Thank you very much, Ms.Tsering Youdon Jampa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends of Tibet, Dear guests.
The first thing I would like to say is that my English is not like my Dutch.
My first language is Dutch, my second is French, my third is German, my fourth is dialect, my fifth is English and it’s not so easy for me.
I want to tell yesterday evening I had a telephone call with the general secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs. He told me that the ambassador of China had called him to say that Jan Peumans should not go to this International Conference.
And I told the general secretary that I invited the Chinese ambassador to my parliament, just like any other ambassador, in order to explain why I am a defender of the autonomy of your country.
I would firstly like to express my sincere thanks to the organisers of this conference for the chance they have given me to address you all.
I would also like to thank Mr Thomas Mann, President of the Tibet Interest Group.
I meet him always every year at the reception for the anniversary of the Dalai Lama. This is the second time he has given me the chance to address you all. The first time I had the honour was on the occasion of the 5th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups, also held here in Brussels in 2007.
It is with enormous pleasure that we welcome in our company, with the highest possible respect, our guest of honour His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
Four years ago, I already had the pleasure of meeting him in person, when he attended the inauguration of the Yeunten Ling Temple in Huy.
Back then, I was impressed by the dignity with which he represented the Tibetan people, and the way he articulated their life philosophy and aspirations.
His Holiness has long been a source of inspiration for many of us, not least because he has opened our eyes by viewing the world from another perspective, from another continent and from another culture.
That is why he has been respected around the world for half a century already, and why he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Nevertheless, his ideas are remarkable because of their simplicity. That is precisely the reason why his message is easily understandable. This is apparent now more than ever. I have had the chance to see the themes from the presentations which he will give over the following days during his stay here in Belgium.
The illusion of power
One of the presentations is entitled ‘Power and Care’. This presentation examines power, and how this power must care for all people.
Actually, it is not by chance that a highly symbolic work of art by the Flemish painter Roger Raveel stands next to the door of my own office. It is entitled “The illusion of power”.
The painting shows silhouettes of people. Silhouettes without faces, even the people seen from the back. At the same time, the artist has used mirrors. And of course mirrors show us an image of ourselves. The artwork therefore gives us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves.
Every day, this painting reminds me of my mandate. Within my role, I need to care for my fellow Flemish people, roughly 6 million people. They have given me, and 123 other politicians, the power to represent them.
It is our duty to protect their interests, and offer them as many opportunities as possible to enjoy a dignified and respectful existence in mutual harmony.
Yet Flemish people only make up a tiny fraction of the world population. Whenever we protect their interests, we must ensure that this is not at the expense of other population groups.
Over the years, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the life philosophy of the Dalai Lama is exactly along these lines. For decades, he has been proclaiming his vision in the tradition of his predecessors, with a message of peace, tolerance, cooperation, compassion and love amongst the different people of this planet.
Every year this message becomes more relevant, as our world gets increasingly smaller. The diverse people are coming more and more in contact with each other in our world: large people, smaller communities and minority groups. Every one of them deserves just as much respect.
UN Conferences, the Olympic Games, trade missions and international cultural or religious and faith-based gatherings remind us time and again how closely our lives are interconnected. Sadly, refugee flows and wars also force us to face the stark reality.
In this globalised world, we need inspirers, people who can make us reflect on our own place in the world. This is crucial for us, both individually and as part of a group.
One of the greatest inspirers in the world is our guest of honour today. He has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. If we look at the other names on the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners, it is striking how often the names appear of people who have defended minorities and the weakest groups in society.
I am thinking of Martin Luther King, pioneer for the rights of black people in the United States.
I am thinking of Mother Theresa, champion of the rights of the poor.
I am thinking of Nelson Mandela, forerunner of racial equality in his country and far beyond.
I am thinking about Aung San Suu Kyi, defender of democracy on behalf of an oppressed class in her country.
I am thinking of Shirin Ebadi, advocate of gender equality in her country and around the world.
Just like all other Nobel Prize winners, regardless of whether they are people or organisations, they have ventured down the path of dialogue, in search of a harmonious society of people.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also on this prestigious list of Nobel Peace Prize winners. He has always embodied and spread the Tibetan way of life with his message, a vision of society full of respect and love.
For decades, this Tibetan model has been the envy of countless other communities all around the world.
I therefore had little difficulty in finding common cause with the philosophy of this 7th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups.
This new conference will undoubtedly offer us new ideas to once again define the place of small Tibet in our big world.
That is necessary, because every day new challenges arise from the relations between different people. Crisis in the form of migratory flows and armed conflict force us to formulate peaceful answers.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has often helped us give form to such answers in the past, usually from the perspective of the Tibetan life vision. Once again the title of one of his addresses here in Belgium, “Individual responsibility and global engagement”, offers hope.
Ladies and Gentlemen, My country has a much flatter geography than Tibet. My country is situated on a totally different continent to Tibet. The inhabitants in my country look completely different to Tibetans.
And yet the insights of the Dalai Lama have always inspired me in my dedication to Flanders, because they are so universally human.
That is why I am very much looking forward to this conference, and I wish all participants lots of inspiration.
This can only be to the benefit of Tibet, Flanders and the whole world. I thank you for your attention.