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Oviedo 20th October 2006
Every year as Autumn comes round, so many memories, hopes and - above all - aspirations burgeon in our hearts when we return to these dearly-loved lands of Asturias to live the experience of this grand ceremony, which is so emotive and so charged with profound symbolic meaning.
We return on this particular occasion as the splendour of our XXV anniversary begins to settle in our memories and with the satisfaction of being able to look back on the path the Foundation plotted and travelled over this first quarter century of existence. The journey has been a pleasant one, replete with aspirations that seemed unachievable at the outset but which are now the firmest foundations upon which to continue with our exhilarating work.
We reiterate our infinite gratitude to the people who launched this Foundation and who make it work day after day: its directors, patrons and trustees, the members of the Juries, and everybody who enthusiastically join us, sharing our ideals and making today a great festival of culture.
The achievements of our Foundation are in permanent debt to this beautiful, beloved land of Asturias. We find one of the deepest roots of Spanish culture in the Principality of Asturias, which is also now giving contemporary Spain splendid individual examples of success and outstanding demonstrations of the spirit of solidarity. This is all driven by endeavour and the desire to improve that are - and will always be - the Principality's finest asset.
A common denominator of the Awards and the Foundation is the unflagging defence of the principles and virtues that set people apart and that generate each of the Awards.
Way back when the Asturian poet Carlos Bousoño collected his Award, he said that, "today more than ever, we should feel proud of belonging to this useless yet glorious line of descent we call 'man'"
Man, after all, is at the very hub of our work.
This year's 2006 Awards in all eight categories have gone to organisations and individuals whose work is vivid testimony of a desire to know mankind and his environment better; who foster values, who are epitomes of solidarity, who have made noteworthy contributions to the progress of science, and who have pursued exquisiteness in expression and aesthetics.
We give them out warmest congratulations. Their attendance and participation in this ceremony are cause for real joy and sincere gratitude, for they enable us to highlight and emphasise the sense and meaning of their priceless careers.
Bill and Melinda Gates, alongside their parents William and Mimi Gates, who accompany us today, showed clear-sightedness and extraordinary generosity in founding the exemplary organisation that bears their name and that has been given the Award for International Cooperation.
Our most reliable statistics indicate that over eight million people in the world, many of whom are children, die every year of hunger and disease caused by living in extreme poverty. It is a state of affairs that stirs our consciences, and obliges those of us who enjoy the privilege of living in richer countries to eradicate an inhumane situation made even more intolerable when we realise most of the innocents fall victim to diseases that can be prevented or treated with medicines that we are now readily available. Fighting this state of affairs is not only a duty. It is a sine qua non for a better, safer world for all.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation currently leads endeavours to help people, particularly children, who succumb to illness or are victims of war, injustice and abject poverty, with the continent of Africa as a priority. in what is an unprecedented display of philanthropy, the Gates' is allocating a considerable portion of its assets and endeavours to this great task with impassioned commitment and dedication, laying the groundwork for researchers and scientists around the World, some of whom are Spanish, to work together in the fight against tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS, thereby making programmes even more effective.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works with cutting-edge ideas, and providing us with a priceless example of generosity and highlighting the true nature of abject poverty: its futility, its irrationality, its absurdity and the injustice of it all. It will one day be said about the Gates, to paraphrase the splendid verse of Paul Verlaine, that their hearts did not beat in vain.
The National Geographic Society, Communication and Humanities Award Laureate, is a prestigious organisation founded in Washington at the end of the nineteenth century that works with thousands of professionals around the world. Throughout its history, it has played a crucial role not only in discovering and exploring the Earth but also in informing the broader public of scientific breakthroughs relating to Nature and mankind's heritage in history, ethnology, geography and art.
It also publishes five monthly reviews - one in thirty-one languages with a circulation of eight million copies - which places the organisation in the vanguard of the media specialising in the marvels of nature and culture worldwide. Using carefully crafted production and photography of enormous symbolism and expressiveness, any issue whatsoever related to man's adventure on Earth and as part of the Universe is embellished by the work of this by this publishing, television and film-making society.
It is also a non-profit-making organisation that ploughs its profits back into its media publications and cultural and scientific activities. Thanks to the eight thousand research projects and expeditions it has funded to date and another five hundred that are presently being undertaken, the Society disseminates the highly accurate information needed to foster an acute awareness of the threats stalking Nature and to galvanize the will needed to overcome them.
National Geographic is therefore a beacon illuminating and succouring the precious world bequeathed to us. Its approach and its message foster and spread the harmony that our times cry out for. Furthermore, it is a window opening onto a world that we want to continue to thrive in all its splendour, complexity and beauty. Man continues to explore it but we now have awareness and the duty to protect it as something of vital importance for the present and future of Mankind.
