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Speech by HRH The Prince of Asturias at the 2008 Prince of Asturias Awards Ceremony

Filled with the deep emotion we feel each year when holding our Awards Presentation Ceremony and the satisfaction and joy of having among us people and institutions worthy of the most universal recognition, we meet once more in Oviedo, capital of this beloved land, Asturias. A land and a city that always offers us a warm and generous welcome, and which once more constitute the lighthouse that casts its light on a day such as this over the most generous dreams, the most heartfelt desires for the concord and progress of Earth`s inhabitants.

We offer our most cordial congratulations to our laureates, who, through their work and example, enrich human existence as well as instilling it with hope. Our deepest gratitude goes out to the personalities, representatives of the various institutions and all those who have wished to accompany us here today so that this great cultural celebration may grow in stature.

We also welcome those who have come from abroad to this beautiful Principality of Asturias, home to historical exploits, unique cultural creations and privileged natural landscapes that all Asturians have known how to conserve and enhance.

We also wish to especially thank those who help us to make our aspirations a reality: the Governments of Spain and of Asturias, Oviedo City Council, the Foundation´s Trustees and Patrons, the members of the different Juries, the media, the people of Asturias, who so fondly embrace our initiatives, and so many anonymous people who encourage us in our work, and who feel a sense of solidarity with our noble ideals.

The combination of all these parties has defined the exceptional path that our Foundation and its Awards has followed for almost thirty years now. This success is not a goal for us, regardless of how noble it might be, but rather a stimulus to go even further, because, as Don Quixote said, we prefer to set out even before sunrise. And we have wanted to tread our path already long- humbly, while attempting at all times to be guided by caution, which, as an age-old saying goes, is a light whose clarity never goes out.

Along this path, our Foundation has undergone a change in President. We offer our gratitude to Matías Rodríguez Inciarte for enthusiastically leading us into the future with the confidence with which he admires our past journey. Precisely in this regard, we wish to render tribute and express deep gratitude today to our dear José Ramón Álvarez Rendueles, who, in the footsteps of Plácido Arango and Pedro Masaveu, presided over us for the last twelve years with great dedication, generosity and loyalty.

I would now like to devote a few words to our laureates, who are the true protagonists of this solemn event that our Foundation organises and holds annually, which we see as a factory of dreams that come true to serve Spain, because the grandness of a nation is also measured by what it generously gives to the world to make it a better place, to fight against all that would extinguish hope in humanity and its future.

Music has always been conceived of as one of the higher arts, as possessing great transformational power, not only due to it being the expression of that which is beautiful, but also because it is undoubtedly the art which is closest to harmony, the most sublime medium for conveying feelings and communicating emotions. Since -as has been said in a thousand different ways- it is so very true that the mission of art transcends the horizon of aesthetics and vigorously projects itself onto other fields such as humanistic education, social promotion and ethical commitment. Good and beauty -as in the words of Octavio Paz- are inseparable. An example of this is the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela, which has received the Award for the Arts.

Each day, millions of people the world over experience the beneficial effect of music, its ability to bring us together, to free our hearts to move us. These abilities become manifest in these young orchestras. What is more, however, and as their creator, the composer José Antonio Abreu, has stated, the benefits to be reaped from these orchestras, which extend to society as a whole, are most salient in the young people of Venezuela, through the feelings of solidarity and self-esteem that surge inexorably within them.

And so the "Sistema" (as it is popularly known), which has provided a musical education to hundreds of thousands of children many of whom are victims of poverty, alienation and social isolation, has accomplished the most challenging goals that Maestro Abreu originally set for himself. To recall just one example right now, let us highlight that of Gustavo Dudamel, one of his most outstanding and gifted students, who at the mere age of 27 has already conducted important orchestras worldwide: a veritable symbol of what music and work undertaken with faith, sacrifice and dedication can achieve.

The Award for International Cooperation has been bestowed on four organisations leading the fight against malaria in Africa. These are the Centro de Investigaçao em Saúde de Manhiça, in Mozambique, created and directed by the Spanish doctors, Pedro Alonso, and his wife, Clara Menéndez; the Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre, in Tanzania; the Malaria Research and Training Center, in Mali; and the Kintampo Health Research Centre, in Ghana.

