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Russian Historian Irina Sherbakova Wins German Rights Prize

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Renowned Russian historian and co-founder of the Memorial human rights organization, Irina Sherbakova has been awarded the 2022 Marion Dönhoff Prize for international understanding and reconciliation.

Sherbakova’s post humous award was announced on Monday in Hamburg by Germany’s Zeit publishing group. The prize is named after a late editor of the Zeit weekly, Marion Dönhoff.

Doenhoff, who died on March 11, 2002, was a German journalist who participated in the resistance against Hitler’s National Socialists. After the war, she became one of West Germany’s leading journalists and intellectuals. Passionate about politics, she rose in the ranks of her profession to become editor-in-chief and publisher of the Die Zeit newspaper.

“We are awarding Irina Sherbakova this prize to pay tribute to her outstanding contribution to her country’s historical self-examination and her courageous battle for human rights”, the jury said.

Sherbakova, a specialist on crimes committed during the Stalin era, is to accept the prize, valued at €20,000 ($19,400), in person at a ceremony in Hamburg on December 4. Chancellor Olaf Scholz will give a speech at the award ceremony.

Notably, Memorial was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, along with Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties. Memorial was dissolved in Russia at the end of 2021 following a court ruling.

For decades, Shcherbakova worked assiduously to shed light on the repressive policies of the former Soviet Union. In 1988, she was a founding member of Memorial, the first Soviet non-governmental organisation, which still fights for the protection of human rights in Russia and has been on the list of “foreign agents” since 2016.

She published numerous books on Russian history and current politics, most recently Der Russland-Reflex. Einsichten in eine Beziehungskrise (2015) in collaboration with the German historian of Eastern Europe, Karl Schlögel. As a sought-after interlocutor on German-Russian relations, she plays a decisive role in rapprochement between the two countries.

She was born in Moscow in 1949, Sherbakova was a journalist and a translator. After studying German and history at Moscow State University, she received her doctorate in German language studies in 1972. In the following years, she worked primarily as a translator of German fiction and as a journalist.

In the late 1970s, she began compiling taped interviews of victims of Stalinism. In 1991, she has started researching the archives of the KGB. She began her university career in 1992 as a lecturer at the Russian State University of Human Sciences in Moscow, where she taught oral history and visual anthropology until 2006.

She was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, in Vienna and Freiburg, and was a guest professor at the universities in Salzburg, Bremen and Jena. Her research fields include oral history, totalitarianism, Stalinism, Gulag and Soviet special camps on German soil after 1945, cultural memory in Russia and the politics of remembrance.

As an author and editor, Irina Shcherbakova published numerous books on Stalinism and remembrance culture, many of which have been published in German.

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