Petr Simon and Roman Černík are „lads from Pilsen“, approached by Hlohovec ECoC 2026 project team to assist with preparations of the application for the first round of our candidature. The reason was mainly their success story with the application process of Pilsen becoming European Capital of Culture for 2015. In this interview they reveal their reasons for deciding to come along, what enticed them and what they will perceive as a success of the entire project.
Neither of them being from Pilsen, they’re dedication to the city is coming
deep from their hearts. Petr Simon was born in Karlovy Vary, Roman Černík comes
from Sudet region, from Cheb. Both are teachers and have a strong and positive
connection to arts and culture and both of them appreciate what it takes to get
the ECoC title for their city.
Petr teaches French and as part of Pilsen’s branch of Alliance Française he helped organising a festival of French and Francophone culture named Bounjour Plzeň! He was at the beginning of Pilsen’s candidature for the ECoC, where he worked from 2008 as a project manager, later as an assistant director with focus on activisation and support of the project by the public. He co-authored the first and also the second application for the ECoC 2015 title. After being awarded the title he worked as a manager of foreign projects. He left the project Pilsen 2015 in March 2016, when he became a consultant of the project Novi Sad ECoC 2021. In 2019 he participated in activities of the Finnish canditate for ECoC 2026 – Tampere. He is the chairman of Alliance Française de Plzeň and holds the title of the Order of Academic Palms bestowed by the French Republic.
Apart from pedagogy and drama in education, Roman also studied theatre anthropology. He completed numerous international stay programs (Denmark, Finland, Poland, Germany and Turkey). Since the beginning of the New Millennium he’s been teaching in Pilsen at the Faculty of Education of the University of Western Bohemia a currently also at the Theatre Facuty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He was at the successful candidature of Pilsen for EcoC. He particapated on development of cultural policies of the Pilsen City Council as well as other towns. He is most proud of his project creating a cultural space “Moving Station“ in the old train station at Jižní Předmestí in Pilsen. He says he’s lucky to be able to do what is also his hobby and passion. He is convinced that the path to survival of our civilisation and culture is the concept of sustainable living and civil society. That’s also why he is a member of the Greens Party.
What enticed you to join Hlohovec efforts?
Petr: First of all, I’m excited for each town that’s running for the ECoC title. The contest itself brings about change, which carries a momentum with it. In particular, Hlohovec caught my attention with its courage when they decided to take part in the contest despite everything being seemingly against it. Personally, I find it attractive that you’re taking what at first sight might seem as illogical approach. It would probably have been much easier to join forces with one of the neighboring competitors, but Hlohovec has it’s own vision which they want to create. Some joining of forces will probably happen in the second round, three relatively close towns running for the title may look strange and obscured from the outside. My personal challenge is that Hlohovec will advance into the second round with a recommendation that you will integrate one of the non-advancing neighbors into your concept.
Roman: I am an adventurer and a pioneer and I love doing crazy things. On a more serious note, I was actually surprised and excited when the project team preparing Hlohovec candidature found me, because I’m not involved in the movement of European culture capitals to such a great extent anymore. The important aspect of my decision is something I defined for myself as a courageous audacity. Yes, the reason is boldness. I’ll try to explain it, but I must admit that I had to read up on Hlohovec at first, as apart from the association I had from geography lessons from way back: Hlohovec = Slovakofarma, I did not know much about the town. When I had put together at least the basic facts I thought to myself: it’s an exceptional project. Working for an average and interchangeable project would not interest me and honestly, I’m too busy for that. But the bravery and determination of the Hlohovec project team excited me. It’s a real challenge for a small, in fact invisible, regional town to make a decision to take itself out of the sleepy comfort wanting to try something extraordinary for its own benefit. Hlohovec is entering the contest with a massive handicap (population, weak cultural infrastructure, no university). It’s simply a huge challenge. I’m intrigued by the opportunity to take part in the experiment to refresh the town’s spirit and at the same time demonstrate the problems of smaller town in general, their weak and strong points. I enjoy experimenting, learning and cooperation.
What do you think of Hlohovec wanting to become the European Capital of Culture?
Petr: I partly answered this in the previous question. It’s a mix of a kind of boldness and healthy self-esteem. Of course, the candidature will leave some people shaking their heads in disbelief, but if the citizens together with the project team prepare an interesting concept that could be an inspiration not only in Slovakia or the Central European region, then Hlohovec does stand a chance. After all, otherwise I would not accept the offer to be part of it – even as an opponent only.
The size of the town is often mentioned, of course this does play a role, but for instance in Slovenian contest for the ECoC title for the year 2025 towns smaller than Hlohovec advanced into the second round. I’ll say it again, the concept is important, as well as the demand, disposition and eagerness to get the title.
Roman: Honestly, it was a real surprise for me, crazy idea, almost a provocation. But then I thought that indeed many of us in Europe live in this type of town. I myself grew up in Cheb with a population of 35,000. For some time I worked in Aš with a size of 15,000 people. I see it as an attempt to articulate the voice of this type of towns. These towns have a certain inter-personal familiarity between people, but are also largely threatened by the global circumstances. I’m excited for the peculiar combination of the neighbourhood proximity, homeliness and the ambition and opposition to cities. Hlohovec is in my experience the first town that picked up on such theme. The European City of Culture project is about challenges and asking questions, it’s not just another regular festival. It is also a possible impulse for transformation. I think that Hlohovec and their project team know this and they’re going after it.
