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Serhiy Zhadan awarded the 2022 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Ukrainian writer, poet, translator and musician Serhiy Zhadan was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today. The speech honouring this year’s recipient was given by author, playwright and curator Sasha Marianna Salzmann.
Erstellt am 23.10.2022

The Ukrainian writer, poet, translator and musician Serhiy Zhadan was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony attended by roughly 600 guests in the church of St. Paul in Frankfurt. Among those in attendance were Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, Bundestag Vice-President Katrin Göring-Eckardt and SPD Chairwoman Saskia Esken. The speech honouring this year’s recipient was given by author, playwright and curator Sasha Marianna Salzmann.

In his acceptance speech, Zhadan spoke of the painful insight that the pressures of war can cause severe damage to language in its usual form. What can we do, he asked, when words are no longer capable of describing what is happening? For Zhadan, it has been unbearable to lose language as a reliable of means of communication and understanding.

“How can one talk about war? How can one manage all the desperation, fury, and rancor in one’s tone, as well as all the energy and eagerness to stick by your fellows, not to retreat? I think we aren’t the only ones struggling to convey what matters most. The world listening to us isn’t always capable of understanding one simple thing – when we speak, the degrees of our linguistic tension, linguistic sincerity, and linguistic emotionality differ too drastically. Ukrainians shouldn’t have to justify their emotions, but unpacking these emotions is worthwhile. What for? So as not to keep all this pain and all this anger bottled up, at the very least”.

Zhadan’s speech attempted to provide a kind of explanation to people observing the war from afar – also by reporting on the daily realities of his fellow citizens in Ukraine. The problem, as he described it, is not merely a linguistic but also an ethical one. Indeed, Zhadan inquired as to whether the world was willing to “swallow yet another manifestation of utter uncontrollable evil in favor of dubious financial gain and disingenuous pacifism”.

“You would think,” he noted, that peace “would bring us closer to a common understanding. (…) So what do Ukrainians find alarming about European intellectuals’ and European politicians’ declarations about the need for peace (which doesn’t negate the need for peace, of course)? It’s the fact that we understand that peace won’t come merely because the victim of aggression has laid down their arms. (…) What do proponents of a speedy peace at any cost think they should have done? Where is the line between supporting peace and not supporting resistance?”

Zhadan continued: “When speaking about peace in the context of this bloody, dramatic war instigated by Russia, some people don’t want to acknowledge a simple fact: there’s no such thing as peace without justice. There are various forms of frozen conflict, there are temporarily occupied territories, there are time bombs camouflaging as political compromises, but unfortunately, there won’t be any peace, real peace that provides a sense of security and prospects for the future. (…) We’re assisting our troops not because we want war, but because we really want peace”.

Sasha Marianna Salzmann’s speech honouring this year’s recipient also noted that although literature cannot bring about an end to war, it can hold the world together by allowing us to experience the “inner side of humanity”. According to Salzmann, Serhiy Zhadan achieves this in his work, especially in his close proximity to the experiences of the individuals he portrays. “Zhadan, who exposes us to as many different biographies in his work, never chooses a bird’s-eye view. There is no distance ever to be found in his gaze. (…) In an era where words, positions and judgements chafe us to the bone, this poet draws on a posture of radical humanity to create moments in which we can simply breathe. (…) Every single one of Zhadan‘s texts is characterised by an emphasis on dialogue, on the exploration of and confrontation with the external world around him”.

In the speech delivered by Börsenverein Chairperson Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, she noted how the Board of Trustees had sought a recipient who would allow them to set an example in the current era of war in Europe. Schmidt-Friderichs lauded Zhadan for his inspiring poems, books and music as well as for his remarkable commitment to the people in his homeland: “Thank you, dear Serhiy Zhadan, for bringing us back to the essential questions through your work. Thank you for challenging us, for unsettling us. Thank you for undertaking the long journey, away from your fellow citizens, whom you care for and on whose behalf you are tirelessly active – at the risk of your own life! Thank you for your novels, your poetry, your music. And thank you for your testimony. For bearing witness to war”.

In her own greeting, Ina Hartwig, Frankfurt’s City Councillor for Culture, emphasised the special role played by literature in conveying truth: “The truth of literature is different from the truth of the media. (…) Poetry and prose are more complex, more contradictory, sometimes even more hermetic. They speak to us in a different way. They touch us differently, more deeply”. 

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has been awarded annually since 1950 by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Previous recipients include Sebastião Salgado, Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren, Václav Havel, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Sontag, Liao Yiwu, Navid Kermani, Margaret Atwood, Aleida and Jan Assmann and last year’s winner, Tsitsi Dangarembga. The Peace Prize is endowed with a sum of €25,000. 

A press photo will be available online today at no cost starting at around 2:30 p.m. at

The texts of the speeches given by Serhiy Zhadan and Sasha Marianna Salzmann are available at

The book containing all of the speeches given at the award ceremony will be available starting 23 November 2022 in bookstores and at MVB Customers Service at kundenserviceNO SPAM SPAN! (ISBN: 978-3-7657-3438-0, €19.90). 

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