More than 100 Swedish intellectuals have joined forces to form a new prize-giving body in protest after the Swedish Academy, which selects Nobel laureates, was plunged into crisis over its long-standing ties to a man accused of assaulting several women.
The alternative honor serves to denounce “bias, arrogance and sexism,” according to its founders The New Academy, whose members include authors, artists and journalists.
It is meant to “remind people that literature and culture at large should promote democracy, transparency, empathy and respect, without privilege,” the 107 intellectuals wrote in a joint statement.
As the #MeToo movement has made waves globally, the Swedish Academy descended into turmoil in November when local media published the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by an influential French cultural figure who has long been connected to the institution.
The revelations led the Academy to announce in May there will be no Nobel Literature Prize this year, as disagreements on how to deal with the scandal sowed deep discord among its 18 members and prompted six to quit — including the first woman permanent secretary Sara Danius.
But for some the lack of a Nobel literature award for the first time in almost 70 years was unacceptable.
“Sweden is one of the world’s most democratic, transparent and gender-equal countries… it needs a great literary prize,” Swedish columnist and one of the founders of the new prize, Alexandra Pascalidou, told AFP.
The Swedish Academy’s members used to be appointed for life before its patron, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, was forced to change the statutes, making it possible for members to resign and be replaced.
Resigning member Kjell Espmark told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that the institution had “given way to nepotism, attempts to cover up serious violations, stale macho values and arrogant bullying.”
Seen as the bearer of high culture, the Swedish Academy, founded in 1786, is traditionally known for its integrity and discretion, with meetings and decisions on prizes kept secret.