'We live in a dangerous time,' says Swedish Academy member of #MeToo

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'We live in a dangerous time,' says Swedish Academy member of #MeToo

A former head of the scandal-ridden Swedish Academy has likened the #MeToo movement to France's 18th century 'Reign of Terror' which saw the execution of thousands.


Horace Engdahl, a member and former permanent secretary of what used to be known as Sweden's most prestigious cultural institution, made the comments in an interview with the Times Literary Supplement (TLS).

Engdahl was one of the few members left standing when the Academy was rocked by mass resignations after 18 women last year accused Jean-Claude Arnault, a 72-year-old Frenchman who was an influential figure on Stockholm's cultural scene and had close ties to the Academy, of sexual harassment, violence and rape.

The accusations surfaced in a report by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper during the #MeToo campaign.

Six members left after the Swedish Academy failed to agree on how to handle the situation – with Engdahl understood to have been one of the leading actors behind the ousting of the permanent secretary at the time, Sara Danius. Danius and a number of other members had pushed for tougher action against Arnault and for the resignation of his wife, fellow Academy member and acclaimed poet Katarina Frostenson.

Speaking to TLS in June, Engdahl said he had been reading about the Académie Francaise during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, and found remarkable similarities to the Swedish Academy today.

"Basically it was the same resentment, it was the same attack on privilege, it was also an attack on sexual irregularities, and the use of public funds for financing various forms of luxury and pageantry," he said.

"I feel we're involved in the same kind of event here, we're in a kind of 1789, and the forces that were released are extremely strong and they're very, very hard to resist."

"I don't know the number of witnesses who came forward to accuse Marie Antoinette of incest with her children, but it was probably no fewer. We live in this period that is very much defined in Sweden by the onset of the #MeToo movement and the atmosphere that has created," said Engdahl.

READ ALSO: Let's talk about the Swedish Academy's rapid descent into farce

Engdahl has been described as a friend of Arnault and has spoken fondly of the Frenchman, although he told TLS the pair were never as close as media made them out to be. He said he and Arnault never spoke of any of the rumours about the latter (he previously told Swedish radio "we blokes don't talk about such things").

"He's a Frenchman, he comes from a different culture, and if it existed [the rumours], it was thought of as a matter of course, in a very conventional way... in a very stupid way."

Some of the allegations against Arnault have been dropped by investigators, or were never reported in the first place, but Stockholm District Court this month jailed him over the rape of a woman seven years ago.

Arnault denies the rape charge and has appealed to have the verdict overturned.

"I am surprised that a man can be sent to prison without any substantial evidence of his guilt being presented at the trial," Engdahl told TLS after the verdict. "We live in a dangerous time."

An internal Academy probe earlier this year concluded there had been conflicts of interest between Arnault and the institution, and the Academy previously confirmed that several female members and people close to them also claimed to have been on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour by the Frenchman.

After deciding to postpone this year's Nobel Prize in Literature in light of the conflict, the Academy said on Friday it had elected literature expert Mats Malm as a new member. Author Niklas Rådström also told Dagens Nyheter he had been asked to join. The new appointment comes after the Academy voted earlier this month to induct lawyer Eric M Runesson and writer Jila Mossaed to replace some of the members who quit.


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