This afternoon, the president of the Government of Catalonia, Quim Torra, presented the 30th International Catalonia Prize to the American technologist Vinton Cerf. “Thanks to his integrity and conscientiousness, our language has a strong presence on the internet,” Torra said. The president congratulated Cerf and thanked him for “everything he’s done for our nation and our language”.
The head of the Catalan executive recalled that Cerf, who is a Google vice president and considered one of the “fathers” of the internet, chaired the body that authorised the .cat domain in 2005: “He acted with impartiality and professionalism, without being swayed by external influences, which proved crucial for achieving the first internet domain assigned to a non-state cultural and linguistic community. As a result, a specific internet domain for Catalan-speaking territories was recognised.”
President Torra said that there are around 109,500 domains in Catalan, 12% of which are located outside Catalan-speaking territories, and that the .cat domain is present in over 90 states “and holds one of the top positions in terms of information density in generic domains – the ones that don’t belong to any state”.
The jury decided to recognise Vinton Cerf, the first technologist to win the Catalonia International Prize, “for his contribution, from a technological as well as a cultural and social perspective, to the development of the internet as a basic infrastructure of our society, and for ensuring that it is a network open to all”.
During his speech at the ceremony, Torra stressed Vinton Cerf’s “human quality, social commitment and merit”. As an example, he pointed to Cerf’s announcement that he will donate a quarter of the prize money to Fundació La Marató de TV3 (a foundation that raises money for research on diseases) and Catalunya Ràdio. The president also said that after Dr Cerf was declared the winner of the Catalonia International Prize, he donated €20,000 to the Puntcat Foundation: “This donation has been used to create the Vinton Cerf Distinction, which recognises and fosters research activities related to the development of the internet and digital innovation in Catalan-speaking territories”. Cerf said he has also donated €20,000 to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC to fund a variety of activities, including translation of the playwright’s works into Catalan.
The head of the Catalan government also noted that Vinton Cerf “has played a key role in the digital revolution, much as Scottish inventor James Watt, the man behind the first steam engine, paved the way for the first industrial revolution”. Torra said the work Cerf has done over his career “has had a huge impact on our lives, our society and our world, especially in recent years with the explosion of technology we’ve witnessed and the impact it’s had on day-to-day life”.
“The digital revolution is an opportunity to strengthen democracy”
President Torra concluded his speech with a warning: “We’re living through a time when democracy is threatened by the rise of populisms and the ghosts of authoritarianism. […] Old powers, bureaucratic states, want to enclose the commons. In this day and age, that’s not possible.” Torra stressed the need to resist this trend: “The digital revolution offers an opportunity to strengthen democracy, to develop innovative mechanisms for political participation and decision-making, to empower citizens. It can also be a way to reinforce one of the fundamental pillars of democracy: a well-informed society and high-quality knowledge. […] We need to fortify mechanisms that enable individuals, groups and peoples to grow stronger within a framework of peace, justice and freedom.”
The Catalonia International Prize, established by the Catalan government in 1989, is awarded annually to individuals whose creative work has contributed significantly to the development of cultural, scientific or human values around the world. This year, 109 candidatures from 50 countries were proposed. The winner receives €80,000 and the sculpture La clau i la lletra by Antoni Tàpies.
Manel Sanromà, a professor of Applied Mathematics at Rovira i Virgili University, director of its Computer Science Department, and one of the supporters of the candidature of Vinton Cerf, also spoke at the award ceremony. The event was also attended by the Minister of the Presidency, Mertixell Budó; the Minister for Foreign Action, Institutional Relations and Transparency, Alfred Bosch; the Minister for Digital Policy and Public Administration, Jordi Puigneró; the Minister of Justice, Ester Capella; and the deputy-chairman for the Catalonia International Prize, Xavier Rubert de Ventós.