The figures regarding this disease are as resounding as they are shocking: malaria threatens forty per cent of the world´s population and is endemic in over one hundred countries; it is the cause of more than a million deaths each year; its main victims are children; and it is considered one of the major reasons why Africa is underdeveloped. Hence the importance of the work these four organisations carry out in the areas of the African continent that constitute what has been called the "Nation of the Poor"; a nation without geographical frontiers, where hunger, conflicts of all kinds, disease and despair have taken root, and where, by living in such tragic conditions, the freedom for each person to choose their own destiny does not exist.

Poverty can be found on all continents, in all countries worldwide. But, of all these, Africa suffers the most atrocious and the most absurd of poverties. The starving of Africa are dying on a continent that also nurtures lush crops and is home to most of the planet´s energy and mineral resources. The four meritorious organisations we are distinguishing here today with special admiration work together heroically and humbly, "like a small family", as Doctor Pedro Alonso has stated. But we know that they are much more than just that; that they are moved by a sublime ambition: that of eradicating pain and suffering, of conquering a disease which vents its fury on the most vulnerable to overcome once and for all the terrible combination of poverty and disease that thwarts progress, and even hope, in so many impoverished places in the world.

The Award for Technical and Scientific Research has been conferred on five scientists who are experts in Materials Science and Nanotechnology for their extraordinary merits. This discipline works with matter on an atomic scale to study, design and produce novel devices, materials and systems with unique, controlled properties that are also -curiously enough- fundamental for the sustainable development of the planet and in fighting poverty and disease. Their work makes a decisive contribution to human health, energy savings and the use of new sources of clean energy, while enabling fascinating challenges to be addressed and technological breakthroughs to be made.

Among the most serious issues Mankind faces are environmental conservation and the fight against climate change. In this respect, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and especially oil, to sustainable levels and putting a brake on the threat of global warming together constitute a major scientific and technological challenge.

The physicist Sumio Iijima´s carbon nanotubes are excellent candidates for safely storing hydrogen, one of the green fuels of the future. Ultralight and ultrastrong, they also find applications in the fields of electronics and computing.

The engineer Shuji Nakamura´s environmentally-friendly light bulbs, known as LEDs, prevent the burning of millions of tons of coal and are gradually becoming the light source of the future. They currently provide a very practical solution in underdeveloped areas with scant energy resources. These areas can also benefit from ultraviolet LEDs to efficiently and economically purify water, one of the scarcest natural resources in some areas of the planet, and one which is essential for life.

The goal of the engineer, Robert Langer, has been to develop materials for medical purposes. He is a pioneer in what is known as the intelligent, controlled release of drugs. His materials act as messengers that travel around the human body transporting medicine, saving millions of human lives and tackling terrible diseases such as cancer. As the father of tissue engineering, he has also applied his revolutionary biomaterials for the controlled growth of artificial organs.

To the chemist, George Whitesides, we owe ingenious, efficient fabrication techniques in this world of the infinitely small. Emulating Nature, he has found the appropriate conditions for atoms and molecules to self-assemble and for materials to build themselves. Likewise, his soft lithography behaves like a powerful nanopress, also capable of choreographing the subtle dance of atoms and molecules. By means of these techniques, it is now possible, for the first time, to build significant amounts of materials with surprising novel properties and for very specific purposes.

The use of clean, free, sustainable solar energy requires optimum systems for capturing such energy. The chemist, Tobin Marks, has worked to develop a new generation of organic solar cells which are highly efficient and economical. To him we also owe a wide range of recyclable plastics and environmentally-friendly materials, as well as modulators for efficiently transmitting data and a prototype for the e-paper of the future.

The achievements of these five scientists once again underpin the social dimension of their work, especially when fostering progress even in the world´s most underprivileged areas. They are, in short, a clear example of the passionate, far-reaching role played by science: to understand in greater and greater depth how the material world works, and to improve our lives, making them more pleasant or relieving them from suffering.

Undoubtedly, another important step forward in human progress has been taken by the Internet search engine, "Google", which has received this year´s Award for Communication and Humanities. Conceived by the intelligence, dreams and aspirations of two young men, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who met at Stanford University, Google has become a fundamental instrument for the development of human culture.