The Award for Arts was conferred on film-maker Pedro Almodóvar, who has led his personal brand of cinema to the pinnacles of international fame and prestige. The creative passion and originality of this La Mancha-born film-maker has transcended frontiers and captivated millions of cinema-goers the world over. His characters suffer and laugh and are touched by love, melancholy, tenderness and affection in scenes in which senses of humour and irony arise alongside crudity, thereby configuring the hallmarks of his unmistakeably personal style.
Immediate realities merge at the heart of his films; realities apprehended in his native La Mancha, in the youth culture of Madrid in the eighties, which are then forged into the international kaleidoscope of urban culture of the following decades. He thereby describes a new, avant-garde aesthetic synthesis, with a Spanish background reminiscent of Mihura, Berlanga and Buñuel, and provides us with invaluable portraits of the human condition, depicted as true-to-life yet observed through the prism of his creative talent and personality
His films attract the theatre-goer, who perceive in his works not only certain assertions, doubts, contradictions, fears and hopes, but also new facets of a cultural world in a permanent state of change. His films are seen worldwide as a major part of our intellectual and aesthetic world, making him a benchmark of Spain's best and most inventive cinema.
This Award for Pedro Almodóvar expresses the acknowledgement of a hallowed film director, and serves as a spur to the endeavours and production of so many young, hopeful professionals of the Seventh Art in our country.
This year the Award for Scientific and Technical Research has been bestowed on Spanish physicist Juan Ignacio Cirac Sasturain, thereby acknowledging the extraordinary work of an outstanding young lecturer and expert in quantum computing who presently heads the Department of Quantum Optics at Germany's Max Planck Institute.
We are particularly impressed by the fact that his nomination was seconded by five Nobel Prize Laureates in Physics, amongst other eminent scientists, all of whom have proclaimed their admiration for the work he does, for the international prestige that he has achieved with his cutting-edge research, and for his position as a leading light in the revolutionary field of quantum information, a new science for the twenty-first century.
His studies on large-scale quantum processors have had far-reaching repercussions and have led many laboratories to start experiments in this innovative scientific field. He has himself said that, "the quantum computer will revolutionise the field of information technology" by providing greater efficiency and security in transferring and handling data. Cirac is also researching other state-of-the-art fields that will help to improve man's quality of life.
His lead motivates and inspires anyone who loves Science, and is also a powerful spur for our country's researchers, who we take this opportunity to encourage to persevere in their work. His outstanding work, his youth and the depth of his knowledge invite belief in a brighter future for sciences and research in Spain, a future in which science will be increasingly appreciated and fostered by society as one of the key determiners of economic and social progress.
This year's Award for Letters has been bestowed upon American novelist Paul Auster, whose work - which has not shied away from poetry, newspaper articles or cinema - is one of the most perceptive and profound analyses of what the author sees as existential absurdity and the limitations of modern man.
Paul Auster is a key figure in the renovation of contemporary literature. Blessed with an extraordinary imagination, he has used his work to build a unique universe where fate, a basic component of the mystery, shepherds the reader towards a world of surprises, coincidences, unexpected and almost invariably extraordinary reactions that nevertheless make his characters more human by transforming them into real people with emotions.
The basic hallmark of his work is his approach to eternal and universal questions, such as solitude, the eventuality of man and death, handled with a discourse of absolute freedom. With consummate ease and intelligence, Auster - for whom writing is always a great adventure - has managed to communicate his obsessions, concerns and desires by recounting stories steeped in mystery and even implausibility.
Paul Auster frequently sets his narrative in the city of New York, a universal metaphor of our present plight and the milieu for terribly fragile lives; a fragility that Auster feels morally obliged to constantly remind us of. Such lives arouse the compassion of the reader who identifies with them and is inexorably shepherded into the pleasure of reading.
The Award for Social Sciences goes to an Irish woman, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, university lecturer in Law, driving force behind the International Penal Tribunal, former United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights and now president of the Ethical Globalisation Initiative.
She represents an ancient and beautiful land, Ireland, which Spain maintains a strong cultural bond and a centuries-long close friendship with. Its origins hark back to times immemorial, if an ancient legend is to be believed.
Her work is distinguished by a particularly meaningful feature: her unflagging commitment to cultural values and the tenacious endeavour to extend human rights in the world. Another common thread running through all her work is justice, fraternity and generosity as key drivers of parity in international relations
Mary Robinson also epitomises the many men and women who have successfully blended modernity and values burnished by the centuries to help make our world a more open-minded, humane place.
