Speech – Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović – Ceremony for Centre of Visual Arts & Research in Nicosia

14 September 2017, Nicosia, Cyprus

Dear Rita & Costas Severis,
Dear Colleagues & Friends,

Each time that I arrive in Cyprus I feel like I am coming back home. Because Europa Nostra is at home in Cyprus and because it is always a joy to meet members of our extended family of generous and passionate advocates of Europe’s cultural heritage. The last time that I came to Nicosia was two years ago to honour the exemplary restoration of the Armenian Church located very close to here, on the other side of the Buffer Zone of Nicosia. Today, we are gathered on this side of the Buffer Zone, for the joyous occasion of celebrating a Grand Prix of the 2017 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards in the category Education, Training and Awareness Raising. This is a very long name, but in short it means that you have won the highest European Award for public outreach in the field of heritage!

The significance and the meaning of the Grand Prix given to the Centre of Visual Arts and Research, which we celebrate tonight, is vital not only to the core mission of Europa Nostra but also to the future of Europe.

Let me therefore start by thanking and congratulating our main hosts – Rita & Costas Severis – who have dedicated a big part of their lives to help the new generation of Cypriots to not only become aware of their rich shared heritage but also to fall in love with this heritage. Welcome to Europa Nostra’s ever-growing family of “Heritage Heroes”! Your awarded project has such a strong symbolic value for Cyprus and for Europe as a whole. It uses works of art, photographs, books and cultural objects to revive the memory of a long period of peaceful coexistence between different ethnic and religious communities in Cyprus. It also seeks to develop and promote creative community projects to build a better future for all.

The history and the location of this building perfectly underpin the spirit behind the creation of this Centre of Visual Arts and Research. It started its life as an Ottoman inn, was subsequently transformed into a flour mill and now it has found new use and meaning as a museum of shared heritage for all Cypriots. As for the location of this building, it could not have been more symbolic: here we find ourselves literally by the Green Line – what a poetic name for such a cruel reality, should we rather not call it “the heart-breaking line” that divides the historic centre and the inhabitants of Nicosia in two parts. Here, we can feel and touch the wall – not only the tangible one, but also the intangible walls which still remain in the minds of too many inhabitants and their politicians of this beautiful ancient island. How very appropriate to use this very location for the home of the priceless private collection created by Rita and Costas Severis and for a bold and visionary cultural institution dedicated to re-discovering your shared past and for re-building bridges between the communities and citizens of Cyprus.

This is, of course, a very fitting occasion to say a big thank you to all of those who have believed in Rita’s and Costa’s vision and who have supported them. First of all to the Board members and all supporters of your Foundation. And also to thank the important international bodies whose funding has made the creation of the Centre of Visual Arts and Research possible. USAID, the European Economic Area & Norway Grants, UNDP-ACT and the Minimis programme, run by the Government of Cyprus. The relevance and impact of this Centre is therefore yet further proof of the merits of public-private partnership and also about the added value of international cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral. Let me extend my special greetings to the representatives of the US and Norway governments and also to the Government of Cyprus represented by the Minister of Culture.

My words of praise and thanks are extended to you on behalf of the entire Europa Nostra family and also on behalf of our President, Maestro Plácido Domingo, who was thrilled to announce last May in Turku that the Grand Prix in this category goes to Cyprus! Costas Severis can confirm this! Maestro Domingo would have loved to be today with us here on your island that is also a little bit his island – the island of Othello, which is as you may know, our President’s most legendary opera role. Plácido Domingo has never visited Famagusta and we have promised to him that we will bring him there one day. Perhaps next year, during the European Year of Cultural Heritage?

Europa Nostra is indeed a very large family! And Cyprus has made a major contribution to this family through the work of many organisations and individuals. It is however, fitting to single out one Cypriot family of note – the Leventis family and its Foundation. Without their trust and generous support, Europa Nostra would simply not exist and would not have become what it is today – a respected Voice of Cultural Heritage in Europe.

Since this is an evening where we celebrate exemplary achievements, please allow me to pay tribute to another member of the Europa Nostra family in Cyprus – our Vice-President, Androulla Vassiliou! Dear Androulla, I think it is fair to say that we would not have had a European Year of Cultural Heritage if you would not have laid the vital groundwork for it, during your 5-year mandate as European Commissioner. It is thanks to your leadership and hard work that the European Union has developed an integrated strategy for cultural heritage. Europa Nostra, and I personally, have witnessed first hand the important results of Androulla’s vision and determination to promote a Europe of Culture, a Europe of Education, a Europe of our Youth! And we are delighted to pursue this outstanding partnership and friendship as we are preparing for the European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018. And we are both proud that Europa Nostra has been recognised by the European Commission as the main civil society partner of this Year.