From the remotest of times, we human beings have sought the most efficient and fastest way of communicating with one another. The world´s most beautiful monuments, its legendary libraries, the diverse writing and publishing techniques, the various means of transport are all ways of materialising the yearning to transmit and receive information and knowledge and the longing to explain and understand the world. Google is a new, efficient and extraordinarily fast way of achieving this dream, making an enormous volume of information available to millions of people in only seconds. The creation of Google Earth and Google Book Search is progressively placing within our reach the remotest corners of the Earth and the intellectual production of centuries of civilization.

It is therefore also, and above all, a useful instrument for fostering development, as has been recognised by the UNESCO, which has started up in conjunction with Google what is known as the Literacy Project. Those in charge of this project have stated, and rightly so, that they feel great pride in witnessing how Google, which came into being as a result of the wish to help people find information, is also used to share ideas and to facilitate the search for solutions to the lack of culture, ignorance and disinformation.

The Award for Social Sciences has been conferred on the Bulgarian-born, naturalized French writer, Tzvetan Todorov, an excellent linguist, semiotician, historian of ideas and literary theoretician: a true contemporary humanist.

Trained in the best French tradition, he learned to perceive in texts the subtle weave that held them together, that gave sense to them, made up of a long literary tradition that is a mixture of scholarly and popular origin. His infinite curiosity also led him to explore historical terrain, reencountering there one of his other fields of research: signs, communication, the mechanisms of language. Excellent proof of this are his studies on the discovery of America, which he defines as the most amazing encounter in the history of Humanity, the moment at which men discover the entirety of what they form part of.

Outstanding and suggestive too are his studies on that great peak of Western thinking, the Enlightenment, extolling its spirit and lights, situating it in our times and claiming it as a mark of our European identity. An identity that he also states is based on the renouncement of violence, on forgiveness, on reconciliation and on life in common. His condition as a "displaced man", a victim in his country of the long night of totalitarianism, enables him to have a perspective that is far removed from any kind of sectarianism or ideological imposition and to be convinced of the benefits of the proximity of others, of those who do not think in the same way.

Todorov asserts that immigration is always a source of wealth, of dynamism and energy. The phenomenon of emigration is well known in Spain, and particularly so in Asturias, which has been witness to this phenomenon for centuries. But in referring to this reality, we wish to express the deep pain we feel each day as we witness the tragedy of so many women and men attempting to cross frontiers in their flight from extreme poverty, with the hope of finding a better life on the other side, which every human being has a right to.

This constitutes a drama that moves us and causes us anguish and sadness, above all when we see that children often make this journey, sometimes arriving on death´s door, and whose heart, as Camus wrote, may possibly contain the entire pain of the world.

Margaret Atwood, from Canada, considered one of the most important writers of our time, has received the Award for Letters. Poet, narrator, essayist and original speaker, with her mastery of the art of writing, based on a profound knowledge of the classics, she has created extremely beautiful works that are at the same time deeply committed to social reality and the defence of humanism. In her verses she mixes lyrical sentiment with a profound ethical commitment, ever inseparable from great literature; her condition as an extremely keen observer of human relationships can be discerned in her prose, together with her condition as a fighter against social injustice.

A staunch defender of the freedom of expression, she is also a faithful supporter of Nature conservation, which she invokes in pages brimming with intensity and critical force. Particularly important and original are her ideas on feminism, which she has always written about from an independent stance and to which she has devoted highly lucid essays, fostering and celebrating the legitimate, promising conquests of women while warning us against the perils raised by the possibility of these achievements degenerating into clichés.

Her rich literary work, which she has always intended to be crystal clear, entertaining and easily readable, ranges from allegory to parody, from the full expression of poetic sentiment to the well-aimed assault of her sharp wit against intolerance. Her free thinking enables her to face up to injustice in every sphere and to combat it with her subtle and suggestive words, far removed from any form of dogmatism.

For all this, for her intellectual honesty, for the independence of her judgement, she has become a moral reference for many women and men all over the world.

On the morning of the 3rd September last, we received with great joy the news that the Jury had conferred the Award for Sports on Rafael Nadal. On this stage, in previous years, we have presented the award to other sportsmen and women with dazzling careers, accustomed to glory. And we have praised them for their spirit of sacrifice, for their exceptional qualities, but also for their human values. Today, we especially recall, with fondness and concern, Severiano Ballesteros, who, as he himself has said, is playing the game for life itself.

