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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Speech given at the 2016 Ceremony

Every year, each new edition of this ceremony in the company of our Laureates renews in us feelings, emotions and ideas that never fail to cast the light of hope. Their example moves us to reflect on the honoured place that the recognition of those who make their existence a symbol of commitment and solidarity occupies in the life of different societies.

For all these reasons, the return to Asturias each autumn for this great cultural gathering has become much more than just an emotional and inspiring tradition for both The Queen and me. It is a very special and dearly anticipated event; one we experience intensely thanks to the certainty that inspires us. Because it broadens our horizons of knowledge and –despite the daily tragedies occurring in the world– reinforces our confidence in civilization and humanity.

In recent years, moreover, we cannot also help but think of our daughters –Infanta Sofía and Princess Leonor, the Honorary President of the Foundation– and our hope in the future they represent.

At the same time, it is truly rewarding to be able to express our thanks –and I do so wholeheartedly– to all those people who, through their generosity, make it possible for the Princess of Asturias Awards to become a joyful reality; especially those who devote many hours to this Foundation, whose prestige grows each year with each ceremony.

And it is certainly a privilege to congratulate and express our thanks to the Laureates as well as the deep admiration we feel for their work. And it is of them, our Laureates, I would like to speak now:

Núria Espert, uone of the greatest of Spanish actresses, has been granted the Award for the Arts. She embodies the strength and beauty of the theatre and represents here today not only the glorious heritage of the Spanish stage, but also that of so many texts and plays by playwrights from around the world and from all periods, from classical Greece and Rome to Britain and Japan, from Sweden to the USA, all of which she has consistently brought to the stage both shrewdly and with immense talent in unforgettable performances and productions.

Through Hamlet –in a text Nuria Espert knows well, having been the first woman to play this role in Spain– Shakespeare stated that the purpose of dramatic art “was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” These principles are those which Nuria Espert has always brought to bear through her work in a prodigiously, intellectually perfect and beautifully coherent way.

Today, when we congratulate her for all this, our wish is for the Spanish stage to continue to benefit from professionals like Nuria Espert; professionals aware of the important cultural role of quality theatre, ever vigilant that the stage should preserve and protect its dignity and imperative freedom. Many thanks for your career, Núria.

The Award for Communication and Humanities has been conferred on American photojournalist James Nachtwey. He has stated that he feels committed to those who suffer and that if someday he allows his professional success to exceed his compassion, he will know that he has sold his soul. This gives us the key to appreciating the nobility of his work, the magnitude of his dedication to the most destitute, to so many victims of genocide, natural disasters, wars, famine and disease; to so many victims of hate, violence and injustice.

His view of what is happening around him is never superficial, ironic, weak or false. Rather, it is profound, caring, committed and starkly real. And in that sincerity, which he manages to convey through undoubtedly harsh, shocking images, also lies his authenticity and the integrity that inspires his work.

Nachtwey has also stated that his only regret is that the things he has photographed have, in fact, transpired. It is true that so much suffering, so much hardship, evokes in us intense helplessness and disenchantment… they are a burden to our soul. Yet the fact remains that, thanks to the work of Nachtwey and other great reporters, we are fully –and painfully– aware of the deep-seated injustices to which much of humanity is subjected.

His photographs also compel us, enjoin us to action, oblige us to remain steadfast in our pursuit of a more humane and fraternal world. They are, to conjure a beautiful image from our Laureate for Literature, Richard Ford, evoking Kafka, like “the ax for the frozen sea that is within us”. Daunting, yet absolutely necessary work, for which we wholeheartedly thank James Nachtwey.

British Professor Mary Beard has received the Award for Social Sciences. Her erudition and love of truth, her staunch defence of the humanities and innate ability to share and convey knowledge, in addition to her active commitment to women’s rights and the passion with which she expresses her convictions are but some of the most salient features of this outstanding intellectual.

Professor Beard has drank from the well of the sages of ancient Greece and Rome and that of Western historiography to unravel the history as well as the inner workings of Greek and Roman civilizations with rigour, a sense of perspective and, at the same time, an entertaining way.

She reminds us of one of Spain’s most esteemed intellectuals, Emilia Pardo Bazán, who, exactly 100 years ago in 1916, was appointed Professor of Contemporary Literature, the first woman to occupy this chair in the Central University of Madrid. As a woman, she had even been unable to enrol in a university which, in many aspects, still breathed an air of irrationality. However, as Mary Beard now does with intelligence and tenacity, Emilia Pardo Bazán demonstrated throughout her life, work and actions that what one believes in is always worth fighting for. Above all, she fought relentlessly for the acknowledgment of the intrinsic injustice underlying the inequality between men and women.

Mary Beard works with the conviction that her efforts to make her subject better known will help us better understand the world and its past, and so perhaps learn to shape a better future. Following in the footsteps of the greatest historians, she reconstructs the past to offer it up to us, explained and understandable, and thus teach us to tear down once and for all the prejudices, taboos and errors that have negatively impacted on the building of our societies.

