“Workshop Germany” (Werkstatt Deutschland), a non-profit organization based in Berlin-Charlottenburg, has an award in store for those who commit themselves successfully to innovation, renewal, and a pioneering spirit through political, economic, and cultural activities – the Quadriga. German and international artists, activists, and quite a number of politicians, have been laureates since 2003. Of all former German chancellors who are still alive, only Helmut Schmidt has missed out on the prize so far, even though one might argue that both Schmidt and former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing would have deserved the prize for pioneering the European Currency Unit. (Maybe the workshop is waiting for a ready-for-use solution to the current Euro crisis from the two.) José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission’s president, on the other hand, got his Quadriga in 2009. God and the jury may know why.
And Vladimir Putin and the jury may know why Russia’s current prime minister (and former and possibly future president) was one of the chosen people this year. Actually, the jury was kind enough to give us their reasons: to honor Putin’s merits in German-Russian relations’ “reliability and stability”.
The Green party’s co-chairman Cem Özdemir left the jury, protesting against the choice. Several previous laureates either returned their prize, or threatened to do so, among them Former Czechoslovakian and Czech president Vaclav Havel. Most of the German press was negative, too.
Late last week, the workshop decided to cancel the 2011 award altogether. Neither Putin, nor the other laureates-to-be would receive a prize this year, even though the other choices, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and Turkish-German author Betül Durmaz, were not contested.
Frankly, this year was the first time that I have even heard of the Quadriga prize at all. There are too many prizes to keep track of them, and the European award culture – as far as I’m aware of it, and with the possible exceptions of the Nobel Peace Prize and the EU Parliament’s Sakharov award – has started to look like the kind of “quality” prizes German agricultural associations or folk music trades habitually award within their own mishpokhe, to adorn their own commercials with them later on.
There’s no meaningful prize without a clear set of values behind it. Business interests are no such values. They may be an honorable motivation for an award, too, but only if they are consistent with an organization’s policy.