This is what occurs to us with Rafa Nadal, who amazes us every time he wins, because in each and every victory he displays the humility and simplicity that only the greatest are capable of feeling in such a way. But what amazes us even more is that he never forgets those who suffer, those who fight against pain and illness.

Because Rafa Nadal, apart from being a superb tennis player, is a great human being, a grateful young man. He never ceases to stress, with the deepest fondness, the fundamental influence that his family, his grandparents, his parents, his uncles and aunts, in particular, his uncle Toni, who is much more than just his coach, have had on his life. They have known how to guide him along the always difficult road to success, encouraging him to walk hand in hand with authenticity, simplicity and greatness of spirit.

Rafa has stated that what is important is not to be a good sportsperson, what is important is to be a good person. And he has demonstrated that he is both; since, from his laurelled-crowned summit, he is socially-committed, and always feels happy with the triumphs of his colleagues in other disciplines, as he recently expressed with joy at the Beijing Olympic Games and at the European Soccer Cup and Basketball championships.

His behaviour and feelings are a great example for children and youth, who, as well as enthusiastically following his sporting triumphs, learn from his truly generous sense of fair-play. This may in fact be one of his greatest triumphs, since, from the highest place on the podium, he underlines the most emotive, educational aspects of sport, such as when he says, with legitimate pride, that being Spanish constitutes an extra motivation for him. "To win," he has stated, "is always much more pleasing when you are playing for your country".

For his serene patriotism, for his fortitude under duress, for his triumphs, for his humility and for his example, Rafa Nadal has forever gained admiration both in Spain and abroad.

Today we feel with emotion the immense relief and joy that moved us back in the month of July when we heard the news of the end to the long and tortuous captivity of Ingrid Betancourt. On presenting her today with the Award for Concord, we recognise in her, a person who, as the minutes of the conferral of the award states, "personifies all those people in the world deprived of their freedom for defending human rights and for fighting terrorist violence, corruption and drug trafficking". Thousands of people who, in whatever corner of the planet, live with their backs turned to the inexcusable good of being free and whom we remember today as we join in Ingrid Betancourt´s prayers that hope should never abandon them.

Ingrid Betancourt, who has been subjected to extremely harsh trials, suddenly faced with vulnerability, humiliation and physical and mental pain, now fights to definitively leave behind those years of suffering and fear, and tells us that the answer to vengeance is compassion; that one may respond to wrong with right, that hope and love of life manage to overcome the most fearsome barriers of cruelty and hate.

As the beautiful verses of Salvador Espríu go:

Men cannot
ever be
unless they are free,

It is so: we human beings cannot live without freedom. We survive without it, but we do not live life to the full. This is the most profound lesson that we can extract from Ingrid Betancourt´s experience. And those of us who have the fortune to be able to denounce such unjust, such harsh situations, have the duty to defend dignity, happiness and the welfare of free human beings. For all this, we recognise here this evening her heroic resistance, her victory, the exquisite absence of spite in her heart, the greatness of her spirit.

We likewise wish to fondly remember the fourteen people who shared in her release, impeccably and courageously carried out by the Colombian Armed Forces, whom we congratulate and encourage in their long-suffering work fraught with perils. We also spur on those governments which, like that of our sister country, Colombia, work to consolidate democracy, civil liberties, peaceful coexistence and the definitive end to political and social problems of such injustice and gravity for security and health, for regional stability and the needs for economic and social development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Throughout these years, many of our laureates have warned us of the challenges that Humanity faces at the beginning of the 21st century. Many have spoken lucidly and with concern about different aspects of a process in which we have been immersed for several decades now: Globalization, a process which has driven the inexorable rapprochement of Nations until forming a truly global village, in which we share, now more than ever, the future of our destinies and the consequences of our deeds.

Within this framework, we make the most of the opportunities provided by universal access to communication and knowledge transmission systems. Let us work together to stabilise and heal the international financial system as soon as possible. Let us all seek to suitably channel the pressure of human development on our planet´s environment. Let us act as a solid front when faced with natural disasters and major catastrophes. And let us join forces to fight efficiently by means of the instruments of the Rule of Law against terrorism and all forms of organised crime.

