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Man with Swedish Academy ties accused of sexual assault

The Swedish Academy.
The Swedish Academy. Foto: Magnus Hallgren

18 women accuse a central figure in the Swedish cultural sphere of sexual assault and harassment. He is artistic director of a literary club in central Stockholm, and has close ties to the Swedish Academy, which every year choses the laureate for the Nobel Prize in literature. 

Several of the described incidents have happened in flats belonging to the Swedish Academy. 

The Nobel foundation’s executive director Lars Heikenstein also says that the artistic director will not be attending this year's Nobel Prize banquet after the allegations. 

On Thursday the Swedish Academy decided to cut all ties to the artistic director, and revealed that relatives of their members had also been subjected to ”undesired intimacy and improper treatment” by im.

 

The cultural figure is artistic director of The Club (which is not its real name) in central Stockholm. The Club has been a legendary scene for literary readings, academic lectures, dance, jazz and classical music. He owns the club with his wife, a Swedish author with close ties to the Swedish Academy, who is in charge of the literary programme of the Club. 

Many Nobel Prize laureates and international composers, and some of Sweden’s most famous actors, artists and academics have been on stage at the club. The Club also has connections with the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre and some of Sweden’s biggest publishers, and the Royal Academies of music and art. 

The Club's finances come largely from public funds. The Swedish Academy is one organisation that funds the Club, and women who have worked at the Club say that the members of the Swedish Academy call the Club ”their living room”. 

”The cultural profile sees himself as the nineteenth member of the Academy,” says one of the women. 

18 women have told DN’s reporter Matilda Gustavsson that the artistic director of the Club has sexually assaulted and harassed them over many years. Several of the events took place in flats owned by the Swedish Academy. One in Paris, another one in the Old Town of Stockholm. The events have taken place between 1996 and 2017, and several people in the cultural sphere say that similar incidents have happened since the 80’s. 

One of the women, the author Gabriella Håkansson, says she met the artistic director at a party in 2007. 

”He didn’t say many words before he grabbed me between my legs, and did a pussy grab. It was like he was digging. Nothing motivated the incident, and there had been no flirtation or touch. I just found a hand up my crotch,” she says.  

Her boyfriend, author and lawyer Thomas Enroth, witnessed what happened. 

“I remember it vividly, because it was one of the roughest things I have seen,” he says. 

According to him Gabriella Håkansson slapped the artistic director in his face, who then left the room. People around them shook their heads, and mumbled about him not being quite sane. 

The incident that Gabriella Håkansson describes is just one of many incidents where the artistic director has assaulted and harassed women. Another Swedish author, Elise Karlsson, describes how the artistic director came up to her at a party, and insinuated that she should be interested in him, as he could help her in her career. When she didn’t answer him he asked her if ”she knew who he was?” 

A year later she attended a party when she suddenly felt a hand touching her bum. 

“I became stiff. Then I realised who it was. I said ‘don’t touch me’, and ‘stop’. He answered ‘Or what will happen?- It feels like that is the kind of power he wants to demonstrate,” she says. 

Several other people witnessed what happened between Elise Karlsson and the artistic director. One of them remembers how the artistic director became livid, screaming that Elise Karlsson was ”crazy”. 

Several other women describe similar occasions, where the artistic director has assaulted them at parties or events, in front of other people. One woman says a similar incident happened at the Nobel Prize banquet.

Five other women describe events to which there are no witnesses. They describe the artistic director as aggressive and manipulative. They also describe sexual assaults committed by him. 

”He asked me to give him a blow job, and first I did it voluntarily. But then he took hold of my head. He kept holding on to me. I couldn’t move, and I was so scared. I didn’t know how to get out of there. It felt like my fear turned him on. When I wanted to end the relationship he never stopped calling me, and he didn’t stop until I changed my number,” one woman describes. 

Another woman describes an incident at the artistic director’s flat in the fashionable district of Östermalm in Stockholm, after she met him at an opening night. 

