Spineless Academy

In 1786 King Gustav III founded the Swedish Academy to preserve the purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language” (Svenska Språkets renhet, styrka och höghet). The Swedish Academy is most famous for decideding who will be the laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in memory of the donor Alfred Nobel. A task it has been carrying out since 1901.

The motto of the Academy is “Talent and Taste” (Snille och Smak) and apparently neither talent nor taste have anything to do with any form of courage.

In connection with the Rushdie affair when the Iranian mullahs pronounced the fatwa against him. The Swedish academy decided not to make a statement in favor of Rushdie and denouncing the death threat he now faced. The academy naturally could comfortably rely on old principles that they should not make political statements. Two of the members of the academy left in protest (Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten).

So now when the Italian author Roberto Saviano is revieving death threats for writing a book about the Camorra and several notables (amongst others: Michail Gorbatjov, Desmond Tutu, Orhan Pamuk, Dario Fo, Günter Grass & Salman Rushdie) have shown their support, the academy when asked formally to show support replies (my translation)

It is extremely sad that a writer in an European country is in mortal danger because of something he published but it seems to me [Horace Engdahl the academy secretary] to be a police errand and not a question of protecting principles of freedom of expression.

The people of talent and taste are hiding behind their non-political stance to avoid taking formal moral stances. Everything a body like the Swedish Academy does is political. Every time they make a choice in litterature concerning the most author most deserving of the Nobel prize – it is a political choice.

Therefore the decision not to stand up for freedom of expression or, at the very least, to condem death threats is moral cowardice.

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