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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Raúl Alfonsín

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1985

It is an immense honour to receive the 1985 Prince of Asturias Award for Ibero-American Cooperation.

Firstly, because the title of the award has an endearing, founding resonance rooted in the history of Spain, and even in the history of Europe and of mankind.

Secondly, because the issue of the conferred distinction is the law of our destinies, the imperative of our time, the certainty of our ancient fraternity.

But if these reasons make the honour bestowed on me today immense, there is another which magnifies it: that of knowing that the award is for the people of Argentina, that it is a further demonstration of the support of Spanish democracy to the democracy that we Argentineans have been rebuilding, side by side, for two years now.

So let me express gratitude for such a valuable symbol, such a high tribute, on behalf of my fellow citizens.

I find a kind of synonymy, an inextricable link between Asturias and Latin America. What is the definitive Spain –if I may be allowed to call it so– began to take shape in this mountainous land of Asturias, under the guidance of Pelayo, in the early 8th century. If the Arab invasion put an end to the domination of the Goths in the Battle of Guadalete, at the southern tip of the peninsula, it also gave rise to the great country of Spain as a  result of the Battle of Covadonga, fought in these regions at its northern tip.

Asturias began the long process of the “Reconquest”, aimed at the defeat and expulsion of the Muslims. However, that military, political, religious and social epic deed would have little to do with reconquest, for after nearly eight hundred years, a new nation was in the making, a new culture, which, of course, had assumed the Islamic legacy, casting it into the melting pot where the contributions of Iberians and Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, Romans and Goths were mixed together.

But that Spain which changed the face of Europe was to change the course of humanity. Nine months after the fall of Granada, Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador and opened a chapter in history full of transformations that have yet to be equalled or surpassed. Both events seem closely linked; so much so, that they could be considered prefigured, twin events. New-born Spain, mother and teacher, giving birth to a New World.

It was a New World, even if some of its territories already harboured civilizations over two thousand years old. It was a New World, not because it was perceived as such from Europe, but because it was the only case in the history of colonization in which there was a merging of peoples and a merging of cultures, which gave rise to other peoples and other cultures. We Latin Americans are this New World. And we not only are the New World; we must increasingly continue being so.

Spain threw itself entirely into America, handing over all it possessed, the likes of which had neither been before nor have been since.  This endeavour –in the form of just laws, schools and universities, books and printing presses, science and arts, and, above all, a language – was repaid by America, which enriched the Spanish identity with its people, traditions, lifestyles, languages and fables.

Even independence, it is no exaggeration to say, came from that mutual action: it was Spain, the Spain of the juntas populares[1], which revealed the path of freedom to the creoles.

The endeavour undertaken by Asturias in 718, once finalized in 1492, was reiterated then in America. The two led to the establishment of a Nation of Nations, a creative amalgam of diversity. That is why I view Asturias in the light of Latin America and Latin America in the light of Asturias. That is why I dare to assume that from Spain this Award exalts Argentineans, Latin Americans, while at the same time, from Argentina, from Latin America, it also exalts the Spanish.

This is a high point in time in our history. Spanish democracy will soon have existed for ten years. Is it pure coincidence that, since then, Argentina and other Latin American countries have recovered popular sovereignty and the rule of law?

For it has been rightly stated that every time a society comes into crisis, it instinctively turns to its origins, searching them, if not for an answer, for signs, indications and particular experiences. With this putting down of roots in our traditions, with vivid memory, the remembrance and painstaking, critical analysis of our past, we follow the teaching of Spinoza “not to cry, not to become indignant, but only to understand" and, through this understanding, we move forward with a clearer and more comprehensive view of the horizon towards which we are heading. We are therefore, perhaps more than ever, at a point in our historical crossroads where we assume our Latin American identity in its totality, with its attributes and flaws, its joys and sorrows, because we are simply recognizing ourselves, we are recovering our ability to be and to grow together.

Ibero-American cooperation is no longer a simple interpretation of history, and even less an entelechy. For we are leaving behind the prehistory of our relationship and a possible, concrete history, one of greater closeness and mutual enrichment, is coming into being.

