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter against Mr Arnault in November - following the #MeToo campaign - the academy cut all ties with his cultural club Forum in Stockholm, which it had subsidised for years and which was a key meeting point for the country's cultural elite.

One camp had defended Ms Frostenson and the academy's old guard, while the other camp supported Ms Danius, who wanted to carry out reforms.

"Not all traditions deserve to be maintained," Ms Danius said on Friday. "I agreed to take on the role of permanent secretary because I believed there was support for the aim to cautiously but determinedly modernise."

Ms Danius is the first woman to head the Swedish Academy since it was founded in 1786. She said on Thursday she had agreed to resign after failing to receive the support of a majority of her colleagues.

Public support has however surged for her: Swedish celebrities, politicians and members of the public on Friday posted pictures of themselves online wearing pussy-bow blouses - Ms Danius was wearing one when she announced her resignation - with the hashtag #knytblus ("pussy-bow blouse") trending.

Ms Frostenson, who had long refused to step down over the affair, also announced she was withdrawing from the academy's workings.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'Nobel literature academy appoints new head amid sex assault scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe