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Culture

Goethe Medal goes to three women who tackle taboos

From tackling gender discrimintion to the politics of memory, the three recipients of this year's Goethe Medal, presented on Goethe's birthday by the Goethe-Institut, aren't afraid of ruffling feathers.

On Monday the Goethe-Institut, Germany's leading organization for the promotion of German language and culture abroad, presents its 2017 medal to Indian publisher Urvashi Butalia, Lebanese author Emily Nasrallah and Russian civil rights activist Irina Sherbakova (pictured above from left to right) for their dedication to the field of cross-cultural exchange.

The three women are to receive their medals in a ceremony at the Weimar Palace in the east-central federal state of Thuringia. The winners had been announced in June. 

Goethe-Medaille (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Welz)

The Goethe medal has been awarded since 1954

The president of the Goethe-Institut, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, will presented Butalia, Nasrallah and Sherbakova with their medals, praising the trio for tackling taboo social themes that include gender violence and memory politics.

Marianne Birthler, the former federal commissioner for documentation from the East German secret police (Stasi), journalist Emily Dische-Becker and sociologist Christa Wichterich are also slated to give speeches Monday honoring the medal recipients. 

Read more: A 2016 Goethe Medal for Akinbode Akinbiyi

Three trail-blazing women

Butalia was a co-founder of India's first feminist publishing house, Kali for Women, in 1984 and has spent over 40 years giving voice to marginalized groups. As a writer, she covers the modern history of India and has contributed to leading newspapers including the UK's The Guardian and the Times of India. After Kali closed in 2003, Butalia founded Zubaan Books, which also focuses on feminist publishing.

Nasrallah, one of today's best-known authors of the Arab world, achieved fame with the publication of her first novel "Birds of September" in 1962. Using a highly poetic writing style, the Lebanese author has written scores of novels, short story collections and children's books. Her works tackle topics such as Lebanon's civil war, daily life in Lebanese villages and equal rights for women. Many of her books have been translated into German as well as English.

Russian schoolbook with portrait of Stalin on the cover (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Ilnitsky)

Sherbakova wants Russia to examine the crimes that took place under Stalin

In 1987, Russian cultural studies expert Sherbakova helped initiate Memorial, one of Russia's most prominent human rights organizations and first NGOs. The group landed on the governments list of "foreign agents" in 2016, making it subject to increased scrutiny.

Sherbakova's research and activist areas include Soviet history and the legacy of Stalinism and totalitarianism in the 20th century. She is also a German scholar, and the Goethe committee highlighted how she has helped improve German-Russian understanding.

Read more: Winner of Goethe Medal arrested in Kazakhstan

Happy birthday Goethe

The theme for the 2017 Goethe Medal was "Language is the key." Since the prize's inception in 1954, a total of 344 individuals from 65 countries have been honored with it.

Previous recipients include conductor Daniel Barenboim, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, spy novelist David Cornwell alias John le Carré, poet Lars Gustafsson, philosopher Anges Heller, writer Petros Markaris, political activist and writer Jorge Semprun, stage director Robert Wilson, editor Helen Wolff and writer Yurii Andrukhovych.

The award is always presented on August 28, the birthday of renowned thinker and writer John Wolfgang von Geothe. 

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