The 2017 Goethe Medals go to the publisher Urvashi Butalia of India, writer Emily Nasrallah of Lebanon and civil rights activist Irina Shcherbakova of Russia. Every year the Goethe-Institut confers the official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany to honour figures who have performed outstanding service for international cultural dialogue. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Goethe-Institut, will present the medals at Weimar’s Residenzschloss on 28 August. The laudatory speeches will be held by the former Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records Marianne Birthler, the journalist Emily Dische-Becker and the sociologist Christa Wichterich.

Awardees Goethe-Medal 2017  left to right: Urvashi Butalia (Photo © Showkat Shafi / Al Jazeera), Emily Nasrallah (Photo © Emily Nasrallah), Irina Scherbakowa (Photo © Körber-Stiftung) | The motto of the awarding of the 2017 Goethe Medals is “Language is the Key.” The recipients Urvashi Butalia, Emily Nasrallah and Irina Shcherbakova are three individuals who each take a courageous stance on subjects tabooed in their societies – from violence against women to the politics of remembrance. For over thirty years, Urvashi Butalia has worked to give marginalised social groups in India a voice. As a feminist publisher, she advocates amendments to India’s legislation with regard to rape and dowries and is an internationally esteemed essayist. Emily Nasrallah is one of the most well-known writers in the Arab world. In her works written for adults and children, she has found a poetic language to describe everyday life in war-torn Lebanon. For decades, Irina Shcherbakova has been working to shed light on the repressive policies of the former Soviet Union. In 1988, she was a founding member of Memorial, the first Soviet non-governmental organisation, which still fights for the protection of human rights in Russia and has been on the list of “foreign agents” since 2016. As a sought-after interlocutor on German-Russian relations, she plays a decisive role in rapprochement between the two countries.
The laudatory speeches for the recipients of the 2017 Goethe Medals will be held by Marianne Birthler (Irina Shcherbakova), former Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR, the journalist Emily Dische-Becker (Emily Nasrallah) and the sociologist Christa Wichterich (Urvashi Butalia). Together with Kunstfest Weimar, on the day before the ceremony the Goethe-Institut will hold a matinee with the three awardees. On Sunday, 27 August 2017, Urvashi Butalia, Emily Nasrallah and Irina Shcherbakova will speak with the cultural scientist Christina von Braun, vice president of the Goethe-Institut. As part of the Kunstfest Weimar, in the evening on 27 August 2017, Irina Shcherbakova and the Eastern Europe expert Karl Schlögel will discuss German-Russian relations.
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. Since 2009, it has taken place in Weimar on 28 August, Goethe's birthday.
Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 344 figures from 65 countries have been honoured. The awardees have included Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell AKA John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Ágnes Heller, Petros Markaris, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Robert Wilson, Neil MacGregor, Helen Wolff and Yurii Andrukhovych.
The awarding of the 2017 Goethe Medals is organised in close partnership with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and the City of Weimar. The conversation with the three awardees is being held in cooperation with Kunstfest Weimar. The evening discussion with Irina Shcherbakova and Karl Schlögel is also being held in cooperation with the Kunstfest Weimar and funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation.