European capital of culture? Yes! (2 Jan. 2014)

April 1, 2014

The real competition is yet to begin, and 2014 will the year when is to be taken the final decision for one city in Bulgaria and Italy.

One Bulgarian and one Italian cities will be European Capitals of Culture 2019 and will carry out a year-round programme with cultural events expected to attract audience, artists and performers from all over Europe. The goal is: strengthening of the cultural cooperation in the name of “an intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth” – the holiest of all goals of Europe 2020 strategy. 

The “European Capital of Culture” title is a grant, instrument and key to the multi-profile and long-term change of the cities. It will be won by the city that values what it has as cultural heritage, natural resources, rich calendar of cultural events, infrastructure, human resources but also knows what it would be like, has a vision for the future and passionately strives to achieve it. The European Capital of Culture initiative invites us to recognize the culture as dynamics, state of mind, creative attitude to the world, the statutes of the initiatives say.


In Oct. the mayors of eight Bulgarian cities officially presented its applications. On 11 and 12 Dec. was held their public presentation before a panel of 13 experts – 6 from Bulgaria and 7 from other EU countries. On 13 Dec. were announced the results – Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo continue with recommendations for the contest second phase.

All hands on deck

For this unique contest the cities try to show off – from their most prominents inhabitants entering the list of the support committees, their biggest businesses sponsoring the preparation to exhibiting the educational and cultural institutions and the centuries old history of their cities. All available resources are in use to create wonderful symbols under the most interesting slogans expressing the city best advantages. Winning this contest is expected to boost the spiritual culture in the region and to support the material prosperity of the city and its inhabitants – the Bulgarian cities need both.

Is the event becoming – at least in this country – a competition between rich and poor, big and small cities?

The capital city of the Black Sea 

“Coast of Inspiration” is the slogan of Varna. The European Capital of Culture contest inspires us and now is the moment to design a new vision for the future of the city. Let’s together see Varna of 2019 as a beautiful place where one wants to be, says the programme. The Black Sea capital made its claim in 2006 yet gathering the support of 12 munipalities in the region. The 7,000-year old city hosts several cultural forums of repute like Varna Summer for music and Varna Summer for theatre, a ballet contest and choirs contest, Love is Madness and Golden Rose cinema fests, jazz festivals, Golden Dolphin puppet theatre, folk festival and graphics biennale.

The capital city of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom 

Veliko Tarnovo entry is supported by 9 communities and behind the ambitious slogan “We Create Happiness” is the creative potential of the city on whose literary, art and architectural Tarnovo school are founded the first first Bulgarian middle-age university. Tarnovo is a university and cultural centre where over one thousand significant cultural events and tens of festivals are held every year, says their application programme. The city of only 75,000 inhabitants is visited annually by one million tourists while Tsarevets fortress is the spot of the audio-visual show Tsarevgrad Tarnov – Sound and Light.

Today Veliko Tarnovo is not among the seven big Bulgarian cities of over 100,000 being a part of the Northern Central Planning Region with Rousse for centre.

Eastern Rumelia Capital City 

The motto “Together” aims at uniting people of different ethnoses, religions and generations through modernisation and revival of the public spaces – hills, Maritsa river, parks, streets and squares, abandoned buildings (e.g. the old tobacco warehouses with their remarkable architecture), re-considered as space for culture, sport, recreation and entertainment, wrote the applicant city in its programme.

The initiative has the support of the municipalities of Southern Central Region. The organizing committee has already held several sessions for evaluation of cultural projects and civil initiatives and 40 projects have been approved. In the support committee headed by former president Peter Stoyanov sit almost all notorious Plovdiv-born citizens – from gymnast Yordan Yovchev, film director Angel Vagenstein to the current minister of agriculture Prof. Dimitar Grekov.

Besides, the oldest living European city applies for the European City of Sport in 2014. 

“Burgas – Cultural Accelerator”

The music festival Spirit of Burgas was rated by The Times magazine among the 20 best European festival destinations. The first sand sculpture festival of South-Eastern Europe is held for a sixth consecutive year here. Culture comes even underground – the bomb shelters in the Black Sea Garden are being transformed into an underground city – a modern show house and contemporary culture spot. As a proof for the “culturness” of the city its supporters quote a long list of successful personalia – the poets Petya Dubarova and Hristo Fotev, the opera diva Rayna Kabaivanska, the legendary actor Apostol Karamitev, evergreen composer Toncho Rusev, member of Bulgarian Academy of Science the writer Anton Donchev, and many many more.

