Nobel literature prize panel’s head resigns over harassment controversy


STOCKHOLM: The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Literature Prize, was plunged into crisis on Thursday after two of its members, including its head Sara Danius, resigned Thursday, amid a growing crisis over a high-profile man accused of sexual assaults.

“It is the Academy’s wish that I leave my post as permanent secretary,” Danius said after an emergency meeting of academy members in Stockholm.

“I would have liked to have continued, but there are other things to do in life,” she told reporters.

Also stepping down is Academy member Katarina Frostenson, a Swedish writer.

The resignations come after the daily Dagens Nyheter in November published statements from 18 women, alleging they had been subject to harassment and physical abuse by the accused man.

The academy has since severed all ties with him and cut grants made to him.

It has also launched an internal investigation and enlisted the services of a law firm.

The Academy, which is under the direct patronage of the Norwegian king, is traditionally very discreet and has been deeply shaken by the scandal.

The head of the Nobel Foundation, Lars Heikensten, has publicly expressed concern about what he termed a “serious and difficult situation”.

Three academics resigned last week in protest after the institution had expressed renewed confidence in Katarina Frostenson, who finally announced her resignation on Thursday.

According to Peter Englund, one of the three who resigned, the case has deeply divided the institution.

He believes that Sara Danius, who succeeded him in 2015, is the target of “unwarranted” internal criticism.

Another member, Horace Engdahl, said that Academy had confirmed that there was “a problem of leadership”.

“A radical guesture was needed to create the conditions for a new beginning,” he told Swedish public television, SVT.

A professor of literature at Stockholm University, Danius was the first woman to hold the position.

Academicians are life-long members and cannot, in principle, resign, but they can leave their chairs empty.

Of the 18 elders of the academy, seven are no longer active members, and two women, Kerstin Ekman and Lotta Lotass, have gone on leave for several years.

It is not the first time the Academy has faced a wave of resignations.

In 1989, three members decided to leave their seats empty when the Academy refused to condemn a fatwa against Salman Rushdie following the publication of his novel, “The Satanic Verses”. The Academy finally did so 27 years later.

Stockholm prosecutors announced in mid-March that parts of the investigation against the sexual abuse suspect — concerning allegations of rape and assault between 2013 and 2015 — had been dropped due to lack of evidence.