Her enormous social sensitivity and her extraordinary sense of the practical are surely not unrelated to the fact that she is of the female sex: a woman of our time, who grieves for the suffering of others and for the myriad people who suffer the atrocity of violence. We need people like Mary Robinson who combine in-depth knowledge of current affairs with a ceaseless quest for peace, and an unerring ability to find solutions to specific problems as they arise.
Over the years, I have constantly mentioned how tremendously inspirational that clean and fair sport is for young people and how it sets a fine example for society as a whole. Will power, self-sacrifice, fair play and healthy rivalry are part and parcel of the careers of the greatest sports players. These virtues are particularly well highlighted in team sports. This is why it has been a great joy to see that this year's Award for Sports has gone to Spain's basketball team.
This team has proved itself able to combine over long periods great tenacity, an admirable bond with their coach and great togetherness - spin-offs of their work ethic and companionship - which are unquestionably the cornerstones of their success.
Their frequent victories, the way they gradually fought their way to the top, is reminiscent of Unamuno's idea on a character trait that further enhances the triumphs of those who tough it out and fight for victory: they pursue victory with determination and conviction but find consolation in defeat and moderation in victory for everyone knows that you achieve nothing of any import in life without that human touch, without brotherly comradeship.
This is why the splendid example the Spanish basketball team has set for all of us will always be part of the history of sport and will always be particularly remembered by those of us who love and play the sport. To quote their trainer, Pepu Hernández, this team are an example of a bunch of nice guys who get together to do good things hoping to make the whole country happy. We hereby testify to that and encourage them to continue with their good work.
They are laureates today because of all these virtues. Thanks also to these virtues, they won the World Championship in Japan this September in such a brilliant and deserved way, getting the whole of Spain to its feet with excitement.
By conferring this year's Award for Concord on UNICEF, this final prize takes on the most moving of dimensions and fullest of meaning, for none of the problems that mankind confronts is as moving as those that affect childhood and so many children the world over who need special, urgent care and attention for their rights, their needs and their sufferings.
Since it was founded in 1946, UNICEF has been a pioneering organisation in tackling these ills of the world, which stir our conscience and spark general outcry, because their victims are the most defenceless of human beings and because a childhood that is forsaken or menaced by threat or aggression is not only perverse per se, but also the source of a multitude of future afflictions.
The fact that eight out of ten children on our planet do not enjoy the most basic of rights is a perennial call to action that UNICEF has responded to, showing enormous efficiency in almost two hundred countries in the world.
It is only right, then, for our Award to hail the endeavours made by UNICEF every day in pursuit of a better childhood, to alleviate the bleak reality of sick children, to put an end to the tragic circumstances that so many abused, exploited and hungry children still live in, even in the twenty-first century.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In a few weeks we will close events celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of our Awards, whose intense and treasured history evoke countless cherished experiences and feelings, for it has been a marvellous adventure; one that began like Don Quixote, when he set off in the radiant, austere land of La Mancha to wander the horizons dreaming with enormous hope but limited equipment of implementing his most noble ideals.
In this quarter century, and in the personalities of our Laureates, we have had the chance to admire and highlight the power of intelligence, sacrifice and excellent. Moreover, the Foundation and our Awards have fostered generosity over self-interests, concord over division, peaceful coexistence over fanaticism, commitment over indifference.
We want this message to be proclaimed with clarity, vigour and force to our youth in particular, so that they grow in statute with these virtues, so that they turn their back on potential despair and so that they join the great adventure of life in peace, plenitude and responsibility with willingness.
Our work started and developed because of the freedom and stability guaranteed under our Constitution. The Awards and the Foundation behind them combine in their history the same virtues that have guided the lives of the Spanish over recent years: determination and caution, firm convictions, faith and trust in our common future.
After twenty-five years, what most fills us with satisfaction is to see the most valuable of the many shows of support that our Foundation and Laureates could receive: the fact that the great majority of Spaniards consider them as a great Spanish cultural and moral heritage for the world at large.
The Royal Family has encouraged the Foundation in its ongoing pursuit of culture. It is work in the service of Spain, in the service of our progress and our projection abroad as a great nation. This is the main reason that inspired H.M. the King in his support of the founding of our organisation; alongside H.M. the Queen, he has given us this support at all times.
Like our unforgettable Julián Marías, I now think that the most important thing is to look forward towards the future and believe in what we are doing. The Princess and I are happy to think that we will pass on to our children all the weight of these emotions and lessons, the emotive heritage of unforgettable memories. Because we want hope, the desire for a fairer world, and the tireless quest for a mankind of free men and women to blossom in their hearts. Because, in short, we want them, like us, to also believe in the light just before the dawn.
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