In the Integrated Plan for Urban Renewal and Development of Burgas BGN 23m have been earmarked for culture – for a library and modern art museum in the building of the former so-called German Hospital for BGN 2.6m, for an overall reconstruction of Lukoil Neftochim house of culture and for renovation of all museums. The city will have its own rent-a-bike system says the site of the applicant, over 2.5m passengers go through the local airport a figure bigger than any other Bulgarian airport.

The ambitious city management and the good results – successful public works, accelerated economic development and implementation of huge number of projects with local funding, from the state budget or EU funding, the smoothly functionning administration – these are some of the factors making us evaluate very positively the chances of this applicant – that however does not continue the contest after Dec. 12 jury decision.

The internet page is in Facebook

The first and the second Bulgarian capital cities are in this region

Mayor Krasimir Kostov pointed out that the cultural and historic heritage is the biggest asset of Shumen. The city is over 3,200 years old, in this region are situated two old capital cities of Bulgarian kingdoms – Pliska and Veliki Preslav, and four national archaeologicla reserves – Pliska, Preslav, Madara and Kabiuk. In fact the city claims to be first in many ways – the first theatre performance in Bulgaria – 1813, the first Bulgarian municipal authority – 1831, the first orchestra – 1851, the first school for girls – 1856, and many more. A lot of international festivals and contests take place here: Pancho Vladigerov – for pianists and violonists, Dobri Voynikov youth choirs competition, Madarski Konnik sculputre biennale, and many more. With this application the city claims its ability to think, create and live in its own different style, says the application of the city.

„Centre of Opportunities”?

According to its citizens the city is the geographical centre of Bulgaria, and since 1976 even a newly discovered planet is named after it – Gabrovo. As people who never miss the good opportunity its inhabitants are convinced they are worthy of becoming the European Capital of Culture 2019, is written in the application programme.

A few days before the deadline for the presentation before the jury in Bulgaria – Dec. 12, the organizing committee launched an appeal to the inhabitants of Gabrovo to sign a petition style “Open Agreement for Cooperation” meant to mobilize their efforts.

The entry does not continue, it does not even have a site in Facebook

Rousse – the transborder applicant 

With the message “City of Free Spirit” Rousse together with Gyurgevo prepared its application based on the Danube strategy and projects that could potentially be supported. As a unique Bulgarian applicant with the Danube in the focus of its programme “Bridges” the city was supported by other Danube cities.

“Share Sofia”

Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Pernik and Kyustendil participate with a joint application in the contest under the motto “Share Sofia”. The focus is on restoration of the cultural infrastructure, creation of inter-sectoral partnerships, platforms for enterpreneurship and innovations.

The capital city of Bulgaria has the biggest potential in this most centralized country – all state resources are concentrated here. In 2012 its citizens sent over 16,000 ideas for the participation. In 2012 alone over 200 NGOs implemented projects of support and more than 500 events were organized. Sofia Development Association is a special NGO managing the application process and campaign ( thus mobilizing a huge administrative and human potential and business capacity.

This is exactly the reason we would like to ask a question – does the serious prosperity and potential of the capital city need the boost and support of an initiative like the European Capital of Culture?

The Italian Cities

Siena, Cagliari, Lecce and Matera are the Italian towns continuing in the run for the European Capital of Culture 2019 out of a total of 21 applicants initially. Florence, Bologna and Genoa have already been European capitals of culture, Rome did not and does not apply for this honour – as it is considered to have enough potential and development opportunities.


The vision of Ravenna for the title is founded on the regeneration of the old harbour zone. The conversion and the urban renewal of Darsend – the zone of the old harbour, started in Sept. 2011 with the start of the preparation of the application ‘La Darsena che vorrei’ (“Darsena which I would like”). The key words are – culture and tourism, environment and sustainable development, innovations and creative industries.


The application “Perugiassisi 2019″ combines the two medieval towns of Perrugia and Assisi aiming at revival of the urban spirit. The European Capital of Culture contest involves rethinking the heritage, the time of the city states, their projection in the future – the city as generator of ideas and dialogue. The application focused on the values of inclusion, pluralism and social cohesion.

The talent for innovations is an opportunity for creative and intelligent culture. Our future is rediscovering the old in the new, recreation of space where we all have our common space to live happily says the application programme.

Venice does not continue

Like Marseille – the current European capital of culture bringing the whole Provance to life, Venice did not apply on its own. The city has the support of the whole north-east with the regions Venetto and Friuli Venezia Giulia and the automonous provinces Trento and Bolzano.

