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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 27, 2011
European Capital of Culture 2016
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Down to Five
January 27, 2011   
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Gdańsk, Katowice, Lublin, Warsaw and Wroc³aw are the five Polish cities short-listed to compete for a designation as European Capital of Culture in 2016. This is the second time a Polish city could be named a European Capital of Culture since the project was launched 25 years ago.

The qualifying round for Polish candidate cities was held in Warsaw in October last year. Officials from 11 Polish cities outlined their agendas and answered detailed questions asked by a board of European Union experts and Polish judges appointed by Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski. Bia³ystok, Bydgoszcz, £ód¼, Poznań, Szczecin and Toruń did not make it through the qualifying round, while the winner is expected to be chosen by July, after which the EU Council of Ministers will officially designate the European Capital of Culture at the beginning of 2012.

The European Capital of Culture title comes with prestige and economic and social benefits, such as EU grants totaling over 1.5 million euros. Before they can enter the competition, candidate cities first need to get the go-ahead from residents as well as private and public institutions involved in culture projects. Proposals from each city need to feature European cultural events and an agenda of long-term cultural development.

The idea to support European integration through culture by designating a European City of Culture every year was first presented at a Council of the EU meeting May 13, 1985, by former actress Melina Mercouri who went on to become the culture minister of Greece. The first European City of Culture was the Greek capital, Athens. In 1999, the project was renamed European Capital of Culture and new procedures for designating European Capitals of Culture were introduced as of 2005. Every year, two EU member states are selected and cities from these two countries submit their applications nine years before the target year. Then, the Council of the EU chooses one city from each candidate country. Under the European Capital of Culture regulations, the title in 2016 will go to cities in Poland and Spain. The Spanish candidates are Alcalį de Henares, Burgos, Cįceres, Cordoba, Cuenca, Oviedo-Gijón-Avilés (joint bid), Pamplona, San Sebastiįn, Santander, Segovia, Tarragona and Zaragoza. Last year’s European Capitals of Culture were Essen in Germany, Pecs in Hungary, and Istanbul in Turkey, while the 2011 Capitals are Turku, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia.

Every city aspiring to become the European Capital of Culture needs to meet a number of conditions specified by EU regulations. To begin with, it has to promote its own culture through an Ambassador of Culture, who is an artist with strong ties to the candidate city. It also needs to take part in international projects, highlight European values and carry out cultural events and other activities to promote the city and its region.

“Warsaw is a city of tremendous possibilities and tremendous opportunities,” Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who in November was reelected mayor of Warsaw, has written on the official website promoting Warsaw in the running for the European Capital of Culture title. “The opportunity we are being presented with eclipses all the ones before. It is true that Warsaw is a capital city and it is true that for at least three centuries, it has been one of the most important culture centers in Poland, but the title we have been competing for will give a European dimension to our assets and help us fix whatever drawbacks we have.

“Warsaw keeps changing its image, colors, shapes and character, and along with the city, Varsovians are changing as well. They are becoming more open and more demanding, creative and increasingly culture-oriented. Residents in my city not only expect a wide range of cultural proposals, but they want to help create the cultural space of Warsaw. The city presents them with an opportunity to do so. This act of participation constitutes our main strength and our contribution to the uniting Europe, which needs constant injections of creative energy.”

Gdańsk, in turn, advertises itself as a city of freedom and the birthplace of the Solidarity social movement, the largest bid for freedom in Europe in the 1980s, which eventually brought an end to the communist system and freedom to all of Central and Eastern Europe. The city’s motto in the European Capital of Culture project is “Freedom of Culture. Culture of Freedom.” Those supporting Gdańsk in the European Capital of Culture competition point to the city’s centuries of tradition as an open, Hanseatic city. Still, Gdańsk does not want to be perceived exclusively in terms of history. Its priorities in the European Capital of Culture project also include promoting public space seen as a common good, “democratizing” public space through art, advocating active participation in culture, releasing the “freedom potential” inherent in the digital media, highlighting the role of public debates in the lives of communities, promoting free access to cultural riches and, encouraging solidarity in everyday life, including that between neighbors and generations.

