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Jan Guillou’s acceptance speech

Elsa Beskow, August Strindberg and Jan Myrdal are the three Swedish writers who, in turn, have had the greatest significance for me. It always seemed completely unthinkable to receive a literary award in any of their names.

The Jan Myrdal Society’s Lenin Award is a prestigious award, one that is awarded by a jury and also involves a large amount of money. I am not showered with such awards. The latest was 1990 and 1991 but then obviously not in Sweden but in France and Italy. Here at home, until this day, I have mainly received less prestigious awards, those where the readers are allowed to vote and thus greatly lower the prestige value. Moreover, such less prestigious awards are rarely associated with large prize money amounts.

So, let me immediately point out that the prize money this time, in the spirit of Lenin, I dare say, will be transferred in full to the Palestinian freedom struggle.

Lenin, as I said. It was of course a brilliant idea to call Jan Myrdal’s prize the Lenin Award. And I’m not only referring to the effects in publicity. A Lenin award does not go unpunished by Expressen, not even the Swedish Academy, as we have seen. However, the Swedish Academy has only one Lenin award winner, Artur Lundkvist. So, Peter Englund, the old Trotskyist, made himself more than legally stupid when he attacked my predecessor Mattias Gardell by talking about Pol Pot. There is a significant difference between the vision of the classless society and the vision of the literally headless society.

Of course, I have seen in the Swedish Lenin Award annals that some of my predecessors have had difficulties with Lenin. Mattias Gardell referred to the fact that he has also received a medal from the king.

I have no such thing to bring to my defence. I will never get a medal from the king, for the same reasons I am standing here today. But my relation to Lenin is fairly uncomplicated. My way into the political left went through the anti-imperialist movement, which was also solidly anti-Soviet. However, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism stands well. We just need to look around in today’s world where Swedish soldiers are sent to serve under the US in Afghanistan.

Lenin overthrew the Russian slave society in 1917 and in the same year ended Russia’s participation in the human slaughter of the powers which is referred to as the First World War. I have to admit that I am without reservation for those efforts, however shocking it may sound to members of the Swedish Liberal party.

On the other hand, when it comes to Lenin, in 1977 I was excluded from the then Swedish Communist Party for right deviation, as I could not join some theses about the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a decision I have had no difficulties whatsoever to live with. Socialism for me is democracy, the only conceivable form of real democracy.

My relation to Jan Myrdal is more complicated than that to Lenin. We’ve been close friends at least three times. In the interim periods, when Jan Myrdal has had a serious error in some major issue, we have conducted polemics, something we both have not insignificant talents for. I have also learned from him.

But this is not the essential. Now, picture 1968. I am 24 years old and want to be an author. I believe I have certain prerequisites for such a future. But I want to become a famous writer, not an unusual daydream among young people. But at the same time, I want to be a fine and respected writer, one who does not have too many readers, albeit not as big, nuts and easy to read as Strindberg, so at least a Hjalmar Söderberg but more incomprehensible.

But then I read Jan Myrdal. As we all did, especially his columns in Aftonbladet. He was the most rebellious and most read columnist of the time, though he obviously had a different and more difficult word for that matter. Feuilletonist, if I remember correctly.

My writing life was decided there. I was faced with a choice that was clear and concrete. The question to ask oneself was simple:

Should one become a writer or an author, should one write about the most important things in your time or should one write nicely and ambiguously for jury members and distributors of money intended for obedient writers? Or more simply put. Should one write for many readers or for a few with possession of good bourgeois taste?

The choice will determine the young prospective author’s entire social, political and economic future. In the worst case, also his dress code. Much is at stake. It was still a simple choice, then, in 1968.

One should write as Jan Myrdal, one should practice to become a columnist in his succession, one should find a form of novel that can carry the discussion about right and left, one should become a solidarity writer, not an adapted, not obedient, one should talk back until the last breath and one should give the finger to every fine literary jury.

That is also the way it went. Up until now, when I receive a prestigious award from a highly unforeseen jury. I am surprised, this wasn’t part of my plan. But I also feel extremely honoured.