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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Speech by HRH the Prince of Asturias during the ceremony at the 2009 Prince of Asturias Awards

Next year, when the dawn of the 30th commemoration of our Awards appears on the horizon, we look upon this award ceremony with renewed hopes and deep satisfaction thanks to the shining path travelled thus far.

A course that is far from easy, forged with great effort day by day so as to recognise and extol, as we do today, the work and life of personalities and institutions from all over the world with careers and traditions that have remained impervious to passing fancies. These were often embarked upon alone, overcoming major obstacles with scant means. This brings to mind the biblical proverb that humility always precedes glory. Our Laureates are, for this reason, supreme models of effort, sacrifice, intelligence, nobleness, of the spirit to excel and of such qualities that dignify human beings.

From this beautiful, refined city of Oviedo, from this beloved land of Asturias, our Awards have, year after year, expressed before the international community Spain’s firm commitment to the values that ennoble and exalt our lives and provide essential support and guidelines in such intense and difficult times as these, when we find ourselves at a crossroads of opportunity and hope.

When we reflect, as often we do, on the path that our Awards have forged, when we think about their future, both our commitment to protecting their independence and our loyalty to their calling grow. Likewise, our faith in their future is enhanced, since “good works never cease”, as Unamuno so wisely cautioned us.

This being the case, it is inevitable that the word gratitude resound this evening from the bottom of our hearts to those who, over so many years, have made the great work of the Foundation possible, and who so generously encourage and assist us. This gratitude, full of admiration, also goes out to the people and institutions who today are receiving our Awards. They all embody, here on this stage, our best wishes, our principles, our belief that culture is a true reflection of the intellectual, aesthetic and moral development of human beings.

Our affection also goes out to the thousands of people of Asturias and from other parts of Spain and even to the many from abroad who accompany us in the engarlanded streets and balconies of this city, to make this day a great celebration –unique in the world– of culture and of concord. Together, we have all managed to turn something that started out as a dream and a beautiful, courageous initiative, into a fruitful and promising reality in the present.

I would now like to devote a few words to the Laureates of this edition of the Awards, since this is their ceremony.

Sir Norman Foster, Laureate for the Arts, is rightly considered one of the greatest architects of the global era for having created a style of architecture that is ahead of its time, full of imagination and committed to the new technologies, aesthetic adventure and the environment. As the Award Jury has highlighted, his work is a masterly combination of quality, intellectual reflection and a dialogue between territories and their citizens via an original command of space, light and matter.

His projects –of unmistakeable personality, as well as the fruit of his study of history, in other words, of his respect for the vitality, force and value of the best of the past– innovatively combine both utility and beauty. They comprise a style of architecture that proves to be delicate and rotund, poetic and modern, free and transparent; that courageously defies convention… an ode to the opportunities and challenges of a career crafted of passion and tireless effort.

This creativity, all this passion for beauty and his efforts in the service of human beings constitute an original corpus of work that is admired throughout the world and evokes deep emotion in those who contemplate it. That is why, when these projects become reality, when his buildings rise up into the sky of so many cities around the world, it seems as if they seek to remind us of certain beautiful verses that claim that we are made to dream, this “dreaming aloud” of which Octavio Paz spoke.

The Award for International Cooperation has been bestowed on the World Health Organisation. In a world in which frontiers dissolve more and more rapidly, making it necessary to work with ever increasing intensity for solidarity and for the benefit of all human beings, health has become one of the greatest challenges and a priority of multilateral cooperation. We have called attention to this fact on other occasions on this stage: health care is a universal right; hence, health and increased access to medical care and scientific advances constitutes one of the most significant key factors in the progress of humanity.

Founded in 1948, the World Health Organisation carries out its mammoth work both efficiently and rigorously. Among other achievements, it has managed to eradicate smallpox, attack infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS, reduce poliomyelitis and child mortality and to curb many epidemic outbreaks. Moreover, it remains alert to the appearance of other, new diseases, fighting against both those that are known and against emerging illnesses that must be identified and are often triggered by factors such as climate change, pollution or unhealthy lifestyles.

