EMILY NASRALLAH RECEIVES GOETHE MEDAL
The 2017 Goethe Medals go to the writer Emily Nasrallah of Lebanon, the publisher Urvashi Butalia of India 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.
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 2015. As a sought-after interlocutor on German-Russian relations, she plays a decisive role in rapprochement between the two countries.
Born in 1931, Emily Nasrallah grew up in a Christian family in a village in southern Lebanon. After studying education in Beirut, she worked as a teacher, then as a journalist and freelance writer. In 1962, her debut novel, Touyour Ayloul (Birds of September), was published and received three Arabic literary awards. In addition to novels, essays and volumes of short stories for adults, Emily Nasrallah has also published seven children’s books. Her writings’ mainly focus on village life in Lebanon, women’s emancipation efforts, identity issues in the Lebanese civil war and migration. As the civil war raged in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, Emily Nasrallah’s novels and short stories became pleas for help from a disintegrating society. In her best-known children’s book Yawmiyyat Hirr (What Happened to Zeeko, 1997, English edition 2001), she describes everyday life during wartime in embattled Beirut from the aloof perspectives of a tomcat. Although her home and possessions were destroyed in various bomb attacks during the Lebanese civil war, Emily Nasrallah refused to go into exile. Her novel Birds of September is not only read regularly in Lebanon’s schools today, but is also considered a classic of Arabic literature.
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.