Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, one of three on the shortlist for European Capital of Culture 2019 that lost out when an international jury decided to recommend Plovdiv, is considering appealing against the decision, local media reports said.
On September 5 2014, by a majority vote, the jury chose Plovdiv. The other three cities that had been on the shortlist were Sofia, Varna and Veliko Turnovo.
The jury’s recommendation is subject to confirmation by the Council of the European Union in May 2015. However, this is largely seen as a formality.
But the head of the festivals and programmes department in Varna, Desislava Georgieva, involved in the Varna 2019 committee, said that the city was waiting to see the written motivation of the jury to decide on a challenge.
Georgieva said that there had been allegations of a link between decision-makers in the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and the members of the jury and the Plovdiv candidacy. Speaking to daily Trud, she declined to give names.
The report added that Plovdiv had included in its concept the Roma neighbourhood Stolipinovo and this constituted “a social element” unrelated to the criteria for a decision on European Capital of Culture.
The Varna team could lodge an appeal either to the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture or directly to Brussels, according to the report.
Caretaker Minister of Culture Martin Ivanov reportedly secured from the mayors of all four shortlisted cities, before the choice was announced, promises that they would not contest the decision of the jury.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio said that the report of the international jury that chose Plovdiv would be released at the end of September.
Meanwhile, the victory for Plovdiv has caused fallout elsewhere.
In Sofia, where the city council is governed by centre-right majority GERB and where the Bulgarian Socialist Party is in opposition (and where Sofians will vote in October 5 national parliamentary elections and again in Bulgaria’s 2015 municipal elections), the BSP said that it would not hide its “bitterness” at the final result of the European Capital of Culture 2019 contest.
Milka Hristova of the BSP said that the party had all the time supported Sofia in its bid to be capital of culture.
She said that an “analysis” was required of how the bid had been handled because Sofia also would be applying to named European capital of sport.
Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova, speaking during a September 11 city council meeting, said that 80 per cent of Bulgaria’s cultural events were in Sofia and this had a real effect on the capital and business in the city.
Fandukova said that from 2008 to 2012, more than 150 per cent of value had been added to the arts and cultural heritage, “this is not necessarily towards investing in Sofia’s bid for European Capital of Culture. These are investments in culture in the city. They are enduring and we should continue to support them”.
She said that Sofia was the first in the country to have developed and adopted a long-term strategy for culture.
Sofia was proud of its culture programme “because today it is the largest funding programme in support of the artists and performers compared to the rest of the country. In recent years, it was obvious that this support for creative organisations produces real results,” Fandukova said.
She said that the real result of Sofia’s bid to be European Capital of Culture was that cultural events had become a natural part of urban life in the city.
Meanwhile, in the winning city, the Plovdiv Together initiative is organising a celebration on September 13 with a 500-metre-long table in the centre of the city. The table will stretch from the Roman Stadium to the city hall.
“The idea of the party is to make new acquaintances, yield new overall ideas for a new vision for the city, and naturally, for everyone to say, ‘cheers’,” Plovdiv news website Podtepeto.com reported.
The celebration coincides with the Night of Museums and Galleries in Plovdiv on September 12 and 13.
It also has emerged that Varna, Veliko Turnovo and Sofia will receive 30 per cent of the state funds granted to Plovdiv for winning the 2019 European Capital of Culture title, Veliko Turnovo mayor Daniel Panov was quoted as saying in a separate local media report.
An agreement on the distribution of the funds in this way was signed by the four shortlisted cities and the Ministry of Culture. The idea is to boost the initiatives set out in the strategies of the three other cities in their bids.
The government will allocate between 20 and 30 million leva (about 10 to 15 million euro).
Veliko Turnovo mayor Panov said that a lesson learnt in the city’s bid was how they had achieved political consensus not only at local level in Veliko Turnovo but in the other nine municipalities in the region.
“Everyone was motivated, forgot their political parties and bias, and actually worked to elevate the image of culture, not only in the city, but in the entire region,” he said.
Of the outcome, he said, “we have had many battles, most of which we have won, but for us it is not a loss but a good showing for one of the small cities that struggled against the capital city, Varna and Plovdiv”.
(Main photo, of the cathedral in Varna: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)