Awardee 2013

Swetlana Alexijewitsch

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association has chosen Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievitch to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The award ceremony took place on Sunday, October 13, 2013, in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main. The laudatory speech was held by German historian Karl Schlögel.

Statement of the Jury

The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards the 2013 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Svetlana Alexievich.
In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honor a Belarusian author who has consistently and effectively traced the lives and experiences of her fellow citizens in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine by articulating their passions and sorrows in a humble and generous manner.  

Her tragic chronicles of the individual human fates involved in the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the unfulfilled longing for peace after the crumbling of the Soviet Empire give tangible expression to a fundamental undercurrent of existential disappointment that is difficult to disregard. 

The way in which Alexievich composes her interviews, which again form the basis of her latest book to be published in German ("Secondhand-Zeit"), has allowed her to create her own literary genre – one that resonates all over the world as a powerful choir of witnesses and testimonies. Working in the service of moral memory, she poses the key question as to whether peace, freedom and justice might in fact be the better alternatives.  

The Award Ceremony

Svetlana Alexievich receives her Peace Prize certificate from the hands of Gottfried Honnefelder, president of the Börsenverein.


The act of lending a voice to those who have been rendered mute – the act of giving the »suppressed« an opportunity to speak openly – requires not only »humility and generosity«, but also an entirely new literary mode. It requires that an author write her own novel as a novel of voices; and it requires that she do so not in a filtered or glorified manner, but rather using the »hard camp prose« that Svetlana Alexievich has always sought to make available for her readers to experience.

Gottfried Honnefelder - Greeting
Gottfried Honnefelder
Greeting of the president

As a writer she has nothing to offer other than her word – persevering, fearless, poignant – in her confrontations with the authoritarian regimes in the post-Soviet world, and not just in Belarus. This word is strong, and within it is the language of a reality that is stronger than the manipulated reality of the state-controlled media.

Karl Schlögel - Laudation for Svetlana Alexievich
Karl Schögel
Laudation for Svetlana Alexievich

We discovered that freedom was a celebration only on the streets; in reality it was something altogether different. Freedom is a demanding plant; it cannot thrive just anywhere, from nothing. Only from our dreams and illusions.

Svetlana Alexievich - Acceptance speech
Svetlana Alexievich
Accceptance speech

Chronicle of the Year 2013

+ + + Founding of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Oberursel. + + + For the first time since 1294, Benedict XVI, a pope, resigns by his own decision. + + + + With Francis a Latin American is elected bishop of Rome for the first time. + + + More than 1100 people die and more than 2400 are injured in a collapse of a building in Sabhar in Bangladesh. + + + In Turkey, protests begin against the government Erdoğan. + + +

+ + + Heavy rainfall causes severe flooding in Germany and other Central European countries. + + + The revelations of Edward Snowden, a former employee of the US secret service NSA, lead to the NSA affair, which leads to worldwide protests against the espionage precautions of the United States. + + + In a military coup, Egypt's elected president Mohammed Mursi is deposed. + + + Riots in Egypt kill more than 600 people and injure thousands. + + + Attacks in the Ghuta region result in several hundred people being killed and many injured during the civil war in Syria. + + + Beginning of political protests in Ukraine + + + Ireland leaves the euro rescue parachute. + + + At least 366 people are killed in the Mediterranean Sea when a ship carrying mainly African boat refugees sinks off the Isola dei Conigli near Lampedusa. + + + In another boat accident off Lampedusa 268 people drown. + + + In the election for the 18th German Bundestag, the FDP cannot pass the 5 percent hurdle + + + In Germany, a grand coalition takes over the government business. + + + The Bundestag elects Angela Merkel as German Chancellor + + + Super-typhoon Haiyan kills more than 5,500 people in the Philippines and about four million become homeless. + + + More than 30 people are killed and many more injured in two attacks in Volgograd, Russia. + + +

Biography of Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich was born on May 31, 1948 in the West Ukrainian town of Stanislav (today's Ivano-Frankivsk) to a Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father, who was a soldier at the time. After her father completed his military service, Alexievich's family returned to a village in Belarus where her parents worked as teachers. While attending school, Alexievich contributed several poems and articles to the school newspaper. In 1965, she completed her two-year »proof of employment« – a certificate required in order to study at the university level in the USSR – by working as a caregiver at a boarding school, as a teacher in a rural school, and, starting in 1966, at a local newspaper in Narowl (Gomel). Following that, she began studies in journalism at the Belarusian State University in Minsk.