Dear Friends

Last week, the European Commission unveiled the slogan chosen for the European Year of Cultural Heritage: “OUR HERITAGE: WHERE THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE”.
How very fitting!
EUROPE is indeed a CONTINENT where the past meets the future! CYPRUS is an ISLAND where the past meets the future! And this CENTRE is definitely a HOME for creative encounters, where the past meets the future!
This European Year is indeed a formidable opportunity for us all! An opportunity not to be missed to pass some very important messages to Europe’s citizens and to Europe’s Institutions. We were very glad that this view is shared by President Juncker who two days ago made a forceful State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, outlining his vision for the Future of Europe. Speaking about his lifelong “Love for Europe” and its fundamental values and principles, he encouraged us to use the European Year of Cultural Heritage to celebrate EUROPE and its cultural diversity!

President Juncker ended his speech by saying that “The wind is back in Europe’s sails!” and urged European leaders to pursue with determination the on-going process of the building of Europe.
I am very well aware that it is difficult for you here in Cyprus to speak about positive winds in Europe, at the time when unfavourable winds are back to Cyprus. But winds CAN and WILL change! And it is us, civil society, that can and will make those winds change. Projects in the field of cultural heritage, like the work of this Centre, are vital game-changers, or shall I say vital “wind-changers”.

The mission and the work of the Centre of Visual Arts and Research also perfectly contribute to the ambition of the European Cultural Heritage Summit which Europa Nostra will organise in June 2018 in Berlin, and it is perfectly in tune with its motto: “Sharing Heritage, Sharing Values”. You have managed here – in a relatively short period of time – to give back hope by providing such an inspiring setting for Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and children to learn, to dance, to cook and even to play football together, and to travel across border lines, both physically and mentally. Like you, we at Europa Nostra believe that by sharing heritage with one another, we can rediscover that our similarities are much more important than our differences.

And that is precisely what the European Year of Cultural Heritage should be about! It should create opportunities for new initiatives, new encounters, new narratives which show how our heritage and our destinies in Europe are intertwined, and how much they have inspired and enriched each other.

Just as no community can blossom without its culture, without its cultural heritage, without its memory, without its identity, the European project cannot survive without our sense of belonging to a wider European community with a shared culture, a shared heritage, a shared memory and a European identity. A European identity which does not threaten our local or national identity but rather enriches and irrigates those different layers of our multiple identities.

We also very much hope that the European Year will help us bring larger investments – both public and private – for the benefit of cultural heritage sites across Europe. I hope you would not disagree with me that the importance of heritage is still seriously undervalued. In a major European report entitled “Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe”, which was produced by Europa Nostra in partnership with several European partners, we have provided compelling evidence about the huge value and multiple benefits which heritage brings to our economy, society, environment and the quality of our lives. Therefore, investment in heritage is – without any doubt – a sound investment!

Finally, we must use the European Year of Cultural Heritage to develop much stronger synergy between us all. So many organisations – public and private, governmental institutions, foundations and companies – are active in the wider field of heritage. We are however still too fragmented. Europa Nostra has therefore the ambition to serve as a dynamic interface between European citizens and their numerous heritage NGOs, the world of European Institutions and and also the world of businesses and private foundations – like the Severis Foundation.

Much can and should be done – at all levels – to promote more sustainable forms of development, including tourism and to regenerate our cities and countryside through imaginative heritage-related projects and products, and, perhaps most importantly, to use heritage and culture to bring people closer together!
This brings me back to the “power of example” of the Centre of Visual Arts and Research and to the immense symbolic value for Cyprus, and for Europe as a whole, of the Grand Prix which we celebrate tonight.

Dear Friends

Exactly one week ago, French President Emmanuel Macron made a moving speech at another symbolic heritage location – the Pnyx in Athens. President Macron dedicated his entire speech to Our Europe and he urged our generation to re-think and re-invent the European project with imagination and audacity, among others by putting our shared culture and cultural heritage at the very heart of this project. “Recommençons aussi par la culture” – Let us also re-start through culture!”. Why? Because it is through culture that we shall be able to restore trust among the citizens, the people and the countries of Europe!

President Macron therefore launched the idea of organising in Athens a true “European Convention for Cultural Heritage”, which of course fully coincides with the objectives of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. As you can imagine, the Athens speech of President Macron was music to the ears of Europa Nostra. We shall therefore make sure that civil society organisations are duly involved in such a major initiative. And we shall do our utmost to encourage other European leaders – including here in Cyprus – to contribute to the necessary mobilisation for Europe of culture and cultural heritage.

This is the important challenge that lies at the very heart of the European Year of Cultural Heritage:
– to make it a celebration of our common heritage,
– a celebration of finding the ‘other’ in our ‘own’ heritage,
– a celebration of finding Europe in our own heart, our own neighborhood, our own culture.

I know that we can count on all of you, all of us, to make the Year a great success for Our Europe!
And to end let me share one of my boldest dreams for the European Year of Cultural Heritage: to organize – together with all of you – , a major bridge-building heritage event in Nicosia, not at one or the other sides of the Buffer Zone but inside the Buffer Zone! Let us demonstrate the power of culture to bring people together, and let us send a forceful message to Europe and the world: that the Buffer Zone of Nicosia ought to become, again, a Creative Zone of Nicosia, and that this Zone is a prime European zone where indeed “the past meets the future”.

Thank you!

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