Speech by Heide Simonis: Cross of the Order of Merit for
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
Speech by Minister President Heide Simonis
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
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!