All boys dream of being knights, don’t they?

Some weeks ago I received news that the embassy in Berne had unsuccessfully been trying to contact me under FSFE’s old office address in Zurich. This was a bit odd and unexpected. So you can probably understand my surprise to be told by the embassy upon contacting them that on 18. December 2009 I had been awarded the Cross of Merit on ribbon (“Verdienstkreuz am Bande”) by the Federal Republic of Germany. As you might expect, my first reaction was one of disbelief. I was, in fact, rather shaken. You could also say shocked.

Quick Wikipedia research revealed this to be part of the orders of knighthood, making this a Knight’s Cross. Can you hear the whinnying of the horses, the clinking of armour and the sound of steel on steel? So where does the tapping of keyboards and blinkenlights enter into this?

According to the rationale, the Cross of Merit was awarded for my work for Free Software and Open Standards, starting from my being speaker of the GNU Project, including my very first speech, my work on the Brave GNU World, over driving the creation of Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), to the work done around the Open Document Format (ODF) and the work for Open Standards in general with a variety of hats. The initial proposal originated in the Foreign Ministry from what I heard, which has been a champion for Free Software and Open Standards, especially the Open Document Format (ODF) for years, resulting in one of the most efficient and strategically sound IT environments of all German ministries.

So this is the most important message: By awarding this Cross of Merit, the Federal Republic of Germany recognises the importance of both Free Software and Open Standards. After Matthias Ettrich was already awarded the Medal of Merit in November 2009 for his work on KDE, this sends another strong message of support for Free Software and Open Standards and for the importance of the work carried forward by associations such as the Free Software Foundation Europe. This work, by the way, is an ongoing process, and it needs your support. So if you can, please join the Fellowship right now.

But there is another, more intimate meaning to this for myself, and an inherent challenge.

A born Helgolandian, the German FAZ credited this background in a very kind article for my strong emotional ties to freedom, always keeping an eye on the horizon. Most of my childhood was however spent in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. And as a truly free hanseatic citizen, one does not accept any foreign masters, which established the tradition of the Hanseatic Refusal.

So, why did I choose to accept the Cross of Merit?

There is possibly enough of a Helgolandian in me to not accept the traditions of the Pfeffersäcke of the Hanse. As you might not be aware, Helgoland was one of the primary hideouts for the pirates that plundered the ships of the Hanse, heavily laden with pepper and other goods. These Likedeelers, the “equal dividers” as they called themselves, had a much more participatory society than essentially feudal cities such as Hamburg which ultimately caught up with Klaus Störtebeker, decapitating him in the Hamburg harbour. Naturally I do not expect to fare a similar fate for my little act of rebellion against hanseatic tradition.

Despite the above I would even maintain that my acceptance constitutes “Hanseatic Acceptance” because the city of Hamburg is – seemingly ignorant of its having acted as the cradle to the Open Document Format (ODF) – as heavily Microsoft dominated as few others. At the time of the great battle around MS-OOXML, an image that once more brings up associations of blood, gore, and treachery, it has pained me greatly to see the role Hamburg played in the subversion of Open Standards and standardisation process at the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the German standardisation body (DIN).

Hamburg truly has allowed itself to become the “Proprietary and Locked-In City of Hamburg” when talking about matters of Information Technology, whereas cities like Munich have become champions for freedom. Sadly, at the current point in time, there is more freedom to be found outside of Hamburg than there is to be found within.

The award is based on values of freedom and independence, and originates with people in the government who have done more for these values than the government of Hamburg. So I shall kindly thank for the award, accept it in the name of everyone who has come before me on the path of Free Software and Open Standards, and remain my own master, as the city of Hamburg should have done.

Because only Free Software truly is Sovereign Software.

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About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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28 Responses to All boys dream of being knights, don’t they?

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  2. Congratulations!

    And arise Sir Georg, Knight of the Free Table… :D

  3. neo67 says:

    Congratulation also from me and the users from! This is sign! A SIGN! ;)

  4. mey says:

    Congratulation at one side, on the other side you’re getting this because of the free work of others which de-valuates the ‘Cross of Merit on ribbon’.
    The FSF is not really doing anything special to the world, it takes the place which universities and other educational systems are failing to do .. to educate people how to write applications. Everything that is seriously professional is closed source (eg. CAD, DirectX, etc).

  5. hes says:

    Congratualitons from me too

    AND you are very right about Hamburgs “Pfeffersäcke” and its ignorance of open standards and free software.
    From my own experiances I have to admit to it. AND it is not limitted to only one political party, so it seems it is the very special way of Hamburg….

