Conciliatory finale

On Thursday evening in Wiesbaden, Hesse's Prime Minister Roland Koch presented the 45th anniversary of the NATO nuclear program.000 Euro Hessian Culture Prize 2009 awarded to the church. This was preceded by months of quarrels – for which Koch has now apologized to prize winner Navid Kermani. He donated his prize money to Franz Meurer. In an interview with this site, the Catholic priest expresses his gratitude and talks about how he plans to use the donation.

Roland Koch is a skilled and articulate speaker, but on Thursday evening at the award ceremony for the Hessian Culture Prize in Wiesbaden, his speech faltered at times. Koch apologized to writer and Orientalist Navid Kermani for learning in the spring from journalists, and not from the Board of Trustees of the Culture Prize, that he had been stripped of the award again. Koch said he personally apologized that communication with Kermani had not been successful. This year, the Board of Trustees honored four men who have rendered outstanding services to the dialogue between the religions in Germany. In addition to the Muslim Kermani, the Catholic Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the former Protestant church president Peter Steinacker and the deputy chairman of the Central Council of Jews, Salomon Korn, were also awarded the prize. Koch, who chairs the board of trustees of the Hessian Culture Prize, justified his "personal motivation" for withdrawing the award from Kermani in the meantime. Lehmann and Steinacker had been offended by a newspaper article by Kermani in which he had called the Christian theology of the cross "blasphemy" and later expressed his positive fascination for a depiction of the cross by the painter Guido Reni. Lehmann and Steinacker had made it clear that they did not want to accept the prize with Kermani. In consequence, to renounce an award to the two churchmen "was unthinkable from my point of view," said Koch. "This country has been shaped by the Christian and Jewish religions for centuries," Koch said. Their merits were to be appreciated absolutely. "I know that this position has been criticized and will continue to be criticized," Koch said. He was therefore all the more pleased to be able to honor all four prize winners together. Koch spoke publicly for the first time about the months of wrangling over the awarding of this year's prize, which comes with a total of 45,000 euros in prize money. Lehmann, Korn and Steinacker did not go into detail about the conflict in their acceptance speeches.

Applause for Kerma

Kermani, in his acceptance speech, said the conflict had been peaceful and constructive for all its sharpness of tone. He thanked them for the support they had received from many sides. In a very unexpected way, he felt confirmed in his impression that Germany has become more cosmopolitan and culturally diverse in recent years. Kermani announced that he would use his prize money to support the "great social projects" of the Catholic parish of Sankt Theodor in Cologne-Vingst. From their pastor and his Christian and non-Christian comrades-in-arms can be learned how the coexistence of people of different origins and religions can succeed even under socially difficult conditions. In his words of thanks, Lehmann spoke of an unmistakable need for interreligious dialogue. The cardinal warned that any interreligious dialogue must fail if only shortcomings and imperfections are found in the other religions. Therefore, any attitude of arrogance is to be avoided. Korn emphasized that tolerance begins where agreement ends. Steinacker said that, apart from the achievements of the Enlightenment, culture and society cannot be understood at all without the impulses and traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Commenting on the conflict over Kermani's newspaper article about a depiction of the crucifixion, Steinacker said that central parts of this article had offended him. At the same time, he emphasized that after the "clarifying, respectful and understanding" discussion of the four prize winners in the Bishop's House in Mainz, these problems had been "completely cleared up".

The bumpy road to the award ceremony

At the end of August in Cardinal Karl Lehmann's bishop's house in Mainz: four gentlemen have come together for a conversation under eight eyes, it will last a little more than two hours. Lehmann was joined by Cologne-based Muslim writer and Orientalist Navid Kermani, Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Peter Steinacker, former president of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau. They then say that all aspects of the controversy were discussed in an open and respectful atmosphere. And Lehmann, Korn and Steinacker added that they were "of the opinion that Dr. Navid Kermani is to be awarded the Hessian Culture Prize as well". A little later, the prize committee, chaired by the Hessian Prime Minister Roland Koch (CDU), decided in the same way – "unanimously", as it was said. That the prize would be awarded seemed unlikely for a long time, to say the least. In May, the state government announced that the prize committee had withdrawn Kermani's award. Shortly thereafter, the award originally planned for the 5. The award ceremony planned for July was postponed to an unspecified date in the fall. Lehmann and Steinacker had in fact refused to be honored together with Kermani. They accused him of having fundamentally and irreconcilably attacked the cross as a Christian symbol in a newspaper article. In the article about an altarpiece by Guido Reni, Kermani had justified his rejection of the theology of the cross and spoken of "blasphemy and idolatry," but in view of Reni's depiction of the crucifixion he also formulated: "For the first time I thought: I – not only: one -, I could believe in a cross."The behavior of the Hessian state government reveals a "problematic relationship between state and church," Kermani said immediately after the scandal. The SPD, the Greens and the Left in Hesse declared it a disaster in terms of integration policy and demanded that Koch apologize to the writer. Also president of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert took position. He spoke of a "state farce". If Kermani's "bold article" about a Muslim's feelings when viewing a depiction of Christ's crucifixion was the reason for the decision, then the state "had better refrain from awarding cultural prizes," said Lammert. In the aftermath of the turnaround on Kermani initiated at the eight-eyes meeting in his bishop's house, Lehmann clarified that it was untrue that he and Steinacker had ensured that Kermani had been removed from the list of prize winners. He had never acted directly on it. And further: In view of Kermani's newspaper article about the cross, he had explained in a letter to Koch that for him as a Catholic bishop the acceptance of the prize could become difficult if Kermani's statements were not clarified. "I had to leave it up to the deciding body of the award to decide on the ways in which such clarification might be possible," said Lehmann. But this had not succeeded. The cardinal admitted that probably all sides had made mistakes. According to Lehmann, the confidential discussion in his bishop's house came about solely on his initiative and Steinacker's. When the board of trustees soon put Kermani back on the list of prize winners, the state government announced that the board of trustees saw itself strengthened by the difficulties of the last few months to stand up for the necessity of understanding between the religions on the basis of common cultural values by awarding the cultural prize. This was obviously not yet possible without tensions.

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