José Saramago

Banquet speech

José Saramago’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 1998 (in Portuguese with voice over in English).

(English translation)

Majesties, Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed today exactly 50 years ago. There is no lack of ceremonial commemorations. The attention fades, you know. When serious matters emerge the public interest starts to diminish, the next day even. I hold nothing against these commemorative acts. I myself have contributed to them, in my modest way, and if it is not out of place or time or ill-advised let me add some more. In this half-century, obviously governments have not morally done for human rights all that they should. The injustices multiply, the inequalities get worse, the ignorance grows, the misery expands. This same schizophrenic humanity that has the capacity to send instruments to a planet to study the composition of its rocks can with indifference note the deaths of millions of people from starvation. To go to Mars seems more easy than going to the neighbour. Nobody performs her or his duties. Governments do not, because they do not know, they are not able or they do not wish, or because they are not permitted by those who effectively govern the world: The multinational and pluricontinental companies whose power – absolutely non-democratic – reduce to next to nothing what is left of the ideal of democracy. We citizens are not fulfilling our duties either. Let us think that no human rights will exist without symmetry of the duties that correspond to them. It is not to be expected that governments in the next 50 years will do it. Let us common citizens therefore speak up. With the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibility over our duties. Perhaps the world could turn a little better.

I have not forgotten the thanks. In Frankfurt, on the 8th of October, my first words of thanks were for the Swedish Academy for granting me the Nobel Prize in Literature. I thanked as well my publishers, my translators and my readers. Again thank you all. And now also I wish to thank the Portuguese writers and writers in the Portuguese language, the ones of the past and of today: It is through them our literature exists. I am but one of them. I said that day that I was not born for this, but it was given to me. Thus, my best thanks.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1998, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1999

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1998

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