Second largest city of Slovenia with about 115,000 inhabitants, Maribor is one of the most important attractions in the country due to the Pohorje mountains, river Drava and local wine culture. The city was bombed during World War II, when 29 raids destroyed about 47% of the city.
Four Slovenian cities decided to candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture, Ljubblajana and Maribor being the most important. Maribor’s willingness to collaborate with partner cities placed them in advantage in winning the title.
They invited 5 cities in a partnership to win the title: Murska Sobota, Ptuj, Slovenj Gradec, Novo mesto and Velenje.
The Slovenian Minister of Culture made a public appeal to the cities in order to find out who would like to run, stressing the importance of regional and interregional connection for winning the title.
Because Slovenia is a small country, with a total population of just 2 million, only two of its cities have more than 100.000 inhabitants. Maribor came to the conclusion that they would not have any chances to get ready for a project like this on their own, let alone win. By merging with the five cities, Maribor managed to cover half of the population of Slovenia, gaining advantages in infrastructure, culture and tourism.
Another advantage of this partnership was that each of the partner cities communicated with its neighbouring country: Maribor got in touch with Austria, Murska Sobota with Hungary, Novo Mersto with Croatia and so on.
Sharing the title of ECOC had a negative aspect as well: the jury worried that Maribor will not be in the centre of attention, but officials of Maribor assured them it will not be the case.
Kilba is one of the most successful organisations in the cultural department in Slovenia. They proposed Maribor to candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture. Kilba has a lot of experience in this field by participating in European projects, they are also the first to present Slovenia in 2005 as candidate for this title in Cork, Ireland. The Minister of Culture asked for studies to be carried out in order to find out which cities are the most suitable for the title from a strategic point of view. Research revealed three suitable cities, Maribor and Ljublijana being among them. They decided to propose Maribor because it’s a less developed city. It used to be highly industrial in the past, but after the separation from Yugoslavia, the industries crashed, pushing most of the citizens to emigrate. Studies conducted by the European Union in 2008 show that Maribor was the second city in Europe, after Tg. Mures (Romania) in terms of drain rate.
This was one of the main reasons why they looked for solutions on how to attract people to live, study or work in Maribor. Culture was one of the main initiatives and winning the title of European Capital of Culture has brought a great advantage in the development of education, IT, agriculture, social services and the development of the entire region from an economical and touristic point of view.
Hence the slogan “Pure Energy”, culture being the generator of evolution.
They focused on the plan for regional development through investment programmes. Unfortunately, due to the mayor at that time and the local corruption, these investments were blocked, with a few exceptions for smaller projects. Another important point in their programme was creating a link between culture and different departments such as science, education, agriculture and so on.
Because of the importance of energy today, they tried to connect culture with this field, especially as the city relies on the river Drava, 95% of the energy being produced here.
In Slovenia, 55% of the land is covered in forests, that means more than half of the country is uninhabited. It is the country with the most castles per square mile in the world, having a rich cultural heritage. By being European Capital of Culture, Maribor tried to interconnect these areas, while keeping older programs going on, such as festivals, but also bringing to life the heritage sector.
They had one of the smallest budgets in the history of European Cultural Capitals of about 30 million, money available to use in four years, beginning with 2008.
Their program was officially closed in July 2013. However, there are several sustainable projects which have continued, that were started in 2012, and still receive local funding. The decision to continue them came from politics and not the organization that was responsible for the implementation of the project for European Capital of Culture title.
Working with the local authorities had its ups and downs. At first, the implementation was delegated by the mayor at that time. Subsequently, there were elections and the mayor was changed. The new mayor left the team to complete the implementation, and after they were informed that they were awarded the title, he decided to make changes. Peter Tamas Dobrila, with who we discussed this topic, was the only member who was part of the official team from start to finish. His team members were changed with political delegates whose sole purpose was to take advantage of the budget given for the title. This is a common problem among the winning cities. Peter gave us the example of Plzen, where we will arrive on July 22, regarding the change team leader, who made it possible to win the title of ECOC.
Between 2008 and 2010, they could not start any preparations as they should have. In 2010 they prepared the constitutional document for Maribor 2012, and only in 2011 they began the process of preparing the official team for the project. They had only one year to get ready because local officials delayed installing the team, blaming that the budget was not received on time. However, they had to stop acting like this as Brussels pressured them. The timeframe was increasingly shorter, no visible work was being done and Maribor risked to have their title withdrawn.
This was also one of the main reasons for the protests in Maribor, resulting in the imprisonment of the mayor for corruption. In the fall of 2012 there were large protests across Slovenia, with about 50.000 people protesting in Maribor alone. Protests led to the resignation of the mayor and eventually resulted in the resignation of the government.
Starting with 2012, new procedures regarding winning the title ECOC have been introduced. Their recommendation is to study the criteria for judging very well, and be informed on how well we have to prepare.
Another suggestion is to think about what Cluj wants to become in the long term, in > 20-30 years. Also partner up with international cities in this project. We should not limit ourselves to the city, but include the surrounding areas as well. Another interesting point would be connecting with other cities in Transylvania that are not running for the title and invite Sibiu(formal ECOC) to support us in our candidature for the title.
A must do would be connecting the culture with local industries by organising events at workplaces, in order to involve as many people as possible, making them feel that they are part of the project.
We could try an exchange with other countries, in terms of festivals and artists, soon after the announcement of winning the title.
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