Speech by HRH Prince Constantijn on the occasion of the 2016 Prince Claus Awards

Royal Palace, Amsterdam.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Friends!

20 years. Many great people have walked on this stage in the ‘Great hall of the People’: brave, creative, subtle, combative, exuberant people from all over the world. People and organisations that Prince Claus Fund tries to learn from, to work with and connect to, in order to:

build more resilient civil societies and
to support freedom of expression, and
artistic and vocational excellence. 

20 years of support for ‘culture in defiance’ has created an incredibly diverse global network of artists, writers, activists, curators, architects, scientists, etc. with which Prince Claus Fund is proudly associated.

In 20 years we also have witnessed the sad passing of friends and family; torture, abduction and incarcerations of Prince Claus Fund laureates and partners; censorship and repression. And the destruction of irreplaceable cultural heritage. 

All these events strengthen our resolve and conviction that the Fund has an important role to play. We owe it to them and all they stood for to continue celebrating the creativity of people and the power of culture.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t critically assess how the Fund works and how effective it is in its mission.  

Our subsidy has been halved, which forces us to ask what value the Fund creates and for whom?

We must also acknowledge public doubts about the need for supporting international culture in a context of broader development and foreign policy. 

At the ripe age of 20 years, Prince Claus Fund isn’t a startup anymore. At 20 it is a good time to reflect on why we still exist. If we don’t, others will. 

A lot has happened in these 20 years. Human rights have become politicized. Freedom of religion and is pitched against freedom of opinion and media. Globalisation as a force for good is not a given anymore. ‘Culture’ has often become a wall erected between ‘us’ and ‘them’, instead of providing the bridge for linking people and communities. 

More and more we live in information bubbles. We hear only what we like, we get the news presented that fits our preference; we are advised to view and buy things that follow our usual behavioral patterns. Our experience and senses are increasingly mediated through technology, which deprives us of surprise, serendipity, and intellectual challenges.

Ever since the age of Enlightenment, people have thought education – scientific facts and pure information - would be sufficient to make society enlightened.  Now it seems we are entering a ‘post-truth society’, in which the manipulation of facts and proliferation of fiction is compounded by social media. 

20 years ago was the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. At that time many would have agreed (at least in this country) that the Global North was exporter of stability, open societies, human rights and liberal market economies. Then voices of freedom in the South needed to be amplified and creativity boosted in ‘zones of silence’.  

Now core notions of democracy like the rule of law and fair representation are challenged everywhere.  When a British newspaper displays judges - that defend the sovereignty of parliament - on its cover page as ‘enemies of the people’, this is very disturbing! 

Prince Claus liked to challenge conformism, forcing people to develop their own thoughts; possibly as a reaction to having lived under dictatorships in Germany and the Dominican republic. He would have deplored how, in our increasingly polarized societies, questioning assumptions is becoming dangerous too.  

For many challenges facing our societies there is no North-South, West-East divide anymore. No moral right or wrong.

So if you ask why Prince Claus Fund is relevant. I’d say:

Because no one has all the answers and listening and learning from the Fund’s network of incredible creative, engaged people – ( see many in this room! ) may open our minds. 

Because reaching out to opinion makers and cultural activists allows a dialogue to continue between people, even when regimes disagree. 

Because it is in connecting that we are more resilient in defending our rights and dignity.  

Because in creating together we can achieve much greater things.  

Because the Fund resists the trend of ‘dumbing down’ of our societies by giving voice to the exceptional.

We need to be challenged; our assumptions questioned, to reexamine what we think we know. We must train ourselves to look through different eyes, different lenses, to understand what’s happening in our world.  

And as my brother Friso observed: “if we can apply our understanding of other cultures to better cultural understanding within Dutch society, we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. The Fund’s international laureates and partners enrich us with their voices. It’s important to hear them here.”

Looking ahead the Fund will explore ways to strengthen and mobilize the network and to increase its impact. Amplifying the voices of reason and the expressions of creativity and human ingenuity is more relevant now than ever before, everywhere. 

Artists have the possibility of presenting, questioning, reflecting on social issues in subtle and not so subtle forms. It is essential that we defend the space in which they operate; in name of healthy, open and free societies. 

And sometimes there are no answers, just questions. Or mere attempts to slow us down and allow us time to reflect. 

To quote this year’s Principal Laureate Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul: "You need time to make people aware of the beauty of the everyday life. I wanted to show that plot is not important, time is."

In the words of the jury: ‘His work ‘subtly addresses complex social issues through mesmerizing aesthetics and innovative, non-linear narrative forms. His film Fireworks is part of a larger project. It evokes the charged political climate of his home region in northern Thailand. An abstract exploration of a place where political and personal memories merge with the explosive strength of fireworks. In short: be ready to be puzzled!

Before we continue the ceremony, may I invite you to watch this short film: Fireworks!

Dear mr Weerasethakul, may I congratulate you as the 2016 Prince Claus Award winner and invite you to come to the stage. 

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