Dresden’s peace prize goes to Italy

Deutsche Presseagentur (dpa), 12 February 2017 It is an award ceremony to be remembered, and not only do those honoured have tears in their eyes. Three Italians are honoured in Dresden for their humanitarian action. And all around them are many who share their compassion.Standing ovations for three ordinary people from among the people: The award of the Dresden Peace Prize on Sunday became a moving plea for humanity. The prize, which carries with it 10,000 euros, went to Domenico Lucano, mayor of the Italian village of Riace in Calabria. In recent years, he has taken in many refugees and integrated them into village life. Now one third of the inhabitants have foreign roots. Along with that Amalia and Giuseppe Gelardi received a special prize of 2,000 euros for their having given, from their family plot in a cemetery in Agrigento (Sicily), a burial place to a 17-year-old Eritrean girl drowned in the Mediterranean.

The beginning of the celebration contributed immediately to the emotion. Excerpts from the documentary “Sea Fire” by Gianfranco Rosi were shown. In its gripping photography the daily life of the refugees on the island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, is described, as is the work of the Italian Coast Guard, who must gather in the drowned refugees from the Mediterranean Sea. The strip was awarded the “Golden Bear” at the Berlinale 2016. After that there was a musical premiere; the Sicilian singer-songwriter Etta Scollo sang her composition “Sconsciuto” (“Unknown”).

Former German Interior Minister Gerhart Baum, who led the program as an honorary member of the organisation “Friends of Dresden”, spoke of the “right theme at the right time.” Europe has become “refugee-tired”. People are afraid of populist political currents and hence refuse to take in any more people. In North Africa 300 to 350,000 refugees are waiting for spring, then to dare the risky journey across the Mediterranean. “The only way out is solidarity. The crises of the world have come to us,” Baum said. One is confronted with a reality which he or she can no longer ignore. In awarding this Peace Prize this year, the intention is to make a strong statement against xenophobia.

The former Curator of the Dresden Art Collection, Martin Roth, gave the laudatory address in prize winner Domenico Lucano’s honour. He called Riace a “political model of the future” and wished for many imitators: “We need people who show uprightness.” Riace is not a miracle, but rather “an example of hard work, tolerance, love for one’s neighbour, honesty, and above all humanity.” As they had for the Gelardis, the audience stood to applaud Lucano.

Through the refugees he came to know a new world, but he also did it for the village, Lucano said in his acceptance speech, for Riace was already left for dead because of the strong emigration it had experienced.

Outside on Theatre Plaza hundreds of Dresdners and tourists visited the “Lampedusa 361” project – an imaginary cemetery. It is part of the commemoration ceremonies on the anniversary of the destruction of Dresden in the Second World War on the coming Monday. In the 90 large-format photographs graves are to be seen of refugees who died in the Mediterranean. There are now flowers or candles on many of the photo graves.

On 3rd October 2013, a refugee boat with hundreds of people sank before Lampedusa. 361 of the dead could be gathered up. Kiflay Megahta from Eritrea received the registration number 47 and is now in the cemetery plot of the Gelardi family. The couple were able to locate relatives of the dead in Norway and have become friends with them. The Friends of Dresden meanwhile want to maintain contact with Riace and have a Dresden House take up work there.