Culture, Peace and Prosperity – Plácido Domingo

Why the EU – with its peace and cultural project – deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

When the European Union was named the 2012 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, a choir of critical voices could be heard across Europe and beyond. Europe is suffering the worst economic and financial crisis since World War II. Why should the European Union get a Nobel Peace Prize now?

Placido Domingo, President of Europa Nostra, and Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.

Placido Domingo, President of Europa Nostra, and Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.

We should never forget that Europe has seen centuries of war and human suffering. The citizens of Europe have learned historic lessons the hard way. Finally, ideas of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights found fertile ground and Europe and its citizens began the historic transformation from a continent of war to a continent of peace. This is why the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize is “deserved and necessary” to quote Thorbjørn Jagland, President of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. It reminds us why the Union was born and how we got here. It also points out where we want to go, in which type of society we want to live and what values we want to defend and promote.

However, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has not only been given to the EU Institutions. This is – and I am paraphrasing a statement made by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission – a prize for the 500 million citizens living in the Union. This is our prize.

I hope you will allow me a musical analogy: Europe is like a grand and complex Opera. As the word itself says, Opera is work, hard work. What you see on stage is the end result of years of painstaking work behind the scenes. Opera is a gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art, translation) in which many people with different talents work together to achieve perfection, to make something magnificent and magical a reality. Just as Opera, Europe is a gesamtkunstwerk, our gesamtkunstwerk . We all have to work together, the old and new generations, the old and new Europeans, the poor and rich Europeans, to keep this continent a true haven of peace and prosperity. And, this is a shared responsibility – not just of institutions and politicians, but of each and everyone of us.

It will come as no surprise that I believe that Europe is more than an economic or political union. In addition to being a “peace project” , Europe is also a “cultural project”. I indeed believe that our culture is Europe’s most precious resource, our unique selling point on the global scale. Europe is a global superpower when it comes to the field of art, culture and cultural heritage. Europe is blessed by a formidable cultural and linguistic richness and diversity. But when you look at Europe from the outside, our wonderful mosaic of cultures shows much more unity and coherence than one would expect. We should be much more aware of this “unity in diversity” of our shared culture. We should see it as Europe’s great asset and not as its liability.

As President of the European heritage organisation Europa Nostra which was proud to be represented at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo and which is equally proud to celebrate this year its 50th anniversary, I believe that Europe’s cultural heritage is a formidable resource for our society and economy. It is vital for our sense of identity and belonging and also for our sense of togetherness within a wider European family. Our heritage also plays a key role for our quality of life, our social cohesion and for our economic renewal. Our cultural heritage indeed offers wide opportunities for the creation of creative and rewarding jobs by sustainable and innovative public or private initiatives. For all these reasons Europa Nostra and I believe that it is our shared duty to protect our cultural heritage and pass it on in good shape to future generations. And it is a necessity that in the future the EU Institutions play a stronger part in these efforts. We feel encouraged that the European Commissioner responsible for Culture, Androulla Vassiliou, among other European leaders, shares this vision.

Today, peace is prevailing in most of Europe. But there are still regions (such as the Balkans or Cyprus) that are recovering from more recent (armed) conflicts. I believe that in such trying situations we should not underestimate the healing power of culture. Culture is a very strong vehicle for promoting peace and prosperity. Openness and respect towards one another’s culture – as expressed in our tangible and intangible cultural heritage – leads to friendship and understanding, fosters cooperation and solidarity, and in this way contributes to peace and prosperity. The EU – whenever appropriate in cooperation with the Council of Europe and UNESCO – should therefore put stronger emphasis to initiatives aiming to protect and enhance cultural heritage as part of their confidence and peace building programmes in post-conflict regions in Europe and also in other parts of the world. This is an essential element of their “mission civilisatrice”.

As a musician, I also believe in the inspirational and educational power of culture, and especially music. On the 21st of November in Paris, UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, bestowed on me the honour of becoming their Goodwill Ambassador, the UNESCO Artist for Peace. As I stressed during my acceptance speech, it is my wish to bring classical music to all classrooms in Europe. We need to share music with the widest audience possible, and to reduce boundaries between classical and popular music. Making music or art together is a miraculous experience. I can feel this enabling power of culture by observing the happiness of children who discover, sing or play music together. I can sense it through the enthusiasm of the participants in the Operalia competition which I have created 20 years ago with the aim of discovering and promoting today’s best young opera singers. I can see it in the keen eyes of new generations of artists, performers and cultural entrepreneurs, professionals and volunteers across Europe and across the Globe.

As a father and grandfather, I indeed believe in a peaceful and prosperous Europe. I am convinced that we deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, not just for what we have accomplished so far, but for what we will continue to achieve as Europeans. I foresee that our culture will grow stronger over the years, our solidarity should and will increase, our love and care for music, art and cultural heritage will be shared with all our citizens and also with the rest of the world. If we continue to work together inspired by the example shown to us by Europe’s founding fathers, new generations of Europeans will be able to hand down an even more peaceful, creative and prosperous Europe to their children and grandchildren. And we will all be able to say, just as Herman van Rompuy in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “I am proud to be European”.

Plácido Domingo
Opera singer and conductor
UNESCO Artist for Peace
President of Europa Nostra, the Voice of Cultural Heritage in Europe

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