A Very Swedish Scandal

I’ve just had my British passport returned to me by Migrationsverket, which means, I hope, that I’m being seriously considered for the dual Swedish-British nationality I applied for after the Brexit vote. One of the advantages of that will be that I can distance myself, to an extent, from all these dreadful goings-on in my country of birth: Brexit, the Windrush fallout, terrible Theresa, bonkers Boris, braying Tory warmongers, a collapsing NHS, rising knife-crime, homeless dying in the streets, marketised universities, our appalling tabloid press, of course… and so much more. 

Here in Sweden more civilised goings-on are grabbing the headlines just now; and in particular the current ‘scandal’ at the Swedish Academy (Svenska Akadamien), the highly prestigious body that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature, and which is – quite literally – falling apart. The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III, the weak but highly cultured monarch who is assassinated in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. It was modelled on the Academie Francaise, and was originally supposed to have twenty members (half the French complement), but with the number later reduced to eighteen because Gustav thought that ‘eighteen’ in Swedish (arton) resonated better than ‘twenty’ (tjugo). (Or so they say.) The Swedish king is its patron, and it has the motto Snille och Smak (‘Talent and Taste’). The eighteen are appointed by secret internal ballot for life, and not allowed to resign; which caused problems in 1989 when three members tried to, in protest against the Academy’s reluctance to support Salman Rushdie over the Satanic Verses affair. As a result they simply didn’t turn up to meetings. Others have followed their example since, on other grounds; making it difficult – and now impossible – for meetings to reach their designated quorum of 12.

I’m not quite clear of the details of the latest scandal, except that involves charges of – yes, you’ve guessed it – sexual harassment against the French husband of one of the Academicians, who also works for the Academy. As a result three more members decided to ‘resign’ last week, including the Permanent Secretary. She was replaced by a new ‘Temporary Permanent Secretary’ (!), whose title must reflect the mess the Academy is in. It now has only eleven active members, and so simply can’t operate. There was a big demonstration over it in Gamla Stan yesterday afternoon. Women wore blousy ties or cravats in solidarity with – I’m not quite sure whom. Perhaps my Swedish friends will enlighten me.*

The latest development is that Sweden’s current King, Carl XVI Gustaf (they have a funny way of numbering their monarchs here) – a nice man I think, better than our British lot – has been brought in to try to sort it out. As far as I know, that’s the state of play so far. – My solution would be to ask the Norwegian Nobel Committee to fix it. Oslo awards the Peace Prize, so they should know about peacemaking. But I don’t know where they stand on sexual harassment.

It’s complicated. Perhaps when I’m a Swedish citizen I’ll understand it better. In the meantime, in the face of the currently appalling state of affairs I’m hoping to escape from in Britain, it doesn’t seem such a big deal. More amusing than otherwise. Lucky old Swedes.

* Marie Clausen tells me it’s Sara Danius, former Permanent Secretary, who was one of the resigners.

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2 Responses to A Very Swedish Scandal

  1. TJ says:

    It’s interesting that your enthusiasm for Swedish citizenship is the reverse of the hopes of so many Swedes who have emigrated to the USA and elsewhere over the decades, originally for economic reasons but for quite a long time to escape the ‘boredom’ of Swedish life for the more pluralistic mix and dynamism, positive and negative, of other societies. Of course, like everywhere else, there there pros and cons to life in Sweden, but you are doing a good job for the Swedish tourist industry – they should give you free flights for life on SAS.

    Liked by 1 person

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