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Carolin Emcke Awarded the 2016 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The German author, essayist and journalist Carolin Emcke was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony attended by roughly 1,000 invited guests, including German President Joachim Gauck. The award presentation was held at the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt and the speech honoring this year’s recipient was given by philosopher Seyla Benhabib.

Carolin Emcke
© Andreas Labes

In her acceptance speech, Carolin Emcke called on us all to work together to create a peaceful and democratic society. “We must not allow ourselves to be rendered defenseless and speechless. We can speak and act. We can take on responsibility. In other words, we can intervene actively in word and deed in this increasingly brutalized world.”

Emcke also drew attention to the climate of extremism and violence in Europe today: “This exclusionary fanaticism damages not only those it seeks to victimize; it also hurts all of us who wish to live in an open, democratic society. The dogma of the pure, homogenous and Völkisch (nationalist-racist) constricts our world. It diminishes the space in which we can think and see each other.”

Emcke argued that all members of civil society are called upon to work against fanaticism, hate and violence: “In order to achieve this, we need to have trust in what makes us human: the capacity to begin. We can start over again, as individuals but also as a society. We can shatter our inherited flexibilities, dissolve the structures that constrict and oppress us, move forward and discover new forms together.”

Emcke also formulated a plea for inclusion as opposed to exclusion in society: “Human rights are not a zero-sum game. Nobody loses their rights when they are granted to all. Human rights are unconditional. They cannot be earned, nor must they be earned. There are no preconditions that must be met before a human being is recognized as such and protected. Affection or dislike, approval or distaste for individual lifestyles, social practices and religious convictions cannot be allowed to play any role in this realm. This notion is the very essence of a liberal, open and secular society.”

In her laudatory speech, Seyla Benhabib emphasized Carolin Emcke’s craft as a “story teller,” noting that her “masterful art of narration” enables her to speak of things in a way that triumphs over silence: “Emcke, as ‘story teller,’ has developed a unique blend of reportage, philosophical reflection and literary construction through which she ‘bears moral witness’  to human pain in armed conflict situations but also to another kind of pain and silence experienced by those who are different – different, sexually, psychologically, religiously, ethnically. Such narrative redeems the pain of the untold; breaks down the walls of silence and hurt which create the trauma of the unsayable,” said Benhabib.

“Carolin Emcke makes it clear to us that there is a connection between violence and speech, between violence and voicelessness,” noted Heinrich Riethmüller, Chairman of the Börsenverein, in his welcome speech. “She writes down what other people tell her, but also what she feels in the process, which is often fear, rage and helplessness. Her reportages and letters from her travels to some of the greatest conflict areas in our world are thus more than just the result of sober reporting. They remind us again and again that the world is in turmoil, indeed, that it is on fire wherever we look. The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, too, depends on speech, and the speeches given by its prizewinners send out signals of peace and understanding.”

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has been awarded by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair since 1950. Among the previous recipients of the Peace Prize are Amos Oz, Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren, Václav Havel, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Sontag, David Grossman, Liao Yiwu, Svetlana Alexievich and, in 2015, Navid Kermani. The Prize is endowed with a sum of €25,000.