CROATIAN CULTURE EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE

European Capital of Culture: Love It or Hate It

“If the people of Rijeka realize this is something then it will be something.” Ivan Verunica, INCroatia.

The European Capital of Culture Award certainly sounds shiny, but does it have a lasting impact? And why are some Rijekan’s saying “Eh….?” We talked to Ivan Verunica, the managing director of INCroatia and Proper Croatia to find out what the European Capital of Culture title could mean for this post-industrialist city.

“If the people of Rijeka realize this is something then it will be something.” Ivan Verunica, INCroatia.

The European Capital of Culture Award certainly sounds shiny, but does it have a lasting impact? And why are some Rijekan’s saying “Eh….?” We talked to Ivan Verunica, the managing director of INCroatia and Proper Croatia to find out what the European Capital of Culture title could mean for this post-industrialist city.

(Read about the backstory to the European Capital of Culture).

Rijeka for the Win

Rijeka being named European Capital of Culture (ECC 2020) is kind of a big deal because it’s the first ever Croatian city to get the title. We know, we’re surprised it took ‘em this long too.

Rijeka’s winning bid, entitled “Port of Diversity,” includes projects like Sweet & Salt and Brick House. Sweet & Salt will work to regenerate the vacant urban buildings along the Rječina river. While Brick House, set in an old recycling factor, hopes to foster the participation of kids to create various artistic endeavors.

Though these projects look to the future, the streets of present-day Rijeka vibrate with tons of cool culture too.

Are Croatians saying Yay or Nay?

“I think that [the local attitude about the award] is a continuation of a trend in which cynicism and apathy have become very strong facets of personal identity for many people in Croatia.” A small country passed around from one empire to next, Croatia’s been struggling to find its independent niche for centuries.” Ivan talks about how people’s mixed feelings about this award may stem from a deeply engrained, habituated attitude of regarding themselves as second class citizens.

“If you look at Croatia joining the European Union on the 1st of July 2013—which I think is a good and recent example–Croatia had been hoping to join the EU since about 1992. Various sorts of politicians have been riding that wave, but they kept pushing it back. By the time Croatia actually joined in 2013, it was clear that EU was having all sorts of structural problems…Greece was negotiating whether to stay or not; Ireland was negotiating whether to stay or not. Cracks of the EU were starting to widen. This is exactly the example in which Croatia said, ‘Now that the party is slowly dying the bouncers let us in.’”

CROATIAN CULTURE EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTUREHe feels there’s a similar attitude towards Rijeka being named ECC 2020. In the start, ECCs included Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris. Including smaller, unheard of cities is great but ECC as a brand risks losing its following. Or at least its following changes. But does it then communicate the same message of prestige? The credibility has been even more watered down in 2001 when it was announced that two cities will be getting the title per year. With that in mind, some locals can’t help but feel that their city was just another rotation on a turntable.

Will the Award Actually Help?

The intention behind launching the European Capital of Culture in 1985 included bringing Europe together as a community AND giving cities economic and social benefits. Past ECCs like Glasgow and Lille have definitely seen socioeconomic boosts. But some cities have also lost money on megaprojects that were not able to create profit.

Ivan feels that the citizens’ attitudes about the award will be the determining factor of what kind of benefits Rijeka will see with the years to come.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that ECC will bring international attention to Rijeka, so I think that’s a really positive thing… To me, the biggest challenge that Rijeka has in the next four years until ECC steps in is to get people excited about the project. Because if people take pride in the fact that Rijeka is gonna be ECC… if people realize that this is something then it will be something.  If they don’t, if it remains by a large cynical and disinterested or self deprecating spitting mentality which we mostly get these days, then it’s going to be just that.”

While the title will be a boost in cultural morale, economic issues run deep in Rijeka, a city that’s lost its staple shipyard and refinery industries. And improving the economy is no small task (@Greece).

“People need to see a more tangible change in the city…Even if really good programs come in, which I’m sure they will, and great things happen, I think that industry coming back, more jobs being open, more new, fresh faces and offices coming in–that to me will be an actual change because people will go to work they’ll be happier they’ll have more meaning in their lives.”

Perks of being a European Capital of Culture

Yes, the European Capital of Culture definitely has its perks. One awesome thing Ivan mentioned is that this title is a great way to get the new generation involved, and perhaps the fresh faces and initiatives he mentions earlier.  Projects like Brick House will be key in this.

“I think that it’s a great chance for young people that have not traditionally been a part of more institutionalized circles to really show their own voice, to show their own vision and own initiative.”

But if anything, the European Capital of Culture is a cool award that gets cities thinking about ways to bring their people together into one big group hug basically. It’ll get the community involved. It’ll attract outsiders. And some may even fall in love with Rijeka. We’ve got four years to see how this will all pan out. If Rijeka’s on your to-visit list, we’ll keep you posted on the buzz.

(You can read about the backstory to the European Capital of Culture).