The goal of all applicants is to reach and – if possible – to go beyond the success of Genoa of 2004 with 439 events and over 2.8m visitors, EUR 220m generated and tourism growth in contrast with the rest of the country (+16% from travelling and 8% more revenues from tickets).

The Jury

A panel of 6 national experts selected by the Bulgarian/Italian governments plus 7 experts appointed by the European institutions (the European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU, Committee of Regions) made a short list.

The Bulgarian Jury

From Europe:

Anu Kivilo (Estonia)

Jeremy Isacs (UK)

Giorgi Pardo Rodrigues (Spain)

Elisabeth Vitouch (Austria)

Manfred Gaulhoffer (Austria)

Norbert Ridle (Austria)

Steeve Greene (UK)

and from Bulgaria:

Georgi Toshev

Prof. Ivaylo Znepolski

Prof. Kamelia Nikolovd

Ass. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski

Maria Kashukeeva

Ass. Prof. Svetlana Hristova

The Procedure

– by 18 Oct. 2013: the cities had 10 months to send their entries

– 10-12 Dec. 2013 – session of the jury and preliminary selection, meeting with the representatives of the cities and defense of the programmes

– Oct. 2014 – session of the jury for the final selection

– Nov. 2015 – informal meeting with the commission for monitoring and consultations

– Dec. 2014 – information sent to the European institutions for the results of the contest

– May 2015: the Council of the EU will officially designate the European Capital of Culture

– 2015 – 2019: the selected cities will create their programme of European Capital of Culture in cooperation with experts from the European institutions

The Criteria

1. Specific events programme

A city becomes “European Capital of Culture” not only for what it is or does but mostly for its programme of specific events it proposed to organize in the relevant year which makes it exceptional. The concept differs from UNESCO world heritage sites as the cultural heritage is just a background and a part of the events.

2. The European dimension

The goal is strengthening the cooperation between different cultural operators, artists and cities in Europe with a focus on the wealth of cultural differences. The event will focus on the role of culture and creativity by Europe 202 strategy: intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth.

3. The city and the citizens

The European Commission encourages the participation of the citizens from the relevant city and its region with the concept for “inclusive” European capital of culture which should be interesting for the local population and the foreign tourists as well. A balanced project promotes the city as an element of the European difference.

4. Sustainability

This criterion encourages the cities to create a programme of long effect which are expected to influence the long-term urban development after the specific cultural events.

About the European initiative

Over 40 cities have been European capitals of culture until now, for the last three years these were Talinn, Estonia, and Turku, Finland – 2011, Gimaraesh, Portugal, and Maribor, Slovenia – 2012, Marseille, France, and Koshitse, Slovakia – 2013, for 2014 the winners are the Latvian Riga and the Swedish Umeo.

The schedule for the states runs until 2033, Bulgaria is to have a capital of culture again in 2032, this time with Danemark.

The iniative that started in 1985 along with the cohesion of the peoples in Europe can bring enourmous gains to the cities in cultural, social and economic respect.

Some thoughts on centralization, culture and capital cities

The strong state centralization is on the account of the citizens,

says Klaus Klipp, secretary-general of the Assembly of European Regions (AER, A survey commissioned by AER and carried out by BAK Basel Economics ( investigates the influence of the decentralization on the economy, the quality of education and innovations in 26 countries. According to it the decentralization is a factor of positive impact on GDP per capita and the economic growth. (The Assembly of European Regions is the biggest independent network of regional authorities in Europe with over 230 regions from 35 states and 15 inter-regional organisations – a forum for cooperation and lobbyism in Europe).

According to a survey of the Institute for Market Economics in the common case of small Bulgarian communities the municipal budgets are composed of about 15-20% with their own revenues (like the town of Kotel) or 35% (Gabrovo), this percentage can reach up to 50% in the bigger cities.

Bulgaria is the most centralized country in Europe according to a special survey of AER. The country is followed by Greece, Croatia, Norway, Ireland and Denmark. This is one of the reasons why the second best cities in the country like Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas cannot match Sofia – neither for its budget nor by the number of cultural institutions, educational facilities or head offices of central administrations and agencies.

The contest for cultural capital of Europe in Bulgaria has some inherent vices deriving from the unfair advantages of Sofia – its relative wealth, concentration of power and cultural institutions.

The excessive centralization of Bulgaria is one of the main reasons for the relative poverty of the country.

Shall remain the hope that the jury will take into consideration this unfairness as well as the potential damage from this extra “European capital of culture” centralization – of attention, resources, events and people.