Deputy Director-General of UNESCO,
Deputy Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues, dear friends,
It is a special honour for me to welcome you all, on behalf of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to UNESCO and myself, to take part in this evening’s memorial event dedicated to Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov.
The fact that we are gathered in the very heart of Europe is no accident. It is deeply symbolic and clearly reflects the global significance of Chingiz Aitmatov’s creativity and his universal popularity. A writer, a diplomat, a philosopher and a thinker who enlightened others, Chingiz Aitmatov made an invaluable contribution to the development of global, Russian and Kyrgyz literature and to strengthening friendship among the peoples of the world. He ranks alongside the leading lights of world literature, whose works have guided and nurtured generations. As a humanist writer, he ardently defended the ideals of peace, humanism and friendship between peoples in his works, while in his extensive public activities he upheld the glory of world culture and literature with conviction.
Former UNESCO Director-General Koitiro Matsuura, in one of his speeches, quite rightly talked of Aitmatov as an acknowledged classic writer of modern literature. He also mentioned his close and long-lasting collaboration with UNESCO and his tireless opposition to violence and support for dialogue among civilizations, both of which are so necessary for defending mankind’s unique cultural diversity. This is as relevant today as ever.
Aitmatov was decorated with orders and medals by many countries around the world.
He is one of the most widely read authors in modern literature. The use of language in his books is incredibly vivid and completely individual. His works feature on the curricula of schools and higher education institutions in many countries worldwide. They have been published more than 650 times and translated into 170 foreign languages, with a gross circulation of more than 60 million copies abroad. Many of his books have been made into films, which are still watched with interest by audiences today.
It is well known that Aitmatov successfully combined his literary activities with diplomatic life. Even in the days of the USSR, he showed himself to be a gifted internationalist as one of the leading figures in the Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee. Thanks to his UNESCO activities, in 2003 the Organization inscribed the oral works of the akyn storytellers of Kyrgyzstan on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Right here at UNESCO, he proposed the idea of an international Issyk-Kul forum, with the aim of providing writers and other artists with the opportunity to share their views of the modern world with politicians and to open constructive dialogue. We remember how famous writers from around the world flocked to Chingiz Aitmatov at this forum. Now, of course, his brainchild has flourished to become the Aitmatov International Forum – an important international venture, in line with UNESCO’s humanitarian aims, that serves a wide range of distinctive cultures and promotes intellectual communication among youth associations on the basis of dialogue, tolerance and agreement. I am among those fortunate people who knew Chingiz Aitmatov personally and worked with him.
Today we remember, in the words of Aitmatov himself, a “courageous, brave, deep-thinking individual”. He was always full of goodwill and openness to all that was good and light in the world, ready to face down all the predatory and despotic forces that stood in the way of everyday life. Aitmatov displayed a wealth of the positive attributes so characteristic of his three-dimensional literary heroes. Without a doubt, they embodied his strength of personality, together with humanity and humanism. Despite the fact that he was never formally awarded this high honour during his lifetime, today we really could call him a Goodwill Ambassador and ambassador of shared human values.
Chingiz Aitmatov could not stand evil. Remember the words of his novel The Mark of Cassandra: “That’s the way life goes: good deeds are always in short supply, but there is always evil enough and to spare… The way the world will end is through an incessant accumulation of evil in us, in what we do and in what we think. It leaves its mark on the human genetic code, bringing the crisis ever nearer.” Aitmatov had no doubt that the way to “lead society out of a backward way of life” was to democratize it. “Democracy has already entered the consciousness, life and reality” of the people, he declared.
At the same time, the future of society and its vulnerability disturbed him. He clearly saw a danger in the ubiquitous universalization of the era of globalization: the danger that national cultures could lose much of their individuality and be subsumed by a totalitarian mass culture. This could lead to a loss of memory – “mankurtism”. As you will recall, according to Aitmatov’s novel The Buranny Railway Stop (The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years), a “mankurt” is a person who is taken captive and turned into a soulless, slave-like being, entirely subordinate to his captor and remembering nothing of his former life. And if there is no memory, if history and culture cannot be preserved, then there is nothing. Man ceases to be human. In closing, I would like once again to thank the organizers of this evening’s event and all our guests.
I will end my speech with another quotation from Aitmatov: “The word begets creation. This is why we were given the word from above. Everything that happens to us, or within us, is accomplished by the word. And all that is made by the hand of man is ultimately the word made real. The word is the power of eternity contained within us. We will pass; the word will remain.”