Authors Salman Rushdie and Roberto Saviano traded stories about death threats and hurtful criticism during a panel discussion in Stockholm on Tuesday evening.
The Indian-born British novelist and the Italian writer spoke before a crowd of about 400 people at an event organized by the Swedish Academy, the group that selects the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Those in attendance had to present a special invitation and identification. At least 10 security guards were present to monitor the crowd. A police spokesperson said prior to the event that "wherever [the authors] move in public," officers would be there as well.
Rushdie received death threats in 1989 after releasing his novel The Satanic Verses and was forced into hiding for about a decade. He has said he continues to receive an annual "reminder" about the threats to this day.
Saviano, who has been under police protection for several years, has also considered leaving his home after receiving death threats over his 2006 bestseller Gomorra, which chronicles the mob's power over Naples. The book has also spawned a film that is Italy's entry for Oscar foreign film consideration and is slated to screen in Stockholm on Wednesday.
On top of worrying about one's life being in danger, both authors also said they felt hurt at being labelled opportunistic for their writing.
"I'm hurt when I'm portrayed as someone who vilifies his own country," the Italian-speaking Saviano said through a translator.
While some have accused him of being "a showoff" and criticized him for highlighting an unsavory part of his homeland for personal gain, "in a way I'm trying to honour the healthy part of my country," he said.
Rushdie also recalled similar accusations.
"I remember very well identical allegations being made against me, not by the Islamic extremists who were attacking The Satanic Verses, but by … Western civil society," said the Booker Award-winning novelist.
"That was very hard to deal with … particularly when your life is in physical danger."
Both authors also emphasized that writers and journalists around the globe continue to face death threats for their work every day, mentioning slain Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya as an example.