Will frogs from Athens settle down also in Košice?

Posted on 06. February 2013

by Lukáš Fúčela

Lukas FucelaI couldn’t resist myself to write also some of my thoughts on the controversies connected with European Capital of Culture project in Košice (Slovakia) after reading latest Marta’s blog on this project in Marseille. The project of European Capital of Culture is well-known and also watched by general public in Slovakia for several months as it’s being held in the second biggest city which is a “metropolis” of the whole Eastern part of the country. Taking into account that Eastern part of Slovakia is one of the poorest region of the EU (GDP per capita of this NUTS 2 region was 49% of the EU average in the year 2009) it is, or it’s better to say it was an opportunity how to boost this city and whole region at the times of crisis.

We can discuss for hours if the project of the European Capital of Culture itself is really meeting its initial goals and the cities are “regenerated” and receive “new vitality to their culture life” also after the grandiose year is over, events had finished and many of the newly built venues are left unused or even decayed. One can say that this project has in common many of the negative aspects with an Olympic Games being held in cities where sports grounds were built just for this single event (in ideal case also for Paralympic Games) and nowadays are just cause of debts and battleground for frogs. By the way, did you know both of these events took place for the very first time in the same city? Unfortunately the ECC can’t be compared with the Olympics concerning the total revenues and global exposure of the city or region to tourists.

I understand that European Capital of Culture is not just about the ROI, but money pumped into this project should bring at least sustainable benefit for the city and its citizens. Last but not least as the project is co-financed from the EU’s budget, spending should be under control for the sake of transparency. In many of the previous venues had been discovered that money were not well spent after the year was over, but organizers in the city of Košice wanted to avoid these troubles after the event and they made it clear that project in Košice is a tremendous misuse of money even before the initial events have began.

The whole project is organized by a “Non-profit organization Košice 2013″ run mostly by the relatives of the city council representatives. They take the word “non-profit” in their name too seriously and they have granted 250 000 EUR to a newly established company with even better name “Best Services” for organization of the main concert during the opening event. There was obviously no public tender for the grant and certainly not even a simple survey among the citizens of Košice for the choice of the artist. And here comes the name of the star – Jamiroquai. I am trying my hardest to find some connection between the European Capital of Culture and invitation of this band but the only thing I can think of is that maybe mayor is a huge fan of them. Eventually Jamiroquai turned out to be a big hit but organizers surprised us again with their “taste of music” when they announced that another singer during the opening ceremony will be actually the mayor’s wife. I wouldn’t mind it at all if she was a good singer but you can make you own opinion here (translation is not needed).

The choice of artists and countless scandals about money misuses were apparently not enough and we can’t forget about the very first purpose of this project to: “highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures”. There are naturally almost no immigrants in Košice such as in Western countries, but we had a chance to promote the cohabitation of the traditional national and ethnic minorities – Hungarians, Rutheniens land Gypsies – living in this area for centuries. However it is really hard to promote this ideal when Košice has solved the problems of ” inadaptable ” citizens in the nineties by relocating all gypsies from their homes in the down-town and adjacent quarters to a single housing estate. You don’t have to be a prophet to see that this solution didn’t last long and it is causing even more difficulties in the lives of both majority and minority. This housing estate became well-known as it is a kind of gypsy ghetto and a symbol of unmanaged short-term solution, where other citizens are afraid to go, but actually Google Car doesn’t. And so does also a group of German journalist who payed a visit to Košice in January. During their visit they were demanding the tour to this neighbourhood but it was several times denied by mayor’s deputy as “inappropriate voyeurism”. At the end of their visit they were finally given a chance to go to a “guided tour” guided by the local policemen.

My goal was not to sound only pessimistic about this projects as they are certainly giving a lot of opportunities to perform for various artists and bringing a lot of interesting events closer to local citizens but I was just trying to transmit the current atmosphere and disappointment of the Slovak public shaped by the recent scandals connected with the wasted resources and obvious corruption literally on the main stage. I hope I’ll be able to write more positive review after the project will be finished and we’ll have exact numbers of the tourists and hopefully no more performances of mayor’s wife.

And to answer my question from the title – I am afraid we should start preparing for a froggy invasion here as the same populist party (currently forming single party government) responsible for current situation with European Capital of Culture in Košice announced official candidature of Slovakia (together with Poland) for Winter Olympics in 2022.

To be fair with Košice, I believe there are some interesting issues also in Marseille connected with European Capital of Culture, but just when I was reading in Marta’s blog about one of the goals of the local City Council of Marseille – fighting crime and violence – I have stumbled upon on an interesting article about the recent assault attempt on the TGV train  in Marseille in the Wild West style.