Saturday

26th Sep 2020

German 'role model' prize withdrawn from Putin

  • The nomination of the former KGB officer (c) angered human rights activists (Photo: premier.gov.ru)

Organisers of a German award for "role models for enlightenment, dedication and public good" on Saturday (16 July) decided to revoke the prize from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, after a whirlwind of criticism from rights groups and European luminaries.

Citing "massive criticism in the media and the political world", the organisation Werkstatt Deutschland said it had to revoke its decision to grant Putin the Quadriga Award.

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No awards will be given in 2011 and the panel said they would "see how it continues next year".

The Quadriga, named after the statue on top of Berlin's Brandenberg Gate, is awarded annually on the anniversary of German re-unification and is "dedicated to all those whose courage tears down walls and whose commitment builds bridges."

The decision to award the former KGB officer, renowned for his strong-handed politics and scant regard for human rights, was initially nominated for progress he had achieved in improving bilateral relations with Berlin.

But even board members of the organisation were not comfortable with the move. German Green leader Cem Ozdemir quit the organisation's board, noting that the Russian leader "does not belong to the ranks" of democracy fighters.

Last year's winner, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, immediately returned his award and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, also a Quadriga-prize winner, threatened to do the same.

"During his tenure as head of state and prime minister, Putin has dismantled democracy, restricted freedom, undermined the rule of law and given Russia corruption," German human rights commissioner Markus Loening told Der Spiegel magazine.

He said it would have been "downright cynical" for Putin to be put in the same group with pro-democracy fighters like Havel.

Following the announcement on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the very ill Havel said he thought the panel were "very wise" to reconsider their choice.

The award should be given to people "who devoted their lives to protection of human rights and freedoms and promoting democracy," she said, naming Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Russian rights campaigner Sergei Kovalov and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in 2006.

A spokesman for Putin said that the row over the prize "had nothing to do with German-Russian relations" and that Russia respected any decision taken with regard to the award.

The cancellation comes ahead of two days of German-Russian talks starting in Hanover on Monday and which will include a meeting between chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin, with whom Merkel has a cooler relationship, is not scheduled to attend.

Meanwhile, in Russia, pro-Putin activists have gone onto social media to promote the "chic man" who is likely to run for presidential elections in March 2012 and return to the job he had done for eight years, before passing the baton to Medvedev.

In one ad posted on YouTube, a contest for young women to rip off their t-shirts and show their breasts in support of their dear leader is offering an IPad2 as award.

"Young, smart and beautiful girls have united in the Putin Army," the young woman says. "An army that will tear [their shirts] for him."

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