After finishing her studies in 1972, Alexievich worked at a local newspaper in Beresa (Brest) and as a teacher at a local school. The following year, after accepting a position at the regional newspaper in Minsk, Alexievich decided to focus entirely on a career in journalism. In 1976, she became a correspondent for the literary magazine »Neman,« where she was soon named head of journalism. She completed her first book »I was leaving the village« (Ya uezhal iz derevni) in that same year. It was prohibited from being published, however, due to its critique of the Soviet government's rigid passport policy, which ensured that village residents could not move to cities. Alexievich herself would later go on to reject publication of the book, considering it to be too »journalistic.«

In the following years, Alexievich tried her hand at other literary genres, including short stories, essays and reportages. At that time, the Belarusian author Ales Adamovich was in the process of developing a new literary path often referred to as the »collective novel.« Adamovich was crucial in supporting Alexievich's efforts to find her own literary method, one that she sought to enable »the closest portrayal possible of life as it truly is.« The ultimate objective of this method is to create a chorus of individual voices in the form of a collage of daily life. 

Svetlana Alexievich applied this method for the first time in her book »War’s Unwomanly Face« (U voyny ne zhenskoe litso) which she completed in 1983. In this book, the author uses a series of interviews to examine the fate of female Soviet soldiers – frontline combatants, partisans and civil servants – during and after the Second World War. In the course of her subsequent two-year battle with censors regarding the publication of this book, Alexievich was accused of »staining the honor of the Great Patriotic War.« She also eventually lost her job due to her supposed »anti-communist attitude.« Only with the advent of Perestroika in the Soviet Union was the book finally published simultaneously in Minsk and Moscow in 1985 (1987 in German, 1988 in English). »War’s Unwomanly Face« has sold more than 2 million copies in Russia alone and was received enthusiastically by readers and critics alike. At the same time, she also created a theater version of the book as well as a documentary film, the latter which received the »Silver Dove« prize at Leipzig's International Documentary Film Week.

Alexievich's alleged »lack of ideological values« also caused delays in the publication of her next book »The Last Witnesses«(Poslednie svideteli), which appeared in 1985 in Belarus (and as »Die letzten Zeugen« in Germany in 1989). In this work, the author portrays not only the perspectives of women and children on the Second World War and the Stalin era, but also the painful experiences of her own family during this time. The Perestroika reform movement initiated by the government of Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Alexievich to work more freely. She was able to complete several radio and TV programs, to collaborate with film directors and to author screenplays and plays for the well-known Moscow-based theater director Anatoli Efros, among others.

As with each one of her projects, Alexievich worked on her subsequent book, »Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War« (Tsinkovye mal'chiki, 1989) for many years. She completed more than five hundred interviews with veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan as well as with the mothers of soldiers who died in that war – the so-called »zinky boys« whose remains were brought home in zinc coffins. This book helped to demythologize that 10-year war, and even though Alexievich was forced to appear several times before the court in Minsk starting in 1992, she was ultimately never convicted of any crime.  

In 1993, she completed her next work »Enchanted with Death« (Zaoèarovannye smert'ju), in which she examined the suicides and suicide attempts of individuals who were unable to accept the demise of the Soviet empire. After that, she began writing about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine: »Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster« (Tschernobylskaja molitwa, 1997) is a psychological portrait of those people directly affected by the catastrophe. Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper called it a »monstrous requiem of lament and indictment.« Indeed, the book's harrowing reports on the human impact of nuclear »accidents« immediately became a moving lesson for people worldwide in how to deal with the consequences of such catastrophes. Starting in 1994, the year in which Belarus' current president Alexander Lukaschenko seized power, Alexievich's books were no longer published in her native country. Her work was also removed from the school curriculum there. In 1998, after receiving the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding, Alexievich used her prize money to buy Russian editions of her Chernobyl book and smuggle them back to Belarus.

It was during this time that the Belarusian regime's attacks on Alexievich began to increase. Her telephone was bugged, she was banned from making public appearances and even accused of working with the CIA, among other things. In 2000, the »International Cities of Refuge Network« (ICORN) offered her sanctuary and she subsequently lived for several years in Paris. After that she received scholarships in Stockholm and Berlin. Here, as a guest of the »Berlin Artists-in-Residence programme« of the »German Academic Exchange Service« (DAAD), she finished her latest book. In 2011, in spite of her opposition to the dictatorial system in Belarus that continued to make it very difficult for her to live and work in freedom, Alexievich moved back to Minsk.  

From the very beginning, Svetlana Alexievich created and developed her own literary genre: the »novel of voices.« As a result, her entire oeuvre reads like an ongoing history of Russia since the Second World War. Her latest work to be published in German – »Secondhand-Zeit. Leben auf den Trümmern des Sozialismus« (scheduled for publication here in September 2013) – once again reflects the difficult search for a new identity during the social upheavals of the past several years. From out of the many interviews she does for each one of her books, Alexievich first composes an overall picture: then, as she herself says, she tries to work out »how much humanity can be found in each individual and, in turn, how I can protect that humanity in that person.« Alexievich's literary chronicles of emotional history have prompted many to refer to her as the »moral memory« of people living in the former Soviet states.