As we can see, these problems –which have worldwide repercussions– also demand global solutions. This is what the World Health Organisation watches over with its one hundred and ninety-three member states, its one hundred and fifty offices dotted all over the planet and its eight thousand experts. We wish to take advantage of this occasion to manifest our gratitude to the World Health Organisation –represented here by Margaret Chan–, an organisation upon which rests the public health of all peoples of the Earth.

The British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, one of the most prestigious and most universally known specialists in Natural Sciences, has been bestowed with the Award for Social Sciences. Together with him, we can take pleasure in the fact that, fortunately, everyday more and more of us are aware of the need to preserve the environment, to stop the deterioration and reduce the dangers that threaten our planet, to fight against climate change.

Among many other things, David Attenborough, is president of the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and member of the Royal Society of London. He has always worked to disseminate his knowledge in such a way that it should not only be a delight to the eyes, but also a stimulus to awaken the awareness of the millions of people he reaches with his message; that we must know and learn about the nature that sustains us so as to respect and care for it. Underlying his professionalism, there vibrates the beautiful, edifying lesson of his work and the body of work he has produced.

With inexhaustible passion, he has kept his love of nature alive since his childhood, when he collected fossils, insects and plants, and which, as an adult, he has known how to transmit to all kinds of audiences with such enthusiasm and wisdom. Consider the fact, for example, that some of his series for television, such as the highly celebrated “Life on Earth”, have been seen by more than 500 million people all over the world. Similarly, thanks to his work in the organisation World Land Trusts, he has fostered the protection of thousands of square kilometres of great biological richness in several tropical countries.

His work always transmits feeling, admiration and amazement at the marvellous diversity of the Earth and its cultures. His programmes in the world’s most important media are, in short, examples of intelligent creativity and modesty when faced with the aspiration to know and embrace life’s complexity. They are a lesson in humbleness versus arrogance, intellectual conceit and fanaticism of any kind.

Our Juries have frequently turned their gaze towards the sister countries of America. Endearing and lasting bonds join us with these countries. For that reason, it is always a cause for very special joy to Spaniards when an institution or a person from Latin America receives one of our Awards, as is the case this year with the conferral of the Award for Communication and Humanities on the National Autonomous University of Mexico (or UNAM, as it is commonly known).

The UNAM, “the soul of Mexico”, as it has been called, is much more than just a university in the traditional sense of the word. It has extended its exemplary work beyond its lecture halls and has created a far-reaching network of cultural institutions and media to disseminate the values of the deepest university spirit; that is, the passion for knowledge and the love of teaching in freedom. In this way, it has contributed decisively in structuring, opening up and modernizing a society which, without the existence of the UNAM, would undoubtedly be less prosperous and much less dynamic.

But the UNAM has also passed on to Mexican society and to that of many other Latin American countries reverence for justice, tolerance and democracy, which have pervaded the works of the best intellectuals, teachers and artists who have passed through its lecture halls and who represent the elite of Latin American thought.

Just as we are about to hold a new Ibero-American Summit in Estoril devoted to “Innovation and Knowledge”, we put the UNAM forth as an outstanding example of the great academic capacity and scientific level of so many Latin American countries.

At the same time, in Spain we shall never be able to forget the enormous generosity the UNAM extended towards our fellow countrymen and women, who, after the Civil War, were forced to seek exile in American lands under difficult, bitter conditions. It offered them its lecture halls, its publications, its research institutes and all kinds of assistance that contributed to enabling these “exiled, weeping Spaniards” –as one of them called them– to remake their lives with dignity and contribute, perhaps, more than a mere modicum of prestige and academic brilliance to the University itself. There will never be occasion enough to proclaim our deepest gratitude, which we do so once more here today in the presence of its Rector, Jose Narro.

Nothing would be the same for many human beings without the daily use of the mobile phone and electronic mail: e-mail. Their respective inventors, the electronic engineers Martin Cooper and Raymond Samuel Tomlinson, have received the Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

Martin Cooper, a pioneer and driving force behind wireless communications, had already commenced his findings in 1954 with the development of portable radio systems and, two decades later, was to make the first call from a mobile phone; while Raymond Samuel Tomlinson used the well-known symbol @ in October 1971 to separate the name of the recipient of the mail from that of the computer receiving it, thereby making communication between different computers possible. Thus was born e-mail, a means of communication now as familiar as the mobile phone.

