Opening remarks by HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands at the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture ceremony of May 16 2018.
Your Royal Highness,
Dear Laureates, Excellencies, dear friends,
Thank you, Katherine. And a big thank you to all the laureates, for enriching our lives over the past 10 years… It’s been an amazingly diverse journey, thanks to your work and thanks to the thorough selection process of the various independent Princess Margriet Award juries.
During the first awards ceremony ten years ago, I shared my hope that the PMA community becomes a highly diverse collection of outstanding performers, thinkers, and creators.... and see the people receiving this award as a celebration of European creativity, diversity, openness and belonging.
This is indeed the case. By becoming the PMA laureates, you came into our lives as exceptional cultural change makers. By sharing your thinking and your work for social change in Europe with the ECF community, you have helped shape our work and that of our partners. So the impact of this award goes way beyond the rooms where the ceremonies have taken place.
Forensic Architecture and Borderland… we are delighted to welcome you as the 2018 laureates, thereby joining this diverse community of remarkable change-makers.
This year, we rally around the theme of courageous citizens. Like with other ‘grand terminology’, danger looms to become descriptive rather than reflective. It is easier talk about courage as an abstract notion than to think about what it actually means. Am I courageous? Why does it matter for society if I am or am not? What does it take to be courageous? And what are citizens who are not courageous? Cowards? Indifferent? And more fundamentally: can you actually know or say that you yourself are courageous, or it is a term that only others can use to describe someone?
All these questions make us realise that courage comes in all shapes and forms.
There’s the more traditional notions of courage that drive revolutions - overturning dictatorships, changing oppressive regimes.... During and after these events and series of events (in this day and age highly mediatized), we remember the heroes and are often inspired by them. But what about the invisible individuals, do we know them? Those who with their courage were as important as the heroes we know? Without their courage history would have been different. And once we know them, do we ask them what they did and draw lessons from them?
The digital age adds a whole new dimension to courage. The recently published book by German journalist Hasnain Kazim is an interesting example: a book about the hate mail he receives and the dialogues he develops with hundreds of people who are calling him by the most outrageous names and even threaten him.
One example is illustrative:
(I must admit, I am leaving out a few words that I felt difficult to even speak out loud…)..
Someone called Peter S writes: [quote] “People like you should be gassed in Germany!!!!! The islam does NOT belong to Germany. In this country, the islam should be exterminated and eradicated.” [Unquote]
“Hello Mr S. thank you for your message and your interest in me as a person. Is this the usual way for you to criticize people? Kind regards, Hasnain Kazim.
The answer of Peter S:
[quote] “Sorry, I did not know that someone is reading these emails. I didn’t mean it this way.” [Unquote]
It takes courage to absorb this amount of personalized hatred and turn to humor and lightness to enter into dialogue. Is that not what society needs? Lightness yet taking people seriously… Who is stepping forward to do just that? Is there sufficient civil courage? Society is shaped by everyday behavior of all its citizens… One could argue that the more citizens with civil courage a country has, the fewer heroes it will once need.
So to change things, courage alone is not enough. Change requires commitment – to act, be open, make the invisible, visible. African-American author and social change maker James Baldwin once said “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That’s why the book of Hasnain Kazim is potentially so powerful: He helps us face the invisible and intangible, making it possible to change it.
Courage is not just about auspicious events… but doing what is uncomfortable when no one is likely to notice it at first...That’s indeed how co-founder of Borderland, Krzysztof Czyzewski, sees it: “The change we need to create in society will not be achieved through a single event. It will be achieved through continuous, organic work.” Change requires a spark but also the discipline to nurture that spark, to help it grow otherwise it will simply burn up and fade.
Like their predecessors, the laureates we celebrate today, Forensic Architecture and Borderland, have shown their courage and commitment through culture. Borderland in their tireless work, unearthing memories in communities torn by conflict, Forensic Architecture in their continuous search to recreate sites of injustice through material evidence and the architecture of memory. They ‘read backwards’ as Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture puts it, to create “an archeology of the recent past.” In their work, both laureates face the complexity of reality and by doing so, they create a way forward, open up new futures.
And finally – courage is also much closer to home. I am speaking daily with people from all ages and all walks of life, who tell me that especially in this world of online and offline realities, it takes courage to remain yourself. That despite all pressures, bullying, the daily rat race and quick judgments, we remain ourselves, and to find the confidence to feel part o and participate in society. In a world where the lines are often blurred between what’s public and private, that’s a daily struggle for many citizens.. To achieve this, we need connectors. Culture fills exactly that space: the independent space between personal reflection and public pressure. It takes commitment to proactively seek out this space..
Cultural change makers and PMA award winners take this several steps further… they create these independent spaces, vocalise the need for such spaces as magnets of polarisation, frustrations, pain and misunderstandings– turning those state of minds and feelings into contentment, acceptance, respect, understanding and connectivity. The change-makers themselves dare to become lightening rods and use creativity to change things for the better. Sometimes at small scale, sometimes at large scale. Both types of impact are needed. As a side note: let us not get carried away by the trend of the time that impact is only possible when it’s scalable. Take the work of Borderland, with huge impact on a relatively small community.. Let us treasure that. By giving their courage a podium through this prize, we hope that others get inspired and follow their example…
All change starts with an open mind and open heart. It starts with self-confidence and a willingness to be curious and listen – truly listen - to what someone else has to say. It starts with the ability to put yourself, even if it’s just for a moment, in someone else’s shoes. And that, each of us can do: stepping out of the bubbles we live in, breaking out of the safe confines of our own worlds and bridging the divide – real or perceived – with other human beings.
May this afternoon provide the spark we need to light our courage, to follow our heart and do something that we may find scary at first. Who knows what wonderful changes it could lead to.
It’s an open door, but I can only wish you ‘bon courage’…