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Onassis Award to Theodorakis IV

Acceptance Speech by Mikis Theodorakis
Upon receiving the Onassis International Prize For Culture (Arts & Humanities)

Mr. President of the Hellenic Republic,
Mr. President of the Alexander Onassis Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like first of all to thank the Board of Directors and the Onassis International Prizes Committee for their decision to honor me, something which touches me deeply.

I welcome the presence of President Giscard d'Estaing to whom I would like to express publicly my own gratitude, as well as that of all Greek democrats, who - in the bleak years of the military dictatorship - found a hospitable shelter in the friendly country at the time when he was President of the French Republic.

There is here, immediately, a problem of culture. Freedom and democracy on the one side - fascism and dictatorship on the other, differentiate and oppose a cultivated man from an uncultivated one.

Looking back at the years that have passed, I can but express a feeling of optimism for the future. One can wonder how this is possible, when we all know the levels and impasses that culture has reached, as it is being concerted into a vulgar commercial commodity in the hands of ruthless industrialization of intellectual and artistic values? Yet, historical facts are known to us and they guide us to the conclusion that humanity is steadily moving forward.

If I am to limit myself to Europe, in the first half of the previous century we saw the prevalence of totalitarian regimes that led to World War II.

The major conflict, which ensued was a-conflict between Totalitarianism and Freedom, between Dictatorship and Democracy.

Yet, deep down, it was a problem of culture, a problem, which tries to find its solutions within the very spiritual and intellectual development of man and, by extension, of societies.

Present-day united Europe is, one could say, not only freer and more democrat! than the Europe of the interwar years, but also more civilized.

What is strange is that, although there was a conscious effort towards political an social progress, undertaken by social institutions, philosophers, trade unions political parties, politicians, it is basically man's character and the artistic value and traditions rooted in every citizen that are responsible for the cultural aspect.

Man is attracted to the light of freedom and in this age-long process, the history of mankind is written in fire and blood.

However, the very light of freedom contains the flame of man's spiritual and intellectual fulfillment.

If freedom pertains to the social side of man, Art and Culture pertain to man himself. The essence of man.

It is not easy to speak with certainty about the intellectual and artistic elements, which contribute to man's fulfillment, particularly those that are still developing and have not been tested yet.

The problems of Art have been and still are of concern to us. The relation between content and form, between popular and scholarly, traditional and modem, marks the very course of Art. In any case, over the three millennia of human civilization, so many important works have been created, that they by far suffice to entertain and educate modem citizens- And, certainly, it is this common heritage of ours that has helped and is still helping people and societies to find the outlets towards culture. Imagine what the development of education and of mankind eventually could have been, if governments were to allocate to the propagation of works of art and culture amounts similar to those they allocate for armaments ...

We thus reach yet another dimension of culture. Culture is a vector of peace.-What is the vector of war? The insecure. He who entrenches himself behind the brutal strength of power, in the belief that in this way he will overcome dangers. In the end, he will be defeated by man's greatest enemy, death. Yet, he who will conquer death is the one who will rely on the power of the human mind to generate culture. And with him will survive the societies, which shared in the creation of immortal intellectual works. But in order to do that, they need peace, with whatever it entails.

Let us not be disoriented by the vociferous events that usually arise from a clash of power (nationalist, economic, religious, ideological) leading to bloody wars with countless losses for simple people.

The axis of power is one of the two axes, which determine the course of mankind. It is the one responsible for wars, civil unrest, genocide and mass destruction. The one responsible for underdevelopment, hunger, ignorance, degradation of millions of fellow human beings.

The other axis that accompanies and leads man towards a bright future is the axis of Art, the Mind and Culture. The one expressing the real man, the man he who relies on the gods gift to mankind, that is on-his intellectual dimension which distinguishes him from all other creations of life and makes him a true king at the centre of Nature and Life. This is why he loves Life, Nature and above all his fellow human beings, while the axis of power hates all these things and destroys them.

Europe is staggering under the weight of its history. Keeping in mind the two axes which I just described, it will be easy for us to see who stands to gain from this endless series of wars and destruction and who benefits from the equally endless series of intellectual and artistic achievements.

Time has come, I believe, to tilt the scale from one axis to the other. This will have to be, in my opinion, the deeper historical role of United Europe.

If we truly want not only to firmly establish Freedom, Democracy, human rights, social justice and peace in all its dimensions in our own countries, but also to promote them in every comer of the earth, political planning as it is practised today will not be enough.

It is a planning that is influenced, to a great extent, by the axis of power. We need a new policy, which will take into account the Axis of Culture, as the main trustee of not only intellectual, but also other values. Freedom and Peace and all those linked to national and social development and people's happiness.

Thank you.

Mikis Theodorakis. 7th November 2000

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