BERLIN (Reuters) - The German town where Martin Luther helped inspire the Protestant Reformation five centuries ago has drawn accusations of honoring blasphemy for nominating Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot for a freedom of speech prize.
Politicians in Lutherstadt Wittenberg have recommended Pussy Riot for the national “Fearless Word” prize in honor of Luther, a monk excommunicated and outlawed after nailing 95 theses to a church door in 1517 and criticizing the mighty Catholic Church.
Delegates from 16 German towns with links to Luther will decide in November on the winner of the 10,000 euro prize.
However, Wittenberg town council’s nomination has stirred outrage among many Germans - both Protestants and Catholics - who object to the band’s staging of their punk protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a revered Orthodox Church.
“It would be a disastrous signal if our town’s nomination of Pussy Riot were to win the Luther Prize,” said Friedrich Schorlemmer, a local Protestant theologian and widely respected civil rights activist in former Communist East Germany.
“A Luther town should not honor blasphemy,” he told the Leipziger Volkszeitung daily, adding that both the band’s name and its lyrics were objectionable.
Three members of Pussy Riot were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in August and are in jail after staging a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church and asking the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
In response to the outcry from theologians and politicians to the town’s decision, Wittenberg council is looking at options for revoking the nomination, a council spokeswoman said.
“The nomination was made as there was a feeling that it was legitimate for the band to be provocative and break a taboo,” said the spokeswoman, adding the council had sought a public debate before a vote last month but that had failed to take off.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative ally Ruprecht Polenz, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag lower house, said he opposed the nomination.
“(Pussy Riot) accepted they were hurting religious feelings to deliver a political message. That should not be recommended,” Polenz was quoted as saying in the Berliner Zeitung.
In 2011, journalists from Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta won the Luther award for reporting on corruption and organized crime. Other winners include a German policewoman who fought right-wing extremism, a Muslim woman attacked for not wearing a headscarf and people who resisted East German Communism.
Luther nailed his theses to Wittenberg’s Schlosskirche and attacked papal abuses and corruption within the clergy.
Forced into hiding, he became a leading figure in Europe’s Protestant Reformation and also translated the Bible into German. He is widely credited with helping spread the language.
Editing by Gareth Jones and Alison Williams