  6. Congratulations, Georg. Wow … very, very cool.

    So, do you have a coat of arms?

  7. Congratulation Georg. I can’t think of a more deserving person to become a knight. “Arise, Sir Greve. Keep your armor polished, and never let your sword get dirty” :-) .


  8. Toti says:

    Mensch, Georg! Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

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  10. neuraloverload says:

    For a coat of arms may I suggest a pair of penguins holding an open scroll?

  11. Congratulations, Georg,

    I’m happy Free Software is put forward by this Cross of Merit that you entirely deserve. I remember I first got to know you for a Brave GNU World article you published about a Free Software piece I was writing for my scientific needs (GNU polyXmass, which became massXpert years later). I had felt at that time how vibrant your notion of Free Software was and I am glad that it has not changed since :-)

    Keep up the good work, Sir, and as Jeremy said : “never let your sword get dirty” !


  12. Will Godfrey says:

    And congratulations from me, a musical ‘doodler’ who would be quite lost without FOSS

  13. Antonio says:

    Congrats, my friends

  14. robin says:

    And the irony in it all: GPLd “free software” isn’t free, because a license that does not give full freedom to EVERYONE, doesn’t stand for freedom at all; selective freedom isn’t freedom, just as selective free speech isn’t free speech.

    “Oh, sure, we’re for freedom in software – but only for some.”

  15. nuno says:

    Georg you rock! now I must ofer you a sword so we can slice some good bread.

  16. Stoffe says:

    Congratulations on a job well done and well recognized!

  17. arielCo says:

    Congrats from Latin America. There are quite a few FOSS users in this corner of the world, all hoping for official + corporate recognition of the value of open standards. Attaboy!

  18. Antiknight says:

    Congrats. The part about knighthood is utter rubbish though, I wonder how someone with a German background can utter such nonsense.

  19. Congratulations Georg,

    this honour is well deserved! Thank you also for deciding to accept it. These types of awards reflect well on the virtue of the movement. Savour the victory!

    Prosit! :-)

  20. Jim Sanders says:

    Congratulations fellow Penguin!

  21. Rastin Mehr says:

    Congratulations Greg! When I grow up, I want to become an open source knight too!

  22. Dr.-Ing. Dieter Lange says:

    Meinen herzlichen Glueckwunsch aus Hamburg (FHH: habe einmal total emotionalisierte Reaktionen bekommen und den beginnenden Dialog abgebrochen: ist die Situation wirklich immer noch so verbissen?) !

  23. greve says:

    @robin: You are mistaken. The GPL gives the same freedom to everyone. But similar to the principles behind human rights and democracy, your personal freedom has limits when it starts encroaching on that of others.

    I know that advocates of non-protective licensing feel strongly about personal absolute freedom. And this is a good discussion to be had over beer. But the actual value of that discussion is typically very small. While I generally prefer Copyleft licensing for a wide variety of reasons, including that power and responsibility need to be balanced or corruption and abuse occurs, I do agree that non-protective licensing has its uses and justifications. Which license to use should always be a strategic project decision, there are no universal truths. To me the two are different and essential flavors of the same principle and idea, and consequently should stand together against proprietary software.

  24. greve says:

    @Antiknight: Thank you.

    Indeed the Slashdot article leaves some things to be desired as it manages to misrepresent the actual award as well as who received it, and for what.

    If you read beyond the tounge-in-cheek title, the people having fun with the imagery, and allowed yourself to take things a little less seriously, you’d notice that nowhere does the article talk about knighthood, which in fact hasn’t existed in Germany for some time. While there is some hereditary titles still around, Germans tend to give much more credit to merits based on personal achievement, such as this award.

  25. greve says:

    @ALL: Thank you for your kind words, everyone!

    Considering this is the second time the German government provided such a level of recognition for our joint cause is in fact a very good sign, and consistent with its history. It was Germany that started in 1998 to fund Free Software in the form of GnuPG. This may have been the first instance of this kind of governmental support as far as I know, and by now it is hard to find a country that does not have some activities in the area.

    So we can hope that other countries will also honor their Free Software citizens in a similar way over the next years. There are certainly enough magnificent and extraordinary people in our community to keep this up for a couple of decades or so. :)

  26. Phil Garcia says:

    Wow, not everyone can say that a knight has stayed at their house. (You stayed overnight in Milwaukee with Bernhard Reiter, around 2000.) Anyway, congrats!!

  27. Nnenna says:

    Wonderful. Interesting. Congratulations. Can you share “the code”?

  28. Pingback: » Le président allemand décore le fondateur de la Free Software Foundation Europe « Blog d'Hugo

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