Tribute to the European capital of culture 2009

  • 2010-01-06
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On Dec. 29, during a press conference, organizers of the “Vilnius - European capital of culture 2009” program made some final conclusions about this year-long event. Some parts of this program will become traditional cultural events which will be held every year.

Gintautas Babravicius, vice mayor of Vilnius, described the “Vilnius - European capital of culture 2009” program as a “very successful project.” He became chairman of the board of the public enterprise Vilnius - European Capital of Culture (VECC) in February 2009, after some changes in the VECC leadership were made, caused by accusations of financial wrongdoings which now are under investigation by state auditors and prosecutors.

“I did feel like a pilot of a plane with its two engines on fire when I took the post of chairman of the board,” Babravicius said about his experience managing this pan-European cultural project during the peak of economic crisis in Lithuania and scandals over unclear bookkeeping at the VECC and its partners. The problems increased when, in January 2009, the Lithuanian national airline, fly-LAL, went bust and flying direct to Vilnius from some of Europe’s main destinations became impossible.
“We received fewer tourists than we expected because of a lack of flights,” Babravicius said. Regardless, Vilnius received international attention because of its culture capital status. “There are more good opinions than bad ones in the international media,” Babravicius said. The VECC was contacted by some 400 representatives of foreign media.

In 2009, the “Vilnius - European capital of culture 2009” program received 34 million litas (9.8 million euros) from the Lithuanian Culture Ministry, Vilnius municipality and the European Commission. Some 1.5 million people attended around 1,500 events of the program.

Babravicius said that some events should become traditional cultural events which will be held every year. Vilnius municipality considers continuing financing such events as the Street Musician Day, the Culture Night and the Klezmer Music Festival.
The first klezmer music festival in the Baltic states was held in 2009 when, in the squares of Vilnius, dozens of bands played Jewish music, dominated by the violin and clarinet and including some elements of various styles, such as jazz, reggae and folklore music of other cultures.

The Street Musician Day and the Culture Night were also held in 2007 and 2008, awaiting the “Vilnius - European capital of culture 2009” program, though both events reached their climax of popularity in 2009.
The Street Musician Day has already became part of Vilnius’ tradition. On the first Saturday of May thousands of people go out onto the streets to play jazz, rock, the classics, Lithuanian folk music and African rhythms. On May 2, 2009, some 4,000 musicians participated in the Street Musician Day.

The new cultural tradition of Culture Night, launched in 2007, came from Western European capitals. On a June evening, Vilnius’ parks and squares transform into dance schools under the open sky, a temporary cinema screen is put up in a park where people can watch movies while sitting on the grass free of charge during the night, rivers are decorated with installations, and nighttime classical, rock and organ concerts are performed in churches and museums. One in five Vilnius residents doesn’t sleep that night while attending this event.

In 2009, Vilnius became the European capital of culture together with the Austrian city of Linz. The European Capital of Culture is a European Union project which gives different cities the opportunity to share their cultural life with the rest of Europe during one year. In 2010, Vilnius and Linz pass the title of European capital of culture to Pecs of Hungary, Essen of Germany and Istanbul of Turkey. It is the first time when one of the European capitals of culture is a city of a country which is still an EU candidate country, not yet a member of the EU.