The Award for Technical and Scientific Research has gone to American biophysicist Hugh Herr, a world leader in bionics and biomechanics. When thinking about his work, a profound sense of hope immediately wells up within us: the hope that the mobility and quality of life of millions of people with disabilities around the world may be improved and that they may even manage to do things that they could scarcely imagine before thanks to the prosthetics and exoskeletons he and his co-workers design.

Herr’s main driving force, his own disability, is evidence of the extent to which he is committed, of how, with courage and perseverance, he has achieved what seemed, until only a few years ago, an unattainable desire or pure science fiction. That will, his already tangible results and those that he and all of us can and wish to imagine will certainly astonish us and fill us with emotion.

He has stated, “My only goal is to contribute with all my strength to the global mission to end disability during this century.” To design and manufacture mechanisms intended to augment the sensory experience, physical ability and cognitive capacities of human beings is without doubt a sublime challenge; even more so with the aim of improving the plight of so many people with disabilities, who, as Herr sees it, are the victims of poor, ineffectual technology.

His creative and innovative vision is a powerful beacon that illuminates circumstances and lives often filled with despair and both emotional and physical pain. It casts a powerful beam that will hopefully soon reach and be of use to all who have need of it. It is a dream come true, thanks to a brave, diligent man who is deeply committed to his work and his mission.

Adversities were likewise unable to defeat our Laureate for Sports, triathlete ,Javier Gómez Noya,. To the contrary, they were a further stimulus for him to eventually achieve the highest goals in a sport, the triathlon, which has flourished in Spain in recent years, largely thanks to Javier Gómez Noya’s brilliant career and the desire of so many fans to emulate his triumphs in what may be called an “all-round” sport in view of the astounding effort it requires.

In this respect, Javier Gómez Noya is an athlete with both physical and mental fortitude and admirable, uncommon resilience. In each competition, he brings into play the steely principles with which he has made his name as an athlete: a constant desire to do better, a fighting spirit, camaraderie and humility. Principles that have made of him an elite athlete, a undisputed world champion.

He is also a role model for all those who desire to be the best in sport and a symbol of what we can achieve when healthy ambition is built upon strength and enthusiasm. With an enviably positive outlook on life, which he has always shown and which even helped him overcome injuries like the one that kept him from competing in the Rio Olympics, Javier is ultimately a symbol of the best values of sport and a true source of pride for his fellow Galicians and for all of Spain.

American writer Richard Ford has been bestowed with the Award for Literature. His name thus joins the list of other literary greats from the USA who have received our Award in past years.

Richard Ford is an author fully aware of the fundamental and irreplaceable role that literature plays in the cultural fabric of a society. “I want my books to be useful, to help us live,” he has written. That is why his works exude such purity, honesty and grandeur. For Ford writes about what he knows best, about what he feels, with a scrutiny that comprehensively and penetratingly dissects passions, feelings, reactions, anguish, failure and success, thereby faithfully representing and dignifying human beings, as is his goal.

He also does so through characters who live ordinary lives. Pure, unadulterated life, sometimes even narrated in real time, at a slow tempo and in a precise, meticulous manner. As his friend John Banville, who also received the Award for Literature two years ago now and who nominated Ford for this

Award, has put it, “his subtle chronicle of contemporary American life has the timeless quality of all true art (...). Life pulsates on his pages and his characters are as real to us as those with whom we share the breakfast table every morning.”

Whether in his trilogy of novels featuring Frank Bascombe or other highly successful works, such as Canada, in his splendid collections of short stories or his priceless Flores en las grietas [Flowers in the Cracks], where Ford reflects on literature and the craft of writing, his work transforms the small, mundane and even mediocre into a work of art. The work of art of a human being who, as he has humbly stated, simply wants to write for other human beings.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement have been jointly granted the Award for International Cooperation. The UN agreement to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions achieved a truly historic compromise in Paris at the end of 2015. A binding and universal agreement, approved by 195 countries, which is the beginning of the essential unity needed on a global scale to stem the rise in the Earth’s temperature. In a scant fifteen days –on 4th November– the Paris Agreement will enter into force once it has been ratified by 55% of the Parties to the Convention.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stated, global momentum has made what was once unthinkable, now unstoppable. Since we started to notice the first signs of alarm, the international community has realized that the solution can only come about if we face the situation together, jointly engaged and even morally bound, since we are victims, yes, but, above all, we are responsible for and the cause of all this damage. The Framework Convention and, more specifically, the Paris Agreement are, in this respect, the key to that global commitment; a commitment that is emotional and moral, but which must also be technological, scientific, economic and political.

