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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Kyiv won’t be European Capital of Culture until it joins EU

21 November, 2006 - 00:00

The Council of Europe has designated the Turkish capital of Istanbul as the European Capital of Culture in 2010. Kyiv and Istanbul were the main competitors for this title. We lost our last chance-starting from 2011 only EU members will be eligible for this designation. Experts believe that we have lost not only status but also news coverage in Europe, influx of tourists, and considerable revenue.

At first, Istanbul made every effort to carry off the palm of victory and become the 2010 European Capital of Culture. Besides a large-scale mass media campaign, Turkey came up with a special oil tax, the proceeds from which were used to prepare for the competition.

In Kyiv the situation was just the reverse. According to Oleksandr Bystrushkin, the then head of the Department of Culture and Arts, only 800,000 hryvnias from the municipal budget were allocated for the project. “Despite this, we managed to offer a respectable program and show our city from every angle,” Bystrushkin says. “Many people were astonished that we had covered all branches of education, culture, history, etc.”

However, in spite of our good, albeit hurried, preparations, the preliminary decisions by a Brussels-based independent jury of experts published in April 2006 were not in the least favorable. Already then the realization had sunk in that competing against well-prepared Istanbul would be no picnic. “Just the same, we had every chance of winning or at least sharing with Istanbul the honorary title of 2010 European Capital of Culture,” Bystrushkin says.

If the latter had been the case, Kyiv could not have claimed the one million euros that were due to the winner for holding all sorts of events. So what is the reason behind our failure? Bystrushkin thinks that this is a case of “no pain, no gain”-the project should have been addressed adequately. “There were simply too few people interested in our victory. Questions of this kind need to be dealt with by the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather than by the city, which is only a representative. But they were engaged in political battles,” says the former Kyiv culture and arts chief. “Like all cities competing for the designation of European Capital of Culture, Kyiv should at least have had a temporary representative in the Council of Europe.”

But we’ve missed the boat now and must tally up our losses. Bystrushkin believes that the main loss was news coverage by the EU. “We would have been featured in newspapers and the city would have attracted tourists,” he says. “We would have been active and busy in this world, hosted foreign delegations, and taken part in all EU programs. We could have felt like full members of the European family. And the million-euro grant is nothing in comparison with what we could have had! One has to fight for a place in the European sun. But we did everything based on sheer enthusiasm.”

Many experts believe that the European council’s choice may have been influenced by the political situation. “Istanbul’s accession to the EU has been delayed. So the Council of Europe may have made it the European Capital of Culture in 2010 by way of compensation, as a conciliatory gesture, so to speak,” Bystrushkin reasons. “But it’s a bit inhumane to reject all the efforts of our city, which has striven with might and main to obtain the title of European Capital of Culture.”