Speech – Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović – Ceremony on the occasion of the presentation of the distinction of the Order of the Legion of Honour in the rank of Knight

Residence of France in Belgrade, Serbia
21 October 2022

Speech by Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović
(pronounced in French & Serbian)

 

Mr Ambassador of France,
Mr Ambassador of the European Union,
My dear Mum, My dear brother Branko,
My dear Winand, My dear children Felix and Emma,
Dear Family, Colleagues and Friends,

It is with great emotion that I receive this high distinction in my native city Belgrade, in this magnificent gem of Europe’s heritage that is the Residence of France. I would like to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for the beautiful words you have just expressed to me. Also special thanks to the Ambassador of the European Union for honouring us with his presence at this ceremony. And, above all, I would like to thank the French Embassy in Serbia for having proposed to the President of the Republic that I be elevated to the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honour. I very much hope that I will be able to live up to it, especially as I have great respect and admiration for the vision and determination of President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen the feeling of belonging to a large European family through our common cultural heritage.

I perceive this distinction from my country of heart, France, as a recognition of a triple commitment that corresponds to the values promoted by France in Europe and in the world: my commitment to the European project; my commitment to the safeguarding and enhancement of the common cultural heritage of Our Europe, which of course includes the rich cultural heritage of Serbia; and my commitment to championing the voice and action of civil society.

This threefold commitment is deeply inspired by my learning of the French language and culture, which have marked my life, both professionally and personally.

My love affair with French culture and language began almost 60 years ago when my mother Radmila, then a young graduate in French language and literature, sang me lullabies in French. Thank you Mama, for this attachment to France that you and Papa Duško so generously shared with me; and for teaching me to work hard in the pursuit of the common good. I would also like to evoke the memory of my paternal grandfather, Mihailo Mihailović, who benefited from Franco-Serbian solidarity and friendship. At the beginning of the First World War, together with his sister Margita, he was one of the high school students who were evacuated to France, near Nice, where he was able to finish his schooling and complete his Law degree at the Faculty of Montpellier, before returning to his country of origin once peace had been restored. Without this gesture of solidarity from France, I might never have been born.

Secondly, a big thank you to all my teachers, and there are many of them. Let me thank them through one of them who came to Belgrade from La Réole – near Bordeaux – to be with us on this solemn occasion. Raymond Vallier who, 50 years ago, at the age of 22, inspired us and made us speak, sing and dream in French. Thank you dear Veljo also in the name of my friends from the primary school “Slobodan Princip Seljo”, headed by my fantastic friends Lora, Duda, Dragana and Tijana. And thank you to my correspondent and dear friend Sylvie Garrigou who was my most demanding French teacher and who is also with us today.

It was also in France, in Nancy, that I fell in love with the European idea and ideals. I also fell in love with the Place Stanislas, and also with the Art Nouveau School of Nancy. And then, and then, I fell in love…not with a Frenchman but with a Dutchman who is a Francophile and Europhile like me. Thank you my dear Winand, to you and to our wonderful children Felix and Emma, for your unfailing love and support.

Back from Nancy, I had firmly decided that my life’s mission would be – no more and no less – to work for the entry of my country, Yugoslavia, into what was then called the European Economic Community. I joined, with great enthusiasm, the team working for the EC Delegation in Yugoslavia and in March 1991, I was one of the founders and the first Secretary General of the European Movement in Yugoslavia. Who could have imagined that only 9 months later, our wedding near Maastricht in The Netherlands, would take place at a time when war was back on European soil and bombs were falling on one of my favorite cities – Dubrovnik. At this moment in my life, which was both joyful and painful, fate wanted me to meet Europa Nostra in The Hague, which became my new universe.

And so the second part of my life becomes entirely dedicated to my great European family and to Europa Nostra, this marvellous organisation that brings together personalities and associations from civil society, committed – often on a voluntary basis – to cultural heritage. For me, Europa Nostra and its mission are catalysts for dialogue and peace, a real antidote to the poison of nationalism and of the language of hate and division. It is this cultural heritage that we share, with respect for our diversity but also with the feeling of belonging to a greater community without borders, that constitutes the real glue of the European project.

I wish also to pay tribute to these beautiful lowlands, the country which has adopted me, the Netherlands, and to my Dutch family, colleagues and friends who have all left a decisive mark on my personal and professional development.

While being engaged in all of Europa Nostra’s work in the four corners of Greater Europe, I continue to feel very close to and proud of native country and my nativetown Belgrade, which have such a rich cultural heritage that is an integral part of Europe’s common cultural heritage. I am convinced that this heritage – tangible and intangible, urban and rural, built and natural – including our magnificent Belgrade Fortress and its Kalemegdan Park – deserves to be much better preserved. This is for the benefit of present and future generations not only in Serbia but also in Europe as a whole. I will therefore continue to contribute to this goal with perseverance and dedication.

During the three decades of my hard work for Europa Nostra, I have been extremely fortunate to have great European personalities as valuable and generous advisors and guides. A fine group of these personalities, coming from France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, Belgium and even the United States, is present today in these beautiful salons of the Residence of France. Thank you my dear Denis de Kergorlay, for these 20 years of our common endeavour for the Europe of Culture based on our unparalleled complicity and friendship. Thank you Alvaro & Queta, Laurent, Jorge, Jimmy, Paolo, Fani, Uwe, Louisa, Ioanna, Nada, Harry & Louisa. And thank you also to my dear Irina Subotić, my heroine and role model, and to all those who carry – loud and clear – the flag of Europa Nostra in Serbia. Thank you all. Without your support and friendship I would never have been able to deserve such a high distinction that the President of the French Republic, Emanuel Macron, has bestowed upon me.

Mr Ambassador of France,
Mr Ambassador of the European Union,
Dear Family, Colleagues and Friends,

I receive this Legion of Honour with immense gratitude but also with great humility and above all with a deep sense of responsibility. For we all know that the ideals, the values and the wonderful cultural heritage that constitute the soul and the raison d’être of Our Europe, are today seriously threatened in too many places in Europe, especially in Ukraine, but also in Serbia.

But in spite of all these threats, I still believe in the strength of my native country – Serbia – and of this several thousand-years-old city, Belgrade, to get back on its feet. To enable all generations, and especially the new ones, to live a life worthy of our ancestors, worthy of our culture, worthy of the beauty of our landscape, and above all worthy of the place Serbia should occupy in Europe.

As you can see, my life’s mission is far from being accomplished. France, Serbia and Our Europe can count on me to continue – until my last breath – to defend and celebrate the Europe of Values and the Europe of Culture.

Long live Franco-Serbian friendship!
Long live Our Europe!

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