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The origins of Košice 2013

AFTER years of preparation, the eastern-Slovak city of Košice has finally embarked on its long-awaited year as a European Capital of Culture. It is the first Slovak city to bear the honour.

The Košice State Theatre in Hlavná, Košice's main central thoroughfare.(Source: Roman Dojčák)

AFTER years of preparation, the eastern-Slovak city of Košice has finally embarked on its long-awaited year as a European Capital of Culture. It is the first Slovak city to bear the honour.

“This is the moment that Marseille and Košice have been preparing for - and waiting for - since their selection as the 2013 European Capitals of Culture,” Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth said, as quoted in a press release issued by the European Commission on January 1. “The European Capital of Culture has been a fantastic EU success story for more than 25 years: the title is a unique opportunity to boost a city’s cultural vibrancy and long-term development, as well as being hugely important for tourism, job creation and urban regeneration,” she said.

The history of the project

The Council of the European Union awarded the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture (ECOC) to the city of Košice in September 2008. Košice, representing the ‘new’ EU member countries, shares the title this year with the French city of Marseilles, representing the established EU member states (the EU15).

Košice won the title in competition with other eight Slovak cities (Bratislava, Trnava, Trenčín, Banská Bystrica, Dolný Kubín, Prešov, Nitra and Martin, of which the latter three were shortlisted along with Košice). Its winning proposal, the Interface project, foresaw costs of €80 million.

Zora Jaurová, who took part in preparing the winning project as senior consultant and was later to become its director, said, in comments made to the Euractiv information website shortly after Košice had won the title, that under the Interface project the city would become a kind of ‘interface’ for citizens, mediating access to culture for them. She added that the idea of encountering things which under ordinary circumstances do not communicate with each other dominated the project. Jaurová added that, in particular, the way in which she and her colleagues had designed the project, in order that it would follow the long-term transformation of the city via culture and the creative sector, was behind the victory.

Jaurová stressed that the cultural programme organised during 2013 would be merely the tip of the iceberg, and would serve to show that something was happening – but that the project was about the long-term transformation of the city by means of culture, because such a model had been shown to work in the past.

“Culture serves as a transforming factor, which requires development in many areas: new cultural infrastructure is built, often also transport infrastructure, new jobs are being developed,” Jaurová told Euractiv. She added that the title ECOC had previously served as the impulse for the transformation of an industrial city and that this could also happen in Košice, since due to the presence of a large local steel mill Košice was – and remains - widely regarded as an industrial city.

After Košice won the title, a non-profit organisation, Európske hlavné mesto kultúry 2013, also called EHMK (ECOC) Košice 2013, was launched, headed by Jaurová, with the main goal of working on the project and preparing its programme. In May 2011, Jaurová was removed as director of the project and replaced by Ján Sudzina. This happened after the EHMK Košice 2013’s board suggested that the powers of the managing director be divided between two people: a project manager and an artistic director. Jaurová was originally offered the job of artistic director but did not accept it because of what she said was a lack of autonomy. Peter Katina then took the post, but resigned after less than two months in the job. Vladimír Beskid replaced him as artistic director in September 2011 and has remained in the post ever since. Preparation of the project was also complicated by changes in senior positions in the local administration, as well as a change in government resulting from the early general election held in March 2012.

The project team prepared the basic project outline between 2009 and 2011 and ‘We support creativity’ became the project’s main slogan. The project team has said that thanks to the Interface project and the European Capital of Culture 2013 title, the city will also become a centre of creativity and represent a new future for young, creative people who wish to live and work in Košice.

The basis of the Interface project, say organisers, is a cultural and artistic programme able to create a platform for new communication in the European cultural area, bringing a range of innovative ideas and projects. It will provide what they say is the necessary European dimension to events, prospective links and cultural exchanges, mutually enriching the relationship between Košice and Europe.

“The Košice 2013 artistic and cultural programme is very wide and has several levels. From the highest international level with a European dimension, through national to the local scene,” Beskid said in June 2012, as quoted in a press release. “We have made every effort to ensure that the programme will reflect all ‘floors’, since it should stimulate and transform the environment not only in Košice but across the whole of eastern Slovakia.”

ECOC

Vassiliou, the European commissioner, said she believes that the ECOC is one of the most high-profile cultural events in Europe. Capitals of culture are selected on the basis of a cultural programme that must have a European dimension, involve the public, be attractive at the European level and fit into the long-term development of the city.

The commissioner believes that this is also an excellent opportunity for cities to change their image, put themselves on the world map, attract more tourists and rethink their own development through culture. The title has a long-term impact, not only on culture but also in social and economic terms, both for the city and for the surrounding region.

Under the initiative, which started in 1985, cities are chosen each year to act as European Capitals of Culture and provide living proof of the richness and diversity of European cultures. So far more than 40 cities have been designated European Capitals of Culture, from Stockholm to Genoa, Athens to Glasgow, and Krakow to Porto. Since 2011, two cities – from two different EU countries – have simultaneously served as European Capitals of Culture each year.

The EC explains on its website that the European Capitals of Culture initiative was set up to highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures, celebrate the cultural ties that link Europeans together, bring people from different European countries into contact with each other’s cultures and promote mutual understanding and foster a feeling of European citizenship.

Studies have shown that the event is a valuable opportunity to regenerate cities, give new vitality to their cultural life, raise their international profile and enhance their image in the eyes of their own inhabitants.

Following Marseilles and Košice in 2013, future European Capitals of Culture will be Riga (Latvia) and Umea (Sweden) in 2014, Mons (Belgium) and Plzeň (Czech Republic) in 2015, and Donostia-San Sebastián (Spain) and Wrocław (Poland) in 2016.

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