Reforms needed to restore public trust in Nobel Prize

When ‘Nobel Prize’ is mentioned, what come to the mind first is Literature Prize. This year, the prize will not be awarded because of a sex scandal that has hit the Swedish Academy. But the prize for 2018 will be given at the award ceremony next year. The decision by Swedish Academy to postpone the naming of the Nobel laureate has come as a big disappointment to writers, publishers and all those who love good literature. At the same time, they knew it was an attempt by the academy to safeguard the reputation of Nobel Prize. The decision also pointed to how seriously the academy was viewing the sex scandal that left its members further divided.

Of the 18 academy members, many have stepped aside or resigned. Technically, no one can resign since the members are appointed for life. But they can stop playing an active role in the affairs of the academy. King Carl XVI Gustaf, patron of the academy, is concerned. He may be forced to review the statutes of the academy and amend the rules so that members who are not happy with the functioning of the academy can leave.

More than lack of quorum — only ten active members now when 12 are needed — what concerns the academy is the loss of public confidence in it. The academy is a towering cultural symbol. When, amid the #MeToo movement, 18 women, some of them authors, told Dagens Nyheter newspaper how they were sexually abused and assaulted by Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of the now departed academy member and poet poet Katarina Frostensson, it deeply hurt the members.  The women told the newspaper that some of these assaults took place  in the academy’s flats. The academy is said to have had close links with Arnault’s culture venue. It is alleged the organisation released funds to the venue and names of Nobel Prize winners were leaked in advance to him. This is damaging since the competition loses its charm when results are leaked.

A centuries-old organisation like the Swedish Academy follows certain traditions which may have to be reviewed to make them more open and flexible. Reforms are needed to restore public trust in Nobel Prize. The palace has to intervene.