The motto of Wroc³aw in its European Capital of Culture bid is to restore beauty to many different areas of life, including culture, society and urban space. Wroc³aw, the key city of Lower Silesia province, is one of the most buoyant cultural centers in Poland, famous for its international music festivals. The largest of these is the Wratislavia Cantans Festival and other notable events include the Jazz on the Oder River Festival, Old Masters’ Music Days, the Stage Song Festival, the International All Souls’ Day Jazz Festival, the Wroc³aw Meetings of One-Actor Theaters (WROSTJA), and the International Dialog Wroc³aw Theater Festival. Monumental opera productions staged at the Centennial Hall in Wroc³aw have made a name for themselves across Europe, while the Era New Horizons film festival and the new American Film Festival make Wroc³aw a permanent fixture in terms of film festivals.

A website accompanying Wroc³aw’s European Capital of Culture bid contains a statement that reads: “We feel responsible for our multicultural heritage. The fascinating history of Wroc³aw is a reflection of the history of all of Central Europe. Marks left by Polish, German, Czech, Austrian and Jewish culture are visible all over the city, which is why we want to encourage our neighbors to the west and south to take part in joint projects in order to revive our curiosity about one another—a curiosity that lay dormant for decades after the war. Naming Wroc³aw a European Capital of Culture would offer an opportunity to our city as well as all of Europe to strengthen European integration in this part of the continent and put back together what has been broken.”

“We dream of a culture that brings people together instead of dividing them,” the website reads. “We are dreaming of a future that excludes no one from culture, so that culture is available to all Europeans regardless of their religion, gender, age and affluence. Wroc³aw will become a place of dialogue about the special role that culture plays in building a Europe without barriers.”

Another European Capital of Culture contender, Lublin, seeks to project itself as a city that symbolizes the ideals of European integration, the supranational legacy of democracy and tolerance and cultural dialogue between the East and West. Those supporting Lublin’s bid say the city is an unusual place where different cultures and religions mix, where East meets West and the EU meets Belarus and Ukraine. Lublin aspires to be a venue for artists from across Europe to get together, both those from the EU and those who are not EU citizens. In terms of history, Lublin is a symbol of the 16th-century Union of Lublin which united Poland and Lithuania into a single state, bridging the West and East, and a memorial of the Holocaust, two historical episodes that need to be understood by those working to build a Europe of the future.

A publication promoting Lublin’s bid reads, “More than just modern museums and grand festivals, the culture of Europe is primarily about the people and their actions, aspirations, goals, pursuits, capabilities, potential and the will to develop. Cultural growth and the European Capital of Culture 2016 title are major development opportunities for what today is one of the poorest regions in the EU.”

Katowice, the fifth and last Polish contender, seeks to become a European Capital of Culture 2016 as a “City of Gardens.” The idea stems from an observation that growing numbers of people in the West tend to move out of city centers in search nature and a more comfortable life. Such “counter-urbanization” is accompanied by loosening ties between residents, causing the identity of a city to crumble. The City of Gardens idea addresses problems faced by contemporary metropolises, proposing a number of projects to “set the city and its inhabitants in motion.” It is a new “narrative” for Katowice and Europe, offering “a new concept of city life.”

Only one Polish city has been designated European Capital of Culture so far. Cracow took the title in 2000, when the EU set out to highlight the enduring legacy of cities on the Old Continent and the contribution they had made to global culture and civilization. In all, five EU cities were named European Capitals of Culture that year; they were Avignon, Bologna, Brussels, Helsinki and Santiago de Compostela. They shared the designation with Bergen in Norway, Reykjavik in Iceland and two cities in the then-candidate countries which were scheduled to join the EU May 1, 2004. The cities were Cracow and Prague. Cracow had been selected by the Polish government without having to compete with other cities.

After the European Capital of Culture 2016 project ends, Polish cities will not be eligible to apply for the title again until 2028.
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