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Turmoil at body awarding Nobel Prize for Literature sparks protests

Six members of the Swedish Academy, including former head Sara Danius, have quit amid concerns about the handling of sex-abuse allegations.

An internal fight among members of the academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature is spilling on to the streets of Sweden.

Outrage is growing after a sex-abuse scandal linked to the body resulted in the ousting of the woman who ran it.

The ugly internal feud at the prestigious Swedish institution has already reached the top levels of public life in the Scandinavian nation known for its promotion of gender equality, with the prime minister, the king and the Nobel board weighing in.

On Thursday evening, people are expected to rally on Stockholm’s picturesque Stortorget square outside the headquarters of the Swedish Academy, which has awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901, to demand all of its members resign.

Parallel demonstrations are planned in Gothenburg, Helsingborg, Eskilstuna, Vasteras, and Borgholm.

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Sweden Nobel Academy

The national protests have grown out of what began as Sweden’s own #MeToo moment in November when the country saw thousands of sexual misconduct allegations surfacing from all walks of life.

It hit the academy when 18 women came forward with accusations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden who is married to Katarina Frostenson, a poet who is a member of the academy.

Police are investigating the allegations, which Mr Arnault denies.

But the case has exposed bitter divisions within the academy and given rise to accusations of patriarchal leanings among some members.

That turmoil started when some of the committee’s 18 members pushed for the removal of Ms Frostenson after the allegations were levied against her husband, who runs a cultural club that has received money from the academy.

In additional to sexual misconduct, Mr Arnault is also accused of leaking Nobel winners’ names for years.

After a closed-door vote failed to oust her, three male cultural figures behind the push, Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark and Peter Englund, themselves resigned.

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King Carl XVI Gustaf has intervened in the debate (Andre Penner/AP)

That prompted Horace Engdahl, a committee member who has supported Mr Arnault, to label them a “clique of sore losers” and criticise the three for airing their case in public.

He also lashed out at the academy’s former head, Sara Danius, accusing her of being the worst permanent secretary ever and reportedly rallying others to go against her.

Supporters of Ms Danius, the first woman to lead the Swedish Academy, have described her as progressive leader who pushed reforms that riled the old guard.

Ms Danius, a Swedish literature historian at Stockholm University, had cut the academy’s ties with Mr Arnault and also hired investigators to examine its ties with the club he ran with Ms Frostenson and their report is expected soon.

Feminist battles happen every day Sweden's culture minister Alice Bah Kuhnke

Last week, Ms Frostenson said she was leaving the academy, at the same time as Ms Danius stepped down amid internal pressure from other members over how she responded to the allegations against Mr Arnault.

On Thursday, a sixth member, writer Lotta Lotass, announced that she, too, was stepping down, citing dissatisfied reactions to her membership from the board and saying she felt she lacked needed social skills, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported.

The departure of the highly respected women gave rise to immediate protests on social media.

“Feminist battles happen every day,” wrote Swedish culture minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, who posted a picture of herself on Friday in a white high-necked blouse with a knot like those worn by Ms Danius.

Other Swedish women also posted blouse pictures as anger grew over Ms Danius’ departure, including Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhall, actress Helena Bergstrom and fashion designer Camilla Thulin.

The public controversy has also given rise to concerns about the Swedish Academy losing its credibility and tarnishing the reputation of the Nobel Prize.

“Trust in the Swedish Academy has been seriously damaged,” the Nobel Foundation said of the situation, while demanding the group take specific actions to restore that trust.

The number of members who do not actively participate in the Academy's work is now so large that it is seriously risking the Academy's ability to fulfil its important tasks Sweden's king

The king himself said the resignations “risked seriously damaging” the academy and when she stepped down, while Ms Danius conceded the turmoil has “already affected the Nobel Prize quite severely”.

Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven emphasised the academy’s importance to Sweden, and urged its members to “restore faith and respect”.

Despite the resignations the academy, founded by King Gustav III in 1786, does not currently have a mechanism for board members, who are appointed for life, to step down.

The king, the academy’s patron, who must approve any of its secret votes, said in the wake of the recent events he wants to change rules to allow resignations.

“The number of members who do not actively participate in the Academy’s work is now so large that it is seriously risking the Academy’s ability to fulfil its important tasks,” he said.

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