And when we talk about heritage, cultural traditions and this bond of blood present in the memory of our peoples, we are not just alluding to a historical experience crystallized in the past. That would be little more than a bout of melancholy or nostalgia and would scarcely enrich an extensive list of milestones that Spain and America have established over five centuries. We would not be paying faithful tribute to the generations of Spanish, Argentineans and of other sister nations that, with passion and strength, forged intense lives and destinies, collective enterprises that were never easy to bring to fruition; we would not really be being true to our own tradition that has never understood human action and the way of our peoples as a peaceful, easy, unhindered path.

It is, thus, with intense emotion and real passion that our peoples relive their history at every moment, our common history of struggles, victories, suffering and joy, agreement and disagreement that nowadays have come to nurture a new and defining experience. In short, with the enthusiasm of writing a different history that nonetheless connects with this tremendously rich wealth of experience and memory illuminating us from afar and projecting us into a different, prevailing future.

It is for this simple, passion-laden reason that I have not come here just to convey my thoughts. I would not be satisfied if I failed to meet the deepest-felt aim of this communication, which is manifested here today in the capacity to transmit to you, truly, this experience that –I believe– is the experience and the feelings of the peoples of Latin America and of the people of Spain in the current historical circumstances in which we play a leading role. And hence, sharing this feeling, which is what most profoundly unites us, is my greatest satisfaction at this time.

Our common past is thus permanently present in us. However, it would be wrong to assume that Latin America as a reality is the end of this historical road map: a sort of final arrival point that our peoples might finally reach once and for all. And I say that it would be wrong because it would mean falling into what Ortega sagely called “the height of the times”, that is, the belief that the full maturity of historical life has been achieved. The idea that we have become what we should be, “what for many generations we have yearned to be, and what we would now have to be forever”. Ortega points out that such times of satisfaction, of achievement, are dead inside.

Latin America cannot thus be seen as the final stage of a long historical process, but as a starting point inspired and encouraged by this historical process. The reality of Latin America lies in its nature as a regulative idea, a common project, a daily, permanent construction tinged with dissatisfaction and characterised by an ideal of perfection. Latin America is a concrete, vital, motivating ideal which we must constantly encourage in our policies and attitudes.

To belong to Latin America, to feel part of common cultural origins and common policy and social goals, is to belong to a rich, complex and fruitful area of contemporary humanity.

A new stage now commences. The stage of coinciding around ideals that we harbour in common with respect to the future, within the political scheme that cannot be deferred and which now urges considering humanity as a collective unit of history, with problems and objectives on a global scale. The existence of major cultural families acquires a new role, which does not preclude global integration, but works on its behalf. Just as nations must not lose their own identity in the process of integration, which should not be the domain of a few privileged peoples, neither should major communities of nations united by a common historical origin, language and culture lose their uniqueness. Maintaining this singularity open and inclusive will be yet another contribution to the enrichment of human civilization as a whole. The prevalence of the cultural features of a small group of nations will only produce impoverishment and resentment. The civilization of the future, the integrated civilization, can only be built with efficiency and justice by fully respecting these singularities.

Historical legacies coexist within our community: the ancient Latin and Greek civilizations alongside the contributions which, in a complex historical plot, Goths and Arabs made in Europe and then the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and many other later peoples, which leads to considering humanity as a single collective subject of history with problems and objectives on a global scale. The existence of major cultural families acquires a new role, which does not preclude global integration, but works on its behalf. Just as nations must not lose their own identity in the process of integration, which should not become the domain of a few privileged peoples, neither should major communities of nations united by a common historical origin, language and culture lose their uniqueness. Maintaining such uniqueness open and inclusive will constitute a contribution, to which in many Latin American countries, and most especially in mine, were added the contributions of immigrants from the most diverse points on the globe, resulting in a good portion of our current potential.

We are building a democracy while struggling amid appalling difficulties to establish material conditions which ensure stability and continuity. However, I firmly believe that such goals would be unattainable if the effort to achieve them were not framed within a deeper and more decisive process of cultural transformation.

As important as the struggle against oppression is being clear about the values in the service of which we wage this battle/ Being clear about the values for which we wage the battle against oppression is just as important as the struggle itself. It would be of little use to us to have the objective conditions to overcome a past of frustration already established if we did not know where to head from these conditions, if we did not have an accurate perception of our goals and our paths, of what to do and how to do it.

