Jan assmann begins at the podium with the first passage of the acceptance speech, his wife aleida then takes over quite naturally a few minutes later. Rarely are private and professional matters so closely intertwined in a couple as they are in the case of the two cultural scientists.
They also demonstrated this impressively at the presentation of the prestigious peace prize of the german book trade on sunday in the paulskirche in frankfurt.
The speech, delivered alternately, is a highly pointed two-part work by the agyptologist and the anglicist – in the same way, the 80-year-old and his nine-year-younger wife have jointly developed their internationally acclaimed theses on the memory of nations and cultures.
Books and sacred texts, along with monuments such as the pyramids, were already important to the ancient egyptians as a means of establishing identity. But as important as the function of a national memory is, it can also change, as in the case of germany.
"We can no longer seamlessly tap into old fantasies of the pride and grandeur of the nation," stress the assmanns. The national memory "is not only a pedestal that makes the nation coarser and more powerful, but also a mirror of self-knowledge, repentance and change".
This is a clear rejection of all right-wing nationalists who, like afd leader alexander gauland, would like to reclarify the german nation. Hitler and the nazis were a "bird’s mouth" in over 1000 years of successful german history, he had said at the beginning of june.
The assmanns, who have often intervened politically, for example by supporting the construction of the holocaust memorial in berlin, go even further in their confrontation with populism. In their speech they call for a basic consensus in democracy for the values of the constitution or the separation of powers. According to the assmanns, anyone who does not share this view cannot invoke democracy.
"Not every dissenting voice deserves respect," they say, and receive much applause from the nearly 1,000 people in the audience. Those who want to undermine freedom of speech do not deserve respect. The two recall the uproar in chemnitz a few weeks ago and come to the conclusion that such events paralyze democracy.
The much honored scientists who have worked in universities all over the world have also always deplored in their research the exclusive claim to truth. Jan assmann has critically examined the three monotheistic religions – christianity, judaism and islam. He set off an avalanche in the scientific debate.
In their acceptance speech, they also refer to the city of hebron on the west bank, where all three world religions are equally present in history. However, the palestinian-initiated recognition of the city as a UNESCO world heritage site has led to a major dispute with israel and the united states.
The couple, who have five grown-up children together, do not forget the global perspective in their speech. Following the example of the two swedish peace researchers alva and gunnar myrdal, who were also jointly awarded the peace prize of the book trade in 1970, they call for global solidarity from europe in dealing with economic and natural resources – "so that there can still be a future for subsequent generations at all".
At the same time they make a plea for the people who fled war and hardship. "It is not acceptable that there is a neoliberal freedom for the movement of capital, goods and raw materials, while migrants are stuck at borders and we forget the people, their suffering and their future."
Consequently, the assmanns have decided to give the prize money of 25,000 euros to three initiatives that work with cursed people. Two of them are in germany, one in kenya.
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