July 26, 2021

Bob Dylan will not go to Stockholm, the Nobel Prize cracks

Undoubtedly, the shadow of Bob Dylan will hover, on December 10, over the Nobel ceremony, whose gala dinner, at Stockholm city hall, constitutes the apotheosis. Now listed in the pantheon of literature, the American singer has given up making the trip. No handshake with the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, nor a tailgate banquet alongside the other laureates (physics, medicine, chemistry, economics) and a thousand guests. This absence has everything to upset the executors of the Swedish chemist and industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896).

This is not the first time that a laureate has gone missing: failing health or sudden death could seize the beautiful and solemn mechanism of the Nobel. But never before Bob Dylan had a recipient responded to his consecration with such silence: two weeks after October 13, no official statement, not the slightest public thanks, nothing, except a simple mention of the award on his website … deleted a few days later.

This silence is fueling speculation. Should it be interpreted as a mark of disdain? As a variant of the posture of Jean-Paul Sartre, who, in 1964, had declined the prize, because a “writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution”? Or the author of Masters of War (a song from the album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan) Did he remember that Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite?

Bob Dylan crowned: a "arm of honor to American literature", laments the French writer Pierre Assouline.

Bob Dylan crowned: an “arm of honor to American literature”, laments the French writer Pierre Assouline.


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At the end of October, Bob Dylan finally manifests himself, via a British newspaper: “Absolutely”, he will get his prize. At least, “if it’s possible”. It is not. On November 16, the Swedish Academy receives a letter: the protest singer says he is “very honored”, but announces that “pre-existing commitments” prevent him from going to Scandinavia.

The Nobel galaxy in turmoil

Perhaps he will come during the first half of 2017 to receive his prize and cash the check for 816,000 euros. “How can we bestow the most prestigious accolades on such a singer songwriter?” wonder many indignant critics who are ironic, across the world, about the supposed senility of the members of the Nobel committee. According to the French writer Pierre Assouline, the awarding of the prize to Dylan constitutes an “arm of honor to American literature”.

In a paneled room of the Academy, the “immortal” Jesper Svenbro, 72 years old (three younger than Dylan), says he is “disappointed” by these indictments. “In particular those drawn up in France, where the imperialism of the novel reigns to the detriment of other literary genres, adds this philologist, Hellenist and poet. Certainly, it is a little sad that Bob Dylan does not come to Stockholm, but we There is nothing we can do about it, he concludes, in French. And what will remain, later, are not the mean comments, but this prize of which we are proud, awarded to a poet with Rimbaldian breathing. ”

Once synonymous with tradition, stability and good conservatism, the Nobel galaxy is going through a period of turbulence. Not only are his choices contested, such as the peace prizes awarded to President Barack Obama or, this year, to the Colombian Head of State, Juan Manuel Santos. But also certain burning issues, starting with that of a gigantic ultramodern architectural project in the historic heart of the Swedish capital, undermine the image of the “Nobel mark”.

“Looks like a nuclear power plant”

The foundation which manages the fortune of the deceased scientist and orchestrates the awards ceremony has taken it upon itself to erect a monumental “Nobel center”, cubic in shape, on the site of a 19th century customs house, classified to the national heritage, and which will have to be razed. If the project is successful, the public will be able to discover the life and work of Alfred Nobel (currently on display in a small museum in the old town), attend conferences and eat.

Scientists will meet there. The Nobel Foundation will move its offices there. And, of course, the awards ceremony, which is held every December 10 – anniversary of the death of the illustrious character – will take place at the top of the future building, with a breathtaking view of the most beautiful areas of Stockholm, a lovely maritime city. bathed by the Baltic.

“This pharaonic project will alter one of the most beautiful capitals in the world!” storm Björn Tarras-Wahlberg, ex-president of the Swedish Taxpayers Association, who led the rebellion. Blaser navy, silver hair, he nervously stirs his mulled wine (mulled wine) in his large plush apartment, from where you can see the location of the future site. “It looks like a nuclear power plant,” he says of the project, which, if built, will partially block his view. The majority of Stockholmers share his opinion.

A project of great architectural quality, the monumental Nobel Center would, according to its detractors, disfigure the historic heart of Stockholm if it were to be built.  Here, architect David Chipperfield in front of a computer-generated image of his project, in April 2014.

A project of great architectural quality, the monumental Nobel Center would, according to its detractors, disfigure the historic heart of Stockholm if it were to be built. Here, architect David Chipperfield in front of a computer-generated image of his project, in April 2014.

REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency

Thousands of people have already made it known in the streets, with placards and slogans, which is rather unusual in these latitudes, where the culture of consensus prevails. Another demonstration is planned for December 10, in the hope of giving an international impact to the protest.

According to Björn Tarras-Wahlberg, the president of the Nobel Foundation, Lars Heikensten (in office since 2011), shows a guilty “arrogance”, that is to say of a “crime”, in this Lutheran country where discretion and modesty are cardinal virtues. Former governor of the Central Bank, Heikensten is in fact the main authorizing officer of the project. Persuaded to be a visionary, he conceives this one as a “world attraction at the height of the Nobel mark”.

The two main political parties, Social Democratic and Conservative, agree with him. Just like the municipality of Stockholm, which has given the green light to construction. But all the other parties, as well as dozens of associations or companies in the fields of tourism, real estate, culture or transport, are standing firm.

The future Nobel center divides the country

The project divides even the country’s most influential figures – and even two members of ex-pop group Abba, each on an opposing side. The king himself, whose castle is next to the possible Nobel center, is reserved. He proposes that we “install elsewhere” a project “as gigantic”. The voice of Carl XVI Gustaf weighs: every December 10, it is he who presents medals and diplomas to Nobel laureates. Another notable neighbor opposed to the project: Fredrik Lundberg. His fortune ranks the family of this Volvo and Ericsson shareholder among the 15 richest in Sweden.

In the shadows, he leads the legal battle, multiplies the remedies and thus challenges other billionaires: the legendary Wallenberg family, the country’s first fortune, whose empire includes Astra-Zeneca, Electrolux and Saab; and the Persson family, owners of H&M and third fortune in the kingdom. Each of them has pledged to devote 40 million euros (out of a total budget of 122 million euros) to the Nobel Center. At the risk of throwing a cold between Stefan Persson and Carl XVI Gustaf, who sometimes cross paths during hunting parties.

This is not, however, the most serious controversy that seized the Nobel. Another file appears more embarrassing: the “Macchiarini affair”, named after a famous Italian doctor. In 2010, the prestigious Karolinska Institute, one of the most successful medical research centers in Europe, hired this professor of surgery who, the following year, performed the first transplant of an artificial trachea-artery covered with stem cells. .

The “Macchiarini scandal”

However, the Karolinska Institute is also the institution within which, each year, 50 researchers meet to designate the lucky winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine. Problem: Professor Paolo Macchiarini has been at the heart of a scandal since 2014. Not only did six of his patients die soon after the “stupendous” operations, but the Italian surgeon is also accused of falsification, both in his CV and in articles published in scientific journals such as the Lancet.

Photo provided on July 7, 2011 by the Karolinska Institute of Paolo Macchiarini.

Photo provided on July 7, 2011 by the Karolinska Institute of Paolo Macchiarini.

afp.com/Karolinska University Hospital

The subject of several inquiries, countless criticisms and ethical questionings, the one who – before the affair – had compared himself squarely to “Frankenstein” nevertheless saw his contract with the Karolinska institute maintained … and finally shortened last March (he was supposed to run until November 2016). Certainly, in the meantime, three researchers have left the Nobel assembly, in order to preserve the image of the famous prize. But six others, also splashed by the affair, still sit there.

For Bo Risberg, former chairman of the Swedish research ethics committee, this regrettable affair amounts to an “ethical Chernobyl”. He would have liked, “for this year, the Nobel Foundation to suspend the awarding of the prize, in order to clearly distance itself from practices which seriously undermine confidence in the Karolinska Institute”. Contacted by L’Express, the Nobel Foundation did not wish to receive us or answer our questions; she has a round back. No doubt the century-old institution is betting on time and forgetting. Convinced that “the Nobel mark” will survive criticism. And the pranks of a Bob Dylan.

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“Frankenstein” in the hot seat

The Karolinska Institute, which designates the Nobel laureate in medicine, is splashed by the “Macchiarini scandal”. In 2010, the research institute recruited this now controversial Italian.



Robin Rivaton, essayist ("Smile, you're being filmed !", ed.  de l'Observatoire, 2021), investment director at Idinvest Partners.Robin Rivaton


Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of the Monday Note.Frederic Filloux


Pierre Assouline, journalist, writer, member of the Académie Goncourt and columnist for L'Express.Pierre Assouline


Cecile MaisonneuveBy Cécile Maisonneuve, President of La Fabrique de la Cité