Outrage Over Planned 'Luther Prize': German Town Nominates Pussy Riot for Award

The German town of Wittenberg is under fire for nominating Russian punk group Pussy Riot for a prize to honor the three members who were jailed for protesting against President Vladimir Putinduring a church service. Theologians and politicians say the band shouldn't be rewarded for offending Christians.

Would Martin Luther have approved of Pussy Riot? Zoom
DDP

Would Martin Luther have approved of Pussy Riot?

Historically, the German town of Wittenberg is no stranger to controversy. Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation here by nailing his 95 theses to a church door in 1517.

Half a millennium later, the church authorities are up in arms once again, this time about a plan by the town council to award this year's "Luther Prize" to Russian protest punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members have been jailed for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in one of Russia's holiest sites, the Christ the Savior Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow, in February.

Friedrich Schorlemmer, a theologian and civil rights activist based in Wittenberg, criticized the plan. "One should support the young women," he told the national daily Die Tageszeitung in an interview published on Tuesday. "But not for the crap they were singing."

He said they could have performed "on Red Square, in a swimming pool or wherever, but not in a church."

Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after storming into the cathedral and shouting out a "punk prayer" asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.

'A Luther City Should Not Honor Blasphemy'

The lyrics included the following: "Mother of God, Virgin Mary, drive Putin away," "Holy shit, shit, Lord's shit," and "The patriarch believes in Putin / Bastard, better believe in God."

"Imagine if the that kind of performance had happened in the cathedrals of Magdeburg or Cologne," Schorlemmer said. "A Luther city should not honor blasphemy."

The chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, Ruprecht Polenz of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, called the nomination "absurd."

Heiner Friedrich List, leader of the two-member Citizen's Alliance in the Wittenberg town council, told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the musicians were "chaotic shrews who break into a church wearing masks and make discriminating and offensive statements." He said he would try to get the award nomination revoked.

The alliance of Luther Cities has presented the €10,000 ($12,926) award every two years since 1996. It is due to be presented in April 2013.

In September, a committee of the Wittenberg town council voted by a large majority to nominate Pussy Riot for the award. Volkmar Joestel, a historian who has written books on Luther, defended the town's decision, saying the band had protested against a fusion of religion, church and state power that ran counter to the principles of the Enlightenment. "That alone deserves all honors."

The 16 German cities that carry the title of Luther City -- a title bestowed on places where the theologian lived or made history, including his birthplace of Eisleben as well as Erfurt, Heidelberg and Worms -- will decide in November who should get the prize. There are a total of 16 nominiees.

cro -- with wire reports

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