OVIEDO, Spain – Spain’s King Felipe VI handed out the prestigious Princess of Asturias Awards at a ceremony Friday night at Campoamor Theater in this northwestern city, where he hailed the laureates’ commitment to building a shared future based on solidarity, concord and culture in an era of uncertainty.
Felipe VI especially praised the European Union, recipient of the award for concord, for its common project of peace, solidarity and progress.
“It’s an example of progress and wellbeing in times of uncertainty. And it represents democratic strength in the face of fanaticism, freedom in the face of tyranny, co-existence in the face of discord and culture in the face of ignorance,” the king said.
He noted that that political and economic union, whose origins can be traced back to the horrors of World War II, had brought about the “longest period of peace in modern Europe.”
Catalonia’s controversial independence drive also was an unavoidable subject at the ceremony in Oviedo, with the king receiving a standing ovation when he said that northeastern Spanish region “is and will be an essential part” of the Iberian nation.
He delivered that message in the presence of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and three top EU officials on hand to receive the concord award: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.
Felipe also hailed the members of Argentine comedy-musical group Les Luthiers, recipients of the award for communications and humanities, praising their intelligent observations and outstanding cultural contributions.
The recipients of the awards for the arts (South African painter William Kentridge), social sciences (British intellectual Karen Armstrong), literature (Polish poet Adam Zagajewski), international cooperation (The Hispanic Society of America) and technical and scientific research (American physicians Rainer Weiss, Kip S. Thorne and Barry C. Barish and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration) also received their honors Friday night from the Spanish monarch.
One of the biggest highlights of the ceremony came when the recipient of the sports award – the New Zealand men’s rugby union team, nicknamed the “All Blacks” – performed their world-famous “haka,” the traditional war dance of the Maori people, inside the theater.
The squad is known for performing that pre-game ritual prior to its international matches.
The Asturias awards are regarded as the Ibero-American world’s equivalent of the Nobels.