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Bos/Hrv/Srp 19 Apr 12

Capital’s EU Culture Bid Leaves Some Serbs Unmoved

Belgrade is keen to become the EU’s Capital of Culture in 2020 – but the city’s independent arts scene and leaders of some other towns have both doubts and objections.

Jelena Jovanovic
BIRN Belgrade

Belgrade is hoping to be made Europe’s capital of culture in 2020 in a decision that the European Commision and Parliament is expected to make this June. The city launched its bid back in 2009.

While the organisational team behind Belgrade’s Application is convinced that victory will raise the number of cultural events on offer and boost public spending on cultural institutions, not everyone is behind the bid.

Independent cultural organisations complain that they have not been kept abreast of what will happen if Belgrade wins while other towns in Serbia say it will be a missed opportunity if the award goes to a capital and not a small town.

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which series of cultural events with a strong European dimension are organised.

Belgrade has received support for its candidacy in 2020 from 11 cities so far, although the final decision will be made by an independent jury.

In March the mayors of Belgrade and Kosice in Slovakia signed a letter of mutual support between the two cities. Other European cities backing Belgrade’s bid are Ljubljana, Maribor, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Skopje, Corfu, Athens Vinius and Perugia.

Aleksandar Pekovic, deputy secretary of culture for the City of Belgrade and president of the Belgrade 2020 Organisational Committee | Photo by Youtube printscreen

Aleksandar Pekovic, deputy secretary of culture for the City of Belgrade and president of the Belgrade 2020 Organisational Committee, says the bid project forms part of a long-term strategy of development for the city.

“Preparing a European Capital of Culture can be an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and can help foster urban regeneration, change the city’s image and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale,” Pekovic said.

Independent scene doubtful:

But some independent arts groups are sceptical of the whole project.

Darka Radosavljevic, president of the Remont independent Arts association, says the Belgrade 2020 candidacy is only a marketing venture that will not change the way that the city authorities treat the independent arts scene.

“From the statements of the Beograd 2020 team, I am afraid it is clear that the independent cultural scene is recognized only in terms of festivals,” Radosavljevic said.

She says independent cultural organisations can expect little from Belgrade’s candidacy, even if it succeeds.

Although the project was officially presented to members of the main independent arts association in the summer of 2010, representatives of the association say important questions have not been answered.

“Questions about a concrete action plans were asked, but we have not received a response until today,” Radosavljevic said.

Pekovic, meanwhile, blames the weak participation of the independent actors in Serbia’s cultural scene on unsuitable laws.

“We need new laws, synchronized with EU laws, to create the basics for individual work and to encourage individuals from civic sector to participate in the cultural scene,” he said, conceding that too much money from the city budget goes to 38 public institutions without proper evaluation.

Why can’t we bid as well?

Objections to Belgrade’s bid are also coming from rival towns and cities in Serbia.

Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Nis, Leskovac and Valjevo have all expressed interest in competing for the title of European Capital of Culture 2020 themselves. 

Municipal leaders of Zrenjanin, in northern Serbia, say Belgrade’s application is illogical, as previous European Capitals of Culture were rarely capital cities but smaller cities.

Aleksandar Marton, president of the Zrenjanin assembly | Photo by Youtube printscreen

Aleksandar Marton, president of the Zrenjanin assembly, said their decision to make a bid was based on the town’s rich cultural offer and great cultural potential. The assembly sent its application to Brussels in June 2010.

“Until now it was seen as logical that smaller towns got the title of Capital of Culture, giving them a chance to promote themselves and to develop their cultural scenes,” Marton said, mentioning Essen in Germany, Pecs in Hungary and Maribor in Slovenia.

“We cannot compete with Belgrade,” he objected, noting that the capital has almost 2 million inhabitants and enormous resources.

It is “legitimate that other smaller town in Serbia also compete for the title,” Marton concluded.

Aleksandar Pekovic agreed that all competition was healthy but said it would not be good if Serbian towns just copied Belgrade’s own bid to become Capital of Culture.

Venues in short supply:

Back in Belgrade, meanwhile, the heads of some major cultural institutions says the city needs to get to work if it wants the bid to succeed, as exhibition space is short.

The National Museum in Belgrade, a major national institution located in the city’s main square has been closed to the public for 10 years owing to constant delays to reconstruction

Tatjana Cveticanin, director of the museum, said that finishing reconstruction of the National Museum and Museum of Modern Art “would certainly contribute” to Belgrade’s presentation. “Our presentation will depend on that,” she told Balkan Insight.

Pekovic remains optimistic. If Belgrade wins the prize, it will bring “a new generation onto the culture scene, a generation that will take the whole scene into the future,” he predicted.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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