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Speech by HM The King at the 2018 Princess of Asturias Awards Ceremony

Today, we celebrate the 38th Awards Ceremony. The passage of time thus allows us to see how the loftiest principles, the highest ideals and values, still prevail among us; and how, thanks to our Laureates –whom we congratulate and welcome to Asturias– they continue to shine forth from this stage. From here, they cast light on our path, our consciences and our knowledge, like a beacon of hope and freedom. Freedom that, in the words of the great poet José Hierro at that first ceremony, is the air that creators need to breathe.

Yet another year we have the privilege of sharing with the Laureates not only their extraordinary work, but also everything that this embodies: the value of knowledge, altruism, self-improvement, will and the determination to make life better.

Thanks always to the acumen and commitment of the Juries and the support and generosity of our Board of Trustees, our Awards are committed to defending and highlighting every year those who work with firm convictions, with a true vocation. Furthermore, on a day like today, we underscore those things we would want to take root and bear fruit in our society.

Allow me, however, ladies and gentlemen, to welcome in particular to this event for the first time as the new President of the Foundation, Dr Luis Fernández-Vega. When he took over as president last April, he stated that he wanted to give back to Asturias a part of what he has received from it, and immediately manifested his love and deep knowledge of this land, its people and our Foundation. Thank you, Luis, for accepting this commitment that carries so much responsibility.

Likewise, remembering what he said not long ago about carrying on the work of his predecessor Matías Rodríguez Inciarte, I join this afternoon in the feeling of deep gratitude that we all at the Foundation have for the person who so effectively presided over it with sensitivity and intelligence throughout all these years. Thank you very much, Matías, for your magnificent work.

Let us now turn our gaze to the Laureates, as they are the protagonists of this ceremony.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese, our Laureate for the Arts, makes the screen explode with pure, extreme emotions. Moments that endure, that leave their mark, images that make our retinas quiver forever. Scorsese is one of the great living masters –films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Silence come to mind here– and it is precisely in this mastery, fuelled by the commitment to excellence and the incorruptible eye of the poet, the constant search for truth and redemption, that the greatness of his work resides, work which we recognize here today.

“To have been able to dedicate my life to tell what I longed to tell,” he once affirmed, “has been my blessing.” Herein, perhaps, resides one of the keys to the peerless quality of his work: the constant exploration of form, the need to narrate, the urgency to show human truth, no matter how stark.

Via his camera and his words, Scorsese conveys the deep passion he feels for life, for art, his amazing ability to capture the ambivalence of human feelings, which nest in the most hidden part of the soul. His cinema –full of twists and turns– embraces chiaroscuro and contradiction; it renounces trivial judgment and immerses us in an experience that is painful at times, ever intense and deeply restorative. This deep love for his profession also extends to the active preservation of the world’s film heritage as a grateful tribute to the work of the great masters –in addition to forgotten filmmakers– which Scorsese brings back to life for the enjoyment of all.

Truth and its defence at all costs are also the nonviolent weapons with which our Laureate for Communication and Humanities, Alma Guillermoprieto, works. Taking up journalism almost by chance, she has become one of the world’s finest reporters thanks to her sound, coherent work. Curiosity, a capacity for amazement, empathy and mastery of language are just some of the many qualities that have made our Laureate an essential journalist for understanding the history of recent decades, especially in Latin America.

Alma Guillermoprieto has carried out her work in places where there is little room for hope. She has seen and told us what life is like for human beings when they have almost nothing left to lose: what she calls the “heroism of those who have nothing”. Above all, she has highlighted the greatness of living with absolute dignity even in the midst of tremendous misfortune.

The power and strength of her work lies in this ability to narrate the cruellest events with deft, dazzling language. That is why she does not hesitate to state that the best journalism is one that ponders, journalism that makes inquiries and verifies, that investigates and places the focus on reality. For that very same reason, she also bluntly asserts that journalism is crucial for democracy. A task, in short, that she claims –with admirable humility– is both simple and exciting.

The Award for International Cooperation has been conferred on the NGO Amref Health Africa and its branch in Spain, Amref Salud África. For sixty years now, the magnificent work of this organization has managed to significantly improve health services and the health of millions of people on the African continent.

It came into being thanks to the dedication and solidarity of three doctors, Michael Wood, Archibald McIndoe and Tom Rees, and their fantastic idea of creating the flying doctors service, transporting surgeons and doctors by plane to the remotest places on the continent, only accessible by air. Amref has subsequently grown, spreading its beneficial work and narrowing the confines of the continent, crossing the skies with wings of hope to become one of the most active organizations in 38 African countries.

