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Remarks by External Affairs Minister At The “Reception”, Bozar, Brussels (June 21, 2018)

June 21, 2018

Distinguished Guests,
Members of the Indian Diaspora in Belgium,
Friends of India,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great joy to be here today to address you in this vibrant, multicultural metropolis at the heart of Europe.

This is my first visit to Belgium as External Affairs Minister of India. I am happy to visit Brussels at a time when India and Belgium are celebrating 70 years of Friendship.

As we look back at the last 70 years, we realize that our bilateral relationship represents a successful partnership that is deeply anchored in historical ties that pre-date India’s independence.

During the First World War, more than 130,000 Indian soldiers fought alongside their Belgian brethren in the battlefields of Belgium and Northern France. Indians and Belgians mourned as one when 9000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives on Belgian soil during the Great War, sealing our friendship with an eternal bond of blood and sacrifice.

Our historical contacts with each other have enriched us in many ways. Merchant ships laden with pepper and ginger left the Malabar coasts of India for Antwerp .

Belgian mirrors and chandeliers travelled to India, adding their glitter to the Shekhawati havelis in the north and the palaces of Travancore in the south. Gujarati diamond merchants left Indian shores to make Antwerp their home, adding an extra sparkle to our friendship.

Friends,

As robust democracies, we share values of liberty, equality, pluralism and respect for rule of law.

As multicultural and multilingual societies, both India and Belgium are also accustomed to celebrating the diversity and differences within our peoples.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Recent high level political engagements including the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Brussels in March 2016 have significantly revitalized our bilateral agenda.

On the 70th anniversary of India-Belgium diplomatic ties, India had the honour to welcome His Majesty King Philippe and Her Majesty Queen Mathilde.

Over the years, we have significantly expanded and deepened our bilateral discourse. Currently, India is Belgium’s second largest export destination and fourth largest trade partner outside the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

India and Belgium share unique linkages of culture that go back hundreds of years.

Belgium’s interest in learning and teaching Sanskrit is well documented. The first course in Sanskrit was started in 1841 at the University of Leuven and I am happy to know that Sanskrit continues to whet academic appetite in Belgian students.

Belgians welcomed Yoga into their lives several decades ago and is today a major bridge of culture between Belgium and India. There is no better image of yoga than that of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium performing a ‘Shirsasana’ or headstand at the age of 85 years under the guidance of the doyen of yoga, Late Shri B K. S. Iyengar.

Today at the European Parliament, India joined Europe in celebrating the International Day of Yoga.

I am happy to know that Belgians are taking to Indian music and dance. Recently, I was delighted to see a Belgian artist performing the Indian classical dance form of Odissi to the musical accompaniment on the Sitar by a Belgian musician.

I could not think of a more appropriate venue than BOZAR for speaking about cultural exchanges between India and Belgium.

I have been made aware that BOZAR was instrumental in furthering the vision of promoting culture as a vital element of European Union’s international relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Indian Diaspora in Antwerp is a significant pillar of the India-Belgium Friendship. India is extremely proud of these sons and daughters of India who have contributed to the continued success of Belgium as the hub of diamond trade in the world.

Brother and Sisters,

You left Indian shores several decades ago. Yet the flavours and songs of your motherland have not left your heart and hearth.

You have infused the streets of Antwerp with the spirit and energy of India. You celebrate Diwali and Christmas with equal fervor. You make Waffles and Dhoklas with equal expertise. You cheer for Belgium’s Red Devils and India’s Men in Blue with equal passion.

To the Indian origin families in Antwerp and all over Belgium, I would like to say, we count you amongst our best and brightest.

So does Belgium. If you have found success in this land, it is because your talents were embraced and welcomed by Belgium’s friendly people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 14th India-EU Summit was held in October 2017 and we were honoured to receive Their Excellencies, Mr. Donald Tusk and Mr. Jean Claude Juncker in India.

One year on, we have achieved considerable progress in many areas of our cooperation.

Today, in the midst of complex challenges to global peace and security, India and the European Union stand shoulder to shoulder, united by our shared values and principles.

India looks forward to the ASEM Summit which is scheduled to be held in October 2018, where Vice-President Shri Venkaiah Naidu, will be leading our delegation. We are confident that such regular engagements between India and the European Union at the highest political levels will further enhance our excellent partnership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been a very fruitful first visit to Brussels.

I take this opportunity to thank the Government and people of Belgium who have accorded me a very warm welcome. I also wish to thank our partners in the European Union, particularly the European Parliament for their continued support to India.

I will return to India, confident of the bright future of India’s bilateral relationship with Belgium and the strategic partnership with the European Union.

Long live India-Belgium Friendship!
Long live India-Europe Friendship!

Thank you!

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