Excellency Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova, Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you to UNESCO to celebrate the 1150th anniversary of the Cyrillic alphabet.
On behalf of the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, I wish to express thanks to the Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation for this initiative and to the talented Russian musicians, who will shortly perform for us.
In early May, I had the honour to inaugurate a wonderful exhibition on the History of Slavic Capitals through Archival Materials, organised by the Permanent Delegation of Slovenia and the Member States of the Forum for Slavic Cultures.
One month before that, on 9 April, the Director-General was in Ljubljana, at the Slovenian National and University Library, to open an exhibition on the Codex Suprasliensis.
This is the world’s oldest existing Old Church Slavonic canon text -- bearing testimony to the arrival of Orthodox Christianity among Slavic peoples and an invaluable source on the origins of the Slavic language.
The Codex embodies the deep ties of kinship between Slavic peoples, between Poland, Russia and Slovenia, which together inscribed the Codex on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.
All of this shows the vibrancy of Slavic cultures in UNESCO and well beyond these walls.
As you know, the ties between Slavic countries were first woven by Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Old Church Slavonic alphabet and who laid the basis for the written language of the Slavic peoples.
This is why the year 863 is so symbolic for many Slavic countries.
From the Balkans to the eastern borders of Russia, many languages currently employ the wonderful invention of thirty letters, initially adapted to the Slavic languages and used today also by a number of non-Slavic languages.
The story of Cyrillic is simply fascinating.
Over one thousand years ago, two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, travelled to Great Moravia to evangelize and to teach the liturgy in the Slavonic language.
Thanks to the new alphabets -- Glagolitic and then Cyrillic – Slavic peoples gained direct access to the Gospels and Psalters, which had previously been available only in Hebrew, Greek and Latin -- and they were able to begin to express their own culture in their vernacular language.
Over the centuries, Cyrillic laid the basis for the development of deep cultural relations that have enriched the culture of humanity as a whole.
With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union in 2007, Cyrillic became the third official script of the European Union, following Latin and Greek.
Alphabets matter, Ladies and Gentlemen, because they endow a language with a material base and assure its longevity.
They enable speakers to formalize their thoughts, traditions, laws, beliefs, their relationship with nature – and they allow them to share this world view with others…
An alphabet is a way to understand the world and to express it.
For all these reasons, the Cyrillic alphabet holds a special place for Slavic cultures -- as a vehicle of meaning, as a wellspring of identity.
This is why UNESCO is so firmly committed to advancing literacy and protecting linguistic diversity – in the ‘real’ world’ as well as on the Internet.
This evening, we have gathered to enjoy the beauty of Cyrillic in song, brought to us by five exceptional voices from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres.
I wish to thank Khachatur Badalyan, Vladimir Galouzine, Ekaterina Sergeeva and Oxana Shilova, and Director Mikhail Tatarnikov, for sharing their talents and passion with us.
This is an evening to celebrate the unique world of Cyrillic and to rejoice in the great wealth that is humanity’s diversity.
It is a moment for all of us to join together around the values we share, of mutual respect and equal dignity.
Желаю вам всем приятного вечера и замечательных впечатлений!