Women take fall in Nobel scandal for man’s alleged misdeeds

In this file photo taken on December 6, 2017, Sara Danius, then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, reacting as the 2017 Nobel Literature Prize laureate, British writer Kazuo Ishiguro, speaks during a press conference in Stockholm. (AFP / Jonathan Nackstrand)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Women take fall in Nobel scandal for man’s alleged misdeeds

  • 18 women have accused Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden who is married to a poet who is a member of the academy
  • Sex-abuse scandal has forced the ouster of its first-ever woman head and tarnished the reputation of the coveted prize

STOCKHOLM: Thousands of protesters called Thursday for the resignation of the secretive board that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature after a sex-abuse scandal linked to the prestigious Swedish academy forced the ouster of its first-ever woman head and tarnished the reputation of the coveted prize.
The ugly internal feud 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, thousands of protesters gathered 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 remaining members resign. Parallel demonstrations were planned in Goteborg, Helsingborg, Eskilstuna, Vasteras, and Borgholm.
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 Arnault denies, but the case has exposed bitter divisions within the academy, whose members are appointed for life, and given rise to accusations of patriarchal leanings among some members.
The turmoil began when some of the committee’s 18 members pushed for the removal of Frostenson after the allegations were levied against her husband, who runs a cultural club that has received money from the academy. In addition to sexual misconduct, Arnault is also accused of leaking Nobel winners’ names for years.
After a closed-door vote failed to oust her, three male members behind the push — Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark and Peter Englund — themselves resigned. That prompted Horace Engdahl, a committee member who has supported Arnault, to label them a “clique of sore losers” and criticize the three for airing their case in public.
He also lashed out at Sara Danius, the first woman to lead the Swedish Academy, who was forced out last week amid criticism from male members of her handling of the scandal. Danius, a Swedish literature historian at Stockholm University, had cut the academy’s ties with Arnault and hired investigators to examine its relationship to the club he ran with Frostenson. Their report is expected soon.
Supporters of Danius have described her as progressive leader who pushed reforms that riled the old guard.
At Thursday’s protests, many participants wore pussy-bow blouses like the ones worn by Danius. The high-necked blouses with a loosely tied bow at the neck have become a rallying symbol for those critical of the Swedish Academy’s handling of the case.
Birgitta Hojlund, 70, who traveled several hours to attend the protest, said despite Sweden’s progressive image, women still face inequality. “There are still differences, in wages and in honors and in professions,” she said, calling for the Swedish academy to be “recreated from the bottom, and balance male and female.”
“They’re pushing women away, saying that sexism is OK, in this academy,” agreed Torun Carrfors, a 31-year-old nurse. “They should leave, and we need to have new ones.”
Last week, Frostenson announced she too was leaving the academy. On Thursday, a sixth member, writer Lotta Lotass, said she was also planning to step down, citing backlash from tradition-minded male members of the board who questioned her credentials, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported.
The departures of the highly respected women have given rise to a flurry of protests on social media.
“Feminist battles happen every day,” wrote Swedish Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, who posted a picture of herself last week wearing a white pussy-bow blouse like those worn by Danius. Other Swedish women also posted pictures of themselves in the blouses as anger grew over 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.
“The Swedish Academy is an internationally acclaimed organization and it should stand for all the right values and at the present moment I don’t think they do,” said Carsten Greiff, a 32-year-old business developer, attending Thursday’s protest. “It’s dragging the international view of the Nobel Prize in the dirt.”
King Carl XVI Gustaf said the resignations “risked seriously damaging” the academy, while Prime Minister Stefan Lofven emphasized the academy’s importance to Sweden and urged its members to “restore faith and respect.”
“Trust in the Swedish Academy has been seriously damaged,” the Nobel Foundation said of the situation, while demanding the group take action to restore that trust.
Despite the resignations the academy, founded by King Gustav III in 1786, does not currently have a mechanism for its lifetime-appointed board members to step down.
The king — the academy’s patron, who must approve its secret votes— said Wednesday 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 fulfill its important tasks,” he said.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 56 min 47 sec ago
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.