Behind every community, every city, every people lies a unique history. A unique history that shapes our distinctive identity. But identities are never homogenous. That’s because we are all composed of countless layers, both seen and unseen, that we share with others, that we sometimes exchange with others. These layers enrich and strengthen our identities. They make us who we are. And just as no man or woman is an island, alone, in a vacuum, we are all much bigger than ourselves. Because we are part of our community. We are part of our country, our continent. A part of humanity.
And Europe, I believe, is a fascinating example of this. Long before the birth of our European Union, long before the formation of modern states, Europe was for centuries an extraordinary network of cities. Cities whose cultural exchanges were as rich and vibrant as their commercial exchanges. Cities just like yours, right here in Kaunas. And today your city stands front and centre, a proud example of this programme of European Capitals of Culture — a legacy of Europe’s rich cultural history and tradition.
All across Europe, we see strong communities enlivened by strong local, national and European culture. And these communities thrive, come together and share experiences through collective artistic endeavours. Their people share stories, share histories, share a common living memory that will outlive them and pass on to future generations. This is how traditions are forged and propagated. This is how culture is created. And each of these cultural exchanges — no matter how big or small — helps us better understand each other and brings us closer together. As Lithuanians. As Europeans.
You, in this city of Kaunas, you made a clear choice: to put values at the heart of your European Capital of Culture programme. Values that will help to develop, consolidate and modernise our European community. You are tapping into the creative energy of this city – to understand and appreciate the cultural contributions of all communities that together have built this great city.
In the European Union, there is no centre and periphery. And today, Kaunas is more than ever the beating heart of Europe.
It’s a great pleasure for me to be virtually here with you, in Kaunas, today – the European Capital of Culture. Good luck, Kaunas! Good luck, Lithuania! Thank you for your passion. I wish you, and all of us, a successful European year. Thank you.