Prince of Asturias Award for Communications and Humanities

1997-10-24 - Vaclav Havel


Your Majesty,
Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and gentlemen,<
It is a very special honour to receive today, from the hands of His Royal Highness, an award that enjoys so much esteem not only here in Spain, but also throughout the Latin American community as well as on the European continent. The list of past laureates of the Prince of Asturias Awards for the different branches of human activity commands respect. I know many of the recipients personally, and hold them all in high regard. A recognition of this kind always evokes an inclination toward self-searching and stock-taking - a process that, as a rule, makes us discern our own inadequacy as well as our heightened responsibility for the things that we can, may and indeed must influence in one way or another.

Human communication is a subject I have repeatedly dealt with as a playwright. I am sure you will agree that we are now living in a time of - if I may paraphrase the name of one of my plays - an ?increased difficulty of understanding?. Even advanced knowledge of a language often fails to impart understanding of the numerous metalanguages used by specialists in different sciences or people belonging to specific social groups or subcultures. Language - a tool for bringing people together - can also divide them. But language is not the only factor. This year?s award has been granted also to CNN. This American television network focusing on news has undoubtedly introduced into the field of communication a number of good things and innovations. Thanks to CNN reporters, we became first-hand witnesses of many historical events of the past few years. Its broadcasts have made us feel that even developments in the farthermost part of the world have something to do with us, thus conveying the message that our planet is truly a small body suffering from a great number of seemingly insurmountable ills and that its problems therefore require our attention and concern. Of course, there are adverse effects too: the world may be increasingly perceived as a matter of virtual reality whose problems can be solved simply by pressing a button on a computer keyboard or selecting another television channel that will transfer us into another, more pleasing virtual reality.

As a politician, and as President of my country, I have become keenly aware of the problems of communication in the world of politics. What is involved here is not only a metalanguage of politics, but also crises of substance, especially if politics loses sight of the goals that it should pursue and seeks short-term profit instead - not to mention politics reduced to techniques of governing and of holding on to power. More and more often, the unique process of European integration that we are currently witnessing is seen simply as a matter of economic and political technology. What words, or what means of communication, can we find to make citizens of European countries also feel the life-giving sap that has nurtured this process to this day - a sap whose sources are not limited to either the post-war development of the Western part of this continent or the breakthrough events of the last decade?

Last year?s laureate of the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, spoke here, among other things, about the ancient roads and paths of Europe that should be kept in our memory. In this context, he mentioned one of the oldest European pilgrim routes that led to the grave of Apostle James at Santiago de Compostella, crossing the town of Oviedo. Many of my fellow countrymen - hardly anybody could count them now - were among the pilgrims who made that journey. This old pilgrim route with its many stations, merging streams from different countries of Europe into a single flow, represented a picture pointing toward the true meaning of human existence.

The whole of Europe is crisscrossed with such routes. They can still be seen in the European landscape, unostentatiously crossing the borders of modern states. They traversed even the iron curtains of the new age, and thus reminded us all of the unnatural and transient nature of those dividing lines. The roads of Europe were trodden not only by devout pilgrims, but also by tradesmen and warriors. Our ancestors travelled across the continent for both spiritual and material gain. Time and again - although the travels were endless, and return uncertain - they undertook such journeys, spreading European culture and civilization as they progressed. People who took the time to walk across our continent on their own two feet have developed a profound awareness of our unity in diversity, and can speak about it with much devotion and affection.

Quite often, we can move forward toward unearthing the spiritual foundations of Europe, and thus toward revealing the sources of the European integration process, simply by changing the patterns of our perception. If we do not hurry too much on our journeys across our settlements and our countryside, we will certainly find a place everywhere to remind us of something familiar. The foreign turns into something that we recognize, and more than that: into something that we can experience and embrace. It may appear utopian to call for this in our hurried age. But unless we hurry slowly, we may look, but shall not see, and we may listen, but shall not hear. This applies even to those spheres of life that require fast and resolute decision-making. It is, consequently, true in politics, too.

This award is obviously meant to advance awareness of the fact that human communication is not only a way of imparting information, but also a form of human contact that can prompt us to understand each other. I therefore find it logical that the choice of recipients of the Prince of Asturias Awards has been associated with the concept of understanding among hostile or warring ethnic groups, states or parties. Invitations to this rostrum have been extended - and rightly so - to those who contributed to peace and reconciliation, such as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, and the ?blue helmets? from the former Yugoslavia. The fact that we can welcome here again representatives of the people of Guatemala who have succeeded - through joint efforts - in ending a civil war that lasted thirty-six years is yet another great victory in the quest for understanding and peace.

Thank you for your kind attention.