The Nobel Prize of SHAME

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In egalitarian Sweden, there is an elitist, powerful, elected-for-life committee called The Swedish Academy. This (royal) Academy is an appointed committee of 18 members whose purpose is to further the ‘purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language.’ To this aim, they are guardians of the Swedish dictionary, and they award many prizes and scholarships to domestic authors. A mostly dusty, bourgeois old bunch, they also are responsible for awarding the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature every year.

But not this year. Sex and shame has stopped them.

Today, the Academy announced they will not be awarding a 2018 prize. This has only happened 6 times since its beginnings in 1901  – during the world wars and in 1935, when no worthy winner was identified.

On its website, the academy writes ‘The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished Academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy.”

The ‘reduced confidence’ they are referring to is the rampaging sexual assault scandal that has engulfed the organisation. Several members of the academy have been slandered, scapegoated and forced out, or left at the own volition.

So no prize in literature this year, but most certainly a prize in shame.

It all started last November in regard to the husband of author Katarina Frostenson who is a member of the Academy. Her husband, photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who ran a cultural project, with funding from the Swedish Academy itself, was accused by 18 women of sexual assault and harassment. Some of this allegedly happened in Academy premises. It has later been suggested that he even groped Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria at a formal event.  Naturally, Mr Arnault denies the allegations.

This threw the Academy into turmoil. What unfolded in front of us was a drama of betrayal, sexism, power struggle, internal conflict, dishonesty and manipulation. It was like ‘Culture News’ meets ‘Downton Abbey’. Subsequently, a wave of resignations followed, including Ms Frostenson and the head of the academy, Sara Danius.

Today, there are only 11 members in place but the diminished academy requires a quorum of 12 to vote in any new members.

Since its beginning in 1786, the Academy has only ever allowed 9 women to sit in the committee. 9 women! It is clearly yet another example of a white, male-dominated, middle-class organisation. Can it change? Maybe the only way is to rip down this tower and build it up again in a more egalitarian spirit? Surely, the Academy should represent the population in ethnicity and gender at the very least?

The Academy’s slogan is ‘snille och smak’ – which translates as ‘talent and taste’.

Ironic isn’t it, that they are currently demonstrating neither of them.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 7 Mustafa Can 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.
For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 5: Mustafa Can 

In Sweden, every summer there is a radio series called ‘Radio Talkers’ where various people get a chance to tell their stories and play music. It was in this program some years ago that I first heard of Mustafa Can. His program was very moving and focused around his mother. It was so moving that he won many radio and media prizes as a result.

Mustafa Can works as a prize-winning author, independent journalist and public speaker. His recent work focuses mostly on cultural diversity, identity and xenophobia in Sweden. He provides a controversial voice to the Swedish integration debate.

Mustafa has lived in Sweden for over 40 years. Orginally from Northern Kurdistan in Turkey, he fled with his family when he was 6 years old. He is a great example of someone who arrived in Sweden as a child, became well integrated and uses his position and his voice to try to make Swedish society a better place for everybody.

How Swedes indoctrinate their children

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A friend of mine was visiting at the weekend with her small child, and she forgot one of her books when she left. I looked through it and was struck by how the story book reflected Swedish society and lifestyle: a picture book designed to groom children in the Swedish way.

The book is called ‘Titta Max grav’‘Look, Max’s grave!‘ – and it was first published in 1991 and written by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson. The book is a fascinating account of the life of a little boy called Max from the cradle to the grave. He is born, learns to walk and talk, gets a dog, goes to school, becomes a banker, finds a woman (unclear if they are married), has a child. But then it all goes downhill for Max. He watches too much television, so his woman gets sick of him and leaves. He gets sick, wants to consume Swedish ‘snus’ (snuff), gets sicker and eventually dies alone. And the final picture – look, Max’s grave.

The ‘simple’ story promotes many Swedish values which guide Swedish society: all children receive an education, men and women don’t have to be married to have children, women are empowered to leave useless men, everybody receives healthcare, many people die alone.

There’s nothing specifically unique about this particular book. All cultures pass on their values to their children via stories. Sometimes these are verbal stories told by grandparents as they entertain their grandchildren. Sometimes these are communicated via tv or other screens to curious minds.

Very often they are transmitted via ‘simple’ books full of pictures and easy words by parents at bedtime. But these books are actually not simple at all: they are cultural mechanisms designed to pass on values and ethics and indoctrinate children into the prevailing sense of morality.

So those of you with small children. Have you refelcted over what the stories are teaching your children? How are you indoctrinating them?

 

 

What do Shakespeare, the 1st of May and immigrants have in common?

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Today is May 1st 2016, celebrated in Sweden as in many other countries, with demonstrations, political speeches and parades. Most political parties, including the fascist party, have rallies and gatherings. One of the hot topics this year is immigration and the large increase of asylum seekers that have arrived in Sweden during the recent months. For some people in Sweden, these immigrants are a positive addition to Swedish society. For others the influx of immigrants is unwelcome, a problem that is perceived to bring with it social and societal disruption.

Reflecting over this situation, I hear echoes of something that happened in London on May 1st, 1517 – almost exactly 500 years ago – something known as ‘Evil May Day’.

During this period ín history, the reign of Henry the Eighth, Londoners were feeling unhappy with their situation. There was a great deal of misery, poverty and disease. As a consequence, they came to resent the presence of foreigners in the city, especially those seen to have money.  An inflammatory xenophobic speech had been made at Easter calling on all “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal’.  Over the following two weeks there were sporadic attacks on foreigners and immigrants. On May Day 1517, it culminated, and a mob of thugs, liberated prisoners and others took to the streets and attacked foreigners and looted their homes. The under-sheriff at the time, the legendary Thomas More, tried unsuccessfully to dissuade them. Nobody was killed but several were arrested and charged with treason. Referring to the events of this day, William Shakespeare, many years later, wrote a text depicting the speech that Thomas More delivered to the rioters.

The voice of Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago last week, resonates through this text. The fascinating thing about it is that it is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. This saddens me. The same forces at action centuries ago, are still in action today. This should be a reminder to all of us to be vigilant. Not everything, it seems, does change with time.

Here’s the text:

‘A Plea on behalf of Immigrants’ by William Shakespeare

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line
To slip him like a hound.
Alas, alas! Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

 

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