Free-flowing communication is one of the greatest achievements of our day and the mobile phone and e-mail, in particular, are two of the most significant technological innovations of all time. As such the depth of their social impact is yet to be fully known.

The rapid and valuable spread of communication that these two prodigious media have achieved provides innumerable benefits. Consider how they serve and help in the fields of health, education, public and business management; how they constitute an opportunity or tool for modernizing underdeveloped countries. Consider how they bring down barriers between countries and ideas, how they comprise an ideal medium for spreading culture, how they have disseminated and democratized information and communication in an extraordinary way, intensifying and facilitating relations between human beings on a universal scale. For all these reasons, Martin Cooper and Raymond Samuel Tomlinson take their place in the great annals of world science and also, from today, in the particular and beautiful history of our Foundation.

The Award for Letters has been bestowed on the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, one of the creators who has most intensively lived and suffered a titanic struggle between extremes, the tension between his literary creation and the social and political problems of his time, especially of his country, martyrized by a calloused, closed political regime. Dedicated to literary creation with a passion that these extremely harsh conditions have not mitigated, he has also known how to masterfully open it up to the world.

Kadare’s work, full of lucidity, depth and vigour, is not limited to creating fictional characters and stories, because it begins with the deepest conviction that Literature is not only entertainment or mere aesthetic recreation, but rather that it should contain a message and a moral commitment.

If his creation as a novelist and poet is admirable, no less so are his essays on the culture of the Balkan Peninsula and the literature and art of Ancient Greece. From these he constructs a beautiful ode to the magnificent faculty of their authors to universalize the problems and dreams of those societies and to their warning –valid for their time and for all times– that the light and democracy engendered by their civilization are achievements that must be defended so as not to lose all that without which neither art, nor letters, nor even thought can fully transpire: freedom.

The conferral of this Award not only recognises one of the most important European writers of our time, but also someone who has been able to preserve and extol the beauty of the language of his country, Albania, and to build with this a body of work of universal resonance, written in the most part in a climate of extreme intolerance and authoritarianism, in which there shines a criticism of totalitarian power and its most perverse mechanism. An unceasing ode to tolerance and freedom, although it often had to be formulated through allegory, recovering old legends, in order to sidestep censorship and difficulties that seemed insurmountable.

The legendary Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”) has a model and example in the Russian athlete Yelena Isinbaeva, a specialist in pole vaulting; a speciality that has undergone a progressive, extraordinary evolution and in whose ascent, in the continuous breaking of records, she has been a key figure. The conferral of this year's Award for Sports on this exceptional athlete is thus a source of pride for us all. At 27 years of age, she has not only stood out in an extraordinary way for her values both as a person and as an athlete, but has received recognition at an early age as “the world’s best athlete”.

In addition to being the only athlete in the history of this speciality to surpass a height of five metres, her sports triumphs include twenty-seven world records and eleven first prizes in Olympic, World and European competitions. However, we know she still has before her an open road on which she will surely continue to make every effort to break records and achieve new victories.

All these successes of Isinbaeva’s are the result of iron will, of powerful, vital strength and of very special sensitivity, without which the sporting spirit would mean nothing.

For all these reasons, Yelena Isinbaeva is worthy of the admiration and respect that we all profess towards her. We would like to see her extraordinary example instilled in our younger generations and in all those people who wish to better themselves and who aspire to a healthier life. In this way, we shall succeed in increasing the presence of sports in our time, in its continuing to create environments of coexistence and solidarity among peoples.

There will perhaps be few cities in the world with a greater symbolic content than Berlin. Jean Paul Richter said of it that “it is more a part of the world than just a city”. And so we wish to proclaim with every respect, humbleness and pride that Berlin is today in Oviedo. And we wish to joyfully celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall with the conferral of the Award for Concord.