And in this perception, which is basically cultural, we Argentineans and other Latin Americans we come together with Spain in the vast canvas of a common historical experience that has led us to share –at times almost symmetrically– the pain of oppression and the joy of freedom.

Latin America and Spain have experienced a truly unique historical relationship. Colonized by Spain, we have fought against that colonial situation, in a struggle which, strictly speaking, did not seem to be considered as a conflict between the two peoples, but as a battle between political philosophies that fought each other in the domestic sphere of both peoples. Our wars of independence were part of an ideal struggle against absolutism which was also being fought within Spain itself. The outline of a struggle between colonizers and the colonized, which could have pitted us against each other, was diluted in a battle of principles which, to the contrary, brought us together. We were not peoples who fought each other, but peoples who were enduring parallel processes of internal conflicts.

Hence, both in the colonial period and in that of independence, Spain was a constant reference point for us, though not always of the same sign.

We are associated with you, hence, in one and the same cultural dialectic. There is a global Spanish-American culture that is common to our mistakes and our successes, our setbacks and our progress. Is a greater degree of identification conceivable between two peoples?

We are also joined by the common conviction that the democratic system will be incomplete and unstable as long as it lacks a basis of social justice, which means not only equitable distribution of wealth, but also framing this distribution within a production system that is effective in generating wealth to distribute.

Spain today demonstrates a thoughtful effort to harmonize these objectives, which is a sign not only of political mastery, but also of willingness to renew its own culture.

It can be said that such renovation is also our focus, aimed at the twofold objectives of moralizing and rationalizing relationships between man and his environment, on the one hand, bringing down unjust privileges and, on the other, overcoming the ideological immobility that impedes the perception of reality in a process of change.

I get to speak to you today at a time when both Spain and Portugal begin to follow the paths of their integration in the European Economic Community, confirming the increasingly clear evidence that the world is moving towards major areas of regional integration over and above old national units.

The subjects of world history, which since the beginning of the modern era were the nations, are now becoming those major areas. The peoples who in the past four centuries had access to this historical prominence through their respective national units now find themselves in urgent need of joining together in larger economic and political formations to achieve the same goal.

Haughty isolation in one’s own national uniqueness, dedication to preserving a lone nationalist vision of one’s own collective destiny, today lead to the risk of falling out of history in capitals letters, of becoming an option for the side lines.

In Latin America, we are still in the stage of specific responses: to this problem, this collective response. Every critical situation results in expressions of joint action; however, these expressions have not yet become firm projections capable of overcoming the particular problem that generated them.

It is now necessary to take the next step: to convert these embryos of political expression into institutional forms of integration that may enable the region to face, in an organised way, both its internal difficulties and the region’s global relations with the rest of the world.

For all this to occur, it is necessary for us to clearly and definitively leave behind internal national rivalries, which are increasingly provincial in this world of major areas that is emerging today.

To live clinging to such schemes, to put it perhaps incorrectly, though expressively in Heideggerian terms– would mean living toward death; toward the sacrifice of a Latin American destiny in the regionalized world of today.

And it is essential to state here that the necessary combination of Latin American wills to avoid this sentence of living towards death is inseparable from the process of democratization which is fortunately becoming consolidated in the area today.

In the midst of their hallmarks, Latin American dictatorships have always had in common their insistence on holding on to national singularities, to a provincial nationalism which dreams of hegemony and, in its name, unleashes the arms race.

Let me now conclude by quoting our Jorge Luis Borges in order to express, along with him, my own feelings towards Spain:

Spain of the Iberian, the Celt, the Carthaginian and of Rome,

Spain of the harsh Visigoths

[...]

Spain of Islam and of the Kabala.

[...]

Spain of the Inquisitors

who suffered the fate of being executioners

when they could have been martyrs,

Spain of the long adventure

that deciphered the seas and diminished cruel empires.

[...]

Spain of the courtyards,

Spain of the pious stone of cathedrals and sanctuaries,

Spain of integrity  and  profound friendship,

Spain of futile courage,

we can profess other loves,

we can forget you

as we forget our own past

because you are inseparably in us:

in the intimate recesses of our blood

[...]

Spain,

Mother of rivers and swords, of manifold generations,

incessant and fatal.

 

Thank you.



[1] People’s councils

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