On our way, we met in every city, all kinds of people. Most of them were welcoming and friendly, at some point we got used to it. After Riga, there was Plezen, where the Czechs we interacted with were a bit colder. So we said, that’s it, we’ve reached the Central and Eastern Europe again so we better get used to this kind of people. But, fortunately, Wroclaw was a nice surprise.
Wroclaw is one of the oldest cities in Poland, with a history of over 1000 years. Before it was named Wroclaw, its name was Breslau (German name). Today it is becoming more and more popular due to the rich business and touristic environment and to the many international events happening there. In 2016, it will be named, together with San Sebastian, European Capital of Culture.
We met Roland Zarzycki, director of international programs for Wroclaw 2016, who just quit his job; the reason? The political influence due to which the whole crew of the winner team of ECOC (European Capital of Culture) changed. He decided he did not want to be part of the new project, completely different from the one they prepared for the entry. On the other hand, he was open to us and agreed to give us some advice.
The mayor decided it would be a good idea for Wroclaw to run for European Capital of Culture, the reasons being: prestige, PR, advertising, an economic boost and touristic attraction. The idea first came up in 2008, but the Local Council was against it, thus, for more than a year nothing really happened. Afterwards, there was a negotiation period, and the team was formed only 7 months before the project’s presentation. Even within that short period of time, they managed to win, although Roland admitted it was unprofessional on their side. They only did the best they could and at that time, it was enough.
Although they quickly managed to form a team, they had not all been familiarised with the concept of European Capital and what the preparation of the project really meant. They started by closely analysing what they had to give to Europe and what can Europe give back as well.
They had 9 important parts they presented to the jury.
- History. A unique one, due to the Second World War; in 1945 the population of the city changed, all Germans left and Polacks moved back in. They practically had 70 years to develop a social and political community. On the other hand, they can brag about the fact that their citizens speak the right Polish, the pure one.
- The mixt of cultures in the city. That was one important criterion of the project’s evaluation but Ronald says that it is something they are not that good at as they let it show. The citizens of Wroclaw see it more like a neo-Nazi fortress.
- 25% of Poland’s whole national heritage is situated in the Silesia zone, most of it in Wroclaw. It is one of the 35 biggest cities in the European Union, but not so well-known. Not many people heard of Wroclaw and the beautiful places they can visit there.
These were the 4 main points, European connected. Furthermore, they presented 4 problems the city could solve by becoming a European Capital.
- One problem is the exclusion of the most masses of people from the cultural life, due to the high costs and the inflexibility of the organising team. The project wants to bring the culture on the streets, to the everyday public. The public institutions are not paying at all attention to the regular citizens; there are private initiatives but are not sustained. All of this can change, and the first step to win of the ECOC prize. The Brussels jury pointed out that they appreciate the way the team wants to change these aspects. Ronald is still worried about this because the local authorities oppose this view.
The citizens of the city were not announced from the beginning about the project. Only the mayor and the Local Council knew, until the team began to assemble. They started to communicate to the public about the project in 2010, but there were a few people who knew what being a European Capital means, and why Warsaw wants to compete for this. So, the citizens only saw this endeavor as another way to spend public money without any benefit for them, the actual public. To change this perception, the team set up an info point and organised public meetings; not with usual persons, but rather with the artists who have more to do with the cultural medium.
In 2010, when they won the ECOC prize, everything was stopped, the director of the team was fired, the crew left with 8 people and the budget cut off. The politicians responsible for this were not willing to give any explanations.
Ronald advocated that the current director of the project lacks the necessary skills and was chosen based on political reasons. Due to pressure from the European Union and the Government they were forced to start involving the citizens, thus making a budget for citizen initiatives.
For the application period, the budget was of one million euros but only half the money went to the team, the other half went to the politicians.
Afterwards the decided budget for the actual project was set to 78.6 million euros (only the “soft “projects, not the infrastructure ones). Ronald says this sum is not going to be raised because the Ministers consider that the team is doing a poor job, so they want to cut down the budget. Also the sponsors do not want to be associated anymore with the current team in charge with the project. The local and national press considers it to be a failure; the only positive articles about the project were at the time of the winning of ECOC prize.
As to what Roland advises us, for Cluj’s submission, first of all is to be completely sincere, because that is what the jury wants and appreciates. Also, not trying too hard to be the first, or to show that we are the most prepared. If we look back in the history of ECOC candidatures, we can see this pattern, the favorite always loses.