A literary city forever linked to art and intelligence, it suffered terribly under the totalitarianisms that ravaged the last century and played a leading role in the most important events of European history. Devastated by the war that converted it into a fragmented, divided city, cut in two by an atrocious wall that not only separated Berlin and Berliners, but also all Germans, Europeans and the world.

The fall of that wall, after so many dark years of sacrifice and pain, was one of the most exciting moments that we have been witness to and opened the way to German reunification, which we feel with special jubilation. While the citizens of Berlin, brimming with emotion, hugged one another as they crossed the border that had been built to be insurmountable, the two halves of Europe also saw the ideological walls that impeded the view of a future of cooperation and integration in peace begin to collapse.

Today, Berlin celebrates that unstoppable force, built of hope and valour, of pardon and concord, which managed to bring down the Wall. It has vertiginously recovered its former splendour and brilliance –which it had never really fully lost. It has been reborn once more as a city full of life, a lover of progress and of peace.

The year the Wall fell ushered in a new age, one that is perhaps uncertain and unpredictable, but an age which is more humane and freer. Today, Berlin is a great European capital, above all a symbol of hope: it is loved by the young, it is a world reference for those who are committed to all that culture, creativity and coexistence supposes.

We dedicate our sincere admiration and our affection to the people of Berlin in the persons of their Mayors, Klaus Wowereit, Walter Momper and Eberhard Diepgen, and also to all Germans, as they are celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the creation of the German Federal Republic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us evoke now, at this time of such vertiginous and profound changes that Humanity is experiencing and on this evening in the Campoamor Theatre illuminated by the light of freedom and culture, the hope with which we open up to a new world.

A world in constant transformation, in which the industrial society we have known gives way to the communication and knowledge society in which scientific and technological advances occur continuously, situating us in a new age; a world in which education is now not only a basic human right, but also an essential requisite to find work and the basis for the collective success of Nations.

We continue to witness the inexorable development of globalisation, which affects and conditions substantial aspects of our lives, health, security, natural environment and coexistence within the diversity of languages, cultures and religions. In short, a world in transformation in which a stable and prosperous international economic order is no longer possible without values that inspire it and upon which it is founded or without determined cooperation between States.

Unemployment, the most painful consequence of the economic crisis we are experiencing, offends our dignity as human beings and is our main concern. It calls for States to facilitate the necessary social protection to those who find themselves in this situation, at the same time as they implement all the necessary means for young people to be able to find work and for the unemployed to be able to return to the workplace as soon as possible. In Spain, this crisis has also shown us that we need new bases upon which to grow and generate employment which makes it possible for citizens and their families to be able to live their lives with dignity, security and trust in the future.

This new scenario that we face situates Spain and the other Nations with whom we share beliefs and values at a crossroads. We know, and we have learned so from the endless lessons that our history offers us, that the greatest hopes as well as the greatest achievements are born from the greatest difficulties. Spain has more than shown in recent decades how to overcome challenges in an exemplary way and I have complete trust in the capacity that we Spaniards have to build a more solid and equitable future, one of prosperity and welfare, which we all long for.

To do so, we must apply the best of ourselves to this task. Let us reflect collectively, sincerely and deeply about our challenges and priorities, our strengths and our weakness. Let us embark upon this path without waiting for others to be the ones to solve what we ourselves must face, and let us bring to this great individual and collective effort all our capacity for enterprise, imagination and innovation.

Without fear and looking to the future, aware, as has been said, that “the present is only an instant of the past”; let us rest on the everlasting values that we have proclaimed on so many occasions here: effort and sacrifice, tolerance and mutual respect; knowledge and culture; a commitment to solidarity.

Let us work, in short, in close cohesion, shoulder to shoulder, with a constructive spirit, with confidence and hope. And let us thus forge a shared confident will in which –legitimate differences apart– generosity, the sense of responsibility and, above all, common interest prevail.

Let us be inspired by these principles and let us situate Spain in the place that corresponds to it in this new world that is being shaped in the dawning of the 21st century. It is our responsibility. It is the responsibility of one and all. It is what the people of Spain demand and what, undoubtedly, we shall achieve together.

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