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Speech by HRH the Prince of Asturias at the 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards Ceremony

Yesterday we learned that those who have tormented Spanish society with their terrorist violence have accepted their defeat. This is definitely good news. It is, above all, a great victory for the Rule of Law. A victory for the will and determination of democratic institutions, for the effective, selfless sacrifice and efforts of our Law Enforcement Forces; in short, for our society as a whole. At this time in which freedom and reason vanquish barbarity, I wish to cast my gaze back – I would like us all to cast our gazes back – with tremendous feeling and respect towards the victims, towards their pain and to pay an emotion-laden tribute to their memory and their dignity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This evening we have gathered here in gratitude to honour our Laureates. Their presence here among us in Oviedo has allowed us to underline even more their merits and the valuable lessons of their lives, dedicated to work, committed to art, to science, to sport, to solidarity. We do so with admiration and great satisfaction as our Foundation helps to keep alive, in these difficult times, the values and goals for which it was set up more than thirty years ago.

This ceremony is a compendium of all of these values: of our will to honour exemplary behaviour, to offer society a looking glass in which to see itself and positive models to emulate, and also to share with everyone, in essence, a message of hope.

We are grateful for the support and generosity of so many people who have made our work possible: the members of the different Juries, the Trustees and Patrons of the Foundation, the national and international media and the distinguished guests and visitors who both honour us and regale us today with their presence.

The Princess and I are particularly grateful to those in this beloved Asturias who always welcome us with such affection and receive the Laureates with admiration and heart-felt joy.

We also remember today with sadness Juan Luis Iglesias Prada, the former Secretary General of the Foundation, who passed away last March. We will greatly miss his enthusiasm and the excitement and love with which he worked for the benefit of our institution, to which he positively contributed through his bonhomie and his intelligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We turn now to the Laureates to reflect, albeit briefly, on their invaluable work and to extol their merits.