”Suddenly he grabbed my neck. He held me and shoved his dick so far down my throat it felt like I was choking. I panicked. He didn’t let go. In the end I vomited. Then he pushed me to the floor, so my vomit would not end up on his sheets. His movement was so routine, like he had done the same thing a thousand times.” 

A third woman describes how she had sex with the artistic director when she was too drunk to remember much. This took place in a flat owned by the Swedish Academy. Later, after the woman had summoned enough courage to leave the relationship, he said she was ”cancer” and that she should be exterminated. 

Visitors to the Club have often described how there are always young girls working there. Several of these women, who have been interviewed by Matilda Gustavsson, say that their employments were insecure. One of them describes how job meetings turned into dates, and how he expected sexual intercourse afterwards. She also describes how he called her a whore in front of several other people. 

At one point students from a creative writing course at Biskops-Arnö in Stockholm were at the club to read out some of their work. Several of the women who were there described how the artistic director sexually harassed them. 

Later, when the women told the school what happened, teachers e-mailed the artistic director about what they had heard. 

”This is unacceptable. We find it impossible to continue our cooperation with the Club, despite the lovely evening,” they wrote. 

In an answer the artistic director denied the allegations. 

”The few comments we gave to the students during the evening were literary. I am very sorry about this misunderstanding, and I wish to stop the cooperation with you and the creative writing course,” he wrote. 

Several other figures in the cultural sphere contacted the school about their e-mail, and defended the artistic director. One poet wrote that the school should apologize for its treatment of him. 

In light of the #metoo-campaign several people have come forward, claiming that the behaviour of the artistic director has been well-known in the Swedish cultural sphere. 

Sweden’s Counsellor for Cultural Affairs in Moscow, Stefan Ingvarsson, wrote on Facebook that his ”silence has contributed to less people coming forward”. ”This is a collective disgrace to the literary Stockholm”, he wrote.

None of the 18 women who have been interviewed have reported the actions of the artistic director to the police. They all give personal reasons for not reporting him. 

”I’m ashamed that I put myself in these situations. If you voluntarily start something with him you are met by contempt from feministic authors, who continue to go to the Club,” one of the women says. 

Gabriella Håkansson, who was assaulted by the artistic director at a party, says that she has though a lot about why she didn’t report him to the police. 

”Not reporting him has been a norm and without support I, if I report him, would be seen as the instable one. As the crazy woman. And I think a police investigation would demand the other people in the room to testify. That everyone who stood by silently would talk about what they saw,” she says. 

The artistic director has several times declined to comment the accusations when DN's reporter Matilda Gustavsson has tried to reach him.

”Please, I don't want to answer these questions. And I am sorry that you are writing about these things. I thought you were a better journalist,” he says before ending one of her calls. 

In a later text message the artistic director denies all accusations. 

”I have not done anything!!!” he writes. 

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The Nobel foundation’s executive director Lars Heikenstein writes in an e-mail to DN that he thinks the new information about the artistic director is ”terrible”. 

”Everyone understands that this person has no say in the decision about who receives the Nobel Prize in literature, but when an institution that elects a Nobel Prize laureate is in a situation like this there is obviously a risk that it affects the Nobel Prize negatively,” he writes. 

Lars Heikenstein also writes that the artistic director will not be attending the Nobel Prize banquet this year. 

”We have been in contact with the Swedish Academy about this person’s attendance during the Nobel day. We have agreed that he will not be attending the Nobel festivities.”

The Swedish Academy raised the issue of the artistic director at their formal meeting on Thursday evening. After the meeting permanent secretary Sara Danius told the press that a decision had been made on cutting all ties with the artistic director. This means the Club will no longer be funded by the Academy.  

”During the meeting it has been revealed that Academy members, members' daughters, members' wives and staff at the chancellory of the Academyh have been subjected to undesired intimacy and improper treatment by the artistic director. These experiences would not have come up if not for the latest attention regarding this person,” Sara Danius said. 

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