These global realities of the interdependent world in which we live affect essential aspects of our existence and condition our freedom, progress and welfare, which, for the time being, still await effective global solutions. From this very stage, we have heard demands for united responses to many of the aforementioned challenges. However, despite their importance and, whilst recognising the value and effort of many initiatives of different kinds and origins, these challenges have not been addressed with the necessary conviction, celerity or forcefulness.

The recent financial crisis has highlighted both the true breadth and depth of this process and the urgent need to overcome the great perils and challenges that this global community which we are building present us with. It reveals how essential it is for societies and states to become aware of the need for institutions to put order in and regulate globalisation; in short, to offer greater confidence and hope to all the planet´s inhabitants.

This process needs to be managed by means of a great cooperative effort and worldwide agreement. It requires a balanced impetus that, while respectful of the responsibilities of the different states, is also audacious, so that we can face up to these challenges with resolve and a view to the future. For this to be so, we must exploit all the advantages this new world scenario provides.

The last three decades have evidenced Spain´s will to build its future on the solid basis of democratic values and to take up a proactive position on the international stage. I am convinced that Spain is determined to contribute, on the basis of these foundations, to this great multilateral effort in channelling the process of globalisation.

For that reason, and on speaking of our country, I would like to conclude by evoking other important events that also changed the course of our history forever and which had a major influence on many places in the world. This year we commemorate the bicentenary of the War of Independence and the 30th anniversary of our current Constitution. In addition, we are presently preparing the bicentenaries of the Independence of the sister republics in America and of the Constitution of Cadiz, the first liberal constitution in all of what we nowadays call Latin America.

All these, either peacefully or through truly difficult sacrifices, were paths that sought freedom and justice, momentous steps in the evolution towards an advanced, democratic society, governed by the Rule of Law. They are also, like all great historical events, examples for the future. The Spanish people, and above all the youngest among us, must ponder these events and learn from these mistakes, failures, glories and achievements so as never to repeat what should never have occurred and to extol all that is good in them, all that has transformed us into a great nation: into a Spain that is democratic, diverse, fully integrated in Europe, in control of its destiny a nation of which we feel so proud.

Spain exists in its yesterday, in its great history, but above all in its tomorrow. For that reason, these lessons from the past and the mists that usually obscure our view of the future, cannot stop us from clearly seeing that we are facing a new world, a very different one from that of the 20th century, one that is broader and more complex, with powerful new voices, which announce profound modifications in the way in which we have conceived, experienced and administered our world.

As in every period of transition and of such rapid and profound changes, the current period is full of risk and uncertainty, but also of opportunities and hope. The journey we have before us is not mundane. To venture forward into these new times requires, more than ever before, skilfully choosing the course and firmly holding to it, and demands a determined, shared will, based on solidarity among all the people of Spain, that bolsters their hopes, confidence and security. It is a journey in which it is essential for all this effort to drink from the wells of humanism and ethics, which foster the best of human life.

History also taught us that one of the keys to the progress of mankind is the capacity of people and societies to adapt to technological changes. For that reason, we have to be aware that the education of our young people and citizens constitutes one of the main pillars of our future wellbeing; an education that is continually brought up to date, with a universal outlook based on effort, work well done and which is successfully connected with the working world.

Likewise, innovation, scientific research and the new technologies must constitute the very core of our productive fabric, ensuring the competitiveness of our businesses in the global market in which they currently carry out their activities. Only thus, in this Knowledge Society in which we now live, will wealth be created and distributed and employment be created, which is one of the major concerns of the Spanish people.

This is hence, more than ever before, the moment to stand our ground firmly on the great principles and values that are the soul and raison d'être of our Awards. Those principles and values that support our faith in the future and underpin our determination to build a world which we want to be more prosperous, but, above all, more sustainable and more socially committed, more just and always free.

Each year, our laureates enrich our ideas and remind us of the importance of serving as an example through their own personal history. We shall thus continue to recognise in these awards those who seek truth and beauty, those who work for peace and the wellbeing and freedom of all, those who, in short, help build this forever unfinished city of a better world.

Thank you.

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