  1. The Neapolitan maestro Riccardo Muti, Laureate for the Arts, is one of the greatest orchestra conductors. He has conducted the most important ensembles with exquisite sensitivity on the most prestigious stages in the world. He is, moreover, a humanist with a deep commitment to research, devoted especially to recovering major historical works that he rescues from oblivion to make them a part of current repertoires. Maestro Muti ceaselessly vindicates the need to support and boost the teaching of music, as essential for education to be truly comprehensive. His immense talent also rests on a transcendent conception of music, on the idea that conducting sets off a process that commences with the composer to then reach the baton of the conductor, who is able to extract the feelings of each singer and musician so as to finally convey them to the audience. On this difficult, on-going path of learning, Muti humbly acknowledges that he will never get to his destination, because, as he says, beyond the notes “abides the infinite”.
    His experience and renown do not stop him from gratefully evoking those who were his teachers, while he devotes himself to his daily work of delving ever deeper into music’s power and secrets. This is what transcends from the beauty and communicative capacity of his performance as an artist and what generates so much admiration and praise worldwide.
  2. The Award for Social Sciences has been conferred on the American psychologist Howard Gardner, who has worked and carried out research above all in the field of Education Sciences. He is the author of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and his studies in this field, on the way these intelligences develop have led to numerous innovations being introduced into the education system, with the principal goal of achieving – as he has stated recalling Plato – that “people want to do what they ought to do”. This formulation, though straightforward in appearance, often clashes with teaching methods which, by simplifying and putting limits on their goals, have given priority to only some forms of intelligence to the detriment of others. The fullest development of our capabilities facilitates what, for Gardner, is good work: work that is of a high quality and is aimed at improving the lives of others; that is to say, work that is excellent, committed and ethical.
    For over ten years now, through the Goodwork Project fostered by the University of Harvard, Howard Gardner has proposed to identify individuals and organisations that are an example of excellent work. He also seeks a way to make their presence felt more often in our society. This he does in collaboration with an international team of researchers who turn into reality his determination to improve the education, and hence the future, of human beings.
  3. This optimum way of working also stands out especially in the work carried out for over 350 years by The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific community, which has received our Award for Communication and Humanities. Its admirable mission consists in pushing back the frontiers of knowledge through the development and use of science to the benefit of humanity. These are great aims that require a truly solid organisation, such as that of The Royal Society, made up of individuals who love their work and passionately defend the supreme benefit of knowledge in addition to the importance of its generalisation.
    On this evening devoted to culture and values, the centuries-old background of The Royal Society serves to both highlight and defend the social priority of education and instruction; the need to spread knowledge and to put our principles into play for the benefit of us all; the conviction that this is the surest way to finally overcome injustice, violence and fanaticism, as well as the suffering and pain they produce in so many human beings.
  4. From this point of view, the question raised by Bill Drayton, on whom our Award for International Cooperation has been bestowed, is even more pertinent. “What is the most powerful force in the world?” And Drayton responds: A good idea, every time”. Over the thirty years in which his Ashoka Foundation has identified and backed some 3,000 social entrepreneurs worldwide, Bill Drayton has undoubtedly been able to corroborate over and over again that this is more than just a statement. It is a fact and a truly beneficial one at that.
    The work initiated by Drayton – which Ashoka has developed over time – focuses on and highlights fundamental characteristics of social entrepreneurship; features such as creativity, fortitude and, above all, trust. Bill Drayton also strives so that our actions have positive repercussions for society and our work takes on increasingly higher levels of social responsibility. In short, he works with the aim of changing and improving the world.
    Social entrepreneurs discover and put into practice feasible solutions to social problems, seeing opportunities where others only perceive threats. As way of working becomes even more necessary in times of crisis, this recognition here today of Bill Drayton’s work becomes especially significant. One can look to the future fearfully or confidently and only those who truly believe in human beings – as is the case of social entrepreneurs – are in a situation to face the future with hope. This is the value of the Ashoka Foundation and social entrepreneurs. This is the significant and intelligent path trodden by Bill Drayton, whom we distinguish here today.
  5. The neurobiologists Joseph Altman, Arturo Alvarez-Buylla and Giacomo Rizzolatti have received the Award for Technical and Scientific Research. Thanks to their contributions, we know more about the human brain and can better understand this fundamental organ for exercising the capabilities that make our species so unique. We are obliged once more to recall here our countryman Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the founder of Neurobiology, who, at the beginning of the last century, already intuited that the dogma of non-regeneration of the pathways of the central nervous system would be experimentally refuted.
    It was precisely Joseph Altman who reported processes of neurogenesis in the mammalian brain in the 1960s, thereby formulating the innovative idea that brain neurons can be regenerated. Cerebral plasticity thus became a fact with a well founded anatomical basis.
    Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, a Mexican citizen of Spanish stock and deeply proud of his Asturian roots, took up Altman’s thesis to identify germinal regions in the brain, where new neurons as well as what are known as glial cells continually develop throughout life thanks to the stem cells present there. He has also delved into the processes of migration of these new neurons leading to their permanent insertion in different regions of the brain, which may contribute to tackling the problems associated with tumours in this organ.
