Thursday, May 10, 2018

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature Cancelled Amid Sexual Assault Scandal

At Foreign Policy, "The Nobel Scandal Has Become a Swedish Foreign-Policy Crisis":

STOCKHOLM — The crisis in the Swedish Academy, which started last November with sexual assault allegations against the husband of an Academy member and culminated last Friday in the cancellation of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, has been described in Swedish media as “the cultural conflict of the century.” But some Swedes are concerned that it may be more than that — namely, a national diplomatic crisis.

As the scandal deepened over the past few weeks, Swedish policymakers have fretted about how it might affect one of the pillars of the country’s international policy: its positive and progressive reputation. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has already admitted to the national media that the Nobel affair has had diplomatic consequences. “This is absolutely not good for [Sweden’s] reputation,” he said last week. “That’s why it’s so important that the Academy now relentlessly continues to work to restore confidence.”

The Nobel scandal has amplified an existing theme of the national debate in the run-up to Sweden’s September general election: Sverigebilden, which translates as “the image of Sweden,” but normally implies a positive image. Lofven and his Social Democrat-led government had already been emphasizing the need to cultivate Sverigebilden, and it has been the subject of numerous op-eds and TV and radio debates in recent months.

Sverigebilden might seem like a superficial aspect of politics, but the Swedish government has made it anything but. Paulina Neuding, editor in chief of the Swedish online magazine Kvartal, describes it as a form of “domestic foreign policy.” On the one hand, communication around Sverigebilden is part of Sweden’s so-called nation branding, which is directed at outsiders, including the tourists and investors who support the Swedish economy. On the other hand, it’s also about shaping the conversation and media reporting about Sweden at home. As negative images of Sweden spread abroad following the 2015 refugee crisis, and the apparent challenges the country was having integrating its new arrivals, the Swedish government made it a priority to engage in what Neuding refers to as “image management” aimed at foreign audiences.

Neuding cites a fact sheet in English published in February last year on the government’s website in response to the dissemination of what it called sometimes “simplistic and occasionally inaccurate information about Sweden and Swedish migration policy.” Around the same time, the Swedish Institute — a public agency that promotes Sweden around the world — launched a social media campaign, using the hashtag #factcheck. The Swedish Institute posted videos on — “Sweden’s official account on Twitter” — contesting claims that Swedish police had lost control over the country’s immigrant-dense suburbs, that Sweden is the “rape capital of the world,” and that the Swedish system had collapsed after the country took in a record number of migrants in 2015.

“Sweden’s strong consensus culture has meant that the government’s narrative has been supported by the political opposition as well as by much of Swedish media and other sections of the establishment,” Neuding adds. The struggle over Sverigebilden has thus revealed its dark side. Anyone who attempts to highlight shortcomings of Swedish domestic policy is easily deemed unpatriotic and risks ending up ostracized. “Your name gets associated with ‘illegitimate opinions’ by polite society,” Neuding says.

The crisis in the Swedish Academy, however, has been an exception. The government has put the blame on the Academy for tarnishing its own, and by extension the country’s, reputation, rather than on the Swedish media reporting on the scandal. Swedish news outlets, for their part, have even been translating their reporting to English in hopes of getting cited in the international press. Swedes are also discussing the question of how the scandal affects the country’s image, but that hasn’t been treated as a reason not to report on the affair.

Neuding believes that’s because the Swedish Academy crisis is generally perceived as being about an elite, male-dominated institution getting its comeuppance over allegations of sexual abuse and financial crimes — which is entirely consistent with an image of Sweden that many progressive Swedes, who already viewed their country’s elite institutions as potentially tyrannous patriarchies, are comfortable with. (The Swedish Academy is a private arts institution — a rare thing in Sweden, where much of the art world relies on state funding — founded in 1786 by King Gustaf III to advance the Swedish language and literature; since 1901, it has awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.) In that view, it’s the Swedish Academy itself that’s the threat to Sverigebilden, not the critical reporting about it.

Some Swedes see the whole affair as an opportunity...