The Paris Climate Summit and the Agreement adopted there are, without doubt, a very good start. Especially because we now know for sure that the rise in the Earth’s temperature and the very serious problems associated with it require an urgent and consensual solution, one that cannot be adopted unilaterally. Because we now know that by protecting the environment, we not only protect forests, waters, skies, wildlife and plants; we protect ourselves and safeguard our survival on the face of the Earth.

The time has come to think of a future capable of doing away with the global threat once and for all; a future in which sustainable development, the definitive reduction of pollutant emissions, the use of renewable energy and recycling prevail along with the unanimous agreement to halt the rise in the temperature of the planet. Our thanks to Patricia Espinosa and Christiana Figueres, who are here today to receive this Award on behalf of so many people and on behalf of us all.

SOS Children’s Villages has been bestowed with the Award for Concord. For over sixty years now, the pioneering, persevering and dedicated work of thousands of people has been the lifeblood of this organization since it was founded by Austrian Herman Gmeiner to help children.

Facts and figures offer us an accurate view of the importance of humanitarian organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages. Allow me to cite just a few: Today, the organization has 546 Villages in 134 countries, attending to more than 450,000 children and young people and providing an even greater number of medical treatments. These figures speak for themselves. They are even more deeply felt when we consider that the world’s children are the most vulnerable, most defenceless human beings and those most in need of our help and protection. That is why the work of an organization like SOS Children’s Villages immediately fills us with deep gratitude and emotion.

Humanity will not be completely safe until we understand that protecting, caring for and educating children is a priority. SOS Children’s Villages reminds us of this every day with its self-sacrificing, untiring and dedicated work. There is little point in establishing short-term goals without looking to the future. It is of little use to solve the problems that underlie our society in a provisional, immediate manner if we do not simultaneously adopt lasting, all-encompassing solutions.

As with the threat of climate change, the evils that afflict and hound children must be definitively resolved through consensus, as they are the painful proof of and a constant wake-up call to the fact that there are many things about our world that are wrong, things that we cannot expect others to remedy, yet that must be remedied in plotting the course that leads to our dignity as human beings. Therefore, to support and encourage the exemplary and selfless work of SOS Children’s Villages must clearly be an imperative.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we approach the end of this ceremony, imbued with teachings and immense gratitude, I would now like to briefly address those who are the leading lights of this even.

Dear Laureates,

Over these last few days, I am sure you have been able to appreciate and enjoy this wonderful land that is Asturias; that you will have felt the admiration and respect of the Asturian people for your work; that you will have experienced truly special moments replete with emotion and gratitude, which I hope will remain unforgettable for you. Yet beyond the recognition of your merits, I do not wish to conclude my remarks without returning to the raison d’etre of this ceremony.

Our Laureates have always reminded us –you have reminded us over these days, and also from this stage– that every great scientific, political, social or artistic work is founded on firm, solid ideals. The Foundation and our Awards came into being with the conviction that knowledge –the product of study, effort and experience– is an essential value for the development and fundamental wellbeing of people; that knowledge –that door we must never cease to knock on– brings light and reason to the path we must endlessly tread in addressing the complexity of the world in which we live.

The Awards ultimately came into being as a heartfelt act of civic affirmation of culture against ignorance. And so, in this year in which we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes, let us be inspired by the figure of Don Quixote and firmly believe, like he did, that culture always enriches coexistence, feeds the loftiest values of the spirit, ennobles the sentiments of people, and helps us to live with greater dignity.

And I must say, both humbly yet with satisfaction, that, over the years, the Awards have exceeded our goals, have never disappointed us... Our Laureates have been the loftiest and most brilliant representation of this desire to make us better people, of the desire to make a better world in which concord, respect and solidarity prevail.

You have shown us that great advances can be achieved when knowledge and expertise come together; when science enters into dialogue with the humanities; when the arts and literature merge with concord; when cooperation intertwines with exemplarity or when sport joins hands with solidarity.

Thanks to each and every one of you, we are more aware that progress is always the result of countless shared efforts between people of diverse backgrounds, between different cultures and faiths, between different nations. And you have reminded us that every great work, every major creation has arisen from the most authentic feelings.

For the Foundation and our Awards also came into being due to a sentiment: the deep-seated love of Asturias and of all of Spain. They came into being with the desire that the soul of this land ─its loyalty, courage and nobility– should be a reference for one and all. They came into being with the will to proclaim a Spain that, as Unamuno put it, has to be one of open arms, where no one might feel alone in their pain or adversity; a Spain far-removed from pessimism, disenchantment and discouragement; a Spain true to its unwavering urge to live and be proud of what we are, what we have achieved together, which has been a great deal and is to be admired; a Spain in which we can feel confident, because a people that desires, respects and protects culture need never fear its future.

And that, dear Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why we all gather here today in Asturias in the Campoamor Theatre in Oviedo, ─as we have done each year since 35 years ago, when our Awards came into being─ to extol your merits, to maintain that culture inspires our freedom and to renew our commitment to Spain.

Thank you.

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