    Finally, Giacomo Rizzolatti discovered the existence of what are known as mirror neurons, which are activated not only when carrying out an action, but also when observing how a peer does so. A discovery that allows us, as the social creatures that we are, to understand the actions, intentions and emotions of others, not only through conceptual reasoning, but also via direct simulation. “Feeling”, says Rizzolatti, “not thinking”.
    All these findings and all this research have both profoundly and definitively changed our way of understanding the brain. It is fascinating to ascertain the basis of this cerebral plasticity, thanks to which we are able to learn, empathise, create and communicate with one another. The work of our Laureates also opens up new pathways for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as for explaining – and possibly soon treating – disorders such as autism.
  6. Feeling is what we do, above all, when we read the poems and listen to the music of Leonard Cohen, who has received the Award for Letters. We feel all the power of a body of work produced with constancy, talent and sincerity. Reading and listening to Cohen is, effectively, to feel the force of someone who writes and sings directly to the heart; to feel the sincere assertion that it was poets such as Lorca and Machado that shed light on his deepest doubts and certainties; it is also to feel the commitment of someone who, without forsaking his beloved Canada, his roots or his forebears, explores human nature, seeking out answers, solutions, a sort of reconciliation that brings our hearts closer together, aiming to make poetry and music an eternal meeting place for fraternal understanding.
    Cohen tells us “It is not to tell you anything / But to live forever / That I write this”. So lives Leonard Cohen... with irony and an acute sense of humour, with flashes of light and outstanding imagination, unable to staunch the abundance and richness of his ideas, words, notes and songs. Several generations have read and listened, as we have, to his creations with admiration and respect, creations that already form part of our musical history and our collective memory. We recognise his great body of work and thank him for his coherence, for not having renounced what has made him an admired and admirable artist, a friend with whom to tread the paths of life and of the irresistible force of love.
  7. The great athlete Haile Gebrselassie, who has received the Award for Sports, is an idol for millions of people around the world and dearly loved, especially in his home country, Ethiopia. Strength of will and the spirit of sacrifice are the norm in him. The norm to attain success as a sportsman and to demonstrate that the most difficult of challenges can be overcome with tenacious persistence and a great heart.
    His feats have thrilled us throughout his career. We imagine him when he was a mere child running barefoot 20 kilometres a day to and from school, his schoolbooks held firmly under his left elbow – which determined his style of running – and his heart filled with all the enthusiasm in the world, until he became one of the best long distance runners of all time.
    As we have recalled on this very stage on previous occasions, sporting success is even greater when, as he does, individuals make the effort to pass on their most ambitious dreams by helping others, above all the underprivileged.
    Gebrselassie is very sensitive to the deficiencies and difficulties his countrymen suffer each day and so has been the driving force behind The Great Ethiopian Run initiative, the aim of which is to promote the mass participation of Ethiopians in athletics events. He has also built schools for young children and is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations Development Programme.
    I am therefore sure that Haile Gebrselassie would like to draw the attention of us all to the fact that in his country, Ethiopia, and in Kenya and Djibouti, hundreds of thousands of Somalian refugees are desperately seeking aid. They are starving to death. As I speak these words here, on this evening of culture, of concord, they sound even more dramatic.
    We cannot return home without reflecting on this unjust, cruel tragedy. We cannot remain unmoved by and indifferent to so much suffering. The people who are starving to death in Somalia and in the surrounding countries do not merit this fate. We must all assume responsibility and help put an end to this humanitarian crisis, as do so many aid workers and volunteers through their generous work at great personal risk, including the two Spanish aid workers who, we hope, will soon return safe and sound.
  8. The Award for Concord has been bestowed on the people who have, since last March, been working round the clock at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in order to contain the radiation leakages and who have so rightfully earned the title of “Heroes of Fukushima”. As the Jury has stated, through this award, our Foundation also wishes to highlight “the serene, self-sacrificing response of Japanese society as a whole” following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that razed the country’s north-eastern coast.
    The Heroes of Fukushima, through their bravery and generosity, represent all the selflessness stirring us to do good, to renounce everything, even one’s own life, for the sake of others, a spirit we would like to see multiplied wherever necessary to bring an end to pain and injustice. Overcoming the loss of their loved ones and their property, the suffering caused by a desperately dramatic situation, they immediately confronted the threat to the damaged power plant with magnanimity, a sense of duty and a civic conscience.
    This evening, we once more express our support and affection for the people of Japan, whose huge losses in terms of both human lives and physical damage and whose exemplary behaviour in the face of adversity have moved us all. Spain feels one with Japan in its suffering and sympathises with its populace, who have shown how to cope with this disaster with temperance, discipline and serenity. We are touched by the behaviour of the “Heroes of Fukushima”. We are thrilled by their courage and astounded by their fortitude. For all these reasons, we pay tribute today to their immense spirit of sacrifice and the example they have given the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Laureates,