How does this compare to Pilsen at the time of their application submission?
Petr: I see the similarity in their drive to change something, move forward, open up and liberate themselves from the local pond. Pilsen ran for the European Capital of Culture 2015 title with a slogan “Pilsen, Open up!“ The candidature and the project became an instrument freshening up and airing out the conservative environment, connecting to outside impulses from other Czech towns as well as impulses from Europe and the rest of the world. This is also the massive chance for Hlohovec. From what I’ve seen during my visit to Hlohovec, the common issues with Pilsen are the problems with public space and its use, and also project intents relating to the use of rivers, although Berounka is not Váh…
Roman: Our towns are similar in the ambition to bring about fresh wind of change and at the same time develop ourselves. Pilsen entered the New Millennium going through a huge internal change. From a heavy industry town with military tradition at the “strong fortification of socialism” (this was an omnipresent slogan in our region) it was becoming a town with a growing university that kept increasing the number of its faculties. At the same time the Skoda factory underwent a significant change, from nuclear power plants the manufacturing focus changed to transport technologies, trams, trolleybuses and trains. New companies appeared. Viktorka (the football club Viktoria Plzeň) entered international competitions and leagues. The boarders opened up, a new highway was built, the train connection improved, it was easy to travel to Munich or Nurnberg. Simultaneously the town itself changed, from smudgy Cinderella a dynamic, contemporary and colourful beauty was being born. Old traditions were renewed, forgotten names of local personalities were returning to public discussions. New people and also foreigners were arriving. The candidature project and the following delivery of the project of the European Capital of Culture became an embodiment of these changes. A kind of a full stop, breaking-point of eras. This of course created quite a tense dialogue between those satisfied, I would say settled down and those yearning for a change.
What could ECoC bring to Hlohovec?
Petr: Using a dingy metaphor I would say that a fresh winds of change to your sails - new impulses, contacts and cooperation opportunities. It is only up to the people of the town and region how they use all of this. It is an opportunity that may never come around again. And under the “ECoC” in the question I also see not only the title as such, but also the journey to it. ECoC is a (practically never ending) process. Although I also think that is important to ask what can Hlohovec give to others.
Roman: I think the project of European Capital of Culture is an unique opportunity for the township to take a look at itself, to ask questions, uncover problems that they don’t have time for during everyday routine. The project contains massive inspiration opportunities. The town that enters the process gets into company of towns such as Liverpool, Lyon, Krakow, Essen, Glasgow, Pilsen or Pécs. Capitals of culture usually cooperate and support one another. That’s why this project is considered to be one of the most successful Europe-wide projects and continues since 1985. I think these benefits are offered to Hlohovec, too. Here is a chance to set a long-term development program and use cultural and artistic activities to improve the lifestyle of the town and in the town. At the same time, the project has a clear and measurable conclusion. Being the year 2026 when the town will be in the spotlight of the entire Europe. From my experience just like in Graz 2003, Linz 2009, Košice 2013, our year 2015 and also 2016 in Wroclaw, people are more sensitive to the current affairs around them, demand quality, are able to choose and mainly when it comes to the relationship to a public space, are able to justify and if needed also defend it.
How do you perceive the need for culture in towns of the size of Hlohovec? What would you consider as a success resulting from your support?
Petr: I must admit that I never thought of a need for culture based on the size of a town or community. Each one of us needs culture, whether we realise it or not. The recent lockdown limitations relating to the COVID-19 situation demonstrated this quite clearly. Unfortunately, they also showed that – at least in Czech republic – the culture is perceived by the responsible legislators like the cherry on the cake. That is of course a completely mistaken approach. Without culture we are not human beings. What would I consider a success for Hlohovec? I don’t know how strong and essential my influence is on Hlohovec, in the first round I had to take “only” on a role of an opponent of the concept and the draft of the application due to other commitments. However to be more specific: when it comes to the title itself, as a minimum, it would be advancing to the second round. (And if you’ll ask me the same question in the second round, guess what my answer will be!) Nevertheless, the ECoC title is just an instrument of change it is a journey. Thus for a success, not mine, but of people of the town and the region I will consider it a success, when the candidature itself will support the development of the civil society, pro-active interest in public spaces and current affairs, education, openness and the ability to communicate.
Roman: Well, I think that the first success is already here, the attention has turned to Hlohovec. Questions like: What? Why? Can they make it? Where is it? Are they crazy?, questions, that surely everyone heard by now, they mean that something unusual is happening, something provocative, risky and gutsy. Any town can submit the application. It’s about the keenness, and specially the courage and the trust in the civil society. Towns such as Hlohovec often feel backwards, forgotten and pushed to a side. Concurrently, the atmosphere could be somewhat homely almost annoyingly over-satisfied, almost to a point that it refuses to accept anything that is even slightly different. Nowadays, towns like Hlohovec are in the crosshair of the globalisation and technological shockwaves, whereas similar types of towns accommodate a substantial portion of Europeans. Here is the space to form a voice of such Hlohovec-like towns for the entire Europe. That is a fantastic opportunity! I also think that it is an opportunity to renew the trust in artistic and craft activities. For it is creativity, empathy and cooperation that gives us, in my opinion, a chance for the future. ECoC is a unique chance to test these things carefully. And personally? I want to succeed with you, I want to be with you again a European Capital of Culture 2026. It is simply an exceptional chance.