The awardees of the Goethe Medal 2012 in Weimar
On 28 August in Weimar Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the President of the Goethe-Institut, awarded this year’s Goethe Medal to the Lithuanian literary and theatre scholar Irena Veisaitė, the Kazakh theatre director Bolat Atabayev and the Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan. With this official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Goethe-Institut honours international figures who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations. The Goethe Medal was awarded in 2012 for the 58th time.
Irena Veisaitė, a “patriotic Lithuanian, and committed European,” was honoured with the Goethe Medal for her life’s work as a driving force in German-Lithuanian cultural dialogue, her creativity, and her political courage to address even uncomfortable themes. Veisaitė is among the few Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania. She always advocated reconciliation and cooperation and today still hopes for a mutual Jewish-Lithuanian retrospection of history. Veisaitė is a co-founder of the Lithuanian Soros Foundation, for which she was the chairperson for ten years. She was also the director of the Thomas Mann Cultural Centre for the Promotion of German Literature and Language and until 2011 a curatorial member of the Thomas Mann Festival, in which she is still actively involved today. She has published over 200 articles in the Lithuanian and international press, is the co-author of many textbooks, and the editor of a number of books. In her laudatory speech, literary scholar Aleida Assmann praised the awardee’s ability to always see both sides of a conflict and to mediate between political opponents. She thinks nothing much of one-sided remembrances, sweeping judgements and resentful hatred, nor of self-heroizing and self-righteousness.
The Kazakh theatre director Bolat Atabayev was awarded the Goethe Medal for his merits towards German-Kazakh theatre relations and as a courageous fighter for democratic structures. “Since Bolat Atabayev is an autonomous artist – autonomous in terms of relationless independence – he is a political individual sui generis,” said Helmut Schäfer, artistic director of the Theater an der Ruhr, of the awardee in his laudatory speech. For more than 30 years the co-founder of the German Theatre in Almaty has intrepidly tread a sometimes dangerous pathway within the Kazakh cultural landscape. Early in his life, the proximity of the Germany minority gave him access to German-language culture and a number of stays in Germany gave Atabayev stimulus for his work. A few years ago, Atabayev founded his own theatre “Aksarai,” which still enriches the theatrical landscape of central Asia with new artistic means of expression today. “In his plays, he takes up the burning issues of his country, he reveals the dominating circumstances, treats the genocide of the Volga Germans, and in November 2011 he showed solidarity with the oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen who were striking for better working conditions. We were all afraid he would not be able to come to Weimar because of the charge of ‘incitement of social unrest’ and his imprisonment. But support in his country and international solidarity caused him to be set free,” remarked Klaus-Dieter Lehmann in his commemorative speech.
The Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan was also awarded the Goethe Medal. “Readers of Dževad Karahasan enter the dream Sarajevo; a city becomes a soulscape – a city can attain no more than this aggregate state,” according to writer Martin Mosebach in his laudatory speech for the awardee. Using his literary voice for dialogue, mediation, and conflict resolution, Karahasan has reached beyond the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina; a country that, after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the war, is still struggling for inner cohesion and a place in the European community. His strong ties to the German language, in which he also writes today, began in 1993 when Karahasan left embattled Sarajevo and worked first as a guest lecturer at the University of Salzburg and later as a lecturer in Göttingen. Karahasan went to Berlin on a DAAD scholarship and later became the writer-in-residence of Graz, which has become his adopted home besides Sarajevo. Karahasan’s novels The Eastern Divan and Exodus from a City as well as his plays and radio dramas advocate tolerance and unite the traditional and the modern as well as the orient and occident. Dževad Karahasan was awarded the Goethe Medal for his role as a builder of bridges between German-speaking countries and Bosnia and Herzegovina and for his commitment to European understanding.
The commemorative speech at the awarding of the Goethe Medals was held by Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut. He focused on the cooperation with partners in countries with restricted freedom of speech and state controls. The Goethe-Instituts in these countries are perceived and used as free spaces for dialogue and are important places to which independent intellectuals and artists can turn. The physical presence of a Goethe-Institut not only ensures that it can function as a venue and educational institution. It is a space in which people can work, speak and be creative unimpeded and actively share in an intercultural dialogue. The Goethe-Institut can reveal alternatives for people to draw a picture of an “open society” with its benefits as well as its problems. This year’s awardees are not only important companions, but also pathfinders for the Goethe-Institut. They are united by their intellectual affinity, for all three come from countries in which the uniformity of historic time was broken, in which the present is not harmoniously united with the past, but in which the past is estranged, obscured and tabooed. “Our awardees use the power of words to take up social developments and make them comprehensible, to grapple with the past and to convey human coexistence as a cultural achievement,” said Lehmann.
Together with pèlerinages Kunstfest Weimar, the Goethe-Institut held a discussion with the three awardees on the day prior to the award ceremony. On Monday, 27 August 2012, Irena Veisaitė, Bolat Atabayev, and Dževad Karahasan discussed the cultural power of words with cultural scientist and Vice President of the Goethe-Institut Christina von Braun. This discussion took place at 7 PM in the Goethe and Schiller Archives.
The Goethe Medal was established by the executive committee of the Goethe-Institut in 1954 and acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975. From 1992 until 2008, the award ceremony was held annually on the anniversary of the death of Goethe, 22 March, in Weimar. Since 2009, it has taken place on 28 August, Goethe's birthday. The medal honours international figures who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations. Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 329 figures from 61 countries have been honoured. The awardees have included Adonis, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell alias John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Ágnes Heller, György Ligeti, Ariane Mnouchkine, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Billy Wilder, and Helen Wolff.
commemorative speech by Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (PDF, 96 KB)
Pictures are available to download from the following link:
Pressebilder der Verleihung 2012
Laudations and the speeches of the prize winner are available under:
The award ceremony is being organized in close partnership with the Foundation of Weimar Classics and the City of Weimar. The discussion with the three awardees is being held in cooperation with pèlerinages Kunstfest Weimar.