Russia surprised as German board cancels Quadriga award

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Russian officials have expressed surprise and disappointment over Germany’s decision not to hand out the Quadriga award to four public figures, including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The trustees of the German annual Quadriga prize, which has been handed out by a private organization since 2003, announced they were not going to hand it out in 2011. The trustee board quoted the "massive criticism in the media" as the reason behind their decision to cancel the award.

The strong media criticism, which was echoed by a number of politicians and public figures, came about as a result of the announcement that one of the laureates for the 2011 Quadriga prize would be Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The board of trustees said they were going to honor Putin for his achievements in building stable and reliable relations between Germany and Russia.

The Quadriga award ceremony was to be held on October 3, the day which traditionally marks the re-unification of Germany. Usually, the award is given to four laureates, either persons or organizations that, in the eyes of the organizers, serve as an example for Germany and from Germany by demonstrating a "pioneering spirit through political, economic and culture innovations".

Other laureates for the 2011 prize included the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, and Betul Durmaz, a German writer of Turkish descent.

The organizers of the award announced that the 2011 ceremony was canceled on July 16 as several German politicians openly protested the decision to honor Vladimir Putin.  Several past recipients of the award followed suit by threatening to return their awards. The board was especially worried after the threat sounded by former Czech president Vaclav Havel, who is a veteran dissident and also a perennial critic of Vladimir Putin’s policies.

The move to cancel the award came right before the opening of the traditional Russian-German forum in Hanover, which is to be attended by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Russian side said that the news will neither affect the forthcoming talks nor general relations between the two countries.

“This will in no way affect the forum’s work, much less relations between our two states,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said at a weekend press-conference dedicated to the start of the forum.  I would not like to comment on what happens inside the board, it is their business. But bearing in mind that this was a nomination acknowledging cooperation between the two countries, who has done more for this than Vladimir Putin?” Zubkov added.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has also said that Moscow was not making any links between the cancellation of the Quadriga award and the current state of the Russian-German relations. “The decision of the Quadriga Award can in no way affect the atmosphere of Russian-German relations as it is not connected with them in any way,” Peskov told the Interfax news agency on Saturday.

The Russian official, however, sharply criticized those in charge of the award for inconsistency and a lack of organization. “Most likely, the situation was caused by the mess plaguing the board of this respected award. How else can you explain the fact that  the board first awarded the prize, confirming that all the procedures had been completed in accordance with the rules, only to turn around and state the opposite,” Peskov said, before suggesting that the board members come to a conclusion on their own.

The Russian official also noted that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is already the recipient of several international awards and was in no need of further recognition. “These awards show the respect and due attitude the world has for the Russian Prime Minister,” Peskov said.