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Rüdiger Nehberg






Speech by Heide Simonis: Cross of the Order of Merit for Rüdiger Nehberg

Awarding of the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Rüdiger Nehberg on 28th February 2002, 11:00 am in the residence of the state government in Kiel.

Speech by Minister President Heide Simonis

Mr. Nehberg,
Ms. Weber,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The award is a small thank you from society for great merit. This is how we honour people who have worked for the common good over many years in outstanding ways. All who have been awarded this honour, whether they work in Germany or on international levels, take their commitment to the common good very seriously. They are people like you, dear Mr. Nehberg!

I have the pleasant task to present you the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, in the name of the Federal President, for your services to the common good. We have bypassed the grades of the merit medals for you and gone straight to the merit cross. It is easy to justify this award, as you have worked for many years for the rights of threatened peoples and to protect the environment and you are well known far beyond Germany.

Moreover, I am naturally particularly pleased that you have remained true to Schleswig-Holstein for so long and always return to Rausdorf in the Stormarn district after your travels.

To the question "How do I become tough?" in a newspaper column you replied: "Everyone is tough. Just in different areas. One person as a womaniser, the other in politics. Only the quality of the goal is decisive for the level of tenacity. It must be worthwhile to fight. Materially or ideally. Success must satisfy ambition, fill the wallet or touch the soul. A matter of taste."

The womaniser may not be awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit, at least not for this characteristic. However, your definition of tenacity has a lot to do with the award that you are receiving today.

For decades, you have worked tirelessly to protect human rights in different regions of the globe, for the Yanomami, or currently for African women and girls. You follow your goal tenaciously and unflinchingly. In so doing, you do not match the image that we generally have in our heads of human rights' activists.

For me, this means very serious, disciplined and extremely well informed people, who shock the public with posters of terrible events and barbaric crimes. The things that you protest against are just as bad as those they depict. However, the public often do not tolerate so much at once and lose interest in the topic.

You, Mr. Nehberg, have a different approach. You call it "action-oriented work" and reach a large audience in this way. Though I must say that I find "action-oriented" to be a blatant example of North German understatement with regard to some of your breakneck campaigns.

To most people you are well known as a survival 'pope': your fans respectfully call you "Sir Vival". Whether you were crossing the Atlantic in a rowing boat, walking from Hamburg to Oberstdorf on foot and without assistance, or competing against an Ironman and an Aborigine in a footrace through Australia - you are always guaranteed great international and national recognition. Your travels were never self-experience trips of a bored and safe European; they always had a goal that went far beyond the sensation.

This is another way in which you differ from many human rights organisations: you have a secure grasp of the rules of the media. In television appearances, books and lectures, you publicise your experiences and campaign for financial and political support. You use the international attention that your spectacular activities bring, to win a large audience for the subjects that lie close to your heart.

For more than twenty years that has been the Yanomami Indians in the Brazilian Amazon region. Together with celebrities, such as the British rock star Sting, you have contributed a lot to arouse international protest against the Brazilian colonisation policy of the Amazon.

You have helped the Yanomami in their ancestral region with concrete projects, such as a school and an aid station. You did not abandon the project in the face of broad dismay, but tackled it yourself in tough negotiations and at enormous personal cost in terms of time, money and health.

Your founded your human rights' organisation TARGET in 2000 with this same extraordinary commitment. The focus is the barbaric practice of female circumcision, which remains the norm in many African and Arabic countries. More than 130 million women worldwide suffer the consequences of this horrific torture. However, resistance against this crime is growing across the world, even in Islamic countries. You have given this protest a new voice with TARGET.

The special thing about your organisation is that it seeks dialogue with Islamic leaders to end this centuries-old practice, to which generations of women have fallen prey. Sustainable change can only be achieved with the people there, with respect for their values and traditions.

The first success has already been seen. You have just returned from a "Desert Conference" in the Ethiopian province of Afar, to which you had invited political and religious leaders to discuss ways to end mutilation of women and girls. On this occasion, the "Senior Council for Islamic Affairs in the Afar Province" has signed a commitment against the circumcision of girls. It has found that circumcision is "un-Islamic", because Allah has created women perfectly and so there cannot be a reason to "mess around" with his work. A truly impressive argument!

Ladies and gentlemen,
Rüdiger Nehberg's current commitment is an outstanding example of a successful dialogue between cultures, which has so often been discussed in the last few months. Here it is filled with life and its success is tangible.

Certainly, not everyone can cross the Atlantic in a log boat, as you did for the 500th anniversary of Brazil in 2000, dear Mr Nehberg. Anyone who has seen your heavily beleaguered craft at the EXPO in Hanover, can imagine how dangerous the journey must have been and what trials you have endured. You demonstrate that humanitarian commitment and the fulfilment of individual dreams need not be mutually exclusive.

You combine your passion for extreme nature experiences with your work for the weak, repressed and forgotten. And everyone sees in you how satisfying that must be. It is worthwhile to fight for this goal, tirelessly and tenaciously. Whether this award that I can now present to you satisfies your ambition or touches your soul, that is in effect a matter of personal taste. But you have certainly earned this award!