Press release from the Swedish Academy

24 Apr 2018

Background | The Swedish Academy is in a state of crisis following a period of strong disagreement between members over important issues. Confidence in the Academy has been undermined, the number of active members is diminished, and there has been an unplanned change in the post of Permanent Secretary. In coming weeks, the Academy aims to produce a plan to reestablish public confidence, and eventually return to fertile cooperation among a complete roster of active members.

This press release will serve as an account of the present state of affairs and the steps we intend to take. It is our fervent wish that the actions we take and the direction we have chosen will not only restore confidence, but also win back those who have chosen to leave and re-engage them in the work of the Academy.

Legal investigation | The legal firm of Hammarskiöld & Co has, at the Academy’s request, investigated the extent of the Academy’s knowledge of sexual assaults of the kind reported to the press by 18 women and for which the director of the cultural venue Kulturplats Forum has been accused. The purpose was also to establish whether Academy members have observed similar behaviour at the Academy’s own functions. The investigation revealed that unacceptable behaviour by the director of the cultural venue Kulturplats Forum in the form of unwanted intimacy had indeed taken place, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy. Neither was the Academy aware of anything that might be described as criminal sexual assault.

Concurrent with the investigation, it surfaced that in December 1996, the Swedish Academy received a letter in which the writer informed the Academy of alleged sexual assault at Kulturplats Forum. The Academy deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges and possibly stop further reimbursements to Kulturplats Forum.

The Swedish Academy strongly condemns sexual harassment and sexual aggression wherever it occurs.

Of special importance in the legal investigation is the question of whether the director of Kulturplats Forum, through his marital bond with one of the Academy’s members, has exercised direct or indirect influence on the Academy’s disbursement of prizes, stipends and economic grants. Extensive interviews within the Academy and externally and a detailed analysis of current work routines have led the investigators to conclude that there has been no such influence.

However, the investigation found that the process of providing economic support to Kulturplats Forum contravened the Academy’s conflict of interest rule, since an Academy member was also part-owner of the commercial enterprise in receipt of the funds. The relationship should have been divulged to the Academy or been checked by the Academy. Better practices would have prevented this.

The investigation also revealed a breach of the Academy’s secrecy rules regarding work with the Nobel Prize in Literature. Similar rules are in place for all the institutions charged with awarding Nobel Prizes and are to be strictly applied to both the process of awarding the prizes and to internal procedures.

Members of the Academy contributed to the legal investigation by describing the internal functions of the Swedish Academy. To accomplish this without breaching the statutes, the members were given a guarantee that the investigation would not be made public. The Academy has nonetheless decided to put the investigation in the hands of the juridical authorities.

The future | The office of Permanent Secretary has temporarily been assumed by Anders Olsson, with a mandate to take the steps necessary to regain public confidence for the Swedish Academy, and to create a functioning working atmosphere.

Changes will be needed in the Academy’s regulations but also in its organisation and work practices. This daunting task has already begun. This week, in accordance with the wishes of the Swedish Academy, His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf has decided to elucidate the statute regarding resignation, making it possible in the future for members to leave the Academy of their own volition. This is in harmony with current legal praxis and will facilitate the election of new members.

The rules regarding conflict of interest will also be reviewed and communication procedures improved both within the Academy and with the general public. Concrete measures being planned include the reinforcement of the Academy’s legal team to overview organisational changes and the new interpretations of our statutes. More alterations will be made to the regulations and work procedures with the aim of creating more transparency in the Academy and its operation than there has been.

The Swedish Academy is an institution of major significance for Swedish and even international culture. In addition to the Nobel Prize in Literature, a large number of prizes and stipends are awarded by the Academy to authors, translators, literature and language scholars, teachers, librarians and others in Sweden and the Nordic area. The Academy gives grants to cultural programmes and organises and finances important major lexicographical projects. The Academy also contributes in other ways to the study and nurture of the Swedish language.

The reputation of the Nobel Prize in Literature has suffered greatly from the publicity surrounding the Academy’s crisis. We need to address the issue of legitimacy with utmost rigour. We want to emphasise that the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee - the working group that prepares the prize colloquium and submits recommendations before the decision is reached - is intact and has conducted its work this spring in the usual fashion.

The active members of the Swedish Academy recognise that the above account of the present situation and the actions we have taken and will take represent only a first step, and that the process ahead will pose increased demands on everyone. All changes cannot be effected at once, some will need further study and discussion. The work of change is begun and will proceed in close dialogue with the community.