Opening speech HRH Princess Laurentien - ECF Princess Margriet Award 15 March 2016

HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. Photo by Xander Remkes

HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. Photo by Xander Remkes

Your Royal Highnesses,
Excellencies, distinguished guests and members of the award jury
and especially, dear Laureates,

We are delighted to bring Europe to Amsterdam this year. All of you being present here is in and of itself encouraging. It shows how Europe, and culture in particular, connects people of different backgrounds, fields of interest, ages and visions. If this feels like a gathering of friends, it’s hopefully because of the kindred spirit floating around, not because you know everyone. To leave here enriched, seek out those you people you don’t know, preferably outside of your usual area of work with a view to develop new connections and new partnerships.

Today we are celebrating Krétakör in Budapest and Medialab-Prado in Madrid as the 2016 laureates of the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture. Looking at all 16 laureates so far from around Europe of the past years, I feel inspired, and hope you feel the same. Inspired by the variety, creativity and courage of their work - from Berlin to Athens, London to Kiev, Belgrade to Rome and all the places in between.  

These initiatives seem so different in what they undertake and the creative form in which they work. Yet they have more in common than meets the eye…when you think of it, they are all hot spots of authentic voices in society; of citizens wanting to participate and engage in their communities, their common spaces… Connecting these unique hot spots of free and critical thinking to each other, turns them into a powerful network of change for the common good. For us at ECF, this means a Europe without borders and boundaries, be they physical, perceived or felt. We believe culture can help create the necessary linkages across these borders and boundaries.

So this network of cultural hot spots embodies the vision and mission of the European Cultural Foundation: connecting communities and the voices and values that are needed to shape and feed these communities. 

No community can exist without some form of solidarity among those inhabiting it. As you no doubt know, solidarity is one of the six principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that came into force in 2009 – together with Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Citizens' Rights, and Justice. But solidarity is more than a principle in a text; it embodies the ties in society that bind people together as one. Solidarity is about mutual respect for each others thoughts and sentiments. Lech Walesa once said: “The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience."

Our solidarity is being tested by the challenges and reality of our time: large groups of people fleeing war and violence on the one hand and people being worried about their future and their way of living on the other. It is at this time that cultural exchange is more important than ever before, as it connects people, which fosters solidarity – so it feeds our imagination and genuine effort to look through the lenses of others and understand the perspective of those we may not agree with. We have no other choice than to find shared solutions for these challenges we face.

This is no easy task, and we cannot ignore the fact that the solidarity we have come to take for granted perhaps, is under grave threat. Growing numbers of people define themselves solely in terms of their exclusion from others. Many are choosing to reinforce nationalism, which comes at the cost of losing openness towards outsiders. The resulting disintegration of interdependence among citizens is counterproductive to living in harmony with each other; and to the kind of democracy that embraces an open mind rather than an inward-looking retreat and even fear. And as we teach our children, fear is never a wise advisor….  

Today’s theme is ‘The voices of Europe”. And indeed, Europe knows many voices, sounds, opinions, perceptions, faces…all of which have the right to be heard. By listening to each other and enter into dialogue about our differences, we get to understand what connects us and what we share.  

Both laureates demonstrate how culture can foster such dialogue and contribute to a shared understanding.

Both laureates, though engaged in quite different cultural practices and geographies, are strong believers in the power of democratic inclusion. Their work builds open communities from a multitude of perspectives using the tools of culture — media, creative and open source design, dramaturgy and theatre-making. Culture for Medialab-Prado and Krétakör plays a subtle yet powerful role in creating relations of interdependence.  

Truly listening

Their work shows that solidarity does not mean that we always agree with each other. On the contrary; democracy is about the right of everyone to contribute and participate and make her voice heard peacefully. We need new ideas and concepts to create progress, and experience and practical knowhow to turn progress into change. Both are equally valuable and equally necessary. No one is ever too young or too old to actively take part.  

The key to success is not being stronger or smarter than someone else, but acknowledging the other by truly listening. That’s easier said than done… when was the last time you listened to someone without relating it back to your own biases and prejudices? Do you truly listen and take the words for what they are or does your own thinking shape their meaning to fit your understanding of the world?

Our laureates understand the value of genuinely listening. At Medialab-Prado in Madrid everyone is welcome to come and join the buzz of energy and activity in the building. There is no right or wrong way, no book of rules to comply with.

Krétakör takes a very different approach to the same goal. Through role-play, interactive theatre games and urban art projects, their projects enable young people in particular to reflect on their own reality, to uncover prejudices they may otherwise never question. On and off-stage, within schools and between communities, Krétakör shows those fracture lines caused by differences in social class, religion, politics, race. By bringing together people from different backgrounds and positions and engaging them through theatre in new and meaningful conversations, Krétakör succeeds in creating a space of open and receptive dialogue. Stereotypes become cracked and prejudices start to crumble. That is the starting point for re-discovering our solidarity.


As Stefan Kaegi reminds us: “we are all ambassadors of our own situation.” Let us today imagine a Europe in which all the timbres and textures of different voices can resound, as is the case throughout this ceremony. And in engaging in dialogue, we should learn from the Greek thinker Epictetus. He said “First learn the meaning of what we say, and then speak.” Let us truly listen – to those we know as well as those that challenge us and push the boundaries of our story.  

Yet dialogue for the sake of dialogue does not lead to change for the common good: dialogue that has the ambition to change a context or community requires real accountability about what was done with the diverse views. Only then will we enact genuine change. This is precisely what our laureates show us and what we have come together to celebrate here today.

We wish you an energising event. Thank you.