Hlohovec European Capital of Culture 2026: a real chance or a utopia?

Život v Hlohovci, April 2020

In 2026 one Slovak and one Finnish town will held a prestigious title of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC). Within Slovakia, Hlohovec also has the ambition to compete for this title. Six years of preparations may seem to be a long time period, but the candidate towns must submit their projects by October of this year. Can our bid be successful? What would this success mean for Hlohovec?

The title of the ECoC is designated to one or two European towns that have for an entire year an opportunity to introduce their cultural lifestyle and its development to the rest of Europe. A panel of 12 experts will select the finalists and then the winner. Ten members of the panel are appointed by European institutions and bodies, i.e. the European Parliament, European Council, European Commission and European Committee of the Regions and two members are to be experts appointed by the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic in accordance with the national processes and after consultation with the European Commission.

The reasons for Hlohovec’s interest to apply for this title are explained by the mayor Miroslav Kollár: „I am convinced that Hlohovec has the potential to become the European Capital of Culture. We have already achieved more than anyone had expected back in 2015. We were able to open the reconstructed castle up for the public and we are one of the most innovative, transparent and most operationally efficient towns in Slovakia. The ECoC project is a way for us to leap forward not only in the area of culture, because we’re looking at the entire concept from a much wider perspective. It could also help us overcome the useless divide in town that is not contributing to a positive atmosphere, is preventing us from cooperating effectively and is hindering our potential for improvements and enjoyment of the lifestyle our town offers.”

“I believe that a connection with culture and arts can help build connections between people, inspire our creativity, taste, affect our moral and ethical values, increases the quality of life and strengthens the civic society. And I also think that in contrast to that, a lack of culture fosters and feeds the extremism in a society. In the last five years we undertook massive investments in the cultural infrastructure in town and into widening of what we have to offer culturally. It should therefore be a natural extension of the process that we have already started.”

“I trust that the competition from other towns applying with a project will be wide so that the expert panel has plenty to choose from. Even if we don’t win, the preparation of the project alone has a key aspect for me personally – I would love to invite everyone who is serious, honest and positive about culture in this town to the same table, all who put the quality lifestyle of our community above their own personal interest. We have a chance to create a space for strengthening of creative industries, innovations, drawing on the inner potential of our town, our high schools, increasing the attractiveness of our town for young people.”

The project Hlohovec – European Capital of Culture 2026 is currently being prepared by a small team lead by Juraj Surma in cooperation with the director of the Town’s Cultural Centre (TCC) Veronika Moravčíková. Gradually other staff members of the council and TCC will be joining, followed by external consultants for each of the art forms in the second. That’s why we talked about the ambitions and chances Hlohovec has to get the title European Capital of Culture 2026 (ECoC2026) with the project team leader J. Surma and the director of TCC V. Moravčíková.

In case of a successful bid, Hlohovec would become, beside the Austrian Bad Ischl that is going to be a European Capital of Culture in 2024, the second smallest European city to held the title. Why do you think that participating in this project makes sense for Hlohovec?  

J. Surma: ECoC 2026 is a project spanning a period of six to ten years, that can via culture fundamentally affect life of one or two generations of our citizens. I take it as preparation for the world that will arrive after 2025, a world that, as we can see in light of recent events, is going to be completely different. That’s why I consider the ECoC 2026 project as a chance to prepare for what might come.

V. Moravčíková: It sounds like a relatively simple question, but the answer to it is rather complicated and multi-layered. For me, ECoC 2026 means a complete disruption of the routine system. The undertone of the question suggests that Hlohovec as a small regional town cannot fulfil the potential assumed by the ECoC 2026. For me though, the disruption of routine systems means a push towards something new, to new forms and alternatives. From this perspective, I’m positively motivated by the fact that perhaps people are wondering, that such a small town has such huge ambitions. But if we’re satisfied with just a little, we can never achieve big. Project ECoC 2026 could mean for our town a completely new and unforseen stage of development, in all directions.

Are people of Hlohovec ready for a project of this scale?  

J. Surma: We will do everthing that we can so that we are ready for this long-term project. Firstly, we must show the whole project to the people, so that they can feel it and experience what it can mean for them and their groups. It will be a bit more difficult with the social distancing measures currently in place, however even more intensive and perhaps even more personal despite it being in a virtual form.

V. Moravčíková: The current trend of outsourcing could suggest that they are not. The beauty of the ECoC 2026 project is in the human aspect, activity and participation of the community and the place, which can’t be outsourced. We won’t be leaving the issues and problems to someone else, we’ll sail through them and then we will celebrate the success and experience that this project can bring along. And people of Hlohovec will not be just nearby, they will be very intensively immersed in the whole process.

These days, when we are expecting the economic fallout of the global pandemic, it can be expected that culture will be put on a back-burner for many, as it is today. What can we – also through this project – do to affect that?  

J. Surma: I personally think that in three to five months, when it’s will be over, people will be keen to spend time together again. Everyone will want to come freely out a meet up. Jump at a concert or go to a cinema or a theatre, meet at an exhibition or book reading. Be together in spaces that will create an environment of community. Yes, maybe there will be a financial downturn, but human activity will increase than what it was before the crisis and culture will not disappear (just as it did not disappear nowadays, it just moved to a virtual world), because the humankind desire to be together is in our DNA. And higher this hunger for this aspect of human existence will be, the higher the flow of finances into culture and creative industries. If Hlohovec will be the European Capital of Culture 2026, we will be a cultural centre for at least five years, so I’m not worried about the future.

V. Moravčíková: A collapse or a crises does not necessarily mean an end. Today can become a transition between what was yesterday and will come tomorrow. What was valid yesterday, may not be correct today and what is to come tomorrow is so uncertain, that many will say there is no point in trying to work it out. We are witnessing this more than anytime before. What we’ll choose today, will fundamentally affect what we’re going to be living tomorrow. And not only us, also those who will come after us. That’s why I believe that the intent to get the title of the European Capital of Culture is a step that regardless of its success in terms of getting the title will affect not only us, but also entire generations that will get to shape this town in the future.

Juraj Surma Graduated from a prestigious business school INSEAD in French Fontainebleau in Change Management. He also studied Theatre Management at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and for seven years was a director of the largest artistic workshop in central Europe LETAVY and the oldest amateur theatre festival in Europe - Scénická žatva. Since 2006 is a consultant in the area of leadership skills development, setting up and managing the process of change. He twice lead his floorball team Dragons Hlohovec as a captain and a coach to a champions title in the second tier of Slovak floorball league. He loves classic comedians Lasica & Satinský and Werich with Voskovec, he grew up listening to Pink Floyd and Queen and he motivates his teammates before matches with american 90’s rap.  

Veronika Moravčíková completed her university studies at the Department of Culturology of Faculty of Philosophy at Constantine the Philospher University in Nitra where she worked till 2020 as an assistant. She was focusing on the area of cultural diplomacy, cultural politics, legislation in culture and project and marketing strategies. She was a dramaturgic and executive leader of Galéria na schodoch (Gallery on Stairs), that is at the Department of Culturology of FP CPU in Nitra. She is the vice-president of the Culturological society, where she’s a long time organiser of the slovakian prize Ceny Pavla Straussa. Since 2009 she was in Staré divadlo Karola Spišáka in Nitra, finishing there in a position of a sales-operations department manager. In 2016 she was part of a team founding an independent theatre – Nové divadlo in Nitra, where she holds the position of an artistic producent. Since August 2019 she became the director of the Town’s Cultural Center in Hlohovec.