Its mission and aspiration is to achieve universal health coverage in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2030. To achieve this aim, it focuses on working at the local level, together with communities and their governments. Its fight against genital ablation is especially admirable; a fight in which it has already achieved encouraging results, thanks to the involvement of people like Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, who accompanies us here today. Nice has been battling since she was eight years old and, thanks to her courage and efforts, thousands of girls have managed to escape such an unjust and terrible fate, replacing female genital mutilation with alternative rites of passage.

The work of people like Nice and the hundreds of Amref Health Africa volunteers once again shows us the injustice that many human beings experience every day, just because they were born in some forgotten corner of the planet. This situation demands we find and use all the means at our disposal to achieve a definitive solution. Amref Health Africa reminds us, in short, that our indifference, our discouragement or our pessimism is of no help whatsoever. It reminds us that there is still much to do to improve the lives of so many human beings. Let us follow their shining example.

Mountaineers Reinhold Messner and Krzysztof Wielicki have received the Award for Sports. They practice a legendary sport, one which entails almost impossible challenges; a tough sport that demands discipline, valour and a spirit of sacrifice, in addition to skill and precision. It is perhaps much more than simply a sport.

All these qualities, which our Laureates have time and again put to the test throughout their outstanding careers, form part of a set of values that take on an almost magical, heroic nature in climbing in the Himalayas: the age-old struggle between human beings and the elements, the wish to triumph, to overcome all obstacles, and the utmost dedication of which Messner and Wielicki are well aware are the quintessence of one of the most strenuous of sports.

Reinhold Messner has lived since childhood surrounded by summits, by impressive limestone peaks that challenged and beckoned him. Throughout his life, he has triumphed on many occasions, crowning the planet’s highest peaks as well as crossing its bleakest deserts, under extremely trying conditions. He has also experienced truly sad events and veritable rebirths, as he himself has narrated in his books. This track record crammed with sporting feats has made him truly committed to the planet and its conservation. After being the first climber to crown the 14 eight-thousanders without oxygen –a unique feat–, Messner has dedicated his life to the protection of Nature, where he has found so many unforgettable things and to which he returns, as he has stated, “to continue in search of man’s true essence”.

Krzysztof Wielicki is also one of the great Himalayan climbers, an icon of the Polish school of the 1980s and the first to undertake the ascent of eight-thousanders in winter. Those who know his exploits well say that his fortes are solitude, speed and withstanding the cold. Three elements that, a priori, seem particularly difficult and gruelling. However, these elements have shaped a spectacular, across-the-board sports career that has made him a symbol of what it means to be a mountaineer, of what it means to be one of the world’s greatest mountain climbers.

Both Messner and Wielicki thus represent the example of everything that human beings are capable of achieving when equipped with courage and passion.

Novelist Fred Vargas, our Laureate for the Arts, has revitalized the genre of the “enigma novel” –as she describes her work– with texts in which humour and irony stand out, alongside the reflection inherent in each word and every detail of her wide-ranging, intense erudition and her precise, germane prose.

Fred Vargas naturally and humbly assumes her ability to create an extravagant and seductive world. She is a master in the art of immersing the reader in intertwining stories, full of lively, intelligent dialogues which make the reading of her books a true pleasure. For Vargas, literature –like all art– helps us to live, and artistic creation helps us to both enter into and escape from reality, as well as to look it in the eye. This affirmation by Fred Vargas sums up her extraordinary oeuvre, its originality and quality.

From here we send her our affection and our best wishes.

The Award for Social Sciences has been conferred on the philosopher Michael Sandel. Dialogue, public debate, justice and the common good all are questions which Professor Sandel ponders time and time again. With an extraordinary ability to disseminate his theories and a desire that his thinking should, above all, be of use to society, Michael Sandel has successfully taken issues that are often far removed from people’s daily life and made them part of it. Reflection and critical, informed thinking unconcerned with passing trends or superficiality are two of the keys to his approach.

For Sandel, it is vital for people to constantly question how to strike a balance, how to combat the preponderance of market societies, how to ensure that public debate will serve to solve some of the most pressing issues. How, in short, to work together for a more rational, more informed and happier society.

With enviable energy and contagious enthusiasm, Sandel gives life to the statement by our unforgettable Laureate, the philosopher Julián Marías, “To philosophize is reawakening to the truth. It is not being able to sleep.”

Our Laureate for Technical and Scientific Research Award, Svante Pääbo, is one of the founders of palaeogenetics. Pääbo also continuously reflects on and often travels to the remotest past to present us with our most ancestral history. He does so with wisdom and an exquisite ability to think up and put into practice different methods and techniques of genetic research. In describing and analysing the life and relationships of hominids –especially those that have become extinct, such as the Neanderthals–, he shows us how science, which always looks to the future, often does so by immersing itself in the past and interpreting it, learning from it.