Svetlana Alexievich's works have been translated into 35 languages. They also serve as templates for a number of different plays, radio dramas and documentaries. She has received numerous awards, including the Polish Ryszard Kapuœciñski Prize for Literary Reporting (2011) and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2013).


2018 Anna-Politkowskaja-Prize
2015 Nobelpize for Literature
2013 Prix Médicis essai
2013 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade


2011    Ryszard Kapuœciñski Prize for Literary Reportage, Poland
2011    Angelus Central European Literary Award, Poland
2007    Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression
2005    National Book Critics Circle Award, USA
2002    Premio Sandro Onofri Per Il Reportage Narrativo, Italy
2001    Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize
2000    Robert Geisendorfer Prize (Radio Plays)
1999    Herder Prize of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation
1999    "Temoin du monde," France
1998    Leipziger Book Prize on European Understanding
1998    The Political Book, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Prize
1997    Andrei Sinyavsky Prize, Russia
1997    Triumph Prize, Russia
1996    Tucholsky Prize of Sweden's PEN
1986    Komsomol State Prize, USSR
1985    Fedin Literary Prize, USSR
1984    Ostrowski Literary Prize, USSR German-Language


Secondhand-Zeit. Leben auf den Trümmern des Sozialismus

Aus dem Russischen von Ganna-Maria Braungardt, Hanser Berlin im Carl Hanser Verlag, München 2013, 576 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-446-24150-3, 27,90 €

Tschernobyl. Eine Chronik der Zukunft

Aus dem Russischen (Tschernobylskaja molitwa, 1997) übersetzt von Ingeborg Kolinko, Berliner Taschenbuch-Verlag, Berlin 1997 (Vergriffen) - Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2019, 372 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-518-46956-9, 18,00 €

Die letzten Zeugen. Kinder im Zweiten Weltkrieg

Aus dem russischen Original (Poslednyje swedeteli 1989) von Ganna-Maria Braungardt. Berlin: Hanser-Berlin 2014, 304 Seiten, ISBN 978-3446246478, 22,90 €

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Karl Schlögel

Karl Schlögel, born on 7 March 1948 in Hawangen in Allgäu, studied at the Freie Universität of Berlin as well as in Moscow and Leningrad. In 1981 he received his doctorate in Berlin. From then on, Karl Schlögel made a name for himself as a freelance author and scholar. In addition to various works on the history of Eastern Europe, his main focus was on questions of cultural history.

In 1990 he was appointed professor of Eastern European history at the University of Konstanz. In 1994, he accepted the chair for the History of Eastern Europe at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder, where he taught, interrupted by research stays in Oxford, Budapest, Uppsala and Munich, until his retirement in spring 2013.

The international reputation of Karl Schlögel is based on his publications. Early on, the examination of everyday life in Russia and the Soviet Union became a focus of his work. His unusual approach to incorporating his own experiences and perceptions into his writings is already evident in "Moskau lesen" (1984). In the following years he extended his view to the whole of Eastern Europe. In the volume of essays "Promenade in Jalta und andere Städtebilder" (2001) as well as in other books, he optimistically discusses the extent to which Eastern Europe can regenerate itself by its own efforts.  Further focal points of his research are the traces of German history in Eastern Europe as well as flight and migration movements in this area. He emphasizes earlier than others that Eastern Europe is part of the cultural heritage of Europe as a whole.

Karl Schlögel presents a systematization of his work in the work "Im Raume lesen wir die Zeit" (2003). According to the tenor of the book, history happens not only in time but also in space. Besides theoretical discourse, statistical empiricism and the history of events, the description of the reality of life and its subjective perception should again play a greater role. For his book "Terror und Traum. Moskau 1937" (2008), in which he describes how, in the shadow of terror, to which one and a half million people fall victim within a year, the regime around Stalin wants to build a new society, he was awarded the 2009 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding. In the same year he gives the laudatory speech for the Italian Peace Prize winner Claudio Magris.  

In 2012 Karl Schlögel receives the Hoffmann von Fallersleben Prize and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Prize. In September 2013, his new book "Grenzland Europa: Unterwegs auf einem neuen Kontinent" (Borderland Europe: On the Road to a New Continent) will be published, a collection of essays and speeches in which he focuses on the achievements of the people of Eastern Europe, without whom a new Europe will not come about.

Karl Schlögel was a member of the Peace Prize Foundation Board from 2011 to 2016. He lives in Berlin with his wife, the publicist Sonja Margolina, and has a daughter.