Speech by H.R.H Prince Constantijn

Amsterdam, 12 December 2007

at the presentation of the 2007 Prince Claus Award.

Culture and conflict

Two concepts; two sides of humanity. We create and we destroy. Cultures may clash and cause conflict; whilst conflict may threaten existing culture.

I will refrain from attempting to describe the complexity of the binding and dividing forces of culture, and its survival under the pressures of conflict and oppression. From the description of this year's award theme, its is apparent that the Prince Claus Fund is not naïve and only too aware that culture is often at the heart of conflict - in many ways culture may have lost its innocence. We are also well aware that freedom of expression and the very existence of culture are often threatened by violence and conflict.

In this ceremony, I want to address the subject of culture as the power of artistic expression. Like the fund, I will be looking at culture in an open sense; which inspires inclusiveness, and the exchange of ideas and not the closed perspective leading to exclusion.

In considering today's theme, I was reflecting on why we are so concerned about culture. Why do oppressive regimes often perceive cultural expression as a threat? Why are we so upset when cultural heritage is lost, through conflict, greed or natural disaster? How come that artistic expression is perceived as threat by some, whereas others - like the Prins Claus Fund - worry for its survival.

I would suggest that it is our fear for loss of human dignity; of our civilisation. As long as we have culture, we are human. Oppressing culture, means taking away what defines us. And the destruction of cultural heritage undermines humanity's quest for civilisation, in all its rich diversity and creativity.

Cultural expression contributes to the protection and growth of human civilisation and the dignity of individuals and their communities. Thus, culture tends to defend freedom of expression when there is oppression, and to shake things up when society gets too sedate or too decadent. Seen from this perspective, culture is a mobilising force. It contains the energy necessary for change and growth, and thus provides a vital component for sustainable human development.

It is this positive and creative force that we want to nurture. Deep down within us, we hope - I would argue, universally - that THIS, and not the destructive and brutal violence of conflict, is the true reflection of our human nature. In this perspective, it is cultural expression that provides the hope, the vitality and inspiration for human beings in their struggle for survival.

In these sumptuous surroundings, this may sound somewhat convoluted and pompous. But the reality becomes very tangible when you scroll through the list of this year's and previous year's laureates. Many of them were made to suffer for their desire to express themselves freely; some created great works of art under impossible circumstances; others risked their lives to save their people's heritage; to provoke thought and openness and to provide hope and inspiration to others.

When bombs were falling on Sarajevo in July 1992, a group of intellectuals, convinced of the power of culture over the human psyche, decided to create a museum of contemporary art as a symbol of belief in the future and in the city as a crossroads of oriental and Western cultures.

Emily Jacir from Bethlehem is an exceptionally talented artist whose works capture and communicate the implications of conflict.

The Sudanese Writers Union provides a voice for tolerance and pluralism and a space for openness and diversity to advocate democracy and human rights in one of the world's most troubled and violent countries.

Augusto Boal from Rio de Janeiro has fundamentally changed global concepts of theatre. Boal's methods turn spectators into 'spec-actors' who intervene and change the story by inserting real issues such as exploitation, violence and corruption. His work brought him imprisonment, torture and exile in 1971.

And some of our friends from previous years:

Omar Khan Massoudi, Director of the National Museum in Kabul, who, through outstanding professional dedication and personal bravery, saved some of the world's finest cultural treasures;

The archaeologist Selma al-Radi who, with her expertise and love for the arts, has saved and restored some of the top cultural treasures in Yemen and Iraq;

The Iranian journalist and writer Ebrahim Nabavi, whose sharp satire exposes the hypocrisy, lies and transgressions of officialdom. For his work, he was banished and suffered reprisals;

…the list is long and impressive.

If only for these people and for the chance to meet and celebrate them, I am honoured to be associated with the Prince Claus Fund.

We gather here today to be inspired by the courage and persistence of men and women like Faustin Linyekula, who continue to find ways of mobilising culture as a force for good - often at the risk of their own reputations, wellbeing and life. We see in them the human qualities which we hold to be universally valuable, exemplary and crucial to the dignity of humanity and its quest for a more just and equitable co-existence of cultures - in short, its quest for human civilisation.

Our Principal Laureate, Faustin Linyekula, expresses very real experiences and fears as well as dreams and aspirations through his choreographies and engaged artworks. He is establishing a cultural centre in his birthplace, Kisangani, which was once a hotbed of violent conflict. Through his work, he wants to give the people of his war-torn country the possibility and the power to imagine, to envision another future.

The Prince Claus Fund honours the 2007 Prince Claus Laureates and celebrates their outstanding achievements at the interface of conflict and culture. Their work is a source of inspiration to us all.

May I ask Faustin Linyekula to join me here on stage, to receive the eleventh Prince Claus Fund award.

Who's who