We were witness to this during the previous edition of our Awards when we bestowed this same award on the scientists who had detected gravitational waves for the first time. The echoes of the most distant past rekindle in us all that is transcendent; they make us better understand what we are, why we are here and for what purpose. Besides, as we become aware of the importance of this life cycle, we also learn to better respect Nature, all other living beings and our fellow human beings.

Svante Pääbo’s enthusiastic, intelligent and conclusive work is thus crucial in consolidating the necessary thought process we must embark on to face the future. Today, we thank Pääbo for his work and do so above all for his findings on the evolution of our species, which lead us daily towards becoming more human, a little wiser and more understanding.

This wonderful blue planet is the one that our Laureate for Concord, Dr Sylvia Earle, loves, champions and knows so well. No one has studied the Earth’s seas and marine life like she has. She has been defending them all her life, fighting to protect them, to save them from the calamity of pollution.

The seas, the Earth’s waters, are life; they are the origin of life, and they are beginning to be in serious peril. “Nothing on Earth,” she warns us, “can live without the ocean, and we are killing it.” It is being killed by overexploitation, the lack of oxygen in the so-called ‘dead zones’, the warming of the Earth’s waters due to CO2, the eight million tons of plastic we throw into the sea every year. These are alarming signs of a situation that needs to be reversed, that we have to change without delay.

With perseverance and absolute dedication, Sylvia Earle, leader of the Mission Blue project, has successfully united the efforts of more than 200 interested parties in order to increase marine protected areas, known as ‘Hope Spots’, and the listing of others that are in need of urgent protection. This tenacious task has led to Sylvia Earle being named “Hero for the Planet”, and today, on distinguishing her with this Award, it is our wish that her work garner, as quickly and as effectively as possible, the best of outcomes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since our Awards came into being, their goal has been to pay tribute to the people and institutions that work to build a more just, more humane and more dignified world.

Year after year I have called attention to the fact that we have always sought out exemplary lives in science and the humanities; in literature, the arts and sports; in cooperation, peace and concord among human beings and peoples. We need them as role models, as inspiration for the times in which we live. When what is ephemeral and superficial so often predominates, the values that endure rise triumphant in the history of the Foundation, while at the same time we recognize those who suggest novel or renewed paths.

In the Foundation’s history resides authenticity, respect for the truth and projects based on sound principles and deep convictions. Here we have heard poems that have transported us from pain to hope. We have been enthralled witnesses to the strength of the ideas endorsed by the noblest of actions. We have learned that, by cultivating generosity, talent, kindness and discourse, our concept of humanity is magnified above and beyond cultures, ideologies, interests or world views.

Dear Laureates,

As was the case when Stefan Zweig recalled his poet friends, today we are aware of being in the company of people who, though they come from different countries sometimes very far apart, nevertheless share one and the same homeland: that of knowledge, culture, science and solidarity. A homeland of frontiers laid down by dint of wisdom, dedication to ideals, effort and intelligence.

Your sensitivity and vocation to excel accompany you in your task and are what make you exceptional. For all these reasons, you embody our yearnings, our finest aspirations; and you do so because that is the rank conferred on you by your intensity of thought and action, your daily efforts and your constant reflection.

We hope you will always remember your time here during the autumn as a time of joy and gratitude.

The same joy and gratitude as The Queen and I also experienced last September 8th in Covadonga, before a people united by their feelings and by so many centuries of history, by the history of us all, by Spain’s roots.

It has been rightly stated that for a feeling to move people and endure it must be engraved in the soul. The Princess of Asturias and The Infanta Sofia will have that day engraved in their hearts forever: the emotive visit to Our Lady of Covadonga, la Santina, the ever-so affectionate welcome of the Asturian people, the grandeur of the beautiful, overwhelming scenery that surrounds Covadonga and rises up in the Picos de Europa. Thank you Asturias; truly, thank you so much.

Ladies and gentlemen, next December, we will celebrate a truly unforgettable date in our history: the sixth of December, 1978, the day on which the Spanish people ratified our Constitution via referendum.

A constitution stemming from concord among Spaniards, united by a profound desire for reconciliation and peace; united by the firm will to live in democracy. A constitution that regained national sovereignty for the people of Spain and returned to Spaniards their freedom and status as citizens; one which also recognized the diversity of its origins, cultures, languages and territories.

Next December 6th, we will be celebrating this 40th anniversary as it should be celebrated and it justly deserves: as a true example of which we can feel deeply proud; as a lesson of coexistence that dignifies politics and enhances our history; as the finest example of the generosity, maturity and responsibility of an entire people who attained democracy and freedom. For democracy and freedom is what our Constitution represents and means for Spain, for the Spanish people.

Thank you very much.

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