Speech by H.E. Yves Leterme Prime Minister of Belgium at the ceremony in honor of President James Earl Carter
Egmont Palace, 4th of October, 2011 Madame,Mr. President,Ladies and Gentlemen,It is a always a great honor to welcome in Belgium a President of the United States of America. It is even more so when this President has been a fighter for peace, and successfully so, not only during his Presidency but long afterwards.Mr. President, exactly 33 years ago you accomplished, thanks to your personal involvement and determination, a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that still today stands as a model. You did this together with two other great leaders, President Anwar El Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who committed themselves to justice for the Palestinians, the withdrawal of Israeli military and political forces from the occupied territories, and an opportunity for Israelis and all their neighbors to live in harmony with each other. The parliaments in Cairo and Jerusalem ratified the agreements, which were overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of both countries and have never been violated.Mr. President, while this agreement took place 33 years ago, you never rested on your laurels since then. You created the Carter Center in Atlanta in 1982, so ably supported by your wife Rosalynn, whom we also do honor, in order to advance peace and health worldwide. The Carter Center is based on 5 principles out of which I want to single out the following two, which seem particularly relevant to the excellent cooperation Belgium enjoys with your skilled staff and yourself :1) The Center does not duplicate the effective effort of others ;2) The Center addresses difficult problems and recognizes the possibility of failure as an acceptable risk.The Belgian government decided to support the activities of the Carter Center in remote, often forgotten places, like Nepal, where you monitored the last elections. Belgium also intends to help the Carter Center in its assistance to the Tunisians who are holding their constituent assembly elections later this month.We have also worked together in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the sheer size of the country turns every effort in the right direction into a huge challenge. You know how important for Belgium, prosperity and peace are in Congo. We are grateful for the significant contributions you made to the monitoring of their presidential elections in 2006 and to the various systems you implemented in order to make sure that its precious minerals benefit the Congolese people in the first place. We are pleased and honored to cooperate again with the Carter Center for the upcoming electoral period in Congo.It would be far too difficult for me to mention all the admirable results that the Carter Center has achieved since its launching. This is why I prefer to call on a poet in order to capture the essence of your endeavors. Wystan Hugh Auden wrote a poem after he had visited the Fine Arts Museum here in Brussels and saw Breughel’s painting of the fall of Icarus. While Icarus is falling out of the sky the farmer continues his work and the passing ship sails on towards its destination. Had you been in the painting, Mr. Carter, not only would you have tried to rescue Icarus, you would also have drawn the attention of the farmer and the sailor to Icarus’ unfortunate fate.Let me quote from this marvelous poem: “About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters.How well they understood its human position.(…)In Breughel’s Fall of Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster :The ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,but for him it was not an important failure.The sun shone, as it had to,on the white legs disappearing into the green water.And the expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, aboy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to, and sailed calmly on.”I believe that your principal force, Mr. President, is to make that forgotten facts are no longer forgotten. Too frequently, the brutal features of power and violence mar the face of our times. Too frequently, we prefer to turn a blind eye to the suffering and the despair created by diseases. But if we are willing to look for it, we can also see the face of peace, even if we have to peer through prison bars to find it : and, in spite of everything, new hope is raised, on each occasion we see how the spirit of man refuses to be conquered by the forces of hate.It is my privilege to bestow on you the Grand Cross in the Order of the Crown in recognition of your numerous and excellent merits as far as waging peace, fighting disease and building hope are concerned. In the name of the countless people who benefit from the Carter Center’s support, we offer you our undiminished gratitude and boundless affection.