This year we commemorate the bicentennial of the death of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a key figure in the Spanish Enlightenment. His life’s work is a tribute to the noblest of patriotic sentiments and the struggle against the evils and ignorance blighting his age. He was led always by the guiding lights of knowledge, morals and ethics. On his appointment as Minister for Justice and Mercy, he wrote: “I shall do good; I shall avoid all the evil I am able to”. Those words define this great Spaniard who contributed so much to the progress of Asturias and whose ideas are a yardstick for us all, all the more so in these difficult times, so similar to those he himself endured.

We are certainly not living in an easy time, but it is our time, the time we have been given to live. We are today living through a crisis, already a long crisis, that affects us all deeply and has serious consequences of all kinds, with dimensions and a complexity that are putting our lifestyles and our abilities to the test. If we wish to resolve the challenges it poses, we must act decisively and bravely.

We know the path to achieve this goal. And on that path we all have a civic undertaking. No great nation can ward off the crisis with pessimism. No great nation can emerge from it without the participation of all concerned. Let us all shoulder our responsibilities and promote a collective spirit of hope and enthusiasm and the drive to overcome odds founded on the solid bases we already have. For there have been many successes over the last few decades and many are the achievements we have attained together, not without sacrifice or abnegation, and we are entitled to feel justly proud of them. In short, we have good reason to boost our self-esteem and hopes, to know that we can once more overcome the difficulties and challenges facing us.

We Spaniards must be aware that we are engaged in a common enterprise and that today, more than ever before, we have to stand united around our great national goals and, most especially, to tackle that great challenge of getting people back into employment. Recovering it at all levels and, above all, for our youngest workers, who are quite rightly asking society, as they are entitled to do, to fling wide the doors of hope.

Let us also elevate our gaze and contemplate the outside world. If Europe was the solution to Spain’s long-standing problems at the start of the last century, it is essential at present –and for the future envisaged in our ambition– to advance steadfastly and with solidarity in the construction of Europe, which today faces one of the most decisive crossroads in its history.

This difficult time we live in also demands that we avoid confrontation and sterile division; that we respect the sensitivities and opinions that diverge from our own so that we can later integrate them for the benefit of the general good. With a sense of responsibility, let us seek out the shared criteria regarding what is essential. Rigorous debate is not confrontation, but construction; putting forward a solution is not synonymous with systematically rejecting those of others; and reaching agreements always propitiates generosity, commitment and trust. The vigour of our democracy is far from alien to each every one of us, to our willingness to participate in public life, to our dedication at work, to the firm and lasting cohesion provided to our society by moral principles.

This is also a time in which to extol our solidarity. Since the crisis began, families, social institutions (many of them honoured by our Awards), and thousands of citizens are setting an example of self-sacrifice for those in greatest need. For that reason, they deserve the sincerest gratitude of society and they allow us to feel that happy glow that comes, in the beautiful words of the poet, from so many hearts that beat not in vain, for they are moved by the ills of others.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Jovellanos said that “virtue and valour must be counted among the elements contributing to social prosperity, without which all wealth is wanting, all power is weak. Without virtue or good habits”; he claimed, “no State can prosper or survive. Without these cornerstones, the most colossal power will tumble to the ground, the most brilliant glory will be dispelled like smoke”.

Today we have seen here in the Campoamor Theatre how effort, humility, sacrifice and the quest for excellence have imbued the lives of our Laureates. From them we have learned to keep our minds open to the world. With them we have felt the transforming power of ideas. They have touched us with their passion for creating, their drive to innovate. These are values and ideals that we must never renounce and hold always as our inspiration.

The memory of our countryman Jovellanos and the example of our Laureates illuminate this solemn act. So distant in time but so close in a single spirit: a spirit of bravery, of achievement and modernisation. Together, them and us, united in this ceremony, now a symbol of universal culture that Spain offers to the world from Asturias with great pride.

Thank you very much.

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