Thursday, November 25, 2010

Germany: German Chancellor Merkel in U.S. Freedom Awards List

By Ernest Corea
Courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - In Germany, some supporters of the Green Party believe that right now the wind is at their back. At the White House, nevertheless, Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel clearly remains No. 1. She is the only non-American political leader currently holding office who will be honored with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom. One other German head of government was similarly honoured in 1999: Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

President Harry S. Truman launched the Medal of Freedom in 1945 as a way of recognising outstanding civilian service during the Second World War. Eighteen years later President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 11085 elevating the stature of the medal and re-naming it the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Medal recognises individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." It may be awarded to outstanding recipients from outside the U.S.

Although it is considered a civilian medal it may be awarded to military honorees who are entitled to wear the medal on their uniform. General Colin Powell is one such military honoree. He has also received the honour twice, as did Professor Kenneth Galbraith, the illustrious academic who was the U.S. ambassador to India during the Kennedy administration.

The U.S. president selects the list of honorees, either on his own initiative or on the recommendation of the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board. The medal is awarded annually.


When naming the 2010 honorees, Obama said: "These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they've excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place."

They represent (in alphabetical order) advocacy, the arts, environmentalism, humanitarian endeavour, philanthropy, political leadership, sports, and the trade union movement.

In the past, as well, honorees have represented many aspects of human effort and have been drawn from across the world. Past honorees include Martha Graham, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshal, Colin Powell, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus and Alvares Uribe.

If it does nothing else, President Barack Obama's selection of Merkel should put to rest the speculation that the Obama-Merkel relationship lacked the warmth and mutual regard that his predecessor and the German Chancellor are said to have shared.

Merkel has shattered Germany's highest, toughest glass ceiling. She is the first woman and first East German to serve as Chancellor of a unified Germany, which is now 20 years old. She has been reported as saying that "freedom is the happiest experience of her life."

Merkel was born in Hamburg but grew up in the former communist East Germany. She entered politics through the Democratic Awakening party but was elected to parliament as a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). She has been CDU chair since 2000. She was the second woman to chair the G-8, after Margaret Thatcher, and has played a leadership role in European and international negotiations

Two other national political figures named as 2010 honorees, both from the U.S., are the widely respected President George H. W. Bush, and Congressman George Lewis, a living legend of the civil rights movement.


Excluding those already mentioned, here is the White House list of 2010 honorees:

-- John H. Adams co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970. He was Executive Director and, later, president of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group until 2006. His tenure is unparalleled by the leader of any other environmental organization. Rolling Stone writes: "If the planet has a lawyer, it's John Adams."

-- Maya Angelou is a prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, who is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. She was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

-- Warren Buffett is an American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist. He is one of the most successful investors in the world. He is the primary shareholder, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and has pledged that all of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway -- about 99 percent of his net worth -- will be given to philanthropic endeavors. He is a co-founder of The Giving Pledge, an organization that encourages wealthy Americans to devote at least 50 percent of their net worth to philanthropy.

-- American artist Jasper Johns has produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s. Among his best known works are depictions of familiar objects and signs, including flags, targets and numbers. He has incorporated innovative approaches to materials and techniques, and his work has influenced pop, minimal, and conceptual art.

-- Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Holocaust survivor who has written several books about her experiences. After Nazi Germany took over her homeland of Poland, Klein was separated from both her parents: they were sent to Auschwitz and she to a series of labor and concentration camps. In 1945, she was sent on a forced 350-mile death march to avoid the advance of Allied forces. She was one of the minority who survived the forced journey. Klein has dedicated her life to promoting tolerance and understanding among all people.

-- Tom Little (posthumous) was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked in Afghanistan for three decades beginning in 1976, raising three daughters and providing vision, dental and mother/child care to the people of that country through the NOOR program (Noor means "light" in Persian) that Dr. Little ran for the International Assistance Mission.


-- Yo-Yo Ma is considered the world's greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five. Born in Paris, Ma was a child prodigy who made his Carnegie Hall debut at age nine. He was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize in 1978, and, in 1991, Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in music. He serves as Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project, and has won sixteen Grammy awards. He is known especially for his interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, and for his ability to play many different styles of music, including tango and bluegrass. He serves on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

-- Sylvia Mendez is a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. As an eight-year-old, her parents attempted to enroll Mendez in an all-white school in their community, but were denied entry and were told to go to the school for Mexican children. Her father and other parents sued and prevailed. The Mendez v. Westminster case was a landmark decision in the civil rights movement against segregation. Mendez currently travels around the country giving speeches on the value of a good education.

-- Stan "The Man" Musial is a baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Musial played 22 seasons for the Cardinals from 1941 to 1963. A 24-time All-Star selection, Musial accumulated 3,630 hits and 475 home runs during his career, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times, and was a member of three World Series championship teams.

-- Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics' Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball. Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA -- indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the U.S. -- Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.

-- Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA, a non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth and adults with disabilities. From 1993 to 1998, Smith served as U. S. Ambassador to Ireland, and played a pivotal role in the peace process. Smith is the youngest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and is the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center.

John J. Sweeney is the president emeritus of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations), and served as president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009. The son of Irish immigrants, a domestic worker and a bus driver in the Bronx, New York, he worked his way up in the labour movement to become President of the Service Employees International Union. As President of the AFL-CIO, he revitalized the American labour movement, emphasizing union organizing and social justice, and was a powerful advocate for America’s workers.


By widening the pools from which recipients may be chosen, the Kennedy Administration made the point that freedom is an universal value, to be sought, acquired, nurtured and strengthened by the entire human family.

Recipients down the years have been from many different fields, as well, thus demonstrating that freedom is all-encompassing. However, the record indicates that there is a “developing country deficit” among those who have been considered worthy of recognition.

Is this a reflection of reality? Or do presidential advisers don't know where to look?

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is on the IDN editorial board and President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.