Nobel prize for literature hit by fresh round of resignations

Two members of the committee set up to oversee reforms to the scandal-rocked award announce they are leaving

Two members of the external committee set up to oversee reforms to the scandal-hit Nobel prize in literature quit on Monday, with one claiming the work to change the culture in the Swedish Academy was taking too long.

The august and mysterious 18-strong panel of the Swedish Academy, which selects the Nobel laureate each year, was forced to introduce several new measures after a sex scandal involving the husband of a former member escalated into a bitter row that resulted in several resignations and the 2018 award being postponed. One of the measures was to establish a team outside the academy to assist in finding candidates to consider for the prize.

After announcing the measures, and claiming that the 9 million SEK (£727,000) prize would henceforth be less Eurocentric and controversy-prone, the academy was criticised for giving the 2019 medal to Austrian writer Peter Handke. Handke’s denial of Serb atrocities during the war in the former Yugoslavia and his decision to attend the funeral of war criminal Slobodan Milošević was roundly criticised internationally.

Author and Nobel committee member Kristoffer Leandoer announced his resignation in in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Monday: “I leave my job in the Nobel committee because I have neither the patience nor the time to wait for the result of the work to change that has been started,” he wrote. “The Academy and I have a different perspective on time, one year is far too long in my life and far too short in the life of the Academy.”

Leandoer said his quitting was not linked to the decision to award the 2019 prize to Handke.

The Academy confirmed in a statement that Leandoer and literary journalist Gun-Britt Sundström had both left the Nobel committee, which, until Monday, was made up of four members of the Swedish Academy and five external members. Sundström could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mats Malm, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said: “We are grateful for the significant effort they made during the year and we are now reviewing how the work of the Nobel committee will be organised for the 2020 Nobel prize in literature.”

The news comes two weeks after Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee at the Swedish Academy, sent out three letters to public figures in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina who had criticised the decision to honour Handke. In reply to Mehmet Kraja, president of the Academy of Sciences and Arts in Kosovo, Olsson wrote: “It is clear that Handke is understood in different ways. The Nobel prize goes to an achievement. When Handke is awarded the prize, the ambition is to celebrate his extraordinary literary work, not the person … We should strive to respect each other notwithstanding sharply diverging views in important matters.”

The Swedish Academy has sent out three letters in response to protests from Bosnia and Kosovo against the Nobel Prize for Literature going to Peter Handke, who has consistently downplayed Serb massacres in the 1990s. The letters should be displayed in a museum of genocide denial.

— Peter Maass (@maassp) November 22, 2019

Among Olsson’s critics was Balkans expert Jasmin Mujanović, who tweeted: “In the ongoing controversy viz. Peter Handke’s genocide denial, the issue is no longer Handke. His revolting views were always clear & known. The issue is w/ the @NobelPrize committee, an institution now wholly committed to the cause of genocide denial & historical revisionism.”

Additional reporting by Johan Ahlander.


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

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